Beecham had recorded
Schubert’s Eighth Symphony before, with
the London Philharmonic Orchestra. In
fact this work featured in his first
orchestral Schubert performance in 1909
at the Corn Exchange, Bedford, with
the Beecham Symphony Orchestra.
Symphonies 1 and 2
were late entries to his repertoire.
Beecham gave his first performance of
Symphony no. 1 in September 1953 at
a BBC Studio 1, Maida Vale concert with
the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Similarly,
Symphony no. 2 was introduced with the
same orchestra in October 1953 at the
Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford. Both these
symphonies came into his repertoire
as a result of these projected recordings.
Beecham may have started
conducting these works late in life,
but he displays the same understanding
that he does in the other Schubert symphonies
which he had performed more often. Symphony
no. 1 opens with a majestic Adagio introduction
which leads into the lively Allegro
Vivace. He points up the Mozartian echoes
and his lightness of touch reveals how
much he pre-figures our late 20th
century view of Schubert performance.
His tempo for the Minuet and Trio is
steadier than we might now desire, but
the result is elegantly done and he
uses the tempo to give the movement
a classical elegance. The final Allegro
Vivace movement is delightfully joyous.
For Symphony no. 2
a sombre Largo introduction leads to
the bustle of the Allegro Vivace. In
the 2nd movement theme and
variation, as in other places, Beecham
allows space for his wind players to
shine. The woodwind of the Royal Philharmonic
produce some wonderfully stylish and
shaped playing. After imbuing the minuet
and trio with a strong dramatic contrast,
he gives us an infectious Presto Vivace
Symphony" is more familiar ground.
It is a sombre, beautifully shaped reading
given a lightness and transparency by
the handling of phrasing and balance.
As in the 2nd symphony, he
creates space for his woodwind players,
carefully managing the delicate balance
between woodwind and strings and giving
his players the opportunity to shine.
The transfers are all
exemplary, though the level of the first
two symphonies is a little high (this
may date back to the original recordings).
This is a highly recommendable
release. Part of Sony’s re-issuing of
its Beecham archive, this disc will
delight Beecham fans but will also charm
anyone who loves Schubert’s symphonies.
see also review
by Jonathan Woolf
list of CBS Beecham recordings