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
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.
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
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
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