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Beecham: The ABC Blue Network Concerts Otto NICOLAI (1810-1849)
The Merry Wives of Windsor - Overture (1849) [9:04] Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Serenade for Strings in E minor, Op. 20 (1892) [13:11] Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)-Thomas BEECHAM (1879-1961)
The Great Elopement – Selections [14:38] Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
A Village Romeo and Juliet (1900-01): The Walk to the Paradise Garden (1906) [9:45] Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Frühlingsstimmen (Voices of Spring Waltz) Op. 410 (1883) [7:10]
Blue Network Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
rec. 7 April 1945, Ritz (now Walter Kerr) Theater, 219 W.48th Street, in Manhattan PRISTINE AUDIO PASC461 [54:43]
Live Beecham material is turning up the breadth of North America, from Toronto to Seattle and New York. This latest, rather unexpected example of the Bart’s inveterate orchestra-hopping comes from the final weeks of the Second World War when he found himself directing the Rochester Orchestra and also, in this broadcast, the Blue Network Symphony Orchestra. This obscure band seems to have drawn on personnel from the major local orchestras but the exact composition seems lost in the vaults of time. As for the Blue Network, a note on Pristine’s site reveals that its name didn’t long survive, becoming subsumed into the new WABC, the flagship of the new ABC network.
The repertoire is very familiar. Nicolai’s Merry Wives overture had been recorded by his pre-war LPO, a reading of grand seigneurial vitality and panache. He brings requisite swagger to the Blue Network Orchestra and the accelerandi add to the flair of the reading. Elgar’s Serenade for Strings was one of the few pieces by the composer that Beecham took to, and his performances of it have a quality often overlooked in critical appraisals of his readings – tenderness. Malcolm Sargent may have been more overtly expressive in the central movement but Beecham touches the heart and also brings real intensity – so much so, in fact, that the audience breaks into a spontaneous round of vociferous applause. It’s a mini-marvel of the conductor’s art.
There are announcements introducing the pieces – some of them unintentionally amusing – but that which introduces the selections from the Handel-Beecham The Great Elopement mentions that it’s the first radio performance of the piece, a useful addendum. He was to record this commercially later in the year, though in far fuller form than in this radio performance, which lasts shy of 15 minutes. Beecham enjoyed these pieces and recycled them but in later years Love in Bath was to eclipse this suite as his favoured hyphenated piece. The music is boldly conceived and played with vigour except for one moment. Lovers of train crashes will beam up the end of the March at 7:06 for an example of an utter wreck, where one section of the orchestra goes one way, the other goes the other way and total disaster ensues. One reads about such moments in Beecham performances but they are elusive, so fetishists for this kind of thing can feast on that moment. Fortunately, perhaps, Pristine hasn’t separately tracked the various movements so you’ll have wade through to reach the appointed place.
Clearly Beecham was in no mood to stray far from his tried-and-tested pieces, into which category comes Delius’s The Walk to the Paradise Garden, which surges purposefully but less subtly than with Beecham’s London orchestras. Perhaps that’s why one can hear him exhorting the orchestra repeatedly from 5:59 with hectoring bellows. Or maybe he was still thinking about the Handel. In any case, the effect is to drive them on, trying to keep ensemble together – the harp thankfully present in the balance. The concert at the Ritz (now Walter Kerr) Theater in Manhattan finishes with Johann Strauss’ Frühlingsstimmen in which once again decorum is somewhat left behind, as Beecham shouts, stamps, beats the rhythm and generally whips things up. This naturally throws the audience into a complete frenzy.
All the material here is deeply duplicatory, and despite the perfectly fine recorded sound – very acceptable indeed in the circumstances – far greater finesse will be encountered in the studio inscriptions as well as other live documents that exist. Still, I rather liked this 55-minutes’ worth of Beecham on-the-wing and it will be intriguing to watch this series of Blue Network broadcasts unfold.