This disc is something more than Beecham's version
of a Sibelius symphony and five lollipops. For a start this is
the first authorised appearance on CD of Beecham's recording of
the First Symphony. There are multiple Beecham recordings of the
Second Symphony (the best of which is live at the RFH in 1954
in which he barks and guffaws his encouragement or imprecations
to or at the orchestra) but this is his only recording of the
Tchaikovskian First. There is no doubt that this is a good reading
not just for its sweep but also for the myriad freshly imagined
and executed details. These range from the richly allusive shaping
of Jack Brymer's clarinet solo in the opening bars to the Tina
Bonifacio's harp graces (tr. 4 4.49) to the black-hearted unanimity
of the brass section bristling with such names as Dennis Brain
(French horn), Richard Walton (trumpet) and Sidney Langston (trombone).
Beecham's audacity knows few bounds. Listen to the defiantly unconventional
crawl-pace he sets for the woodland musing of the scherzo (2.20-3.30
tr. 3). This version stands very high in the Sibelius interpretative
canon alongside Barbirolli (EMI), Stokowski (Sony) and Collins
The slighter pieces are pleasingly done: playful,
with edges remaining gratifyingly rough and unchamfered - rustic
chivalry in the Finnish forests. Beecham is not at his pinnacle
in the alla marcia from Karelia Suite. Okko Kamu's
Finnish Radio Symphony version on DG is to be preferred. Nevertheless
this rounds off the disc in a satisfying glow.
I compared this disc with the same Sony-licensed
tracks on Beecham Edition EMI Classics CDM 7 93397 2. There
is little to choose between them with the Sony sounding marginally
warmer, more haloed, than the 1990 vintage EMI. This is more noticeable
in the alla marcia than the other tracks.
Fifty years old yet vivid as the day they were
recorded. Mono of course but the single channel hardly seems to
matter in face of such tireless life.
Graham Melville-Mason's superb notes come as
standard in this series.