Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies: No. 4 in a;
No. 6 in C
Thomas Beecham, cond; BBC SO;
SOMM BEECHAM 18, mono (61:23) Broadcast: London 10/4/51;
Live: London 9/15/54
The Beecham Collection began in 1988 as a semi-autonomous operation
affiliated with EMI, with a CD of Sir Thomas?s 1946?47 recordings of Tchaikovsky?s Third Symphony and
Romeo and Juliet
; it was the first issue of either in extended-play format. (Collectors of that era will undoubtedly remember the distinctive pink front and back covers.) The series continued reissuing commercial Beecham recordings, almost all from 78s, and in 1992 (BEECHAM 5) expanded into the realm of live recordings with the first release of a 1937 performance of Beethoven?s
(confusingly identified as ?in C?). Activity ceased in 1995, but in 2000, BEECHAM 7, 8, and 9 appeared from the independent English label SOMM, minus the pink, but still featuring the Beecham family crest on the covers. Each of these discs presented a mixture of issued and unissued recordings, including such items as never-released studio recordings of the Handel-Beecham Piano Concerto, with Beecham?s wife Betty Humby as soloist, and one of Beecham?s three attempts to record the final scene of
. More live material followed, such as the 1937 Covent Garden
with Tauber and Konetzni, newly discovered items from the 1934 Leeds Festival, and a BBC broadcast of the Busoni Piano Concerto with Noel Mewton-Wood.
The most recent release brings together live performances of Sibelius?s most dissonant and uncompromising symphony, No. 4, and his most introspective and ascetic one, No. 6. Beecham recorded both commercially, the Fourth famously on 1937 Sibelius Society 78s for HMV/Victor with the LPO (Naxos Historical 8.110867), and the Sixth 10 years later with the RPO (EMI CDM 76427, out of print). Still, even though Beecham hardly shared the aversion to the recording studio of his contemporaries Toscanini and Furtwängler, his live performances often were memorable occasions?for example, the famous and often-reissued 1954 BBC performance of the Sibelius Second, which is far more exciting than his 1947 studio version.
The two performances here are taken from acetates, and while the sound of the Sixth is slightly congested, it is minimally distracting. The acetates of the Fourth are noisier but still tolerable; more serious are the missing first two measures of the third movement.
Still, these performances tell us much about Beecham?s ongoing thoughts on Sibelius. (The notes, by Graham Melville-Mason, tell us that Beecham conducted 275 performances of Sibelius symphonies between 1931 and 1960!) The most interesting thing about the Fourth is how little Beecham?s conception of the work had changed in the 14 years since his studio recording. Timings are very similar: Beecham takes literally Sibelius?s
Allegro molto vivace
tempo indication for the second movement, an odd scherzo whose trio forgets to return
and simply ends. Only the fourth movement, which seems oddly rushed in the 1937 version, is somewhat more relaxed here. Evidently Beecham had rethought the symphony by the 1955 Sibelius 90th Birthday Concert (BBCL 4041), at which time the first and third movements are each about a minute shorter.
The studio version of the Sixth is one of the few Beecham recordings that disappoint, seeming atypically perfunctory. In the live version here all four movements are a bit more deliberate; the first movement, which is just too fast in 1947, has more shape but is still a fleet 7:25 in duration, compared with 9:10 for Karajan?s contemporary studio version (and a more typical timing for more recent recordings). The most musically satisfying Beecham version of the Sixth?setting aside the bizarre change of a melodic G? in the second measure of the finale to a G?, unique to this performance?is a 1952 concert performance by the Boston Symphony, issued about 30 years ago by the Sir Thomas Beecham Society. The tape must still exist somewhere.
The level of orchestral execution in these performances is not noticeably inferior to that of the studio recordings; clearly, Beecham?despite being remembered as much for his wit and his magic touch with light classics or ?Lollipops? as for his serious musicianship?took to heart the motto on the family crest:
Nil sine labore
. This disc will be intriguing for Sibelians, essential for Beechamites.
FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 6 in D minor, Op. 104 by Jean Sibelius
Sir Thomas Beecham
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1923; Finland
Date of Recording: 09/15/1954
Venue: Live Royal Albert Hall, London, England
Length: 27 Minutes 31 Secs.
Symphony no 4 in A minor, Op. 63 by Jean Sibelius
Sir Thomas Beecham
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1911; Finland
Date of Recording: 10/04/1951
Venue: Live The Criterion Theatre, London
Length: 33 Minutes 4 Secs.
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