I feel rather like Howard Carter when a new
Somm-Beecham arrives: peering at “wonderful things”. This latest
volume certainly has plenty of those and in conjunction with
Flagstad we have wonderful and memorable together.
Much of the surviving
Beecham Wagner material has been frustrating; either issued
as a Fritz Reiner Tristan Siamese-twin (the pre-War Covent
Garden, not always available in its original all-Beecham format)
or not reissued at all (the post-war live Mastersingers anyone?).
Here however we have some fascinating glimpses of Beecham on
the wing. The Flying Dutchman Overture is from the Festival
Hall in 1954. It doesn’t differ in outline or timing from the
commercial recording made in the same year which you can find
on Sony SMK89889 but though laden with some coughs and a degree
of high level hiss you will a slightly greater level of tensile
strength and evocative painting in the live performance, good
though the Sony remains. The Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin
was taped live in the same location almost exactly a year
earlier but this time not with his RPO but with the BBC Orchestra.
Here one has to note that the Sony transfer has given the commercial
recording a rather odd and synthesized string tone; the Somm
is far more natural with the BBC orchestra playing with magnificent
engagement for Beecham. The live traversal is a minute quicker
as well – in every way a memorable reading.
We are also fortunate
to have the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde
where in the latter Beecham and the RPO were joined by Flagstad.
The location was the BBC’s Maida Vale studios in 1952. The only
possible demerit is an entirely technical one; the sound is
rather congested and it serves somewhat to constrict the aural
perspective. There were a few clicks as well. But as performances
both are incandescent and surpassingly lovely – passionate and
yet structurally entirely convincing. Flagstad soars with seemingly
effortless ease over the orchestra and casts spell upon spell
upon her hearers. The Wesendonck-Lieder came from the
same broadcast and it’s trebly valuable because this was not
a work that Beecham much performed. The acoustic is a touch
boxy but nothing too serious. Flagstad sings Stehe still!
in particular with resplendent command and eloquence – effulgence
and radiance is how I described this in another review. She
is in excellent voice and she and Beecham take consistently
fleeter tempi than she was later to do in the studio in Vienna.
Beecham encourages some deliciously swoony portamenti in Der
Engel. Theirs is a thoroughly convincing and notable collaboration.
There are other extant performances by Flagstad of course –
notably that Knappertsbusch/Vienna Philharmonic recording of
1957 and the (original) piano accompanied 1948 recording with
Gerald Moore. The other release alluded to is Guild GHCD 2300/2, a three CD set otherwise devoted to Met meterial –
which makes the Somm box rubric Previously Unissued Recordings
(front of box) and First Authorised Release (on the back)
somewhat difficult to reconcile.
end we have the 1949 Flagstad BBC Talk on “Singing Wagner.”
Snippets of this have been heard before, I’m certain, but not
the entire 10:43. She is a fount of straightforward and practical
advice, spiced with dry humour. Yawning is a natural position
for the voice, she says with startling candour and adds that
singing out of the porthole of a ship is good a practice for
long voyages. Much more as well.
I’ve no idea what’s
next from this constantly surprising series of Beecham releases.
Live Arnell perhaps? What about Beecham’s collaboration with
his soloists, to join the Schumann-Lympany already issued –
Katherine Goodson in the Brahms Piano Concertos, Busch in the
Violin Concerto, Pougnet in a live Delius, John Pennington in
Mozart, Campoli? Are any of these extant one wonders.
One thing’s for
sure – this series offers the highest of rewards.