Notes and Editorial Reviews
This famous live performance has an almost hysterical intensity...
The Sibelius D-Major must have held some very special significance for Thomas Beecham. This famous live performance has an almost hysterical intensity, unique among his orchestral recordings of the Romantic repertoire. In the finale, it sounds as though the conductor is passing on a desperately urgent message, over and over, to save us all from doom! At times, this seems more like Mravinsky at the helm. Beecham cheers and goads the orchestra on to the finish line, as he so often did, but this is all about possession, and not the keeping kind. Perhaps the conductor had spoken to his friend Sibelius about the original Dante inspiration behind the piece.
Fifty years ago, the Royal Festival Hall was a new symbol of clean, post-war optimism, but this smog-coughing London-winter audience was hurled straight out of the Festival of Britain and into the Inferno. Beecham roars at the BBC orchestra in the climactic sections of the first and fourth movements, and they have little choice but to respond. I wonder if they quite matched up to his spontaneous vision, or whether any orchestra could have, on the night. The commitment and sensitivity of Beecham’s approach to Sibelius was not matched by any other conductor, and the score’s originality and dramatic power are as clear as day. With Collins (best of all in my view) and Kajanus (unmissable, but dim sound), it’s the classic historical performance.
Sound is fairly good in this transfer, but the Dvo?ák is a bit better, though still mono. My favorite Dvo?ák G-Major is Dorati’s, on Mercury, which has greater determined energy than the classics from Walter, Kertesz, or Davis. Beecham’s finale is again demonic, and he liberates more alarming, kinetic strength from the confines of the score than anyone else, here. His own orchestra stays with him for every manic step. If you think of the Eighth as a lovable exercise in Czech charm, think again. The grading of textures in the middle section of the Adagio is masterly; the following climax more Beethoven than Bohemia. The Allegretto is then very steady, and sustained. I’ve not heard it sound more symphonically convincing: with most conductors, it’s a dance interlude to show off orchestral skills. The detailed booklet notes suggest that Beecham’s performance of this movement “swings along naturally and carefree.” Maybe we heard different discs.
Both these performances show that the works meant far more to this conductor than their war-horse status might imply. Does that mean he was more in touch with their essence, or that he was overdramatizing the case? Decide for yourself: better to buy this one, than to let it slip by, if these works are close to your heart, too.
Paul Ingram, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 43 by Jean Sibelius
Sir Thomas Beecham
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1901-1902; Finland
Date of Recording: 12/08/1954
Venue: Live Royal Festival Hall, London, England
Length: 39 Minutes 34 Secs.
Notes: This selection is a mono recording.
Symphony no 8 in G major, Op. 88/B 163 by Antonín Dvorák
Sir Thomas Beecham
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1889; Bohemia
Date of Recording: 10/25/1959
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London, England
Length: 36 Minutes 35 Secs.
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