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Sir Thomas Beecham conducts orchestral favourites

Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna Overture [8.22]

Morning Papers Waltz Op. 279 [7.58]
Georges BIZET

La Jolie Fille de Perth selection [19.49]

Overture in D [7.43]
Gioachino ROSSINI

La Cambiale de Matrimonio overture [5.38]

Les Contes de Hoffman - suite [12.38]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART

German Dance Die Schlittenfahrt K605 [2.59]
German March in D Haffner K249 [2.58]

España - Rhapsodie [6.34]
Royal Philharmonic Chorus (Offenbach)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
rec. 1950-53, London. mono

'Succulence' is the only word for it when Beecham ladles on the delicacy as he does here.

Bizet first: The oboe's vinegar sweetness in the first Serenade of the magical La Jolie Fille de Perth suite is lovingly rounded. In the Danse Bohémienne Beecham points up every gentle turn for the flute and confiding harp before letting loose with a riotous bacchanale.

I am sure that the Boccherini overture would be execrated in some quarters for its big-band radiant sound but in its own right it has a beguiling Mozartian smoothness. I am always surprised that Beecham did not make more of Rossini's overtures however here is one of the unusual ones: Cambiale di Matrimonio. It duly bubbles and glitters with Mozartian joie de vivre. Speaking of Mozart we get sleighbells (sounding a mite half-hearted, I thought) in the K605 March as well as a posthorn. The Haffner March is very sure of its aristocratic bearing.

Beecham loved Chabrier's España. Indeed he conducted it over seventy times between June 1915 and January 1959. He recorded it in 1939 with the LPO. The present version is of superior audio quality and the RPO revel in every slur, rising wave, smooth ascent, rhythmic tick and ebullient expostulation. Listen to the rolling impudence of the trombones at 3.02.

The Offenbach suite is here released for the first time so, in Beecham terms, this disc will be an essential purchase for many. It was made at Abbey Road on 26 January 1951. The very English sounding chorus do rather make this like G&S. Still, take comfort that we cannot hear the words all that well. In the Barcarolle Beecham builds and grades the tension with mastery and then releases it with joy. The strings unfolding the grand tune do so with a honeyed unity of tone (2.37). Just as important the finest downward gradient of sound coaxes the piece into a welcoming silence.

This collection draws on the lollipop and overture territory that at one time was the province of shellac. In the 1950s and 1960s conductors such as Sargent, Weldon, Wolff, Paray and many another headed up LP collections of such things in which Suppé, Rezniček, Bizet, Strauss, Komzak and Smetana jostled for attention. Beecham in regal style takes us back to those days while Sony sees to it that we hear these recordings in the best possible fettle.

Lollipops despatched with panache - a Beecham speciality.

Rob Barnett

see also review by Jonathan Woolf


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