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The Beecham Collection – RPO: The Early Days
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream; incidental music – Overture Op. 61 (1843) [11:44]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1868) - Prelude to Act III [7:09]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Symphony No.40 in G minor K550 (1788) [23:45]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Piano Concerto in A minor Op.54 (1845) [28:05]
Moura Lympany (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
rec. live, Davis Theatre, Croydon, 10 November 1946.
SOMM BEECHAM 19 [71:12]

 

Somm has been highly active in reviving out-of-the-way Beecham material. Here they have had access to a concert given by the newly-formed RPO and present the bulk of it; there wasn’t room for the other item on the programme which was Berners’s The Triumphs of Neptune. Beecham aficionados will know he left behind two commercial recordings of this.

It was the fifteenth concert given by the orchestra, though despite the hectic pre-Christmas round of concert giving and recording sessions it was very much a still-provisional band. The leader was ex-London String Quartet first violin John Pennington though he was soon to cede to Oscar Lampe and return to the newly reconstituted LSQ in America. The viola section was led by Leonard Rubens and the excellent Raymond Clarke led the cellos. The wind section was on its way to establishing itself as a sovereign body; Gerald Jackson, Leonard Brain, Archie Camden and Reginald Kell. Dennis Brain led the horns. Within a year Kell had gone to America to be replaced by Brymer. Gwydion Brooke replaced Camden.

The programme here was, with the exception of the Schumann, standard Beecham fare. The Mozart G minor can be contrasted with the pre-War LPO 1937 performance and indeed the post-War recording Beecham made with the later RPO incarnation [Sony SMK89809]. Beecham’s view of the later Mozart symphonies generally grew more mannered as he aged. The earliest performance is the most recommendable; portamenti are more pervasive but more affectionate, the string playing is more incisive and the inner part writing more athletically brought out. The fortes in this live performance are rather trenchant and accents are sometimes rather brusque. The slow movement sounds rather more exaggerated as well, both in terms of phrasing and weight.

The concerto featured Moura Lympany who rather nervously announced to Beecham that her conception of the work probably differed from the norm. Her first movement is certainly quite fast though the contours of her performance put me in mind, at least temporarily, of Yves Nat’s 1933 traversal. It’s certainly not at all the kind of performance that Myra Hess was giving at the time, nor indeed, somewhat later, Géza Anda, to take two other rather disparate examples of stylish Schumann players. There are sufficient problems with the recording to damp total contentment. Tuttis don’t really register and the piano tone is rather cloudy. The orchestra is inclined to be drowned behind Lympany – especially when she journeys to the bass. Lissom and affectionate in conception just enough survives to show her elegance and control.

The Mendelssohn has all Beecham’s buoyancy though here not always refinement; the Wagner makes a fine addition and is highly expressive if not quite in the Knappertsbusch class.

Despite the problems with the recording and the occasionally rather sub-standard orchestral playing this is an intriguing, and rare, look at the RPO in its early performances. Graham Melville-Mason’s note give one all that one requires by way of identification and detail.

Jonathan Woolf

 



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