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Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
Symphony no. 1 in D major, D 82
Symphony no. 2 in B flat major, D 125
Symphony no. 8 in B minor, D 759 "Unfinished"
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
Recorded Walthamstow Town Hall, December 1953 (Symphony no. 1); May 28th 1954 (Symphony No. 2); Kingsway Hall, January 15th and 24th, May 9th, July 11th, 12thand July 23rd (Symphony No. 8) – May 9th session at Studio No. 1 Abbey Road.
SONY CLASSICAL SMK87876 [77.31]

 

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 finale.

Beecham’s "Unfinished 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.

Robert Hugill

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

Complete list of CBS Beecham recordings



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