Smetana/Verdi - The Beecham Collection
We begin this mixed programme – all recorded between 1945 and 1947, after Beecham had returned from the USA – in rousing fashion with the extracts from The Bartered Bride, the Overture, executed with all the elan Beecham so easily musters, never before being issued in this country. Precision, flair and fine playing from the newly formed RPO make this irresistible as are the two dances, only ever issued on 45rpm (I am indebted to Malcolm Walker for this information as it isn’t included in the haphazard documentation in the booklet). Interesting to note that the Smetana opera was given under Beecham in 1939 at Covent Garden.
Then comes Grandi’s incisive Lady Macbeth, the best-known of the items here. Somm says this is its first CD issue. Not so: it appeared two years ago on Dutton. There’s nothing to choose between the transfers. Both extracts catch Grandi, Glyndebourne’s 1939 Lady Macbeth, at her most impressive, if somewhat erratic (Dorothy Bond sings the high D flat at the close, which was something of a cause celebre back in 1947). The Donna Diana and Manon Lescaut pieces, recorded in 1945 with the BBC SO very responsive to Beecham, have never appeared before. Goodness knows why, as both are given superb readings, the Reznieek done with real brio, the Puccini with all the emotional stops pulled out. The Onegin items are no less desirable, performed the same year with the conductor’s pre-war orchestra, the LPO.
The Tannhauser extract is neither very well played or recorded and might have been left unissued, nor does Beecham display much interest in the Clemenza Overture. By contrast the finale of Das Rheingold, new to the catalogue, is treasure indeed. Another precious souvenir of Beecham in Wagner, it has the stature and dramatic presence the conductor always brought to this composer, and I have never heard Schoffler on record in better voice – even, warm tone distributed on pure Wagnerian legato. We have a fleeting and welcome glimpse of the recently departed Nancy Evans as Fricka, a rather more substantial one of Parry Jones, who loved the kind of character-singing Loge calls for. Somm lists Edith Furmedge as a soprano when she was actually a contralto while Garside was a soprano not a mezzo. None of that matters much as long as Somm – and Lady Beecham – continue to give us such welcome additions to the Beecham discography.'