All three performances here are studio recordings. The preferred
version of the Brahms Symphony is the 1958 stereo, rather than
the pre-war 78 set. But otherwise this is a Brahms-and-Delius
disc that, whilst it offers no surprises other than promoting
unlikely disc bedfellows, does offer thoroughly sound traversals
in good sound.
There may be a hint of the lukewarm about that opening paragraph
of the Symphony, and if there is it relates to the solid, colour
rather than explicitly architecture-conscious reading of the
symphony. Sometimes too much can be made of the pre-war and
post-war Beecham, not least in Mozart performances, where the
former is accounted ‘good’ and the latter ‘erratic’.
Nevertheless there is more than smidgen of truth in that when
it comes to this symphony. Certainly there are many moments
of affectionate moulding, eloquent lower string cantilena, spirited
and bronzed horn playing and the like. And equally, one finds
that this approach cements Beecham’s sense of the work
as a lyric watercolour, generously - indeed often affectionately
- moulded. Nevertheless, though one feels him bestirred in the
finale in an almost galvanic, Vesuvian way, the results do feel
a little out of scale, somewhat forced, and at points unconvincing.
The Academic Festival Overture brings out Beecham’s
caustic wit, and once again the Baronet responds with unconcealed
flair. Drama is never far from the forefront of the matter.
An almost complete contrast is felt in the Delius North Country
Sketches. This is certainly amongst the composer’s
less well performed works, and consequently one’s interpretative
parameters tend to be set early, by his great, though not earliest
champion, Beecham. There are four sketches and they are ripely
characterised. The suggestive wind sough is expertly realised
whilst there’s delicious animation in the third of the
sketches, the Dance movement. Beecham’s ear for balance,
texture and colour - often wrongly equated with an inability
to construct symphonic form (the two qualities are not contradictory)
- finds rich reward in a piece such as this.
The Symphony has been issued on CD before; on EMI CDM 7632212
and the Delius on Sony SMK89429, for example. This Pristine
Audio has retained some tape hiss, but at a much higher level
- therefore less immediately audible - than the Sony transfer.