Symphony No. 9 in D Minor Op.125 Choral (1824) [67:05] The British National Anthem [3:53]
Sylvia Fisher (soprano), Nan Merriman
Richard Lewis (tenor),
Kim Borg (bass)
Edinburgh Festival Chorus
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
rec. live, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 19 August 1956 BBC LEGENDS
performance has been broadcast by the BBC at least once,
probably twice, over the last decade or so. It now takes
its place in the BBC Legends series and is thereby given
permanent form on disc.
all know Beecham’s waggish Beethovenian pronouncements about
the Seventh and the Choral but the Ninth wasn’t the originally
intended work to be performed at the Edinburgh Festival in
August 1956. As Graham Melville-Mason notes, that was the Missa
Solemnis but a performance of a Catholic Mass on the
Sabbath was anathema to the Presbyterian Church of Scotland,
which duly objected. Hence the Ninth.
certainly an illuminating and so far unique experience to
savour Beecham in a work not associated with him – though
it’s often the case that works “not associated” with him
turn out to have been buried in his repertoire at some point
during his long career. I wrote about just such a work, the
jinxed Missa Solemnis, in its appearance on Somm (see review)
and that really was a revelation; the then earliest surviving
broadcast or recording of the work live from the 1937 Leeds
Triennial Music Festival. That was, as I wrote at the time,
an incandescent and deeply moving reading and it attested
to the conductor’s exceptional skill in marshalling solo
and choral-orchestral forces, and not least a deep perception
into the workings of the score.
are no comparable revelations in respect of the Edinburgh
performance. The reading is finely paced in broad outline,
has moments of indisputable grandeur and magnificence, and
certainly belies the conductor’s reputation as a poor symphonic
Beethoven conductor. But there are no real indications of
any transcendental qualities in the reading. That said the
first three movements are really splendidly done. The high
point is probably the opening movement itself which Beecham
vests with tremendous power and authority; rhythms are sharply
etched and drive on the symphonic argument. His orchestra
plays with real panache and authority and the Scherzo – not
at all too fast, really quite measured – is a study in cumulative
power. The slow movement is revelled in, lovingly unfolded – too
much so perhaps at various points. The finale brings one
inescapable problem; the singing. The Chorus is uncharacteristically
undisciplined. I don’t know how many rehearsals they’d been
given but from the sound of it not nearly enough. Their sound
spreads badly and they’re not always in tune. Kim Borg was
in a bit of a hectoring mood that day and Nan Merriman is
a bit squally. Richard Lewis sings well, the best of the
for Beecham this movement tends to encourage him to variable
pacing. He doesn’t dig into the fugal passages and can let
others rather drift. I wouldn’t suggest that it’s a bad performance
of the finale but I would say that it’s a disappointment
after the three earlier movements.
one conducted the National Anthem like Beecham. Here though
we have Elgar’s choral version, which is grand but not exciting.
constituency for this will be Beecham admirers and the like.
The performance is, as I’ve noted, memorable in places but
strongly flawed as well. But as Beecham himself might have
added; better out than in.
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