Dora Labbette, soprano (Mozart)/Eugenia Zareska, mezzo-soprano (Mahler)/ Jean Pougnet, violin (Vaughan Williams)/Ruggiero Ricci, violin (Khachaturian)/
Moura Lympany, piano (Khachaturian)/ Sir Thomas Beecham conducts Leeds Festival/Sir Adrian Boult/Eduard van Beinum/ Anatole Fistoulari (Khachaturian)
London Philharmonic Orchestra LPO 0006; 0011; 0021; 0022 (4 CDs), 71:18; 75:01; 64:50; 71:49 (Distrib. www.lpo.org.uk) ****:
Disc one of this splendid set contains inscriptions of Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) in rehearsal at the 1934 Leeds Festival, in which he gave the world premier–eleven sections–of the Sibelius Incidental Music to The Tempest, along with various choral works (3-4 October 1934) by Mozart and Handel. Even in rehearsal, the LPO immediately strikes one as the greatest musical ensemble in Britain at the time, for sheer precision of execution and transparency of detail. Walter Legge kept the test pressings of the Sibelius suppressed because the composer had not favored the discs, presumably having auditioned them on faulty equipment. They sound brilliant now. Since Mozart and Handel were, along with Delius, Beecham;s favorite composers, we enjoy equally ceremonial, pomp-filled renditions of Mozart’s Mass in C Minor and selected choruses from Israel in Egypt; to wit, a particularly rousing Moses and the Children of Israel. The two studio recordings, of Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony (1938-39) and the famed Chabrier Espana (19 December 1939), demonstrate the facility, power, and control Beecham could exert on music he loved and had the time upon which to lavish his ministrations.
Eduard van Beinum (1900-1959) became principal conductor of the LPO 24 January 1949, although he had led the orchestra in its post-war concerts of 1946. The recording of the Arnold Overture, Op. 5 (16 December 1947) is a world premier recording, made while the composer himself played first trumpet in the orchestra. Beinum also led the first series of Mahler songs in Britain, here assisted by Ukrainian mezzo-soprano Eugenia Zareska (1922-1979). She brings an earthy wistfulness to Mahler’s songs of romantic rejection, stabbing agony, and resignation, the orchestra shimmering in the sunshine, insensitive to the lover’s disillusion and despair. Decca issued a set of Beethoven overtures with Beinum and the LPO, but the Leonore No. 1 (rec. 3 May 1949) remained available only in the 78 rpm format. Aerial transparency opens this latecomer among the Fidelio preludes; its tripping figures and flute lead to limber violas and cellos, then the main tune of faithful devotion leaps from the full string complement, punctuated by furious punctuations from winds and brass. Brahms always remained a strong suit with Beinum, and his Haydn Variations (16 May 1949) prove no exception: bright colors, rhythmic sinew, and suave lines in the contrapuntal passages mark a performance that passes too quickly for my money. To program the suites from The Wand of Youth (1908) is still a rarity, even for Elgar acolytes; so the recorded version (13 February 1950) by Beinum, given its exemplary orchestral definition–the trumpets in The Wild Bears–benefits us all. A kind of answer to Tchaikovsky and Schumann, the music captures the spirit of childhood in a way Dickens would well approve.
Sir Adrian Boult (1889-1983), the “British Toscanini,” commands the LPO in performances 1949-1956, each of which testifies to his staid discipline and lithe, graceful style. Sparkling effects rule in Nicolai’s ever-popular Merry Wives of Windsor (12 December 1950), moved at a no-frills pace, lyrical but stiff in the joints when compared to Beecham‘s account. A sonic about-face for the three German Dances of Haydn (25 July 1955), heartily rustic. Ceremonial dignity–along with a decided sense of mirth–pervades Handel’s four-movement suite for the Royal Fireworks (3 October 1949), of which the Overture and concluding Menuetto emanate regal repose. From the same session we have Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in C Minor, in the Elgar arrangement, idiomatically rendered in a spirited account. More orchestral laughter–listen to the rising cello surges–in the Brahms Academic Festival Overture (13 December 1950), a virile, quick rendition collectors might compare with those led by George Szell, another muscular literalist with similar ideas. The keeper is The Lark Ascending (21 October 1952) with the sweet-toned Jean Pougnet (1907-1968)–chosen to record the Delius Concerto with Beecham–an eminently lyrical collaboration that makes a perfect supplement to Boult’s equally revered version with Hugh Bean. Connoisseurs vividly remember Boult’s traversal of the Sibelius tone poems for Vanguard Records: this En Saga (10 June 1956) comes wrapped in Icelandic distance, but the frigidly heroic gestures heat up soon enough and even indulges in chamber music intimacies. I wouldn’t wonder that Mravinsky’s rendition, if one exists, sounds similar in its cool, colossal breadth.
The infectious music of Aram Khachaturian finds two devoted artists in Ruggiero Ricci (b. 1918) and Dame Moura Lympany (1916-2005), each performing a bravura concerto in a flamboyant, richly ornamented style under Kiev-born Anatole Fistoulari (1920-1995). The Ricci (rec. 1952) Violin Concerto of 1940 features superheated, oriental airs in spacious, chromatic harmony. Violin and clarinet combine in sultry colors for dialogue and in cadenza. Both rasping and seductive, Ricci’s tone whispers like a Persian cat and saws like Alexander’s slicing the Gordion Knot. The vibrant, sizzling colors owe debts to Rimsky-Korsakov as well as to Rachmaninov’s open-hearted Romanticism. The second movement, an Armenian lullaby with disturbed intrusions on the dream, has Ricci singing most expressively. The demented folk dance that concludes the concerto pulsates with raw, frenetic energy, most exhilarating. The 1937 D-flat Piano Concerto (rec. 1956) found an early believer in Moura Lympany, who took up the work as early as 1940. The swaggering, three-note clarion that weaves itself through the first movement assumes various guises, including an oriental smile in low woodwinds embellished by a monster solo cadenza that hints at Schumann‘s prophet bird. The modal Andante utilizes a flexitone effect, one step away from a theremin, but manually-generated. The eerie and the angularly sensual combine passionately, then all subsides into the quiet song. Lympany jazzes up the last movement as well as anyone, from Kapell to Levant, the piano and trumpet sharing the glories of this colorful, bravura romp for all participants.
— Gary Lemco