Classical Reissue Reviews

Beecham in Toronto – Three Previously Unissued Concerts from 1960 = HAYDN, BRAHMS, LALO & MOZART Symphonies, R. STRAUSS, HANDEL, WAGNER, DELIUS, SUPPE, SIBELIUS, MASSENET, ROSSINI – Music&Arts (4 CDs)

The Beecham sojourn into Canada in 1960 proves a joyful ride of great music and witty commentary.

Published on November 25, 2013

Beecham in Toronto – Three Previously Unissued Concerts from 1960 = HAYDN, BRAHMS, LALO & MOZART Symphonies, R. STRAUSS, HANDEL, WAGNER, DELIUS, SUPPE, SIBELIUS, MASSENET, ROSSINI – Music&Arts (4 CDs)

Beecham in Toronto – Three Previously Unissued Concerts from 1960 = HAYDN: Symphony No. 94 in G Major “Surprise”; Symphony No. 102 in B-flat Major; MOZART: Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385 “Haffner”; Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K. 504 “Prague”; HANDEL: Love in Bath Suite; R. STRAUSS: Love Scene from Feuersnot, Op. 50; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73; DELIUS: North Country Sketches; LALO: Symphony in G Minor; WAGNER: Die Meistersinger Prelude to Act I; SUPPE: Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna; SAINT-SAENS: Le Rouet d’Omphale, Op. 31; SIBELIUS: Alla Marcia from Karelia Suite, Op. 11; MASSENET: Last Sleep of the Virgin; ROSSINI: Ls Gazza Ladra Overture – CBS Symphony Orchestra/ Toronto Symphony Orchestra (“Lollipops”)/ Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Sir Thomas Beecham – Music&Arts CD-1255 (4 CDs priced as 3), 72:00, 69:11, 69:56, 76:26 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

The “inimitable” Sir Thomas Beecham proves himself an adept in transferring his wit and sparkling conducting style to the Toronto environs in April 1960. Despite what modern scholars and pedants will belabor as inferior, corrupt editions of Haydn symphonies, Beecham raises some fine musical goose bumps in the course of briskly athletic readings of both the Surprise Symphony and the broad-shouldered B-flat Major, No. 102.  Along with Bruno Walter, Beecham proffers an excellent crisply muscular style in Mozart, and his Haffner and Prague symphonies elicit suave warmth and witty vitality.

The affection Beecham maintained for Lalo’s relatively neglected G Minor Symphony (from his 25 October 1959, RPO broadcast) bespeaks his general commitment to French music, and to his ability find polished, dramatic weight in this often darkly-hued work.  The Meistersinger Prelude gives us vintage Beecham in Wagner, a composer in whose repertory he, like contemporary Albert Coates, excelled. The music of Frederick Delius Beecham virtually single-handedly prevented from falling into anything like obscurity. The North Country Sketches (4 November 1959) provides us with artful landscape music that lacks depth but enjoys a superb surface luster. Beecham had commercially recorded the Love Scene from the Strauss opera Feuersnot in 1947 for RCA. His reading with the Toronto Symphony (7 April 1960) testifies to a singularly magical relationship between two towering, sensual egos in music.

Of the four Brahms symphonies, the No. 2 in D Major (7 April 1960) dominates the Beecham catalogue, although the Beecham Society once touted a Third Symphony reading on LP. The sunny, linear approach works to advantage, especially in the opening movement. Beecham elicits nicely melodic response from his woodwinds and strings, and individual players prove alert to each other’s playing. When the Toronto brass enter in the development section, their fiery declamations add a moment of real fervor into the otherwise “merely” genial mix. The interior movements usher in pathos and drama in just, lyrical proportion. The last movement loosens the knots of classical formality and rushes to explosive judgment. The designation con spirit applies in spades! Hustling, thumping, and rollicking forward, we forget this music was once denounced by Hugo Wolf as incapable of exultation. Ask the Toronto Symphony tympanist if he concurs. The last page becomes a virtual blur topped by rousing brass and said tympani player. Whew!

The “Lollipops” concert with the CBC Symphony (5 April 1960 for CBC Television) consists of only five pieces, several preceded and followed by Beecham’s talent for the bon mot. Beecham, for instance, ponders if Suppe’s Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna could not have simply been called “A Day in Vienna.” A truly fine-tuned version of the Saint-Saens tone poem ensues, followed by a confident march by Sibelius. Beecham’s sentimental favorite, Massenet’s Last Sleep of the Virgin, receives a pietist realization from a conductor hardly capable of reverence. Rossini, “who never had a serious thought in his life,” according to Beecham this night, provides the rousing finale as, once more, the Toronto battery injects a ferocious snare drum that leads to a magpie’s implicating a young heroine in theft. Beecham expresses his gratitude for an audience that didn’t cough.

The disc concludes with three interviews: Beecham’s introduction to the CBC Handel-Haydn Festival from June 1959; and John Amis interviews of oboe virtuoso Leon Goossens and critic Neville Cardus. Beecham discusses Handel oratorio from an “economic” point of view, Handel’s having moved from pleasing English aristocracy to a purveyor of the English love of singing together. Haydn moved from “agreeable bondage” in Hungary to live in Vienna. A “stroke of fortune” in 1790 by the name of Salomon came to Haydn to invite Haydn to England. The “courageous old bloke” found good orchestras and an appreciative public. A performance of Handel’s Messiah with 700 executants impressed Haydn deeply. Beecham extols the virtues of Haydn’s The Seasons. Leon Goossens attributes “the essence of surprise” to the Beecham greatness. “He always lets his solo players have their head, and then he just accompanies you.” But at the performance, Beecham might suddenly bring out something new, “and you feel this music is growing, capable of infinite possibility.” Neville Cardus attributes the success to “sheer love,” coming not from a passionate man, but “a passionate musician.” Cardus calls Beecham “the greatest conductor of second-rate music,” specifically mentioning Delius.

—Gary Lemco

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