Celebrating 25 Years of Excellence

Beecham Conducts Sibelius


Label: ,
Catalogue No: ARIADNE 5013
Release Date: 2021-10-15
Number of Discs: 1
EAN/UPC: 748871501324
Artists: ,
Liner Notes

SOMM Recordings is thrilled to announce the first release on disc of the only known live recording of Sir Thomas Beecham conducting Sibelius’s Symphony No.1 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to mark the orchestra’s 75th anniversary.

The RPO was founded in 1946 by Beecham to inject new energy and new ideas into British orchestral life. Taken from the 1952 Edinburgh International Festival, the First Symphony heard here, says Beecham biographer John Lucas in his booklet foreword, is “a spine-tingling performance”. Three months earlier Beecham had completed his exacting studio recording of the First and comparisons between the two are fascinating.

Also being released for the first time are previously unissued live recordings from 1947 of two of the composer’s Scènes historiques, and an interview by documentary maker Jon Tolansky with two RPO stalwarts (Sub-principal Viola John Underwood and the late Sub-Principal Second Violin Raymond Ovens) who share their memories of playing for Beecham.

Both performances feature the RPO’s fêted “royal family” of wind players – Gerald Jackson (flute), Terence MacDonagh (oboe), Jack Brymer (clarinet) and Gwydion Brooke (bassoon) – with luminaries Dennis Brain leading the horns, Richard (‘Bob’) Walton as first trumpet, and Principal Percussionist Lewis Pocock.

The disc has been curated by Tolansky, the original founder of the Music Performance Research Centre. The archive was created in 1987 to preserve the heritage of public performances which included among its collection the Sibelius First Symphony. In 2001 the archive was renamed Music Preserved and transferred to the Borthwick Institute at the University of York. The Symphony, together with Tolansky’s other discovery, Scènes historiques have been brilliantly restored by acclaimed engineer Lani Spahr.

SOMM’s ground-breaking The Beecham Collection spans 24 volumes, many of them with the RPO. It includes the partnership’s coupling of Sibelius’s Fourth and Sixth Symphonies (SOMM-BEECHAM 18) and their earliest-known recordings, dating from 1946, featuring Wagner, Mendelssohn, Mozart’s “Great C minor” Symphony (No.40), and Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Moura Lympany the soloist (SOMM-BEECHAM 19).

On This Recording

Symphony No.1 in E minor, Op.39a
  1. I. Andante ma non troppo - Allegro-energico
  2. II. Andante (ma non troppo lento)
  3. III. Scherzo (Allegro)
  4. IV. Finale (Quasi una fantasia - Andante - Allegro molto)
  5. Scènes historiques II, Op.66b
  6. Minnelaulu (Memory Song)
  7. Nostosillalla (On the Drawbridge)
  8. Playing for Beechamc
  9. Playing for Beecham
  10. RPO Beecham-era musicians John Underwood (viola) and Raymond Ovens (second violin) in conversation with Jon Tolansky

a Usher Hall Edinburgh, on August 17, 1952 © Music Preserved
b People’s Palace Theatre, London, on April 17, 1947
c Broadstairs, Kent, on January 6, 2015 (DDD)


“From the outset of Beecham’s broadcast performance of the E Minor Symphony, we can well understand the music’s appeal to this conductor, who so favored Sibelius’ influences from Tchaikovsky and Borodin – and perhaps Bruckner in the Scherzo – given the power of Jack Brymer’s clarinet to set the heroic but melancholy tone over a timpanic pedal, here played by Lewis Pocock, in his debut as percussionist for the Royal Philharmonic. … Rounding off this seductive disc from Somm, we have a half-hour interview… Mr. Tolansky calls the interview a “very special privilege,” and so must we all say, even as the driven and voluptuous phrases from the finale of the Berlioz Le Corsaire echo in our minds. Heartily recommended.” —Gary Lemco, Audiophile Audition

“this is an unmissable disc for out-and-out Sibelians. After all, this is a premiere recording in the shape of a live First Symphony as directed by Beecham. It walks straight into a position of eminence in the catalogue and is remarkable for presenting the work as if imagined anew.” —Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International