Beecham: ABC Blue Network Concerts Volume 3
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 31 in D major ‘Paris’ K297 (1778) [18:47]
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
España- rhapsody for orchestra (1883) [6:34]
Georg Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759) – Thomas BEECHAM (1879-1961)
Piano Concerto (c.1944) [27:17]
Announcements [0:36 and after the end of the Mozart Symphony]
Blue Network Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
The Blue Network of the American Broadcasting Company
rec. Saturday 21 April, 1945 live studio broadcast from Ritz Theater, 219 W. 48th Street, New York City

The third volume of this series (Volume 1 ~ Volume 2) traces a congenial concert of Mozart, Handel and Chabrier that is all over well within the hour. The central work is that hyphenated and hyperbolic construction, the Handel-Beecham Piano Concerto. In this the Bart has ransacked some memorable themes to stitch together a concerto of sorts, a vehicle for his new wife Betty Humby who here gives the work its first radio broadcast. The premiere had been given a little earlier, on 15 March 1944, again in New York. As Andrew Rose notes, Beecham and Humby recorded it in London the following year but he is not quite right in his dating. Most of the recording comes from January 1945 but the Romanza was set down successfully in October of that year (the then unpublished performance can now be found on Somm). There are no huge interpretative differences in as slight a piece as this, but it is noticeable that the very stately opening was tightened up a few months later in the London studio inscription. This charming work, full of rococo trills and burnished romance, is graced by excellent string playing – fully affetuoso when called for - an especially fine first flautist, and a few minor digital derailments from Humby. As picked up by the microphone, her piano tone isn’t quite centred in the balance; it tends to be a bit recessive.

Beecham was still in his early-mid period approach to Mozart’s symphonies. However beautifully shaped some later recordings were, there was sometimes a hint of too-manicured phrase tapering. Here he takes the Paris with all his accustomed vitality. His earlier LPO recording, which can be found on Dutton and elsewhere, is full of the kind of swagger and driving intensity that can be heard in this New York reading. The lower strings shine, the forward tuttis register powerfully, and the elegant and Andante never drags. Elegance and trenchancy are held in perfect equipoise. As a bonus we hear one of his encore favourites, a piece he loved playing and recording – Chabrier’s España. Deftly rhythmic and virtuosic it elicits voracious, applause which bulks up the playing time to precisely the 6:30 or so he took in his RCA reading. In New York he whipped up a quite different and more kinetic kind of storm.

On my review copy rogue discographic information relating to a Rudolf Kempe disc has migrated to the back of the jewel case, though this is presumably easy to correct. The engineering is fine and it’s always good to hear announcer Milton Cross adding period flavour to the proceedings.

Jonathan Woolf