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Sir Thomas Beecham conducts Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1781)

Symphony No. 36 in C major K425 Linz (1783)
Symphony No. 38 in D major K 504 Prague (1786)
Symphony No. 39 in E flat major K543 (1788)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
Recorded London 1950-55
SONY SMK87963 [78.07]

"Nothing from Moh-zart?" Beechamís quip enquiring as to missing telegrams at his 80th birthday celebration is one side of his waggish drollery. The recorded evidence of his Mozart recordings in the 1950s Ė how he relished the Edwardian splitting of the composerís name into two evenly drawled parts Ė was a matter of increasing debate. I find that the binary reputation that has persisted - pre-war pretty good, post-war badly affected Ė tells only a partial story, though its broad outline seems to me clearly true. Of the three symphonies the E flat major receives a spacious but consistently elevated, though not unproblematic, performance, the Linz a vigorous one full of affectionate detail and the Prague one that sometimes exposes Beechamís increasingly manicured phrasing to some detrimental effect.

Firstly, the sound of the recordings; at this period a rather resonant acoustic perspective was favoured for Beechamís symphonic discs and that is of course mirrored in these transfers. This does lead to a blunting of attacks from time to time and a general weighty spirit prevails, not inappropriately so given Beechamís considered affection for the works. The phrasing in the adagio introduction to the Linz is affection itself though the tempo is considerably slower than one would expect now, a fact that is an irrelevance so far as Iím concerned, but which might trouble those who constantly relate historical performance practice to current notions or conventions. The full complement of the RPO strings sound to be on show but, even so, telling wind detail emerges, though not with quite the immediacy of other more lissom readings. The Andante is songful and lyrical and is tinged with a perceptible feeling of loss whilst the Presto finale is bluffly vigorous and full of dynamic terracing and subtlety of texture.

The Prague opens once more with affectionate delicacy but here, in the earliest recorded of the trio, in 1950, the details sounds unduly mannered. The self-consciously polished phrasing of the initial Adagio precludes real depth and the lead into the Allegro sounds especially artful. Once there, brio does have its welcome place, but Beechamís preoccupation with texture building and over emphases of various kinds negate much of the virtuosity and intelligence of the music making. The Andante is nicely flowing but again somewhat too often visited by inflection; the finale is fine.

The E flat major has about it a greater weight of concentration in this performance, albeit one accompanied by emotive string crises, laden with depth of tone. Phrasing is strongly romanticised, emphasis sometimes on detail Ė the sound not as buoyant and aerated - surprisingly this applies to the strings - as one might want. But there is to compensate, plenty of inner part detail and a sense of cohesive direction. The slow movement is lyrically phrased without undue exaggeration, though there is a degree of it still, and the Minuet is one of Beechamís pomposo treats. In the finale his fine little crescendi make their mark, as does some somewhat unnatural sounding woodwind spotlighting Ė otherwise this is avuncular, buoyant, subtle music making.

My own preference is for Beechamís pre-war recordings with the LPO, which are more lithe and bristle with vigour and sensitivity. Nevertheless these later traversals carry the inimitable stamp of authority and there is much still to admire.

Jonathan Woolf

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