A Romantic Evening
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792 – 1868) Overture: William Tell (1829) [12:42]
Adrian BEECHAM (1904 – 1982) Six Spanish Songs (1952) [17:28]
Peter Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893) Symphony No.6 in B minor, Pathétique, op.74 (1893) [45:43]
Sadhbh Dennedy (soprano)
Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra/James Blair
rec. live, 23 June 2010, St John’s, Smith Square, London. DDD
YMSO no number [45:43]

I was privileged to attend this concert and report on it for Seen and Heard, and I am very happy to be able to relive that experience. James Blair and his Young Musicians Orchestra has always performed new and interesting, and under played, works, especially by British composers. I have a recording of Bax’s Phantasy for viola and Delius’s Suite for violin, both with orchestra, featuring the much missed Ralph Holmes which is very fine indeed. They gave the London première of Malcolm Arnold’s 8th Symphony and, if I remember correctly, the only public performance of Havergal Brian’s Violin Concerto, again with Holmes. Indeed, one expects something interesting every season, and this year was no exception.

Adrian Beecham was the first child of Sir Thomas, but unlike his father he chose the quiet life, living in the country, writing music when it pleased him to do so, and he succeeded to the baronetcy on his father’s death in 1961. Beecham’s Six Spanish Songs were written for Victoria de los Angeles, who performed them in the Royal Festival Hall in London, with Gerald Moore at the piano. It’s not known exactly when he orchestrated them, but it is certain that this version was never performed in his lifetime, so this is the first performance of the orchestral version. It’s an attractive suite, colourful and unpretentious. Perhaps if he had heard them he might have made a few changes and made the orchestration a little lighter, but after hearing them a few times I find myself quite happy with the instrumentation, which, at times, is quite quirky. Sadhbh Dennedy is a fresh voiced soloist, who gives a committed performance, showing a nice range of tone colour and careful vibrato. Blair directs a subtle account of the orchestral accompaniment and the whole is quite delightful.

For the rest, Rossini’s famous Overture is slightly underplayed, thus making the storm and the final gallop all the more exciting. Tchaikovsky’s last Symphony also gains from Blair’s slightly holding the music back – the famous second subject of the first movement really comes into its own when treated this way. Thus, as the piece unfolds, he achieves some mighty climaxes which are always tempered by passages of repose. What really scores in this performance is Blair’s magnificent use of the most subtle rubato at salient moments. I notice that in my review of the concert I complained that there was insufficient spring in the rhythm of the second movement “waltz”, but I now find that I was wrong, Blair shows quite a good dance step. Despite a couple of small slips in the playing, this is a fine interpretation indeed and the disk must be welcomed for the inclusion of the Adrian Beecham piece, which, even if not a major work, is one well worth hearing.

St John’s, Smith Square, where this concert was recorded is a big hall and some performances suffer from the very live acoustic, but this recording removes that problem, and gives a clean and vital perspective on the orchestra. It’s worth mentioning that a small amount of applause has been left on the recording but this will not bother you. There are no notes or texts and translations.

Bob Briggs

The Adrian Beecham piece is well worth hearing.