Beecham conducts Atterberg & Mozart
Here is buried treasure from the store of the recordings Beecham made in the 1920s, well before he founded his own LPO. It starts with the recording of Mozart’s Magic Flute Overture that he made with the LSO at his very first recording session using the electrical process on March 30th, 1926. The sound, as transferred by Dutton Laboratories, is astonishingly clear and vivid with plenty of body, better in fact than the rather misty recording of the Delius Interlude which Beecham went on to record in December 1927 (now available on the Sir Thomas Beecham Trust label, 11/90). Not that mist is inappropriate for the piece, even if the oboe is a little sour. Lyndon Jenkins in his highly informative note reminds us how much Delius, blind and paralysed, loved hearing this very recording on a 78.
It was in that same month that Beecham made the recording of two Grieg songs with Dora Labbette as soloist. Dutton fairly enough claim it as “A previously unknown Beecham recording”, when on its original issue no mention of Beecham was made, and it appeared on the less prestigious dark blue label, instead of his usual light blue. As Jenkins points out, without the pull of Beecham’s name it was an issue that quickly disappeared from the Columbia catalogue. Though the string sound is thin – maybe the reason why Beecham disowned it – his magic is clear in the phrasing, supporting the bright singing of Labbette, very English in its charm.
It is fascinating to compare this version of Mozart’s Symphony No. 34 made in October 1928 with his 1940 version with the LPO (already available on Dutton). My own preference is certainly with this earlier one, lighter in texture, often with subtler tonal shading, buoyant in the outer movements and with the central Andante fresher and more flowing, where in 1940 it was more heavily expressive at a markedly slower speed.
Jenkins provides a detailed background to the emergence of the Atterberg Sixth Symphony, winner in 1928 of the Schubert centenary competition organized by Columbia. The composer’s flippant dismissal of the piece after he had won disconcerted Columbia, but they sold no fewer than 25,000 of the four-disc set, a phenomenal number for those days. This recording was made just before Sir Hamilton Harty gave the first live performance in Manchester, after which Beecham promptly gave the first London performance, and then ignored the piece ever after. That was a pity when, with a lyricism quite abundant enough to celebrate Schubert, it is a work which in Beecham’s hands surges warmly, helped by the full-bodied transfer. Yet even he cannot quite conceal the fact that the central slow movement is a shade too long, not quite a match for the invigorating outer movements.
To avoid confusion, the orchestra for the two symphonies and the Delius is described, not in the way it was originally as “the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra”, but more specifically as the Royal Philharmonic Society Orchestra, a pick-up band assembled at that period for the concerts of the RPS.'