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The Beecham Colleciton: Berlioz, Grieg, D’Indy & Saint-Saëns

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Berlioz: Le Corsaire’ Overture , Op. 21
Grieg: An Old Norwegian Romance with Variations, Op. 51
d’Indy: La Forêt Enchantée, symphonic legend after Uhland
Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3
Royal Philharmonic & BBC Symphony OrchestrasSir Thomas Beecham
Recordings taken from live performances

The long-awaited live performance of the Saint-Saën’s Third Symphony conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham with his Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is here at last, and it joins SOMM’s growing collection of unforgettable performances by a conductor who genuinely loved French music and who programmed it regularly in his concerts. He programmed at least 20 works by Saint-Saëns during his conducting life, beginning in 1907 with his Piano Concerto No. 2 with Myra Hess as the soloist and ending with his final concert in Portsmouth in May 1960 with a rousing performance of the Bacchanale from Samson et Delilah.

Sir Thomas first conducted the now popular but then quite rare Symphony No. 3 by Saint-Saëns on 2nd June 1913 in the presence of the composer.  Beecham recalls that on this special occasion Saint-Saëns was the soloist in Mozart’s Piano concerto KV 450 in an otherwise all-Saint-Saëns programme.  He had had difficulty in generating Mozartian lift and life into the work, given Saint-Saëns’s penchant for slow tempi and whenever he tried to speed things up he was met with an outburst of French expletives from the distinguished soloist. With the Symphony he was not so constrained: “The composer’s presence at rehearsals had an increasingly depressing influence on the players and, convinced of a fiasco unless this could be counteracted, I did all I could at the performance to create the impression of life through purposely exaggerated accentuation without altering too perceptibly the prescribed directions as to speed.”

Needless to say he had no such problems in 1954 and the performance preserved here (Royal Festival Hall, on 20th October 1954), is full of sparkle and vitality. Sir Thomas chose a talented member of his orchestra to play the important organ part, the versatile Australian conductor Denis Vaughan who was in the double bass section of the RPO as well as the keyboard player and the chorus master of the Beecham Choral Society. He recalled the sense of breathtaking liveliness which Sir Thomas drew from the orchestra as well as the feeling on the platform and a sensing in the audience, that this was a rare event and a special sense of occasion.

This disc also contains another of Beecham’s great favourites, Berlioz’s Overture “Le Corsaire” which he played in more than sixty concerts during his long career. The recording preserved here dates from a concert with his Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the Royal Albert Hall in March 1951.

Two more live performances of works one hardly ever hears in the concert hall these days are also preserved here. Grieg’s Old Norwegian Romance with Variations Op. 51 (Royal Festival Hall 1955) and La Forêt Enchantée (Studio broadcast, October 1951, from Maida Vale for the BBC Third Programme)  by Vincent d’Indy, whom Sir Thomas had met during his early career and whose music he loved to explore.

Beecham was recently included in Gramophone Magazine’s Hall of Fame, voted by readers as being among 50 people who changed classical music recording. The warm admiration of those who know and appreciate his worth is reflected in a tribute by conductor Edward Gardner.  “… His ebullient, jovial, ‘English Gentleman’ public persona belied a musician of rare sensitivity and a unique ability to master an extraordinary range of styles. His ‘Carmen’ shows an effervescence mere mortals find hard to capture… but most striking of all, is his ability to phrase with peerless elegance, (in La Bohème), keeping the music buoyant for entire acts, never earthbound.”

On This Recording

  1. Le corsaire: Le corsaire, Op. 21: Overture
  2. Gammelnorsk romanse med variasjoner: Gammelnorsk romanse med variasjoner (Old Norwegian Melody with Variations), Op. 51 (version for orchestra)
  3. La foret enchantee: La foret enchantee, Op. 8
  4. Symphony No. 3: I. Adagio – Allegro moderato – Poco adagio
  5. Symphony No. 3: II. Allegro moderato – Presto
  6. Symphony No. 3: III. Maestoso – Allegro – Più allegro