Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Le Corsaire
Overture, Op. 21 [8:09]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
An Old Norwegian Romance with Variations
, Op. 51 (1890) [17:53]
Vincent d’INDY (1851-1931)
La Forêt Enchantée
. Symphonic legend after Uhland, Op. 8 (1878) [13:42]*
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Symphony No 3 in C minor, Op.78 (1886) [36:07]**
Denis Vaughan (organ), Tom McCall and Douglas Gamley (pianos)**
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham*
rec. 7 March 1951, Royal Albert Hall (Berlioz); 27 November 1955, Royal Festival Hall (Grieg); 21 October 1951, BBC Maida Vale Studios, London (d’Indy); 20 October 1954, Royal Festival Hall (Saint-Saëns). ADD
SOMM-BEECHAM 32 [76:11]
More riches from Somm’s Beecham archive, which means more novelties to add to Beecham’s discography, more excitement, and more brio.
The disc begins with a performance of Berlioz’s Le Corsaire overture from 1951, neatly bisecting the three commercial recordings he made of it, which were set down in 1947, 1954 and 1958. It exudes by turn, wit, lyricism and dynamism. The electricity generated, as well as the warmth in the central panel, encourages the Royal Albert Hall audience to admiring applause. There’s a small typo, of which Somm is aware, in that the jewel box and track-listing proclaim Grieg’sAn Old Norwegian Folksong with Variations but Robert Matthew-Walker knows better and correctly calls it An Old Norwegian Romance with Variations in his notes. Beecham had first conducted it a week or so before recording it in the studio. This Royal Festival Hall performance follows that studio recording, though Beecham’s allegiance to it didn’t last much longer and he dropped it from his repertory. What must have appealed to him, an acknowledged Grieg exponent, was its freshness and verdant lyricism, qualities he was able fully to extract via the alluring string phrasing of his fiddles and the tactile, warm contributions of his RPO famous wind players. What may ultimately have counted against the work is a perceived diffuseness for all its geniality and approachability; and though he certainly did programme relatively long works such as this - it’s nearly 18 minutes long in his performance - it’s not altogether easy to fit into a coherent concert shape.
D’Indy’s La Forêt Enchantée is a live broadcast taped in the BBC’s Maida Vale studios in October 1951. He had first conducted it back in 1907 and performed it eleven times altogether, though this was the last such occasion. The orchestra is the BBC Symphony, and the interpretative stance is evocative, insightful, and shows a convincing grasp of its legendary ethos. There’s a touch of overload, but it’s not at all bad. This was one work here that escaped Beecham’s attention in the recording studio, as opposed to the broadcasting studio. Another such was Saint-Saëns’ Third Symphony. It was recorded live in the Festival Hall in October 1954. He had first conducted it in 1913 - the composer was present, and had jousted with the conductor at rehearsals concerning tempi - and was to do so 11 more times up to this concert. It’s a thoroughly spirited traversal though not overwhelmingly so; certainly you need to put out of your mind any comparison with sonic spectacular stereo LP versions of slightly later. The sound remains perfectly reasonable for the time, though the percussion sound is rather boomy. Beecham is thoroughly au fait with the idiom - you’d have thought he might have recorded it in the late 1950s in Paris, but he didn’t - and the results extend still further our appreciation of his repertoire in general and the Franco-Belgian part of it, as perpetuated in this excellent disc.
Jonathan Woolf

More riches from Somm’s Beecham archive, more novelties, more excitement, and more brio. 

see also review by John Quinn

Masterwork Index: Saint-Saëns Symphony 3