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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Beecham: ABC Blue Network Concerts Volume 4
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario) K486 (1786) Overture [4:14]
Camille SAINT-SAňNS (1835-1921)
Le rouet d’Omphale, op.31 (1871) [9:25]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 102 in B flat major ‘Miracle’, Hob.I:102 (1794) [25:12]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Les Troyens, Chasse royale et orage [10:29]
La Damnation de Faust (1828): Marche hongrois [4.18]
Announcements by Milton Cross
Blue Network Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
The Blue Network of the American Broadcasting Company
rec. Saturday 28 April, 1945 live studio broadcast from Ritz Theater, 219 W. 48th Street, New York City

The fourth and last in this series of broadcasts from 1945 features a programme close to the heart of Thomas Beecham; Mozart, Haydn, Saint-SaŽns and Berlioz (reviews of Volume 1 ~ Volume 2 ~ Volume 3).

The Mozart is the overture to The Impresario, a perfect example of Beecham’s mid-period energy in this repertoire. His jaw-jutting joie de vivre infects his forces through wind arabesques and litheness of the string choirs. The performance fizzes by in 3:44, the remaining half minute being given over to applause. Rouet d’Omphale was a long-standing favourite, and one he seemed to enjoy taking to North America. WHRA’s Beecham box has a Toronto performance from 1960 which is somewhat slower – inevitably perhaps given his age – than this New York one. His NY forces are in splendid form here, the coagulant tone of the lower strings being especially notable, as is the fine brass playing.

The centrepiece is Haydn’s Symphony No.102 which differs somewhat in proportion to the 1958-59 LP performance that formed part of his famous late Haydn sequence. The opening Largo is splendidly sustained – one wonders how much rehearsal time Beecham had with his forces before these live broadcasts – which then leads into a combatively argued Vivace. The precisely chorded accents are accompanied by bonhomonious vigour, Beecham’s Haydn being the opposite of ascetic. He must have been agreeably amused by the applause that greets the end of the first movement. The slow movement is taken at a good, sustainable tempo, vested by those little touches of Beechamesque romance that lead, inevitably, to renewed applause. There’s a gutsy quality to the Minuet but the tempo is in no way slower than that taken by modern practitioners and there’s evidence of the Baronet’s foot stamping in the finale, which is suitably exciting, witty, and sweeping.

He ends the programme with two staples from his Berlioz armoury. The Royal Hunt and Storm compares favourably to his other recordings, except perhaps in absolute fidelity of sound quality whilst the Marche Hongroise makes its inevitable and indeed indelible impression in this galvanizing reading. He’s certainly up to tempo here.

It’s always good to hear announcer Milton Cross in this series, as he adds period ballast to the proceedings.

These four CDs, whilst not offering much by the way of repertoire novelty, have certainly surprised by virtue of their existence at all. It’s been a pleasure to get acquainted with them and I renew my appeal to trace examples of Beecham’s North American tours with his RPO in the early 1950s. Here’s one of my reasons: I want to hear Beecham’s leader, David McCallum, playing the Delius Concerto.

Jonathan Woolf

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