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The Beecham Touch
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Prélude à d’après d’un faune (1897) [9.28]
Giacomo ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Arr. Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Rossiniana (1925) [16.47]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
La Jolie Fille de Perth – suite [15.38]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
La Damnation de Faust (1828) - scenes
1. Menuet des follets [5.49]
2. Danse de Sylphes [2.54]
3. Marche hongrois [4.26]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Slavonic Rhapsody No.3 in A flat [13.19]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
Recorded 1934-39
DUTTON CDBP 9753 [69.04]


If you think the contents of this disc look familiar you’re right. It was originally released over a decade ago on Dutton CDLX7002 and is now re-released, without alteration, at lower price under their CDBP number.

Jazz aficionados have a good word for a solo or playing they like; they call it “tasty.” Let me just say that this disc is a tasty dish all the way through.  Beecham’s LPO is in lithe and regal form, the violins led by Paul Beard except in the later 1937 recording when David McCullum was leader, and the wind department sporting Geoffrey Gilbert, Léon Goossens, Reginald Kell and John Alexandra. It was a star band in which the violin section even contained Albert Sammons’ talented brother Thomas.

If you’ve never heard Beecham’s Debussy’s and wonder whether it will captivate in the same way as his exploration of earlier French music take a listen to this sensual, gorgeous, liquid 1939 recording. The winds are superbly characterful and very much to the fore; there are some giddy string portamenti and a delicious sense of languid delicacy such as few conductors even of Beecham’s generation could summon. Indeed he draws out of his orchestra the kind of sounds few orchestras in the world could then match.

The Rossini-Respighi acts as a zestful scherzo after the heady delights of the Debussy. Beecham was more drawn to Rossini (these are piano originals, orchestrated) than to Respighi and he evokes enormous vitality and colour from the suite. Rhythms are deft, internal sectional balance is tight and in the Tarantelle there’s a delightful pulse, a terpsichorean grace (he was a ballet man of course, as much as an opera and concert conductor), string slashes and lugubrious brass.

Goossens can be heard most vividly in the Bizet in which the operatic Serenade, written for the tenor, is transcribed for oboe. The curvaceous lilt of the fiddles fuses in the Danse bohèmienne with rhythmic élan and verve. There’s a slight moment of scuffy surface in this last but it passes. Beecham ranked with Hamilton Harty as master Berlioz conductors in Britain – the former was fortunate that a significant amount of his Berlioz was recorded either commercially or off-air – and his scenes from the Damnation of Faust prove how aerial, incisive and dramatic he was. Fans of audible asides can hear him thank the orchestra after their elfin Danse de Sylphes. Beecham was a judicious conductor of Dvořák and one who selected those works closest to his musical heartbeat. Of these the Slavonic Rhapsody recorded here was certainly one – and those who know his live Fifth Symphony recording of around the same time (preserved on Symposium) will know how propulsive and alive his Dvořák performances of the 1930s were. This one is no exception – swinging, swaying, with finely judged pauses, excellent wind chording and a characterful sheen to the strings.

A warm welcome back to this selection – neatly transferred - which offers tempting repertoire and irresistible performances.

Jonathan Woolf


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