Beecham ABC, Vol. 4 – Pristine Audio

by | Aug 30, 2016 | Classical Reissue Reviews

The last of the Beecham ABC Network concerts evokes thunderous applause at every piece.

Beecham – The ABC Blue Network Concerts, Vol. 4 = HAYDN: Symphony No. 102 in B-flat Major; MOZART: The Impreasario – Ov., K. 486; SAINT-SAENS: Omphale’s Spinning Wheel, Op. 31; BERLIOZ: Les Troyens: Royal Hunt and Storm; Hungarian March from La damnation de Faust – Blue Network Sym. Orch./ Sir Thomas Beecham – Pristine Audio PASC 480, 53:37 [avail. in various formats from] ****:

The Haydn 1795 Symphony No. 102 in B-flat Major provides the centerpiece for this high-energy concert from 28 April 1945, the fourth and last of Sir Thomas Beecham’s concerts sponsored through the ABC network. The onrush of musical dynamism begins earlier, with Beecham’s thoroughly spontaneous approach to Mozart’s 1786 singspiel The Impraesario, whose Overture permits all sorts of interior colors as well as witty rhythmic subtleties not lost on our engaged conductor.  Even narrator Milton Cross seems delighted to announce it as his prelude to the Saint-Saens symphonic poem that depicts the Lydian queen’s “humiliation” of the Greek hero Hercules – for the fatal fall of Iphitos – in the form of “women’s work.” A brilliant piece of orchestration – set as a mounting crescendo and then a fading away of the ostinato drudgery with a brief scherzando at the coda – the work confirms Beecham’s innate affection for this composer, whose various dances from Samson et Dalihah always shone under Beecham’s direction as superb “lollipops.”

A slow introduction – a unison B-flat followed by a five-note phrase – sets the Haydn Symphony No. 102 in motion, and the rather dreamy phrase suddenly bursts forth Vivace in a manner – rife with accents that refuse the beat – worthy of a certain rising composer from Bonn. When the music finally lands on a cadence, the manic energy does not yield to a gentle counter-theme but works the syncopation into a three-voice canon. The music modulates to an alien C Major before the flute announces a false respite, one whose tempests continue through chromatic shifts until Beecham can bring the coda to a resounding halt. The Adagio proves no less commanding, a lyrical transformation of an f-sharp minor Piano Trio theme. Brief but superlatively colored, the movement, like its predecessor, brings applause by a moved audience. Beecham always finds snappy dash in Haydn Menuets, especially in this whose stamping three-note figure imbues the music with an earth-bound, peasant wisdom. Haydn’s innovative use of dissonance makes the Presto finale no less elastic, and Beecham reminds us how many debts Beethoven owes to this imaginative masterpiece, especially given his own Fourth Symphony in the same key.

The two Berlioz works confirm Beecham’s spirited espousal of this composer’s music, especially any episode from the composer’s 1858 grand opera Les Troyens, which the conductor championed in its revival in 1957. The Royal Hunt and Storm figures from Act IV, a ballet-pantomime in which Dido and Aeneas wait out a storm in a cave. A specter of the gods urges Aeneas on to Italy, where his fate awaits. Exquisite pandemonium! In his commercial recoding for EMI, Beecham had the serene advantage of Dennis Brain in the horn part. The Hungarian March from La damnation de Faust serves as a marvelous rabble-rouser, as if the New York audience were not sufficiently beside themselves with Beecham fever.

—Gary Lemco


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