Sir Thomas Beecham
The Later Tradition: From Beethoven to Strauss
Sir Thomas Beecham conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with various performers.
rec. 1950s. Stereo/Mono. ADD
EMI CLASSICS 9186112 [8 CDs: 67.53 + 64.44 + 63.35 + 69.58 + 77.46 + 78.50 + 66.23 + 65.40]
This 8 CD set includes a wide variety of orchestral music from the end of the Classical era with Beethoven through the romantic era up to the 20th century selections from Richard Strauss.
Perhaps the most persuasive of all Beecham’s Beethoven recordings, Beethoven Symphony No. 2 is a triumph. The larghetto is a particular highlight with its well-judged tempos. The orchestral tone is warm and vibrant. The outer movements call for a more extrovert style and these records are not found wanting. Arguably this symphony as with the rest can sound even better in live performances where it is more straightforward to keep the momentum going. Nevertheless conductor, orchestra and the sound engineers manage very well. Listen to the rhythmic drive in the Scherzo section which must have been difficult to capture. I remember reading that this was the least recorded of Beethoven’s symphonies. The difficulty of this symphony must be a factor – Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic’s success here is a real achievement.
The flexibility of Beecham’s conducting is displayed throughout Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Where the speeds vary the orchestra is always ready with clarity and unrushed virtuosity. The technical standard here cannot be considered inferior to many other records by Karajan or more recent conductors. The speeds, as with Sawallisch (Philips) do not unduly call attention to themselves and proceed with a good deal of precision.
The adagio, as with so many versions of Brahms Symphony No. 2, is the highlight. The grateful tunes and textures are given full, detailed, expression as also is the vigour so often missing from other recordings. The impressive vitality of the first movement complements the more detailed and deliberate performance of the second movement.
As befits the melodramatic topic, Liszt’s Faust symphony is full of contrasts. The vibrant power required for the first movement is so different from the Gretchen movement which requires the charm which was Beecham’s great asset. The sound, so important in this piece, is fine for its time but cannot compete with such modern recordings as the Bernstein DG recording or the excellent sound on the Chandos recording with Dausgaard. I don’t think those performances match this one even remembering how good they sound at times.
If there was any concern that Beecham would not rival conductors such as Wilhelm Furtwängler or Arturo Toscanini in Wagner’s Meistersinger Overture this record puts it to rest. Even more than in some live recordings this performance enjoys great clarity but also a warmth and sonority which is exceptional. This is notably from the horns. Beecham is not timid with the big tunes but also does not wallow.
The composer of Die Winterreise was not a one-trick pony as this selection proves. Included here are Schubert’s Symphonies 3, 5 and 6. The lightness and spontaneity of some parts of Symphony 3 juxtapose with elements of surprising vigour. The beauty of the Fifth symphony is incomparable.
Strauss Ein Heldenleben is rich-toned and tense. And there is not lack of refinement either. If there are times when the sound disappoints somewhat there is still a great deal of passion and polish. The Karajan Digital recording on DG is the best ‘modern’ example. The historical importance of Beecham’s Salome orchestral highlights is considerable – he conducted the London premiere of that opera at Covent Garden.
There are many other selections on these discs which reward listeners with a sense of bravado and technical sheen which were arguably at this time Beecham’s alone – certainly outside Vienna.
A rewarding selection played with bravado and technical sheen.
Works included in this set
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Symphony no. 2 in D major, Op. 36
Symphony no. 7 in A major, Op. 92
Ruins of Athens, Op. 113
Mass in C major, Op. 86
Jennifer Vyvyan (soprano), Monica Sinclair (alto), Richard Lewis (tenor),
Marian Nowakowski (bass) Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Beecham Choral Society
Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 73
Song of Destiny, Op. 54
Academic Festival Overture in C minor, Op. 80
Faust Symphony, S 108
Alexander Young (tenor), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Beecham Choral Society
Psalm 13 for tenor, chorus and orchestra, S 13 Herr, wie lange by Franz Liszt
Walter Midgley (tenor), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Beecham Choral Society
Orpheus, S 98
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Midsummer Night's Dream Overture, in E major Op. 21
Die schöne Melusine Overture, Op. 32
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Act 1 Prelude
Franz von SUPPÉ
Dichter und Bauer: Overture
Symphony no 3 in D major, D 200
Symphony no 5 in B flat major, D 485
Symphony no 6 in C major, D 589 Little C Major
Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40
Steven Staryk (violin)
Don Quixote, Op. 35
Oscar Lampe (violin), Leonard Rubens (viola), Paul Tortelier (cello)
Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, Op. 60: Act 1 Prelude; Minuet; Der Fechtmeister; Entrance and Dance of the Tailors (Oscar Lampe (violin)); Act 2 Prelude; Le dîner (Raymond Clark (cello), Eric Harrison (piano));
Salome, Op. 54: Dance of the seven veils
Feuersnot, Op 50: Love Scene
Intermezzo, Op. 72: Träumerei am Kamin