BRAHMS: Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80; Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73; DELIUS: North Country Sketches – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
Pristine Audio PASC 263, 73:00 [Avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
An eminently sunny Brahms Symphony No. 2 (rec. 1 December 1958) receives a sonically sumptuous incarnation from Pristine, featuring the “inimitable” Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) leading his Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Taken from stereo recordings issued through EMI, the original disc has benefited immeasurably from the ministrations of Andrew Rose and his XR process. Never an “intellectual” performer, Beecham searches out the linear, propulsive, elastic beauties of the D Major Symphony, its warm body of cellos and the resonant statements of the French horn, the latter most likely Alan Civil. While the first movement luxuriates in expansive colors, the last movement does not dawdle, Beecham opting for long lines and nice adjustments in the antiphons that mark woodwinds and high strings. Since the Sir Thomas Beecham Society issued a Brahms F Major Symphony some years ago–it seems there are no surviving documents of the outer Brahms symphonies with Beecham–might we hope that the Third will find its way–along with a spirited Haydn Variations (and Sir Thomas’ commentary)–to the Pristine annals?
The spirited Academic Festival Overture (rec. 29 November 1956) had its original incarnation on Columbia Records and made an appearance with a Beecham reading of both the Brahms Schicksalslied and Liszt’s Psalm XIII, if I recall properly. Jubilant, a mite mischievous, the Beecham frolics in the various college airs that sport their way through the Brahms counterpoint. That Beecham recorded the companion piece, the Tragic Overture in D Minor for CBS (ML 5081), we likewise recall fondly, and that ought to make a CD appearance as well, dear Andrew Rose.
Beecham himself gave the premier of the 1914 Delius North Country Sketches in May 1915. Despite the WW I political environment, the music bears little angst and accomplishes what Delius does best, melodious (Yorkshire) landscape invocations. Not until the “Dance” movement did my own ears perk up to a delightful sense of melody beyond pleasant harmonies and gauzy tissue. “The March of Spring” offers a bit of pepper to complement the soft sauce, the whole a pleasant gambol in the manner of a British Respighi. A touch of Debussy here and there, a moment from Richard Strauss, all very comfortable and civilized, distinctly Victorian in dignified power. This performance from 14 February 1949 sounds not at all dated, and it sparkles with the wit and pert charm that Beecham could educe when in his cosmopolitan idiom.
— Gary Lemco