Beecham at Seattle, Vol. 3 = Music of SIBELIUS; BEETHOVEN; MASSENET; SAINT-SAENS; BIZET; ROSSINI – Seattle Sym. – Pristine

by | Mar 24, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Beecham at Seattle, Vol. 3 = SIBELIUS: Alla Marcia from Karelia Suite, Op. 11; Valse Triste, Op. 44; BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93; MASSENET: Last Sleep of the Virgin; SAINT-SAENS: Le Rouet d’Omphale, Op. 31; BIZET: Patrie Overture, Op. 19; ROSSINI: William Tell Overture – Seattle Symphony/ Sir Thomas Beecham – Pristine Audio PASC 277, 74:32 [avail. in various formats from] ****:

The bulk of the selections from this third installment of Sir Thomas Beecham’s appearances with the Seattle Symphony derive from the concert of 10 October 1943 from Moore Hall. The Saint-Saens and Bizet items come from 18 October 1943, the concert at Music Hall Theater. The quality of sound ranges from stunning (the Karelia March) to distantly passable; but we are lucky to enjoy these documents at all, courtesy of a collector’s cassette tape. The Valse triste basks in Beecham’s nurturing pace, a passionate serenade that rivals my favorite inscription by Rosbaud. Except for the opening of the Beethoven third movement, all the remaining items are musically intact.
After a rousing Karelia March, the Beethoven suffers some sonic loss of dimension but not of innate energy. The visceral first movement brings some affectionate applause. The ironic Allegretto scherzando’s metronomic motions flow lightly and suavely, the orchestra in fine tune. Even with several measures lost, the Tempo di Menuetto ebbs and mounts with plastic motion, but the orchestral definition remains distant in the bassoon and surrounding woodwinds. The trio occasionally mocks the conventions of the period, like Mozart’s Musical Joke. Rollicking energy characterizes the last movement, aerial and lovingly phrased, the string section of the Seattle particularly alert. The powerhouse finale, its aggregate of momentum, quite captures Beethoven’s iconoclastic spirit in spite of the aural limitations of the preservation.
The “lollipops” on this album begin with the 1880 Last Sleep of the Virgin from La Vierge by Massenet, a Beecham signature encore, solid component of my old CBS LP ML 5321. The sound improves considerably over the Beethoven, the Seattle strings eminently responsive. The 1872 Omphale’s Spinning Wheel by Saint-Saens again displays the shimmering sonority of the Seattle strings, here juxtaposed against the woodwinds in staggered duple meter. The A Major tonality becomes darker as Hercules begins to languish at the loom, a dupe to beauty which has conquered apparent brute strength. Beecham luxuriates in each of the three main episodes, exploiting deftly the piece’s demands for crescendo and decrescendo dynamics. Harp and oboe add to the sarcasm of the context, and the music spins diaphanous threads in the inimitable Beecham style.
Beecham favored Bizet in his programs and recordings; and even the dubious quality of the 1873 Patrie Overture–written for the Franco-Prussian campaign and dedicated to the then unknown Jules Massenet–receives a most sympathetic treatment. The bombastically inflated opening section soon gives way to a thoughtful ¾ Andantino in C Minor that moves once again to a more Mediterranean A Major. The truncated C Major restatement of the martial opening rounds off an integrated performance of a minor but entertaining orchestral work. Beecham always liked to outdo Toscanini at his own game, specifically in Italian repertory. Collectors will recall Beecham’s powerful sway with Semiramide from Philadelphia. Here, Beecham delivers a tempered then sensational account of the William Tell Overture, from the opening five celli with double basses, to the convulsive storm, to the daybreak episode, and finally to the cavalry galop for trumpets and tympani that sent Clayton Moore to deeds of derring-do. Despite  a more distant sound, the piece manages to have our feet tapping and our jaws agape at the spectacular articulation at blazing speed. Brings down the house.
— Gary Lemco

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