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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Symphonies Nos. 3, 5 and 6   Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham  EMI - Great Recordings of the Century Series - CDM5 66984 2 [78'52]

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This celebrated recording united the critics in unanimous praise; and, for myself, I cannot think of any readings to surpass them, not even the Karl Böhm's heavenly reading of the Fifth Symphony on Decca. The Gramophone critic commented "…these extremely charming and elegant performances with exquisitely polished playing, afford deep pleasure."

Beecham loved these works deeply and prepared meticulously for these recordings. After much thought and study during which the orchestral parts would become a mass of blue pencil annotations, Beecham experimented at length during rehearsals until he got the precise effects he sought. As Lyndon Jenkins says in his excellent liner notes, "…..the huge success of these performances really stems from one…exceptional quality: Beecham's sense of style…"

The Symphony No.3 dates from 1815 (in which year, astonishingly, Schubert wrote over 200 compositions). It is a cheerful, youthful work full of high-spirits and lyricism. Beecham's reading is elegant, eloquent and sunny, with the most beautiful instrumental phrasing - particularly from the woodwinds. To quote Lyndon Jenkins again, "For examples of what one critic termed 'Beecham's preposterously elegant phrasing', listen to the rhythmic élan of the oboe in the first movement's second subject, or the relaxed elegance of the clarinet in the central section of the slow movement; then there is the strings' poise and eloquence everywhere; the fine balance between the different sections of the orchestra so that what is intended to be heard is heard with ease; the liveliness of the rhythms, and the adroit employment of a whole range of dynamics to provide variety to the listening ear.

Jenkins remarks could be equally applied to Beecham's readings of the other two symphonies too. The Fifth Symphony sings joyfully but it has that extra property, that quality which he shares with Böhm - a deep sense of humanity that shines through in the contrasting more deeply felt moments of this lovely work.

Recommended unhesitatingly


Ian Lace

Complete details of the EMI Great Recordings of the Century series may be seen here.


Ian Lace

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