Sir Thomas Beecham  -  Sibelius     (2-BBC Legends 4041)
Item# C1389
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Sir Thomas Beecham  -  Sibelius     (2-BBC Legends 4041)
C1389. SIR THOMAS BEECHAM Cond.Royal Phil.: Sibelius Program (incl.Symphony #4 in a & Symphony #7 in C; TAPIOLA; SWANWHITE; PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE; THE TEMPEST), preceded by British & Finnish National Anthems, [plus Beecham’s 15-minute spoken tribute to Sibelius, digressing into cigars, the state of music, composers, etc - itself worth the price of this set!]. (England) 2-BBC Legends 4041, Live Performances, 1954-55, Royal Festival Hall & Royal Albert Hall, London. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 684911404128


"In a broadcast concert to mark Sibelius’ 90th Birthday on December 8, 1955, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra…played to a capacity Royal Festival Hall. It was, I have no doubt, an unforgettable event for all those lucky enough to get a ticket, and the happy inclusion here of the British and Finnish national anthems (both stirringly done) readily recreates the necessary sense of occasion.”

- Andrew Achenbach, GRAMOPHONE, May, 2000

“All of the performances on this disc except the Seventh Symphony come from Sir Thomas Beecham’s marathon 90th birthday tribute to Sibelius on 8 December, 1955. Judging from the quality of the music-making (preserved in perfectly clear mono), and notwithstanding the bronchial contributions of many members of the audience, it must have been one hell of an occasion. In the marvelous accompanying talk included with the recordings as a bonus, Beecham discusses his love of Sibelius’ smaller works, the incidental music in particular, where he discerns a more ‘human’ side to the composer. His program was ideally chosen to make exactly this point, contrasting the Romantic warmth of SWANWHITE and PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE with two of Sibelius’ most forbidding pieces: the Fourth Symphony and TAPIOLA.

It’s probably safe to say that Beecham’s way with these shorter works may have been equaled subsequently, but it hasn’t been surpassed. He plays this music with such love, care, and sheer character, that its greatness becomes a non-issue. Even the occasional eccentric tempo, such as the very slow ‘Entr’acte’ from PÉLLEAS, comes off as wholly convincing. In the two symphonies and TAPIOLA, Beecham is no less assured. His flowing tempos in the Fourth Symphony’s outer movements may raise a few eyebrows today, but the momentum he generates in this most forbidding of symphonies is simply irresistible. He’s helped by some very enthusiastic playing from the Royal Philharmonic wind section. The pastoral episode at the heart of the Seventh Symphony (recorded a year earlier) comes across with near ideal clarity, notwithstanding any limitations in the original sound source. TAPIOLA, in particular, offers a veritable clinic in ‘How It’s Possible to Play Sibelius Without Sacrificing Momentum for Atmosphere’. At a bit more than 17 minutes, Beecham simply plays the whole work in one huge, implacable span. You won’t hear it better done.

In addition to the radio talk and the British and Finnish national anthems, Beecham also addresses the audience and encourages them to give a shout of congratulations to the 90-year-old composer, who was presumably listening to the broadcast of the concert, and he includes as an encore the ‘Dance of the Nymphs’ from Sibelius’ music to THE TEMPEST. Given Beecham’s own advanced age at the time of these concerts, their generosity of spirit and enthusiasm are little short of astounding. Music lovers are besieged today by historical recordings that are little more than that: historical. Here’s one that’s also an artistic document of real value. No Sibelian should miss it.”

- David Hurwitz,

“No other conductor could possibly have got away with saying: ‘There are two golden rules for an orchestra: start together and finish together. The public doesn't give a damn what goes on in between’. Beecham's talent for aphorism risks overshadowing his achievements as a a musician. But musicians who worked under him - and orchestral players are often a vituperative lot - still recall ‘Tommy’ with extraordinary fondness.

In 1899, Hans Richter, due to conduct the Hallé Orchestra in a concert in St Helen's, fell ill; Joseph Beecham, who was mayor, declared that his prodigiously talented 20-year-old son should step in. From there, the young conductor - entirely self-taught - moved on in leaps and bounds. He founded a Beecham Symphony Orchestra in 1909 and a Beecham Opera Company in 1915. At the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, he conducted the UK premieres of Wagner's DIE MEISTERSINGER and Richard Strauss' DER ROSENKAVALIER, ELEKTRA and SALOME; during the 1930s he presented the greatest singers of the day there, including Lauritz Melchior, Lotte Lehmann and Kirsten Flagstad, raising sponsorship himself. He founded the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1932, and in 1946 the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He excelled in Mozart, French music and a range of German repertoire.

Beecham also faced controversy. His finances and personal life were often respectively precarious and volatile; and he is sometimes criticised for decamping to the US during the war - though Lady Beecham defends him by pointing out that he had long-standing engagements to honour in Australia and the US in 1940 and then couldn't get home across the Atlantic. Before that, in 1936, he had taken the newly founded LPO to Germany, where Hitler was in the audience. Why did they go? ‘He was proud of them’, says Lady Beecham, ‘and he wanted to take them to a country where there were many fine orchestras to show them what a fine orchestra it was’. The story rings of an extraordinary figurative nose-thumbing that only Beecham could have carried off. Dr Berta Geissmar, personal assistant to conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, was Jewish and had fled the Nazi regime for London, where Beecham promptly employed her as his secretary. ‘And he took her with him to Germany’, says Lady Beecham. ‘She was absolutely terrified for the whole tour that they'd take her away. But with him beside her, they could do nothing at all’. At the Berlin concert, when he saw Hitler applauding, Beecham turned to the orchestra and said, ‘The old bugger seems to like it!’ The remark went out on the radio across Europe. Had Beecham really forgotten that the concert was being broadcast?”

- THE GUARDIAN, 6 April 2001