Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Requiem K626 [52:01]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 5 in B flat major D485 [25:51]
Elsie Morrison (soprano); Monica Sinclair (contralto); Alexander Young (tenor); Marian Nowakowski (bass)
BBC Chorus; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
rec. Walthamstow Assembly Hall, 13-14 December 1954 and 29 May 1956 (Mozart) and in Salle Wagram, Paris, 14-16 May 1958 and Abbey Road Studios, 12 December 1958 and 7 May 1959
no text or translation included

Neither of these performances is likely to be unfamiliar to the experienced collector. Indeed, in the case of the Schubert Symphony this recording has appeared in the catalogues in many guises and with many couplings. As you would have come to expect, the Pristine Audio treatment has improved its sound, but that was never less than acceptable in its earlier guises and the improvement is probably unlikely to be of great significance in itself. It was a pleasure to hear the performance again in all its affectionate detail although I must admit that I now prefer the first movement to be a little less laid back. The subtle and delightful phrasing of the slow movement however remains a real pleasure as is the ebullience of the Finale.
The main draw here is obviously the performance of the Mozart Requiem, which has often divided opinion in previous issues. Here however the improvements made by the Pristine Audio restoration are more necessary and have been, for me at least, more revelatory. The greater focus allows the listener to hear much more clearly the quality and commitment of the choral singing as well as greater detail in the orchestra. Like almost everyone at that date, Beecham used the completion by Süssmayr although as was his wont he made further revisions of his own. The most obviously noticeable is the replacement of the trombone from bar 9 of the Tuba mirum with a stringed instrument - a cello according to the Gramophone review in 1958 but it sounds more like a viola to me. This works well, avoiding the bandstand effect that can result when modern trombones are used even if it is unnecessary if a period trombone is used.
The soloists are all admirable, both individually and as a team, as are orchestra and chorus. Overall this is a very musically satisfying performance, avoiding dullness or routine but also the excitement or reverence that some conductors bring out in the work. For Beecham enthusiasts this has always been a must, but in this much improved re-mastering it should now have a much wider appeal.

John Sheppard

For Beecham enthusiasts this has always been a must, but in this much improved re-mastering it should now have a much wider appeal.