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Sir Thomas Beecham conducts Handel and Goldmark
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

The Faithful Shepherd – adapted Beecham
Károly GOLDMARK (1830-1915)

Ländliche Hochzeit (Rustic Wedding) – symphonic poem Op 26 (1877)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
Recorded 1950 (Handel) and 1952 (Goldmark)
SONY SMK87780 [66.38]


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Here is the return of a firm favourite. That said the Goldmark has drifted in and out of the catalogue over the years since its first appearance in 1952. I well remember the agitated correspondence columns in the pages of the Beecham Society newsletter pleading for the CBS discs to be returned forthwith to the domestic catalogue. And so now Sony is doing this series of impressive recordings proud in their Beecham edition with sumptuous photographs and fine "insider" notes from Graham Melville-Mason. Regarded as a classic very little in the intervening half century has managed to dim its vivacity, verdancy and sheer affection – nor that of the lustrous playing of the Royal Philharmonic and particularly its principals, who do so much to garnish Goldmark’s delectable creation. True, some have used the Symphony and this recording of it as a stick with which to beat Beecham – a glorious performance of not so sophisticated music is a target of sorts I suppose, if not a very edifying one and few conductors could escape the whipping if that was the criterion.

The recording has come up splendidly in Sony’s transfer, though I think uniquely in this series all recording dates are omitted (Sony are poor in their re-release series generally when it comes to dates and locations of recording but are usually good with the Beecham series). Acknowledging the cut he makes (Variations eight and ten of the Wedding March) this is still a sovereign example of the complete command of phrasing and tempo relation. The horn and trombone in the Wedding March and the skirling violins announce performances of real drama and colour. The way the woodwind chatter and flutter above the burgeoning string figuration is judged with effortless delicacy. It doesn’t often seem to be mentioned but I’m sure Beecham’s unrivalled success here is due to his affinity with the almost balletic and French influences on Goldmark, ones the conductor exploits with finesse and delicacy. The expressive contouring and seamlessness of the Bridal Song are magnetic – in terms of direction and sonority – and the little running pizzicati in the Serenade, the brass-led folk aeration with its little clarinet roulades, are all marvellously pictorial and full of delicate tracery. The reigned–in passion of the Garden scene, its headily evocative atmosphere, is treasurable (is that a fractional drop-out in one of the channels at 4.16?) and leads to a coda of utter tranquillity and lyrical beauty. And when it comes to clarity and dynamism Beecham produces it in the dancing finale (though it would have helped if the violins had been divided à la Boult for the opening section which loses its antiphonal potential). The reminiscences of the earlier material however, recollections bathed in affectionate generosity, are the ne plus ultra of sumptuous phrasing.

The Faithful Shepherd, one of Beecham’s Handelian adaptations, is an eight-movement work of pieces from Il pastor fido of 1734 and other works as well (Parnasso in Festa for example) but as ever with Beecham the suites were frequently interchangeable. What one never fails to get is a warmth and a liveliness. So the opening Introduction has great string depth, the solo flute in the Adagio has expressive delicacy and there is graciousness and lordly beneficence in the Musette (Beecham loved a good Musette). The ardent unforced simplicity of the Minuet is wonderful as are the beautifully controlled dynamics of the Pastoral (from Parnasso in Festa, later recycled for The Triumph of Truth and Time).

I believe the Goldmark is available in Volume 2 of the Beecham Collection on Idlewild IDLR014 where it’s coupled with Dvorak’s Symphonic Variations. I’ve not heard it but I doubt it will sound better than these Sony transfers remastered by Gary Moore. Another feather in the cap for Sony’s Beecham series. Don’t stop now!

Jonathan Woolf

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