Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Don Quixote (Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character), Op. 35 [38:52]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Violin Concerto* [34:40]
Alfred Wallenstein (cello); René Pollain (viola); Michel Piastro (violin)
Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of New York/Sir Thomas Beecham (Strauss)
*Josef Szigeti (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham (Bloch)
rec. 7 April 1932, Carnegie Hall, New York; *live, 9 March 1939, Queen’s Hall, London
In general Richard Strauss interests me rather than draws me close. There are some exceptions. The operas fascinate me as do the songs - especially those with orchestra. My early experiences of the symphonies rather put me off. First love for Heldenleben and Also Sprach Zarathustra faded after infatuation with these works in my twenties although I continue to find Heldenleben's invincibly leaping confidence stirring. Don Quixote rather like Elgar's Falstaff is painted in shades that are perhaps too pastel for my taste though Falstaff continues to grow on me. The voluptuous Don Juan and the eruptive First Horn Concerto still have a hold on me, as do the strange works for piano and orchestra.
I was drawn to hear this 1932 Beecham Don after reading John Quinn's review to which I will refer you for a more thoughtful and more broadly informed view especially on the Strauss. This New York reading explores delicacy, serenity and grace rather than braggadocio. This is not to say that the brass are not forwardly recorded although there is some evidence of the engineers pulling back on the controls to dampen the results of the players' ardour. Even so, it's Strauss the poet that has the throne. Listen to those fragile and gently tentative violin solos in tr. 1. In tr. 5 we hear what amounts to an experiment in ghostly sonorities. In tr. 10 there's a fantastically evocative image of howling winds. In tr. 7 the liveliness is almost Elgarian with its knightly clanking and rattling. Beecham's Enigma Variations (Sony) have been too readily overlooked. The recording sounds miraculously clean.
The Bloch concerto is a noticeably poorer listen with scratch and scuff still interposed between the listener and some intrinsically decent sound. The original must have been a trial to producer/engineer Mark Obert-Thorn. He has produced a very creditable result but allowances must be made. There's a cough in tr. 1 of the Strauss and at least one close-quarters cough in the Bloch. Szigeti is in good form and does his best with a problematic concerto that is longer than its material justifies. It would perhaps have been more endearing if it had emerged as a single movement of Schelomo proportions. In any event those brassy barbaric shrieks impress rather in the manner of one of Rozsa's later 'Roman epic' film scores. Otherwise this is a loquacious score full of instinctive surges and ebbs and broodily dreamy self-absorption. It's a bit like the Delius concerto but with added anger and on at least one occasion rapturous exultation (tr 17, 7:10). There is applause at the end.
I was not able to compare the Bloch transfer with the version on Naxos which is coupled with Szigeti's magical Prokofiev First Violin Concerto.
This disc adds appreciably to Pristine's extensive store of Beecham recordings and the Don is a winning version.
Rob Barnett

Previous review: John Quinn

Masterwork Index: Don Quixote
Other Beecham on Pristine
Mozart symphonies vol. 1
Beecham in Seattle vol. 2
Arnell Delius Berners
Delius A Mass of Life
Rubinstein Beethoven
Brahms Symphony 2
Mozart Zauberflöte