Beecham conducts Delius, Schubert and Wagner
How strange that it has taken the 50 years that have elapsed since Sir Thomas Beecham’s death for this fascinating and often gripping 1955 Royal Festival Hall performance of Schubert’s Ninth to reach us. Thank goodness for producer Arthur Ridgewell, the Sir Thomas Beecham Trust and Somm Recordings. The first thing that struck me about what is in many respects a momentous reading was the breadth of the opening Andante (a very slow walking pace, this), while the heady acceleration leading to the Allegro ma non troppo is vividly reminiscent of Furtwängler (so is the broadening at the end of the movement). The main body of the first movement is nicely pointed, especially by the woodwinds, but for me the most memorable passage comes after the fierce brass exchanges in the Andante con moto where Beecham cues some very subtle and effective shifts in tempo. The Scherzo has plenty of energy, the finale plenty of power, and I’d say that this is a very worthwhile addition to the discographies of both Beecham and Schubert.
The Rienzi Overture that opens the programme is bold, bullish and bursting with energy, the opening “solo trumpet A intoned by Philip Jones” as Graham Melville-Mason informs us in his excellent booklet-note. But surely the highlight of the programme is the 1956 Edinburgh Festival performance of Delius’s In a Summer Garden, which is pure magic from beginning to end (an almost imperceptible end, by the way). Incredulous, the effect it had on me, even when recalling how fine Beecham’s 1936 (LPO) and 1951 (RPO) versions are. I checked both of them out and there really is no contest, right from the chirruping woodwinds near the start of the piece which, as played “live”, actually sound like birdsong. Where the LPO version has a sweeping sense of line and the RPO studio remake warms the heart, especially for the soulful middle section, this concert performance becomes a summer garden and the musically evocative phrasing is 100 per cent what Beecham was about. Wonderful!