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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 6 in D minor op. 104 [27:33]
Symphony No. 4 in A minor op. 63 [33:04]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham (6)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham (4)
rec. live, Royal Albert Hall, Prom, 15 Sept 1954 (6); Studio, Criterion Theatre, London, 4 Oct 1951 (4). mono. ADD
Not previously issued. Released in collaboration with the Sir Thomas Beecham Trust in Support of the Scholarship Fund.

These are invaluable retrievals that will be of intense interest to Beecham and Sibelius specialists.

Somm have brought out these two previously unissued mono recordings as part of its Beecham Collection. That they have wondrously survived at all is down to private LP acetate recordings held by the Sir Thomas Beecham Trust.

The Sixth Symphony is from a Prom in which there are more than a few coughs. They hardly matter such is the ineluctable forward momentum inculcated by Beecham. You certainly catch every dynamic nuance - try the first movement at 4:06. Beecham imagines and delivers this work through his beloved RPO. The overarching impression is of an emotional and structural continuum. As if to confirm the point Beecham, impatient of the coughing between movements, chooses the moment juste to start the next movement rolling straight over an audience still engaged in a blizzard of throat-clearing. The mono sound is good for its era but the recording medium cannot quite contain the piled and pushed high fortes of the string choir at the start of the finale.

This is, above all, a cohesive performance that also captures the bustling, pregnant mystery and excitement of a symphony that here is often redolent of Pohjola's Daughter. Certainly this is not the bleached-out Scandinavian summer nights Sixth of Karajan's classic BPO account. Nor is it the possessed furious adrenaline rush of the CBSO and Sakari Oramo on Erato.

Beecham changes to the BBCSO for the Fourth Symphony. Here the recording quality is inferior to that of the Sixth Symphony with some deep scuffing and other groove damage as well as a bass heaviness and depleted treble response. Through it all though Beecham makes of this enigmatic symphony more of a pre-echo of the music for The Tempest rather than the coldly mesmeric realm painted by Karajan's stern 1960s version with the Berlin Philharmonic or Maazel and the VPO (Decca). There is some wonderfully tasty playing from the BBCSO cello and oboe principals. Notable moments are legion but Beecham's attack on every ictus in the finale is memorable.

Common to the two symphonies is Beecham's burstingly urgent bow-wave of massed string tone. There is no bluster in it: no miscalculation; just the magnificently awed rush of a remorseless string surge.

Interestingly there's no shouted incitement to further intensity from Beecham on these tapes. Contrast this with his towering live recording of the Second Symphony, wonderfully preserved on BBC Legends.

Such a pity that the rest of the Criterion Theatre concert from 1951 did not survive. It would have been good to hear the whole of part I which was given over to Sibelius: En Saga, the Sixth then Henry Holst in the Violin Concerto.

The concert that included the Fourth Symphony began with Mendelssohn's overture The Fair Melusine followed by the Sibelius and after the break Maurice Johnstoneís overture Banners and, as finale, Rimsky's Antar. Such a pity that we do not have that Beecham Antar.

Graham Melville-Mason's notes are superb combining anecdote and factual context.

Two previously unissued Beecham-Sibelius symphonies in fallible historic sound - irresistible for the specialist and a few others, I donít doubt
Rob Barnett

Sibelius Beecham references on MusicWeb

Beecham Sibelius BBC Legends
Beecham Sibelius 4 on Naxos
Beecham conducts Tempest extracts Sony
Beecham Sibelius symphony 1 on Sony
Beecham, Sibelius 2 Legends
Beecham Sibelius 2 - studio



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