FRENCH MUSIC • Thomas Beecham, cond; Royal PO; French Natl RO; London PO • EMI 09932 2, stereo/mono1 (6 CDs: 407:56)
BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique (FNRO). Overtures: Corsaire; 1Le Carnaval romain (LPO); Le Roi Lear. Les Troyens:
class="ARIAL12i">Trojan March; Royal Hunt and Storm. La Damnation de Faust: Danse des sylphes; Menuet des follets. BIZET Symphony in C (FNRO). L’Arlesienne: Suites Nos. 1 and 2. Carmen: Suite (FNRO). 1Patrie. 1Roma: Carnaval. DELIBES Le Roi s’amuse: Ballet Music. DEBUSSY Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. L’Enfant prodigue: Cortège et air de danse. SAINT-SAËNS Samson et Dalila: Dance of the Priestesses; Bacchanale. Le Rouet d’Omphale. MASSENET 1Cendrillon: Valse. La Vierge: Le Dernier sommeil de la Vierge. GOUNOD 1Faust: Ballet Music. Roméo et Juliette: Le Sommeil de Juliette. CHABRIER 1Gwendoline: Overture (FNRO). Joyeuse marche. 1España (LPO). FAURÉ Dolly (FNRO). Pavane (FNRO). FRANCK Symphony in d (FNRO). LALO Symphony in g (FNRO). GRÉTRY 1Zémire et Azor: Ballet Music. VIDAL Zino-Zina: Gavotte
This volume consists almost completely of stereo-era recordings, and of course features the items Beecham recorded with the French National Radio Orchestra. The Berlioz recordings are among many highlights; the Symphonie fantastique receives a reading of great clarity, vigor, and excitement, and the Corsaire Overture that Beecham conducted in his 80th year is as fiery as his 78 rpm version. The “Royal Hunt and Storm” from Les Troyens features incomparable horn playing, presumably that of Dennis Brain. These three items also form the contents of a single-CD issue in EMI’s “Great Recordings of the Century” series, a designation that can be used here without hyperbole.
The excerpts from The Damnation of Faust were standard Beecham fare; the “Menuet des follets” may not be as feather-light as the 1937 LPO version—on which Beecham can be heard telling the orchestra “thank you very much,” before the engineer could cut off the mike—but still makes a wonderful effect. The remaining two Berlioz overtures are from 78 originals: Le Carnaval romain, the work with which Beecham introduced his new orchestra in 1932, is a high-energy version from 1936; the overture Le Roi Lear, recorded in 1947, was a rarity at the time.
Bizet’s remarkable Symphony in C on CD 2, written at the age of 17, receives a remarkably vivacious reading, especially when one considers that the conductor was then 80 years old! The ballet music by Delibes and a number of the other items on CDs 3 and 4 are the sort of light music on which Beecham lavished much care; the ballet music from Faust has a wonderful lilt, and such items as Saint-Saëns’s Le Rouet d’Omphale show Beecham’s perfect touch in this repertoire. The music-making in Fauré’s Dolly is highly affectionate; Jenkins’s notes mention that “Beecham had never conducted Dolly before, though he recalled playing piano duets with its composer 50 years before.”
This volume includes some of Beecham’s favorite “lollipops”: the excerpts from Massenet’s oratorio La Vierge and Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette are among these; he also shows a perfect touch in Fauré’s Pavane, his last recording. Several items here are works Beecham rescued from obscurity: Chabrier’s Gwendoline Overture and the ballet music from André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry’s opera Zémire et Azor are two examples.
César Franck’s and Édouard Lalo’s symphonies receive suitably dramatic readings; the Franck was a favorite of Beecham’s. He makes about all he can of Lalo’s essay, the finale of which illustrates well the composer’s technique of taking a musical idea and driving it into the ground.
Many of the performances in this volume are taken from masterings made for the “Great Recordings of the Century” series, but most of the mono recordings unfortunately use the 1991–92 Beecham Edition transfers by Dutton. Never mind; these recordings represent Beecham at his very best. Read less