Beecham in Seattle - Volume 2
Antonín DVORÁK (1841 – 1904) Cello Concerto in B minor, op.104 (1895) [42:04]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809 – 1949) Symphony No.3 in A minor, Scottish, op.56 (1842) [35:17]
Mischel Cherniavsky (cello)
Seattle Symphony Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
rec. 11 (Mendelssohn) and 18 October 1943 (Dvorák), Music Hall Theatre, Seattle WA, ADD

I welcome any historical re–issue for they shed light on performance techniques and attitudes, as well as giving those of us who never heard the performers in the flesh a chance to experience artists we have only ever read about and heard in the recording studio. Live music-making is such a different experience to making records that the work that Pristine Audio has done – bringing to our attention so many performances of historical importance – can only be praised for it is invaluable to anyone interested in the art of performance and interpretation.

Another aspect of the live performance is when you get two artists who may not see eye to eye on how to perform a work. There is also the chance to hear pieces which the performers seldom gave, and never recorded commercially. And here we come to the Dvorák Cello Concerto on this disk. This is an odd performance indeed. I suspect that Beecham is having a good time but I cannot believe that he was happy with this performance. The opening tutti begins in a very exciting and forthright manner, but the beautiful second theme is ruined by a very lazy horn soloist, not to mention the application of the brakes to the established tempo. Things pick up again in the lead to the entry of the soloist but although Cherniavsky shows great strength in his opening phrases he lacks real impetus, pulling the tempo back, then racing off until he reaches a section he can’t possibly manage at the tempo he has chosen so on go the brakes again. Ensemble is occasionally poor, intonation leaves a bit to be desired and bar 175 gains an extra beat! The recording ends 14 bars from the end of the movement. The other movements are better but the music is pulled about far too much, and Cherniavsky’s portamento becomes tiring to the ear. This really is for study only because I cannot imagine anyone, not even the most ardent Beecham fan – and I am one of them – wanting to spend too much time with this performance.

The Mendelssohn Symphony is a totally different matter – it’s hard to believe that this is the same orchestra, let alone the same orchestra only a week earlier! There is a virility to this performance, a momentum which is missing from the Concerto. Perhaps Beecham felt constrained by the soloist. The first movement is admirably forthright, and Beecham adopts a cracking tempo. Unfortunately, at 12:02 there is a section of the music missing. The scherzo also has a good tempo and the music races along in high spirits. But at 2:15 there’s a section missing. The slow movement is full of atmosphere and Beecham refuses to linger and look at the scenery for there is more to come. The finale is very enjoyable, perhaps slightly too fast but there’s bags of excitement and drama. What is missing, and it’s one of the many things which mar the Concerto, is an almost total lack of rubato, and when Beecham employs it it’s so subtle as to be almost unnoticeable. Nothing here is exaggerated or over-played.

One couldn’t claim that, at the time of these performances, the Seattle Symphony was a particularly good orchestra: ensemble and intonation is suspect, and parts of the performance are very rough and ready. But, when left to his own devices, Beecham gets a good result from them, and the Mendelssohn Symphony makes one lament that he never made a commercial recording of this work.

Whilst I cannot warm to the performance of the Dvorak Concerto, the Mendelssohn is a must-have. The sound is very good, the acetates used being Beecham’s own, and although there is some stridency in climaxes it’s not so much as to annoy or spoil your enjoyment.

Bob Briggs

The Mendelssohn is a must-have.