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Jonathan Woolf
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Beecham at the Royal Festival Hall
Volume 1
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 101 in D major ‘Clock’, Hob.I:101 (1793/4) [27:15]
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)
Symphony in G minor (1886) [26:44]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
L’enfant prodigue: Cortčge et Air de Danse (1884 rev 1906-08) [4:45]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
rec. Royal Festival Hall, London, 25 October 1959 (Haydn, Lalo), 8 November 1959 (Debussy)
ADD Mono

Volume 2
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Overture; 'The Fair Melusine' (1834) [10:50]
Giorgio Federico GHEDINI (1892-1965)
Musica da Concerto for Viola and Strings (1953) [23:37]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904) 
Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88 (1898) [36:15]
Frederick Riddle (viola)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
rec. Royal Festival Hall, London, 25 October 1959 (Dvořák), 8 November 1959 (Mendelssohn, Ghedini)
ADD Mono

Beecham’s Royal Festival Hall broadcasts have been extensively, though not quite exhaustively, released on BBC Legends. Pristine’s series consists of three volumes of these broadcasts, heard in fine mono, of which these are the first two. They’re not heard as performed in concert – the two dates covered are from October and November 1959 – so the Debussy on volume 1 was actually part of the programme containing the Mendelssohn and Ghedini on volume 2. Similarly, the Dvořák was heard with the Haydn and Lalo in a big symphonic concert on 25 October 1959.

Pristine now has a roster of themed Beecham editions to its name so if your predilection stretches to his Seattle years or to the concerts with the ABC Blue Network in New York then you can search out those items. The RFH broadcasts are much better known but engineering has softened the wintry acoustic in favour of greater warmth in the string tone. Mendelssohn was a particular strength and the overture to The Fair Melusine shows the conductor’s apt balancing of the music’s refined and athletic elements. Ghedini’s Concerto for Viola and Strings had been composed in 1953 and I assume this was its British premiere though I’ve read it was in fact a world premiere. Riddle had succeeded Harry Danks in the year of the concerto’s composition as the leader of the RPO viola section and in the following year he and Beecham performed Rubbra’s Viola Concerto, so let’s hope that has survived somewhere. Ghedini’s melancholic, introspective and deeply reflective work offers lyrical and even impressionist moments and is couched in a single span but one that falls into defined and rather traditional sections. The cadenza for the soloist is also rather traditional sounding. The performance is highly accomplished all round.

The Dvořák Eighth Symphony performance is well-known by now and has appeared on CD several times. It’s full of driving rhythms and vibrant spirits, propulsively passionate and underpinned by some excellent percussion work. Caught on the wing, with inevitable ancillary audience noises, Beecham is sensitive enough delicately to spring the rhythm of the Allegretto and reserves a full complement of brio and bounce for the finale.

The Lalo was obviously a dry run, with his own RPO, for the commercial recording he made in the Salle Wagram in Paris six weeks later with the French Radio Orchestra. This is a well-known and superb reading but to hear it with his own band is intriguing, as he generally recorded large-scale symphonic French repertoire at this time solely in Paris. His ideas were set by this time and there is an absolute sense of clarity and proportion about this RPO reading, from which he did not in any way deviate, barring recognition of the different tonal qualities of the two orchestras. This live performance has also been issued on Music & Arts CD-1255. The Haydn dates from time when he was setting down the cycle of ‘London’ Symphonies at both the Salle Wagram and Abbey Road. Maybe the Menuetto is a touch more expansive in the studio reading of the Clock – Beecham perhaps responding to the intensity of a live performance with a bit more alacrity – but otherwise all the conductor’s familiar hallmarks are audible The Debussy receives a beautiful performance – as so often with this composer, Beecham is truly evocative.

Things look set fair for the final volume in this series. But then whither for Pristine and Beecham?

Jonathan Woolf


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