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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)
Symphony No.2 in D major Op.36 (1802)
Symphony No.7 in A major Op.92 (1812)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Eduard van Beinum.
Rec. Royal Festival Hall, London, 10 November 1958. ADD - mono
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4124-2 [73.06]


Recording contracts cause as many problems as they try to solve. It is reasonably well known to older collectors that Eduard van Beinum was contracted first to Decca and then to Philips. This prevented him from recording for EMI. When in 1958 the ill-fated Klemperer Beethoven cycle came to a premature end with the older conductor’s stroke, van Beinum was asked by Walter Legge to step in and take over. As the whole cycle was to have been recorded by EMI, van Beinum was unable for contractual reasons to take over the recordings. We can only bemoan this fact, as the relays from the RFH are models of Beethoven interpretation and it would have been very good to have had more Beethoven from van Beinum.

This conductor has been out of fashion for a number of years. It is only by releases such as this that we are able to understand why, like his successor in Amsterdam, Bernard Haitink, he was loved by the ensembles he conducted. This showed through in the performances. Decca have recently released a five disc boxed set of van Beinum’s early Decca recordings and I understand that there is in preparation another box which concentrates on his later Philips recordings. This is a time for rejoicing. I can only hope that these sets enjoy healthy sales to encourage the record companies to realise just what gold they are sitting on which should be made available to us.

As far as Beethoven is concerned, van Beinum recorded a superb version of the 2nd Symphony with the Concertgebouw on Philips and some overtures and incidental music from Prometheus with the LPO when he was its music director. The latter has been released on the five disc Decca box mentioned above. Both of these are, like the current issue, in mono, although this will not be a significant shortcoming for fans of this conductor. There is also a live DVD performance of the Eroica (mono again and in black and white), available as part of a Q Box set of van Beinum’s radio performances. This box also has a performance of a Beethoven Piano Concerto no. 4.

Walter Legge’s Philharmonia Orchestra was the pre-eminent orchestra in England at the time these recordings were made. Their expertise is clearly evident judged by the almost complete lack of fluffs and insecurities in the playing. In addition, there is a clear sense of line with phrasing made to sound so natural. It is difficult to believe that these performances were a result of a last minute substitution, rather than the work of a conductor who had worked extensively with the orchestra over a long period. Indeed among the orchestral members there grew a common opinion that van Beinum was one of the finest conductors they had ever worked with. At the time of his first appearance with the orchestra, Moscow Carner wrote in the London Evening News "What makes his performance so satisfying is his ability to steep himself body and soul in the music under his (batonless) hands and compel his players to do the same."

This attitude comes over in these recordings extremely well. Although these performances will not displace other great performances in the catalogue, they are particularly notable for the sense of rightness throughout. I enjoyed these immensely, as did the fairly quiet RFH audience. I am sure that anyone who is prepared to take a risk with a relatively unknown (today) conductor will feel rewarded by these performances. Van Beinum was the Bernard Haitink of the day.

Very informative notes about the history around these two marvellous performances by Alan Sanders. One can only hope that more of these concert recordings will become available with time.

John Phillips

 

 



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