Beecham: The ABC Blue Network Concerts Volume 2
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Götterdämmerung, WWV 86D - Siegfried's Funeral March (1876) [7:33]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Pelléas et Mélisande, Suite, Op. 46 (No.2 Mélisande; No.5 Pastorale; No.9 The Death of Mélisande) (1905) [12:44]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Divertimento in D, K.131 - 2nd mvt. – Adagio (1772) [4:34]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D.759 "Unfinished" (1822) [18:40]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Serenade for Strings, Op. 48 - 3rd mvt. – Elegie (1880) [8:25]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
The Trojans, H.133 - Marche Troyenne (1863) [4:20]
Announcements [1:34]
Blue Network Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
The Blue Network of the American Broadcasting Company
rec. 14 April, 1945, Live studio broadcast from 4pm, EST, Ritz Theater, 219 W. 48th Street, New York City

The second in the series of Blue Network concerts in New York on 14 April 1945 (see Volume 1 for further details) saw a tribute concert in memory of President Roosevelt who had died just two days before. The programme had to be changed to reflect the sombre nature of the occasion which was interrupted for a funeral report from the White House. A few salient details need to be borne in mind. After the introduction by Milton Cross there was a minute’s silence – one can hear cross-station interference – that producer Andrew Rose has wisely truncated. 50 seconds of music is missing from the Sibelius, which he has patched from another recording – he doesn’t say which. A shorter patch was necessary in the Schubert which is ended early in any case by a live report.

Almost everything here is familiar from Beecham’s extant discography, though not everything will be familiar from on-the-wing live performances such as these. Siegfried’s Funeral March starts slightly awkwardly and ensemble is less blended than in his 1953 RPO studio performance. Nevertheless, the cumulative charge of the music-making is very strong indeed. Something should be said about Pristine’s tracking details which list track 3 as The Death of Mélisande from Sibelius’s Op.46 suite. In fact, there are, to be precise, three movements from the suite; Mélisande (No.2), Pastorale (No.5) and finally, and most appropriately, The Death of Mélisande itself. This offers a more wide-ranging mini-suite in which playful arabesques lighten the commemorative and grieving elements enshrined in the bulk of Beecham’s programme. His 1955 RPO performance may be more tightly played but this New York one has great gravity – his vocal exhortations during this last tableau will be familiar to those who know his similarly live BBC Second Symphony recording. The inclusion of the Adagio from Mozart’s Divertimento in D, K131, is apt.

The surface hiss level is at its most intrusive in the second movement of Schubert’s Unfinished. But the brass is trenchant and the strings taut and memories will stir of his pre-war reading with the LPO just as much as the 1951 RPO. By a quirk of reportage therefore, given that the concert relay is halted before the end of the work, we have a doubly-unfinished symphony. The real bonus for Beecham aficionados is the inclusion of Tchaikovsky’s Elegie from the Serenade for Strings, which he never recorded commercially. Milton Cross announces this as Berlioz’s Intermezzo and Serenade, a clue perhaps to the original concert line-up. This is a tremendous reading - fluctuating, brimming, teeming with ardent lyricism, and a fulsome example of Beecham’s art. The concert ends with the Marche Troyenne - a noble way in which to end this near-hour long salute to the departed leader.

This sequence of continuing discs leads me to hope that aural evidence has survived of Beecham’s coast-to-coast tour of the US with the RPO in 1950.

Jonathan Woolf