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Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Sir Thomas Beecham Conducts Schubert - The Original CBS Recordings

Symphony No. 1 in D major, D. 82
Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, D. 125
Symphony No. 8 in B minor, ‘Unfinished’ D. 759
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
Rec. Mono, Walthamstow Town Hall, London on Dec. 1953 (Sym No. 1) and 28 May 1954 (Sym. No. 2); Symphony No. 8 at Kingsway Hall, London on 15, 24 Jan., 11, 23 July 1951 and Studio No. 1 Abbey Road, London on 9 May 1951
SONY CLASSICAL SMK87876 [77:31]


Sir Thomas Beecham seems to have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Middle class from a well-known and extremely wealthy business family the dapper Beecham was a showman and a character with a wicked and intelligent sense of humour. However as one of the leading conductors of his day Beecham took his music very seriously embarking on a quest almost single-handedly to bring classical music to a wider English public.

His authoritative conducting style concentrated primarily on rhythm which he insisted must be perfectly strung and flexible yet never deviating with an irresistible forward momentum. Sensitivity to orchestral colour, phrasing, beauty and individuality of tone, Beecham’s treatment of the orchestral player was humanistic and ahead of its time; unlike many of his contemporaries of his day. He allowed his players the scope to express themselves, whilst maintaining the highest standards of orchestral playing.

Beecham’s views on the music of Schubert are interesting. In his autobiography ‘A Mingled Chime’ he acknowledges the crucial role that romantic poetry and romance played in German music particularly in Schubert’s. He viewed that Schubert had a primitive musical faculty that enabled him to pour melody into any form of the art without the least desire to vary or develop it, unlike composers such as Beethoven and Wagner who stretched symphonic structure to its fullest possible limits of expansion.

It is hard to appreciate that Beecham came to the orchestral music of Schubert fairly late and certainly after many performances of Haydn and Mozart. In the UK Schubert’s symphonies were not heard until the late part of the nineteenth century when influential conductor Sir August Manns played them at Crystal Palace concerts so when Beecham was commencing his conducting career in Lancashire in 1899 Schubert’s symphonies were really still rarities.

In his career Sir Thomas conducted all of Schubert’s symphonies however he only conducted the Symphony No. 4 ’Tragic’ once and he recorded them all with the exception of the Symphony No. 4 and the Symphony No. 9 the Great C major.

Of the three symphonies contained on this Sony release, both the Symphony No.1 and the Symphony No.2 were first performed by Beecham as late as 1953 with these recordings being made within six months of each other in 1953 and 1954. Beecham obtains a rich body of sound from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and his trademark emphasis on phrasing is expertly articulated in these dramatic readings.

Beecham performed the famous ‘Unfinished’ over forty times. His undoubted affection for this masterwork is unmistakable in this 1951 recording which has been skilfully put together from five performances over two London venues. Beecham offers a strongly-paced reading and particularly sensitive phrasing from the strings section is consistent throughout. Special praise is due to the orchestra for their wonderful playing of heightened drama in the development section of the Allegro moderato.

These performances are more than just historical documents. Really fine and appealing interpretations that have been attractively recorded. Beecham fans will be in their element.

Michael Cookson



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