LPO – The Founding Years/Beecham

0 of 5 stars

Chabrier
Rhapsody – España
Handel
Israel in Egypt [excerpts]
Mozart
Mass in C minor, K427 [excerpts]
Symphony No.35 in D, K385 (Haffner)
Sibelius
The Tempest [excerpts]

Dora Labbette (soprano)

Leeds Festival Chorus

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Thomas Beecham

Recorded in 1934 in Leeds Town Hall and in 1938-39 in Studio One Abbey Road & Kingsway Hall, London


Reviewed by: Andrew Achenbach

Reviewed: October 2005
CD No: LPO – 0006
Duration: 71 minutes

For the 1934 Leeds Triennial Festival Sir Thomas Beecham invited his 28-year-old producer Walter Legge and the Columbia mobile unit to make recordings of some of the music on the programme he was due to perform with his London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Leeds Festival Chorus. Much about this curious enterprise remains shrouded in mystery, although it appears that the majority of the recordings were captured during the afternoon rehearsals.

As it turned out, Columbia were only able to issue three items in the UK, two of which – the ‘Kyrie’ and ‘Qui tollis’ from Mozart’s Mass in C minor, and three excerpts from Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” – can be found here. A pity, though, about the present unappetising transfers, which for the most part sound muffled, with oddly discoloured, husky string timbre in particular.

However, the real interest on this LPO release surrounds Sibelius’s 1925-26 incidental music to “The Tempest”. Beecham’s was the work’s first British performance and the premiere recording. The present 23-and-a-half-minute sequence embraces 11 numbers in all, the highlights of which include a hauntingly atmospheric ‘Berceuse’, wittily pointed ‘Scene’ and wonderfully extrovert ‘Dance of the Nymphs’. Elsewhere, a combination of murky sound and, at times, slightly tentative playing may well test the patience of anyone familiar with Beecham’s subsequent studio recordings with the LPO and Royal Philharmonic from 1937-8 and 1950 respectively. Still, a fascinating document.

The engineers have done a creditable job with these recalcitrant test-pressings, but even so the resulting sonics inevitably call for a fair degree of tolerance. Intriguingly, four numbers (‘Caliban’s Song’, ‘Canon’, ‘Humoresque’ and ‘The Oak Tree’) did appear on American Columbia, but were swiftly withdrawn (Beecham having never officially approved the metal masters for release). These were transferred by Mark Obert-Thorn back in 1998 for Biddulph (WHL 055) but emerge with altogether less body and presence there than they do here.

The selection concludes with curiously hollow-sounding transfers (licensed from Dutton Laboratories) of two of this partnership’s most charismatic commercial recordings from 1938-39: a sleek and highly characterful ‘Haffner’ Symphony and an irresistibly vivacious Chabrier España. A disc primarily for Sibelius and/or Beecham die-hards.

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