London Philharmonic Orchestra – The Formative Years.
Pioneering Sound Recordings from The 1930s

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 39 in E flat, K.543 (1788) - excerpts [16:01]
Symphony No. 41 in C flat, K.551 Jupiter (1788) [27:03]
Symphony No. 41 in C flat, K.551 Jupiter (1788) - excerpts – Alan Blumlein stereo tests [15:57]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (1912) [6:43]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
The Golden Cockerel (1908) - excerpts [8:38]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
Includes Binaural/stereo tests by Alan Blumlein –‘Walking, Talking‘
rec. November 1936, live at BASF Feierabendhaus, Ludwigshafen (Mozart Symphony 39, Delius, and Rimsky-Korsakov) and 1933 and 1934, Abbey Road Studios, London (Mozart Symphony 41 and stereo tests)
LPO 0040 [75:17]

I have a set of cassettes, boxed, that enshrines part of the 1936 BASF Feierabendhaus, Ludwigshafen concert given by the touring LPO under Beecham, but it’s been a long time since I dug them out. The release of this disc, however, gives us for the first time the complete concert, or as much of it as was preserved. It also digs out the 1934 commercial recording of the Jupiter Symphony and gives us the stereo tests that were made at the same time by that pioneering genius Alan Blumlein.

Some may have heard the BBC radio documentary on Blumlein’s exploratory stereo work. He took down parts of the symphony’s first two movements in binaural sound or stereophonic sound, or as Beecham called it – in a recorded rehearsal – streptocophic (or stereocomic). Blumlein was the inventor of the moving-coil cutter and microphone that proved so hugely effective for 78s. He instigated ‘walking and talking’ tests – preserved in this disc – which demonstrate his theories quite graphically; listen to these on headphones for the full effect to register.

In effect Blumlein walks across a studio whilst talking. He barks out instructions to the technical staff – surnames only of course - those were the days. He asks for changed recording levels, asks for switching to single (mono) or ‘full binaural’. He refers specifically to 70 ohms. The process takes three minutes and whilst it sounds of archival interest only I think you’ll be surprised by the results.

The Mozart Symphony was the first of nine to be recorded by Beecham and the LPO between 1934 and 1940. In those days and after there tended to be critical polarity between the ‘Big Two’ in Mozart’s symphonic literature: Beecham or Walter. This was a position especially acute in American critical circles. This is a familiar and venerable recording and enshrines a performance of great flair and imaginative control. It’s a critical commonplace that the post-War Mozart recordings were more finicky, but it’s a commonplace to which I also subscribe. The tests are indeed fascinating. About a quarter of an hour is preserved. Balances are different, and there are frequent changes of balance. The actual recording level sounds somewhat limited to me, though there is considerable spread to the aural picture. This fascinating document is well worth preserving.

The German concert performance was recorded on tape on the so-called Magnetophon tape recorder made by AEG. The results are interesting though spotty. Parts of Mozart’s Symphony No.39 were preserved – all of the inner movements, and parts of the opening - and almost all of Delius’s On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring. The opening is missing and has been patched from his earlier commercial 78 made with the orchestra of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1927 – you can’t really hear the join. If you want to check it was on L2096 and it’s now on Somm Beecham 10. There are also two excerpts from The Golden Cockerel. There are some tape thumps, overload as well – the tape couldn’t really deal with those thrilling fortissimi – but also some beautifully preserved Beecham pianissimi in the Delius.

It’s nice to come across a disc that preserves such material. I appreciate it’s not for everyday, or indeed for everyone, even the historically-minded, boffin-orientated clientele out there. However I took to it like a duck to aqua.

Jonathan Woolf