incandescent: these words put you in
touch with this live Beecham
version of Sibelius 2 and the DvořŠk
races not far behind.
London in December
1954 must have been a haven for chest
infections and the common cold. Beechamís
incandescent live concert version of
the Sibelius Second Symphony
is troubled with a dusting of coughs
and throat clearings. Yet it hardly
matters. Perversely it enhances the
experience of the music - bringing you
into close proximity to the experience
of this concert. You should be aware
that at various points you can hear
Beecham hoarsely shouting exhortation
to his forces (something he does not
do in the DvořŠk
8). How does it compare with other Beecham
recordings of No. 2? My reference point
is the Biddulph CD WHL055
. That studio version is good of its
kind but it lacks the dangerously volatile
spontaneity of this version.
The 1954 mono sound
is I suppose of good FM radio broadcast
quality of that era. There is a hint
of congestion from fortissimo upwards.
But you know what? It doesnít matter
a whit. The grandeur, atmosphere and
sonority of this reading is all the
listener will register. The brass benches
assert themselves with a chesty magnificence
with the trumpets raucously piercing.
The strings glisten rather than glow.
If you compare the sound of Ormandyís
Philadelphia violins in his 1950s recording
of the Fifth Symphony you will notice
a sultry Hollywood opulence (in fact
very effective) where Beechamís 1954
BBC violins are vibrant and bright.
If you must have a
more modern stereo version then try
to track down Barbirolliís 1960s recording
with the RPO
on Chesky. The most recent Berglund
(Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Finlandia)
is also excellent as the Szell/Cleveland
version (live in Tokyo in 1970), the
Oramo/CBSO/Erato and not to forget Ormandyís
version on Sony Classics.
The main interest focuses
on this Desert Island version of the
Sibelius. That said, Beechamís DvořŠk
8 is spirited; in fact fiery.
The timbre and guttural abrasion of
the brass invoke the best traditions
of Northern England brass band playing.
As for the conductor, Beecham in old
age has neither slowed down nor lost
his grip. This impetuously determined
version is vibrant and pointedly lilting
though lacking the outright ideal fluency
you would expect in the allegretto
grazioso (tr. 7). There is lovingly
distinguished work by the great names
in the RPO: Raymond Cohen (leader);
Jack Brymer and Walter Lear (clarinet),
Gwydion Brooke (bassoon - Brookeís father
Josef Holbrooke had written a saxophone
concerto for Walter Lear), Alan Civil
(horn), Geoffrey Gilbert (flute - driven
close to demented in the finale at 2.20
when the wheels almost come off), Lewis
Pocock (timps), Philip Jones (trumpet
- later the founder and leader of the
PJBE), Roy Copestake (trumpet), Terence
MacDonagh (oboe) and Leonard Brain (cor
anglais). The only technical blemish
for me is a moment in the adagio (tr.
6) where the recording level is pulled
back - presumably a BBC engineer nervous
of overload. For some this will not
replace the Talich and Sejna versions,
nor those by Rowicki and Kubelik. However
it is an glorious alternate version
and outstandingly enjoyable.
are coughs and sneezes in the DvořŠk
but again these are of little consequence
in the face of such an excitingly flighted
almost Tchaikovskian interpretation.
This is the second
time this pairing has appeared. About
fifteen years ago it appeared as part
of the EMI Beecham Edition on a DMM
pressing LP EG763399-4 and on CD as
CDM7 63399-2. For years that version
has been a much sought-after deletion
commanding premium prices.
As for the original
black disc issues,
the DvořŠk was released as ALP
2003 and the Sibelius as ALP1947. Interestingly
HMV had not rushed to release them:
they were issued in 1962 and 1963 presumably
as a rather tardy tribute to Beecham
who had died on 8 March 1961. This version
of Sibelius 2 was reissued in the 1970s
by World Record Club on WRC ST 1085
and it was that LP that I managed to
pick up for £1.50 in Plymouth Market.
The already irresistible
virtues of this disc are topped off
by Graham Melville-Masonís liner note.
His writings already adorn the Sony
Beecham series. Companies cannot go
wrong in commissioning notes from him.
Record of the Month
and certainly in my list for Recording
of the Year.