Liszt / Beecham Choral Society / Rpo / Beecham Release Date: 11/09/2010
Label:SommCatalog #: 25
Spars Code: ADD Composer: Franz Liszt Performer: Alexander Young Conductor: Sir Thomas Beecham Number of Discs: 1
Recorded in: Mono
Length: 1 Hours 10 Mins.
LISZT A Faust Symphony • Thomas Beecham, cond; Alexander Young (ten); Royal PO; Beecham Choral Society • SOMM BEECHAM 25, mono (70: 06) Live: London 11/14/1956
This CD has been available in Great Britain since 2009, but has only recently been distributed here in the U.S. Most of the music Beecham recorded in his incredibly productive final years had been in his repertoire for decades, but the performance given here is actually his first ever of Liszt’s FaustRead more Symphony. The famous studio recording did not take place for another year and a half, in April 1958, with a final session on October 31 of that year.
The live Beecham performances made available on SOMM and on BBC Legends generally complement his studio recordings of the same works; this is the case, for example, with the Brahms Second from the 1956 Edinburgh Festival on BBCL 4099, reviewed by James Miller in Fanfare 26:3. There, the live performance is a good deal more dynamic and vigorous, particularly in the finale, than the corresponding studio recording, made in multiple sessions in 1958–59 (see Fanfare 34:6).
The situation with the Faust Symphony is quite different. This performance sounds as though the RPO players weren’t yet fully comfortable with the piece; particularly in the delicate second movement, “Gretchen,” there are ensemble problems that Beecham normally wouldn’t have tolerated. But Beecham, too, seems here to be still in the process of crystallizing his thoughts about the music; in a number of places, his interpretation changes dramatically in the time between this performance and the studio recording. The principal theme of the first-movement Allegro (Figure D, Allegro agitato ed appassionato) is more deliberate here, and the transitional passages are less taut. The arrival of the recapitulation (Figure Bb) makes less of an impact here, and the “big tune” is less grand than in the later recording. The other major difference in interpretation is in the third-movement “Chorus mysticus,” which is much slower here than in 1958.
The sound of this live recording is quite good, but of course can’t compare to the stereo sound of the studio version. Unfortunately, a chunk of the coda of “Gretchen” is missing. Graham Melville-Mason’s notes are authoritative as usual, although not as detailed as in other releases in this series. All in all, this recording gives the impression of a work in progress when compared to the superb studio version. For that reason, this CD is mostly of documentary value; artistically it is completely superseded by the studio version, which is currently available both in a budget EMI Gemini set (along with Beecham’s other late recordings of Liszt, Orpheus and Psalm 13) and in the “Later Tradition” volume of EMI’s 34-disc commemorative Beecham edition (see my feature article-review, probably in the present issue). Admirers of Beecham’s art, however, will probably find the comparison fascinating, and with the above caveats, this release is recommended to them.