Sir Thomas Beecham: The Maestro (10CD)

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Artist:
Sir Thomas Beecham

There's no question that Sir Thomas Beecham was among a handful of really great conductors during the twentieth century. Musicians who worked with him said that he had "an inner vision," much like Arturo Toscanini, whom Beecham didn't particularly like because they often had much different approaches to the same music they conducted. He had the distinction of creating several orchestras, two of which still exist: the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This compilation of historic recordings features recordings Sir Thomas made with those two orchestras, primarily for Columbia Records with EMI crews in London.

Many of the original 78-rpm recordings had superior sound and, with digital restorations, it is possible to hear even more than was apparent on vintage phonographs. The performances are, for the most part, classic ones that showcase the very fine musicians that Sir Thomas used. He really enjoyed conducting and the musicians, for the most part, loved playing for him. It is wonderful to get to hear such a large collection of mostly great performances by Sir Thomas with two outstanding orchestras.

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Tracklisting:

Mozart:

Symphony No. 40 in G minor, KV 550
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1937

Symphony No. 41 in C major, KV 551 "Jupiter"
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1934

Le nozze di Figaro, KV 492: Overture
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1937

Die Zauberflöte, KV 620: Overture
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1949

Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, KV 218
Joseph Szigeti (violin), London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1934

Concerto for Flute and Harp in C major KV 299
René le Roy (flute), Lili Laskine (harp), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1947

Handel:

The Messiah: Overture
BBC Choir Symphony Orchestra, rec. 1927

The Great Elopement
(Ballet Suite arranged by Beecham)
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1945

Haydn:

Symphony No. 93 in D major
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1936

Symphony No. 104 in D major, "London"
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1939

Schubert: Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, D 485
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1938-9
Beethoven: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 4 in G major, op. 37
Arthur Rubinstein (piano), London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1947
Weber:

Der Freischütz: Overture
London Philharmonic Orchestra, 1937

Oberon: Overture
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1938

Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Prelude to Act I
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1936
Brahms: Tragic Overture
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1936
Greig: Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, op. 46
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1939
Offenbach: Les Contes d' Hoffmann: Barcarolle
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1936
Strauss II, J: Frühlingstimmen, op. 410
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1939
Smetana: Prodaná nevesta (The Bartered Bride): Overture & Polka
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1947
Dvorak:

Slavonic Rhapsody in A flat major, op. 45 No. 3
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1935

Legend No. 3 in G minor, op. 59 No. 3
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1935

Borodin: Prince Igor: Polovtsian Dance
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1934
Mussorgsky: Chovantschina: Dance of the Persian Slaves
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, 1947
Tchaikovsky: Francesca da Rimini - Symphonic Fantasy after Dante, op. 32
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1939
Berlioz:

Le Carnaval Romain, op. 9
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1936

Le Corsaire, op. 21
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1946

Bizet:

L'Arlésienne Suites 1 & 2 (excerpts)
- Prélude
- Minuet
- Adagietto
- Menuet
- Farandole
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1936

Carmen Suite (excerpts)
- Prélude
- Entr'acte. Intermezzo
- La Garde Montante. Les Dragons d' Alcala
- Danse bohème
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1939

Debussy: Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
London Philharmonic Orchestra, 1939
Franck: Symphony in D minor
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1940
Chabrier:

España - Rhapsody for Orchestra
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1939

Joyeuse - March for Orchestra
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1946

Gwendoline: Overture
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1955

Delius:

Appalachia - Variations on an Old Slave Song
BBC Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1938

Strauss, R:

Don Quixote - Fantastic Variations for Viola, Cello and Orchestra, op. 35
Alfred Wallenstein (cello), René Pollain (viola), New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, rec. April 1932

Sibelius:

Symphony No. 2 in D major, op. 43
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. December 1946-7

Tapiola - Symphonic Poem, op. 112
London Philharmonic Orchestra, rec. 1946

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A maestro of the past in his beloved repertoire

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As old recordings come out of copyright, we find them appearing in cheap box sets like this. They provide a solid basis for anyone interested in performance styles and personalities from the early days of 78rpm shellac discs. Often, as in this case, the packaging is minimal, with no notes on the music or the performers - not that Sir Thomas Beecham needs an introduction. He was a larger than life character: a raconteur as well as a beloved conductor. From a wealthy pharmaceutical family ("Beecham's Pills"), he inherited enough money to found opera companies and orchestras. Beecham co-founded the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1932 with Malcolm Sargent, and then when the orchestra went their own way after the Second World War he founded the Royal Philharmonic, with whom he made a number of records in the 1950s. The contents of this box date from as far back as 1927 but mostly from the 1930s. (Most of these works were re-recorded later with the RPO.)

Beecham's LPO was clearly a virtuoso ensemble, responding well to his authority in the repertoire he loved. Those composers included Mozart and Haydn, Sibelius, and lighter French composers such as Chabrier. Beecham was ambivalent about Beethoven and Brahms, conducting only a few of their works, although there is a fine performance here of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 with Arthur Rubenstein, recorded in 1947. The conductor knew Sibelius personally and premiered several of the Finnish composer's works in Britain. (A gripping Sibelius Symphony No. 2 is included.) Beecham was uninterested in Mahler or Bruckner. Nor did Elgar suit his temperament, yet he conducted a great deal of music by another English composer, his personal friend Frederick Delius. In this set we get a poetic 1938 performance of Delius's Appalachia, where Beecham coaxes magical sounds from his orchestra.

Recording of music made great strides after World War 2, building on wartime breakthroughs in radar technology. Most of these records predate that, so the sound quality is varied. Sometimes it is remarkably good (Chabrier's Espana, Sibelius's Symphony No. 2), but in places the orchestra sounds as if it is playing underwater (Franck's Symphony), and when the track is taken from 78s there can be crackling in the background (Haydn's Symphonies No. 93 & 104). That's par for the course, but it does not diminish the worth of these historic readings.