Notes and Editorial Reviews
Eduard van Beinum was out of fashion for a number of years. It is only by releases such as this that we are able to understand why, like his successor in Amsterdam, Bernard Haitink, he was loved by the ensembles he conducted. This shows through in his early Decca and later Philips recordings.
As far as Beethoven is concerned, van Beinum recorded a superb version of the 2nd Symphony with the Concertgebouw on Philips and some overtures and incidental music from Prometheus with the LPO when he was its music director. The latter has been released on the five disc Decca box mentioned above. Both of these are, like the current issue, in mono, although this will not be a significant shortcoming for fans of this conductor. There is also a live DVD performance of the Eroica (mono again and in black and white), available as part of a Q Box set of van Beinum’s radio performances. This box also has a performance of a Beethoven Piano Concerto no. 4.
Walter Legge’s Philharmonia Orchestra was the pre-eminent orchestra in England at the time these recordings were made. Their expertise is clearly evident judged by the almost complete lack of fluffs and insecurities in the playing. In addition, there is a clear sense of line with phrasing made to sound so natural. It is difficult to believe that these performances were a result of a last minute substitution, rather than the work of a conductor who had worked extensively with the orchestra over a long period. Indeed among the orchestral members there grew a common opinion that van Beinum was one of the finest conductors they had ever worked with. At the time of his first appearance with the orchestra, Moscow Carner wrote in the London Evening News "What makes his performance so satisfying is his ability to steep himself body and soul in the music under his (batonless) hands and compel his players to do the same."
This attitude comes over in these recordings extremely well. Although these performances will not displace other great performances in the catalogue, they are particularly notable for the sense of rightness throughout. I enjoyed these immensely, as did the fairly quiet RFH audience. I am sure that anyone who is prepared to take a risk with a relatively unknown (today) conductor will feel rewarded by these performances. Van Beinum was the Bernard Haitink of the day.
Very informative notes about the history around these two marvellous performances by Alan Sanders. One can only hope that more of these concert recordings will become available with time.
– MusicWeb International (John Phillips)