Overture Le corsaire, Op.21
Old Norwegian Romance with Variations, Op.51
La Forêt enchantée – symphonic legend after Uhland, Op.8
Symphony No.3 in C minor, Op.78
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
BBC Symphony Orchestra [D’Indy]
Sir Thomas Beecham
Recorded at London concerts – Berlioz 7 March 1951 in Royal Albert Hall; Grieg 27 November 1955 in Royal Festival Hall; D’Indy 21 October 1951 at BBC Maida Vale Studios; Saint-Saens 20 October 1954 in Royal Festival Hall
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This is a most welcome release: further live performances from Somm by Thomas Beecham, a great conductor who nevertheless divides opinion. Here he is in repertoire that suits him down to the ground. I am curious to know whether any of the four concerts from which these pieces have been culled survive complete. The programme for the Royal Philharmonic Society concert on 20 October 1954, lists (National Anthem apart) the three works that preceded Saint-Saens’s Third Symphony as Mehul’s Timoléon Overture, d’Indy’s Jour d’été à la montagne, and ‘Iberia’ from Debussy’s Images pour orchestre.
What we have here, though, is a not untypical Beecham confection, starting with a Berlioz overture (once described as “pleasantly piratical”) that he played with some regularity after taking it up in the winter of 1946. Beecham, a great lover of French music, admired Berlioz hugely, and those who know his three commercial recordings of Le Corsaire (from 1946, 1954 and 1958) may wonder how this 1951 reading compares. We have the same combination of tenderness and brio, but the presence of the Royal Albert Hall audience seems to add that extra surge of energy, even if the final chord is held absurdly long in a distinct lapse of taste. The sound of the (presumably radio) broadcast is acceptable for its time, although it’s a pity that the timpani are so closely recorded.
The best sonically is the 1955 Royal Festival Hall performance of Grieg’s Old Norwegian Romance with Variations (orchestrated by the composer from his original for two pianos). This is a real treat, Beecham bringing to it all the compassion and drama evinced in his subsequent EMI recording of the two Peer Gynt suites. Here is another composer to whose emotional world Beecham was finely attuned, having first been attracted to Grieg’s music at the tender age of six.
Vincent d’Indy’s La Forêt enchantée - an early score also known as Harald - shows a strong Wagnerian and Franckian influence. Beecham shapes it magnificently, the contribution of the BBC Symphony Orchestra making for a quite stunning experience.
Saint-Saens’s Third Symphony (with Denis Vaughan on organ and Tom McCall and Douglas Gamley the four hands at the piano) receives a more urgent and passionate performance than is usually accorded to it, bringing the disc to an exciting close, sound limitations and over-processed re-mastering notwithstanding.
Hopefully there is more ‘live’ Beecham still to come from Somm.