The latest issue from
The Beecham Collection gives
us three previously unissued performances.
The Brahms and Bax were recorded in
the BBC’s studios in March 1949 and
the Strauss derives from an Edinburgh
Festival concert given in August 1956.
The most exciting news
for collectors is the Brahms. Beecham
never recorded the Haydn Variations
and this is the first performance of
it to have emerged on disc. I’ve been
listening to Naxos’s new transfer of
the Furtwängler Haydn Variations
given with the Vienna Philharmonic
in the same year as this Beecham performance.
In every variation bar one Beecham is
quicker. Not a judgement, simply a statement
of fact. Though his favourite Brahms
work was the Second Symphony the variations
respond equally and especially to his
vibrancy and vitality. The second variation,
the Piu vivace has lashings of
rhythmic flair. There is palpable warmth
in the violas and cellos in the Andante
con moto [variation 4] and admirable
buoyancy and power in the vivace
variation six. It’s excellent news that
Beecham’s discography is enlarged by
virtue of this good sounding 1949 restoration.
The other two works
are part of the established commercial
discography. He recorded Bax’s The
Garden of Fand in 1947. The booklet
notes quote Bax’s letter to Harriet
Cohen on the occasion of a 1931 Queen’s
Hall performance of the same work by
Beecham – Bax called it "the most
beautiful orchestral experience of my
life – as far as my own works are concerned
…. it could not be surpassed … and the
whole work was pervaded with the most
marvellous remoteness and delicacy …"
When Bax, "rather emotional"
in his own words, congratulated Beecham
the conductor replied "My dear
fellow, I see all the things I can do
with this work in the future."
After the War he was true to his word.
This 1949 broadcast doesn’t materially
differ from the commercial disc – it’s
very, very slightly broader – but there
are subtle details that will delight.
It necessarily lacks the clarity of
the celebrated disc but strikes a slightly
more pungent stance. The opening, for
instance, is more assertive in the Maida
Vale studios with the winds more prominent.
Despite the slight congestion in the
sound the winds emerge with considerable
presence and there are plenty of charismatic
and glamorous solos from section principals.
It’s a work that clearly appealed to
the voluptuary in Beecham and this performance
is full of allure and sweep and grandeur.
The climaxes fortunately don’t distort.
A number of Edinburgh
Festival performances given by Beecham
have been emerging on this label. May
we hope for his Bantock Hebridean
Symphony performance from the same
series? Here for now is a sizeable bonus
– the 1956 Don Quixote with section
leaders John Kennedy (father of Nigel)
and Frederick Riddle. He recorded this
twice, firstly in New York with Alfred
Wallenstein and Rene Pollain and secondly
with the RPO, Paul Tortelier and Leonard
Rubens. Beecham’s conception of Don
Quixote was never standardised but
the sense of balance and control ensure
that there are many more similarities
between the earlier RPO performance
than differences. Often in fact timings
are almost identical. The main divergence
comes in the final scene where the concert
performance encourages him to a decidedly
more expansive treatment than the studio-bound
one with Tortelier and Rubens. Overall
there’s about a minute between the two
performances, almost entirely due to
the last scene. And the performance
shows Beecham once more a most eloquent
and sensitive Straussian; both principals
acquit themselves with distinction.
Riddle of course was a most distinguished
soloist but Kennedy’s career was more
circumscribed. His tone is unostentatious,
devoid of gauche slides, finely centred
and his rhythmic sense elevated. The
hushed pianissimo at the end is beautiful.
There are also two
spoken introductions by Beecham in semi-seigneurial
form, rolling some of his vowels as
if he’d just encountered them for the
first time. Graham Melville-Mason’s
notes cap another hard-to-resist entrant
for the Beecham collector.