MOZART: Requiem in D Minor; SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 5 – soloists/ BBC Chorus/ Royal Philharmonic Orch./ Sir Thomas Beecham – Pristine

by | May 7, 2012 | Classical Reissue Reviews

MOZART: Requiem in D Minor, K. 626; SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 5 on B-flat Major, D. 485 – Elsie Morison, soprano/ Monica Sinclair, contralto/ Alexander Young, tenor/ Marian Nowakowski, bass/ BBC Chorus/ Royal Philharmonic Orch./ Sir Thomas Beecham – Pristine Audio PACO 076, 77:52 [avail. in various formats from] ****:
It was in 1962 or thereabouts that I purchased Columbia LP ML 5160, the Beecham Mozart Requiem (rec. 13-14 December 1954 and 29 May 1956), a choice some of my “knowledgeable” cronies found in dubious taste, given Beecham’s often irreverent approach to the “sacred” classics. In this reading, for instance, Beecham adds an organ for bass and chordal support in the Rex tremendae magistratis, which engineer and producer Andrew Rose ascribes to the later session in 1956. Sonically, the clarity of the restoration strikes us immediately, the tonal layering of the opening Introit having had a veil lifted from its surface and the Latin words emergent in well articulated diction. Elsie Morison (b. 1924) shines in her soprano part throughout, and we must lament her early retirement after 1963.
The two adjacent “dark” moments, the Kyrie eleison and Dies Irae, respectively, contribute polyphonic girth and compressed dramatic terror at the Last Judgment. The Sequence No. 2, Tuba mirum, resonates with heartfelt regret as Nowakowski’s deep bass plays against the low RPO strings, and Alexander Young sings of possible redemption. The ascent continues up the vocal ladder, to contralto and soprano and upper strings, then intimately embraces the vocal quartet, a decidedly operatic moment. The new spaciousness of the Rex tremendae proves admirable in its varied textures. The longest Sequence, Recordare, Jesu pie looks most forward harmonically, the use of passing dissonance and part-writing invoking the antiquated motet style of the Renaissance. The fierce agogics of the Confutatis maledictus offer a poignant moment of ensemble, both intimate and disturbing. For most us, the Lacrimosa dies illa can never go on long enough: haunted, delicately light, the Beecham rendition proves as elusive as it is lovely.
The remaining six sections of the Requiem generally fall under the aegis of Franz Suessmayr, though the plastic movement of the Offertory No. 1 conveys Mozart’s original power and brilliant tenor-bass part writing. The same holds true for the Hostias, which may well be indebted to Suessmayr’s innate gifts. The polyphonic Sanctus in Rose’s incarnation glows with heraldry and ecstatic communion, which I cannot claim for the 1957 Columbia LP. As operatic as it lovely, the Benedictus brings us spiritual relief at every turn, the writing having the benefit of the composer’s Cosi fan tutte as a model of such astonishing technique. The Agnus Dei and Communion bring us that emotional closure and consolation we seek, with Beecham’s finely paced realizations delicate but mighty in their respective impact. This rendition may not be Bruno Walter’s, but it conveys a distinctly dignified faith not beholden to formulaic values.
The Schubert Fifth ((18 December 1958 and 7 May 1959) repeats the EMI issue on “Great Recordings of the Century” (7243 5 66999). This charming work always held a great attraction for Beecham, whose earlier inscription with the London Philharmonic remains a classic of its kind. Genial, warm, the entire RPO performance exudes a brisk delight in Schubert’s idiosyncratic melos, here without the sonority of trumpets and drums. Every detail sparkles under Beecham’s canny direction; and given the marvelous level of execution from his players, the transparency and brio of the experience has only been enhanced by Rose’s XR process. Irresistible!
—Gary Lemco

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