C1757. SIR THOMAS BEECHAM Cond. University of Illinois Orch. & Soloists: Le Nozze di Figaro - Act II (in English). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-929, Live Performance, 26 April, 1956, Urbana, Illinois Transfers by Yves St Laurent. [Surely far off the beaten path, this little jewel is offered due to Sir Thomas' sensitive and charming conducting, its rarity, and certainly for the exceptional quality of the professional recording quality!]
“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