TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36; The Nutcracker–Suite, Op. 71a; Waltz from Eugen Onegin, Op. 24 – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Sir Thomas Becham – EMI

by | May 9, 2007 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36; The Nutcracker–Suite, Op. 71a; Waltz from Eugen Onegin, Op. 24 – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Sir Thomas Becham

EMI Great Recordings of the Century 3 80015 2, 71:49 ****:

Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) favored the music of Tchaikovsky, often citing the Pathetique Symphony for its compositional merits, even though Beecham never inscribed the piece for posterity. He did perform all but the Winter Dreams Symphony No. 1; the Fifth fell out his repertory after 1939. The Fourth was the last of the middle symphonies to receive a commitment to disc, October-November 1957, in Paris. As per expectation, Beecham plays the F Minor Symphony for its lyrical, balletic impulses, exploiting every opportunity to allow his RPO principals to shine in the color blends that ingratiate any reading by his hand-picked ensemble. The exquisite balances among horns, clarinet, oboe, tympani, and strings does not diminish the Dionysiac frenzy Beecham whips up for the coda for the first movement; this, after having distributed color weights with the same unerring mystery Furtwaengler achieves in his colossal reading in Vienna.

The Andantino vacillates between elegiac song and hymnal march, the flute and woodwinds quite busy with openwork passages of pert sonority. The middle section gains a passionate momentum, rife with plaintive sincerity. Music of virtuosic “pluck” for the Scherzo, vividly realized musically and sonically. The pipings inexorably whirl themselves into a dervish of ecstasy, martially playful. Beecham builds up the Finale and its folk-song motif rather like his way with a Beethoven symphony, layering the effects rather than trying to overwhelm us with raw power. The brute impact remains, nonetheless. Oboe and triangle in nice color collaboration, then the gradual crescendo as the folksong wends its way through the horns, trumpets, and cymbals. Fine pedal point from the kettledrums for the concluding statement with piccolo, Beecham casting caution to the winds for a rousing coda, no need to kowtow to Willem Mengelberg for sheer abandon.

The Nutcracker Suite from December 1953 marks Beecham’s association with American CBS records (Dutch Philips). The American disc (ML 5171) provided only aural delights, joie de vivre, the RPO basking in piquant interplay of the winds, strings, and various battery members, like the celesta and triangle. Even the Children’s Toy March erupts with plucked vitality while the horns and winds add their touch of Dickensian pomp. Has ever the Dance of the Mirlitons been rendered more exquisitely? With the Trepak come more animated members of the divertissement, rousing and silken at once. The Arabian Dance reminds us of how sensual is Beecham’s Scheherazade. Bassoon and flute in perfect harmony for the Chinese Dance. The Dance of the Flowers has girth as well as diaphanous charm. Finally, the Waltz from Eugen Onegin (rec. December 1954) in a reading of Stokowskian breadth and razor-sharp incisiveness, a splendid ending to a disc that never wants for infectious, refined execution.

— Gary Lemco

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