Beecham = The British National Anthem; BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125, “Choral” – Sylvia Fisher, soprano/ Nan Merriman, mezzo-soprano/ Richard Lewis, tenor/ Kim Borg, bass/ Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Sir Thomas Beecham – BBC Legends

by | Jun 20, 2007 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Beecham = The British National Anthem; BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125, “Choral” – Sylvia Fisher, soprano/ Nan Merriman, mezzo-soprano/ Richard Lewis, tenor/ Kim Borg, bass/ Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Sir Thomas Beecham

BBC Legends BBCL 4209-2, 71:33 (Distrib. Koch) ****:

This concert from Usher Hall, Edinburgh (19 August 1956) had been available on LP, courtesy of the Sir Thomas Beecham Society, maybe thirty years ago. The opportunity to hear Sir Thomas Beecham’s conception of such a heavy and significant work as Beethoven’s Ninth represents a rare glimpse into one of the major gaps of his recorded Beethoven repertory. That we might someday unearth his readings of the C Major and C Minor Symphonies is still a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Originally having programmed Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, Sir Thomas was obliged to alter his concert by the Edinburgh Festival committee, who objected to a Catholic Mass, which might offend the Presbyterian Church of Scotland members, as well as The Queen. What strikes us abut Beecham’s Ninth is its aerial character, the open sound, even in the midst of the composer’s darkly grandiose, conflicted harmonies. Typical of a Beecham performance, the wind and brass sounds exert clean, balanced lines, the orchestral definition sparkling and warm. Animated and virtuosic, the music seems a vehicle for Beecham’s superlative players.

A fixed, deliberate tempo for the Scherzo, laying into the deft hands of winds and tympani. Punctuations from the horns lead to a carefully molded series of stretti, the strings pulsating over the agogics of the cross rhythms. Relaxed lyricism for the Trio section, the horns and oboe wending their melodic lines in richly textured layers, in the manner of a sinfonia concertante. The coda gives us a veritable whirlwind of sweet, rhythmic sounds in bold colors. The selfsame solo treatment pervades the gracious Adago, whose taut lines become a bit slack for some tastes. But for all the individual showmanship, the music waxes exceedingly sweet, a contemplation of aesthetic beauty as a form of Divine Intervention. No pause at all to mark the sudden convulsion to the Finale: an introverted heave, and we renegotiate themes of prior movements. Molded phrases from the basses and cellos, the main theme–assisted by Gwydion Brooke’s bassoon secondary tune–emerges with devotional vocalism. From Kim Borg’s entrance, we are in the throes of an operatic scene, the tympani often underlining the heated interchanges of soli and chorus. Richard Lewis shines in the Turkish March section, taken at a most lyrical marcato and segueing into Beecham’s hearty, polyphonic tutti. The vocal cadenzas and high coloratura takes on an other-worldly dimension, almost in spite of Beecham’s quicksilver wit. The coda, pure, unabashed instrumental bravura, brings a rousing finish to a magisterial, if sometimes unconventional, interpetation.

— Gary Lemco

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