Sir Thomas Beecham - The Classical Tradition
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) Symphonies 93 -104, “The Seasons”
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Symphonies etc.
Elsie Morrison (soprano)
Alexander Young (tenor)
Michael Langdon (bass)
Gioconda da Vito (violin)
Beecham Choral Society
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
rec. 1947-58 (RPO) and 1934-1940 (LPO)
Full track list at end of review
EMI CLASSICS 9099462 [10 CDs: 719:30]

Nowadays recordings of Haydn Symphonies with every kind and size of orchestra are issued at an almost alarming rate. That was not the case when the recordings of the London Symphonies which fill the first four discs in this collection were issued. They were virtually universally praised, although even then comments were made about the corrupt editions used. The editions used remain a serious blot so that the question arises whether they were praised as much for the comparative rarity of recordings of this music as for their performance. Having listened transfixed to this set I am in no doubt that it is the latter that counted most then and that even with the competition of newer recordings in more reliable editions and with orchestras of a more suitable size they remain an essential part of any serious collection of Haydn recordings.

This set would be worth having at full price but at the ludicrously low prices at which it is being offered it counts as an astonishing bargain. For the Haydn or Mozart fan or the Beecham fanatic this is an essential purchase. You only have to listen to the start of the first track – the introduction to Haydn’s Symphony No 93 – to be immediately caught up in the music and the performance. This is always alive and always going somewhere with the utmost elegance, wit and logic. The sheer daring and vivacity of the music are always apparent. You may disapprove of the unauthorized pizzicato in the Trio to the Minuet, but it would be hard to dislike the result. Each of the Haydn Symphonies is beautifully shaped, and for all my usual preference for period instrument orchestras and for a more historically informed approach the sheer ebullience of the performances makes them irresistible. The speeds may often be slower than is usual today but with this performances that are as carefully detailed and nuanced as these that counts as a virtue.

The performance of “The Seasons” (sung in Dennis Arundell’s translation) starts unpromisingly and a little stodgily, but soon improves and by the time that Summer arrives it is clear that this is going to be a thoroughly winning performance of what I still regard as Haydn’s greatest vocal work. There is something of a period sound to the soloists’ approach (the period being the 1950s) but for me at least this only added to the charm of the performance, and all three bring plenty of character to their various solos. The chorus are distinctly less impressive than the orchestra or soloists but do not spoil the performance too much.

The Mozart Symphony recordings were made some twenty years earlier with the London Philharmonic Orchestra rather than the Royal Philharmonic. The style may at times be far from what we are used to today, but the sheer elegance and sensitivity are very winning, and there is no lack of forcefulness when necessary, in K504 for instance. Beecham published performing editions of several Mozart Symphonies including the “Jupiter”. The many added expression marks show clearly the extent to which there was more than inspired spontaneity involved in the achievement of Beecham’s results. With the wonderful woodwind principals that he had available in both orchestras used on these discs the results were almost inevitably going to be superb, but it was Beecham’s leadership and sense of musical direction which made them so very good.

The last disc returns to the Royal Philharmonic for what may look like a ragbag of items but which are in fact some of the best and most enjoyable performances in the set. What a pity that the two Divertimenti were not recorded complete, but how good to hear any part of them in affectionate performances that never become routine. The orchestra are wonderfully alive also in the Violin Concerto but Gioconda da Vito adopts a somewhat heavy style for the music, especially in the first movement.

All in all I can only repeat that this is a set likely to appeal to anyone who enjoys these composers and these performers. They should be heard particularly by anyone who normally regards historically informed performance as essential in these works. It is certainly desirable but these discs make it clear that an understanding of the underlying spirit of the music is of even greater importance, and that is something that Beecham most certainly possessed.

John Sheppard

Beecham most certainly possessed an understanding of the underlying spirit of the music.

Full track list:
[RPO = Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; LPO = London Philharmonic Orchestra]

CD 1 [65:22]
Symphony No 93 in D [23:09]
Symphony No 94 in G “Surprise” [22:36]
Symphony No 95 in C minor [19:34]

CD 2 [70:41]
Symphony No 96 in D “Miracle” [21:38]
Symphony No 97 in C [23:43]
Symphony No 98 in B flat [25:16]

CD 3 [77:08]
Symphony No 99 in E flat [25:27]
Symphony No 100 in G “Military” [21:23]
Symphony No 103 in E flat “Drum Roll” [30:13]

CD 4 [78:24]
Symphony No 101 in D “Clock” [28:16]
Symphony No 102 in B flat [23:10]
Symphony No 104 in D “London” [26:41]

CDs 5 [72:08] and 6 [72:07]
“The Seasons” [144:15]
Elsie Morrison (soprano); Alexander Young (tenor); Michael Langdon (bass); Beecham Choral Society; RPO

CD 7 [71:46]
Symphony No 29 in A K201 [22:58]
Symphony No 31 in D “Paris” K297 [17:29]
Symphony No 34 in C K338 [21:20]
Overture to “Le Nozze di Figaro” K492 [4:10]
Overture to “Don Giovanni” K527 [5:43]

CD 8 [71:46]
Symphony No 35 in D “Haffner” K 385 [17:49]
Symphony No 36 in C “Linz” K425 [29:15]
Symphony No 38 in D “Prague” K504 [24:37]

CD 9 [77:36]
Symphony No 39 in E flat K543 [24:33]
Symphony No 40 in G minor K550 [24:52]
Symphony No 41 in C “Jupiter” K551 [27:24]

CD 10 [67:32]
“Thamos, König in Ägypten” K345 – Entr’acte No 2 [6:44]
March in D “Haffner” K249 [2:19]
Divertimento No 2 in D K131 (omitting movement 3) [25:18]
Divertimento No 15 in Bb K287 (movements 2 & 3 only) [9:03]
Violin Concerto No 3 in G K216 [23:46]
Gioconda da Vito (violin); RPO