Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No.2 in D Op.73 (1877) [37:45]
Academic Festival Overture Op.80 (1880) [10:43]
Frederick DELIUS (1862 -1934)
North Country Sketches (1913-14) [24:25]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
rec. Abbey Road, London 1949 (Delius), 1956 (Overture) and 1958 (Symphony)
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.
Jonathan Woolf
Whilst it offers no surprises other than promoting unlikely disc bedfellows it offers thoroughly sound traversals in good sound.