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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Sir Thomas Beecham: The Great Communicator
An Audio Documentary written, narrated and produced by Jon Tolansky
Includes contributions by Lucina Amara, Nicolai Gedda, Jon Vickers, Dame Eva Turner, Giovanni Martinelli, John Lucas and others.
rec. stereo/mono ADD/DDD
Full tracklist at end of review
EMI CLASSICS ICON 9099642 [4 CDs: 75.05 + 79.36 + 79.39 + 79.36]

Experience Classicsonline

The compliments heaped on Beecham and his technique in this commentary set can initially seem excessive. Even in Track 1 a feeling of foreboding arises: “there are four discs are they all going to be flowery and wordy?” The conductor’s qualities recited can seem excessive to say the least. Hardly any performance would seem to match the description of a 'fusion of lyrical expressiveness polished refinement, rhythmic élan and virtuoso brilliance.’

All of that said, it is the finest compliment of all that when Mendelssohn’s music is turned up the result seems even greater than the words could convey. The difficulty of describing musical qualities in words has rarely been made more obvious! Jon Tolansky is an enthusiastic and intelligent host however, and his history of Beecham is certainly an engaging and intriguing insight into the life and accomplishments of this famous conductor. It is most interesting to see Beecham's 'genius' – a word which crops up often in this celebration – within the historical context perhaps making his achievements even more arresting. Elements which are easy to forget because of his charming manner – such as the scope of his repertoire including the English debuts of the 'shocking' Strauss operas Elektra and Salome as well as the beautiful Der Rosenkavalier – are clearly and concisely relayed. I find the contributions a very welcome source of entertainment as well as knowledge. There are some truly charming contributions. For me the most memorable is that of John Lucas, the author of a biography of Beecham; he sounds like someone you could talk to all day long.

I find the set useful. This 'portrait of the artist' is quite different from others I have come across. While the full tracklist at the end of this review will give the highest level of detail the following overview might help readers gain a grasp of the structure of what is on offer here:-
CD 1
Early Life - The Beecham Symphony Orchestra
Early opera seasons – The London Philharmonic Orchestra Covent Garden
Mozart in Berlin

CD 2
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Marking parts
Beecham’s improvisatory conduction Lollipops
In the US
The National Anthem
Conducting technique
The Grande Messe des morts
Conducting choruses
Beecham’s Handel arrangements
Beecham as a guest composer

CD 3
Delius – French music
Beecham’s breadth of repertoire
German Music
Scandinavian Music

CD 4
In concert
The late opera recordings
Beecham’s 80th birthday

Walter Legge who was a huge force at EMI throughout the inter-war years and throughout much of the post-war era had lots of dealings with Beecham at Covent Garden through EMI. The portrait in his book 'On and Off the Record' is one which overall suggests an appreciable artist who was maddening to work with. I appreciate the chance to hear another more complete analysis here. Even here - in a celebration - there is space for a discussion of his impish nature under 'Controversy' – Disc 4 Track 6. I find this quite endearing in a way foreign to Walter Legge's rather more cynical viewpoint. I think their relationship is an illustration of 'egos in mortal combat!'. In all these contributions it is the 'human' element I find most interesting – the stories from the background and how singers and orchestras got on with Beecham. That is the chief pleasure of this set.

Anyone who scrapes the surface in classical recordings will know about Beecham. The danger is taking him for granted. It was an achievement in his time to make excellent records which stood out as prime recommendations on 78 and then on LP. However, the achievement is even greater when one considers just how many recordings of the repertoire have been made since then; Beecham's discs still stand out as exceptional.

If Beecham was a great symphonic conductor on the evidence of this collection he was, especially in the 1920s and 1930s, an astonishing opera conductor. I enjoyed Eva Turner's contribution from Aida. If his later opera records from the 1950s do not quite match this level of inspiration they remain excellent. I thought Lucina Amara's waltz song from Boheme lovely and Nicolai Gedda's contributions regarding Carmen intriguing. A special pleasure is Jon Vickers’ funny contribution about his work on Beecham's Messiah - always one of my favourite recordings.

This set is an excellent experience – offering insight into the human relationships and stories behind some of the great symphonic and vocal music on record.

David Bennett

Full Tracklist
CD 1:
1. Introduction - Mendelssohn: Der Schöne Melusine Overture Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham/Geoffrey Brand/John Amis 10:04
2. Early Life, And Creation Of Beecham Symphony Orchestra - Narration John Lucas 7:40
3. L'oiseau De Feu - Dance Of The Firebird Sir Thomas Beecham/Beecham Symphony Orchestra 1:08
4. Early Opera Seasons - Narration John Lucas/Paul Strang 2:22
5. Aida: Ritorna Vincitor - Narration Dame Eva Turner/Orchestra 6:34
6. Creation Of London Philharmonic Orchestra - Narration John Lucas/Leo Birnbaum 3:49
7. Le Carnaval Roman Overture - Narration John Lucas 3:11
8. Der Freischütz - Overture (2003 Digital Remaster) London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham 4:20
9. London Philharmonic Orchestra - Narration Richard Walton/Lyndon Jenkins 3:32
10. Delius: In A Summer Garden - Narration Lyndon Jenkins/Bernard Keeffe/Leo Birnbaum/Paul Strang15:21
11. International Opera Seasons At The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden - Narration Lyndon Jenkins/John Lucas/Giovanni Martinelli 3:50
12. Wagner - Götterdämmerung: Act I: Hier Sitz' Ich Zur Wacht - Narration London Philharmonic Orchestra/Ludwig Weber 4:42
13. International Opera Seasons At The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden - Part II - Narration Lyndon Jenkins/Norman Walker 3:30
14. Conducting Mozart In Berlin - Narration Lyndon Jenkins 2:00
15. Die Zauberflöte: Act 1: Schnelle Füße, Rascher Muth - Narration Tiana Lemnitz/Gerhard Hüsch/Favres Solisten Vereinigung/Berliner Philharmoniker 2:53

CD 2:
1. Creation Of Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Jon Tolansky 0:47
2. Don Quixote: The Defeat Of Quixote - Narration Jon Tolansky/Paul Tortelier/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra 3:33
3. Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Op.60: Intermezzo (Prelude To Act II) Oscar Lampe/Raymond Clark/Eric Harrison/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham 1:59
4. Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - Narration Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Raymond Ovens 1:52
5. Sea Drift - Once Paumanok - Narration Raymond Ovens/Gordon Clinton/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra 3:03
6. Sea Drift - O Reckless Despairing Carols - Narration Gordon Clinton/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/John Amis 2:09
7. Symphony No. 2 (Symphonic Suite) Op. 9, 'Antar' (2003 Digital Remaster): II. Allegro Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham 1:33
8. Beecham's Marking Of The Parts - Narration John Amis 1:47
9. Beecham's Rehearsal Method (I) - Narration Basil Tschaikov/Harry Legge 2:47
10. Symphony No.41 (The Jupiter) - Movement 2 - Narration Paul Strang 4:20
11. Beecham's Rehearsal Method (II) - Narration Basil Tschaikov/Harry Legge0:42
12. Die Entführung Aus Dem Serail: Act 2: Ach, Belmonte – Rehearsal Lois Marshall/Ilse Hollweg/Léopold Simoneau/Gerhard Unger/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra 3:16
13. Die Entführung Aus Dem Serail - Singspiel In Three Acts K384, Act II (The Palace Garden): Ach, Belmonte! Ach Mein Leben! (Konstanze/Belmonte/Pedrillo/Blonde) Lois Marshall/Ilse Hollweg/Léopold Simoneau/Gerhard Unger/Gottlob Frick/Hansgeorg Laubenthal/Hilde Volk/Manfred Schmidt/Fritz Hoppe/Beecham Choral Society/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham 6:33
14. Beecham's Insistence On Perfection - Narration - Divertimento No.2, K.131: Mvt 1Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham 1:16
15. Beecham's Rehearsal Method (III) - Narration - Symphony No.104 - Mvt 1 Rehearsal & Performance Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham/John Amis/Geoffrey Brand 3:03
16. Beecham's Improvisatory Conducting - Narration Basil Tschaikov 1:36
17. Marche Troyenne, 'Trojan March' (Les Troyens, Act I) (2003 Digital Remaster) Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham 4:22
18. Beecham's Lollipops - Narration Raymond Ovens 1:49
19. La Vierge (1948 Digital Remaster): Le Dernier Sommeil De La Vierge (Last Sleep Of The Virgin) Sir Thomas Beecham 4:35
20. Beecham's Effect On The Audience In The United States - Narration Geoffrey Brand 1:57
21. English National Anthem Royal Philharmonic Orchestra 1:04
22. Beecham's Conducting Technique - Narration Basil Tschaikov 1:12
23. Le Corsaire Overture Basil Tschaikov/Geoffrey Brand/Carlo Martelli/Bernard Keeffe 5:08
24. Beecham And Berlioz's Grande Messe Des Morts - Narration James Williams 2:10
25. Grande Messe Des Morts - Tuba Mirum - Narration Luton Choral Society/BBC Symphony Orchestra/BBC Choral Society 4:07
26. Beecham's Conducting Technique With Choruses - Narration David Cairns 1:40
27. Solomon (2005 Digital Remaster): Recitative: Double Chorus: Praise The Lord John Cameron/Elsie Morison/Alexander Young/Lois Marshall/Beecham Choral Society/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham 1:29
28. Beecham's Arrangements Of The Music Of HandelDavid Cairns 1:39
29. Love In Bath (1990 Digital Remaster): Hornpipe (Il Pastor Fido) Ilse Hollweg/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham 1:17
30. Beecham's Results As A Guest Conductor - Narration Basil Tschaikov 1:23
31. Franck: Symphony - Narration Denis Wick/Orchestre National ORTF 5:15

CD 3:
1. A Village Romeo & Juliet - Scene 1 & 2 - Narration Lorely Dyer/René Soames/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham/Lyndon Jenkins 9:27
2. A Village Romeo And Juliet - Scene 4 Part II And Scene 6 Lorely Dyer/René Soames/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham 17:15
3. Beecham & French Music (I) - Narration Jon Tolansky 2:33
4. L'arlesienne Suite No.1 – Prelude Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/David Cairns 4:37
5. L'arlésienne - Incidental Music, Suite No.1 (2000 Digital Remaster): Adagietto Sir Thomas Beecham/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra 3:48
6. Beecham & French Music (II) - Narration Jon Tolansky 0:48
7. Grétry, Edited And Arranged Beecham - Zémire Et Azor - Passepied - Narration Lyndon Jenkins 1:33
8. Zémire Et Azor - Ballet Music (1959 Digital Remaster): Pantomime (1er Air De Ballet) Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham 4:08
9. Beecham & French Music (III) - Narration Felix Aprahamian/John Lucas/Paul Strang 4:27
10. Zémire Et Azor: Act 2: Rose Chérie - Narration Paul Strang/Dora Labbette/Orchestra 4:09
11. Beecham's Very Wide Range Of Repertoire - Narration David Cairns 0:36
12. Symphony No. 100 In G Major, `Military` (1992 Digital Remaster): III. Menuet (Moderato) – Trio Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham 2:34
13. Beecham And German Music Jon Tolansky 1:07
14. Symphony No.7 - Mvt 1 - Narration Jon Tolansky/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra 5:54
15. Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg – Overture Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/David Cairns 2:38
16. Beecham And Scandinavian Music (I) - Narration Jon Tolansky 0:58
17. Peer Gynt Incidental Music - Wedding March - Narration Jon Tolansky/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra 4:14
18. Peer Gynt - Incidental Music (1998 Digital Remaster): 8. Anitra's DanceIlse Hollweg/Beecham Choral Society/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham 4:15
19. Beecham And Scandinavian Music (II) - Narration Jon Tolansky 0:57
20. Tapiola - Narration Jon Tolansky/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra 3:33

CD 4:
1. Beecham Live In Concert - Symphony No.2: Mvt 1 & 4 - Narration BBC Symphony Orchestra/John Amis/Lyndon Jenkins 5:52
2. Beecham Live In Concert - Symphony No.8: Mvt 4 - Narration Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/David Cairns/John Cave/Bernard Dennis-Browne 5:30
3. Symphony No.93 - Mvt 1 - Narration Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/David Cairns 4:55
4. Symphony No. 93 In D Major (1992 Digital Remaster): II. Largo Cantabile Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham 1:27
5. Beecham And Audiences - Narration David Cairns/Geoffrey Brand 1:54
6. Beecham And Controversy - Narration David Cairns/Bernard Keeffe 2:09
7. Late Opera Recordings - Narration Jon Tolansky 1:34
8. La Boheme: Act 1: Questo Mar RossoLucine Amara/Jussi Björling/Robert Merrill/Giorgio Tozzi/RCA Victor Orchestra 6:17
9. La Bohème (2002 Digital Remaster) , Act Two: Quando Me'n Vo'soletta (Musetta/Marcello/Alcindoro/Mimi/Rodolfo/Schaunard/Colline) Jussi Björling/Victoria de los Angeles/Robert Merrill/John Reardon/Giorgio Tozzi/Fernando Corena/Lucine Amara/RCA Victor Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham 4:29
10. Casting Of Singers For Operas - Narration Jon Tolansky 4:51
11. Carmen: Act 1: Près Des Remparts De Seville - Narration Victoria De Los Angeles/Nicolai Gedda/Orchestre National ORTF 11:55
12. Carmen - Acte III - N°24 Final: Tu Me Dis De La Suivre (José) Thomas Beecham Sir - Nicolai Gedda - Orchestre National De La Radiodiffusion Francaise 2:30
13. Beecham's Final Edition Of Handel's Messiah - Narration Jon Vickers 4:00
14. The Messiah - Every Valley - Narration Jon Vickers/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra 4:06
15. Beecham's 80th Birthday - Presentation To Beecham Royal Philharmonic Orchestra 3:52
16. Symphony No.99: Mvt 1 - Narration Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Robert Gooch 4:43
17. Gwendoline Overture (2007 Digital Remaster) Orchestre National De La Radiodiffusion Française/Sir Thomas Beecham 9:26








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