Both Sony UK and Sony
France are still big hitters in the
reissue market. The London satellite
has wrought wonders with their exhaustive
Beecham series. The wonder is that they
did not number the volumes like Supraphon's
Ancerl Gold edition.
The present collection
offers some very special Sibelius. The
fourteen pieces from The Tempest
show the highest interpretative
skills in animating character and vivid
colouring. Beecham is in a class of
his own. The Oak Tree (tr.2)
captures the almost inhuman otherworldliness
and mesmeric-soporific strangeness of
the music in a way not captured by others.
It is by any measure an extraordinary
piece matched with Beecham's acute percipience
and expressive powers. Similar qualities
radiate from Chorus of the Winds
(tr.7). Listen to the precise yet
flexible pizzicato in Scène
(tr.5). Wrenching violence is also well
within Beecham's grasp as we can hear
in Intrada - he clearly relishes
the contrasting water-colour delicacy
of the linked Berceuse. Beecham
brings out the Handelian grandesse of
Prospero (tr.10 strangely listed
as 20 in the insert) but is matchless
in the tender Miranda (tr.12).
The Storm movement relentlessly
chills to the bone and the final chord
hits home with a satisfyingly squat
and accurately simultaneous 'whump'
- as convincing as the squat note at
the end of RVW’s BBCSO recording of
the Fourth Symphony.
Comparing this Sibelius
with the Beecham Edition disc CDM 7
63397 2 the sound seems to have a beefier
aspect and is recorded at a marginally
higher level. The hiss, while still
a presence on the Sony, does not have
the same eminence as on the EMI disc.
Comparing Boult's 1950s Everest/Omega
recording of the Prelude Boult takes
the storm at impetuous speed and goads
the LPO to the edge of their technique.
I also fished out the Vänskä
complete Tempest music (Bis CD-581);
all 36 episodes. To my surprise this
was a softer focused version which in
The Storm has neither the Golovanov-like
vertiginous quality of the Boult (comparable
section in the Prelude) nor the colossal
terrifying gravity of the Beecham. This
Beecham version is something that no
true Sibelian should be without.
The Berners' ballet
suite The Triumph of Neptune has
been recorded in modern times in good
stereo by the RLPO conducted by Barry
Wordsworth as well as in the Marco Polo
Berners series. It is a piece of balletic
fluff, jocular and light-hearted. The
references include Bax's Tamara ballet
and Picaresque Comedy and Rogues'
Comedy overtures, Vaughan Williams'
music for The Wasps, Barber's
Souvenirs, even a touch of Stravinsky's
Pulcinella and Strauss's Bourgeois
Gentilhomme. The sincerely poetic
Frozen Forest acts as a relief
from the predominance of high gloss
levity. The Philadelphia are polished
Arnell had a lifelong
association with Beecham. Arnell's Landscape
and Figures was a Beecham commission
in 1956 at the Edinburgh Festival and
in 1986 he contributed his Ode to
Beecham (orator and orchestra) to
the celebrations of the fortieth anniversary
of Beecham's founding of the RPO.
The Arnell ballet Punch
and the Child is, sadly, the
only commercial representation of a
composer partnership that dated back
to their joint times in New York in
the early and mid-1940s. Punch and
the Child was a commission by Lincoln
Kirstein's Ballet Caravan. This is Arnell
jocular, brilliant and neo-classical
with a scathing edge approximating partly
to Bliss, partly to Copland and Rawsthorne.
There are some superbly calculated textural
effects in both Hector, the Dummy
Horse and Punch and the Devil.
Beecham has a grand
reputation for lollipops. What we have
here is thirty-two lollipops - some
soporific and some belligerently enlivening.
The recordings are
mono. The notes, by series regular Graham Melville-Mason,
are all you could hope for.
see also review
by Jonathan Woolf
Beecham CBS Edition