Classical Reissue Reviews

Beecham conducts Mozart Symphonies, Vol. 2 = MOZART: Symphony No. 38 in D Major, “Prague”; Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major; Divertimento No. 2 in D Major – Royal Philharmonic Orch. – Pristine Audio

Vigor of style and athletic, tasteful exuberance mark the Beecham Mozart recordings expertly restored by Andrew Rose.

Published on May 21, 2014

Beecham conducts Mozart Symphonies, Vol. 2 = MOZART: Symphony No. 38 in D Major, “Prague”; Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major; Divertimento No. 2 in D Major – Royal Philharmonic Orch. – Pristine Audio

Beecham conducts Mozart Symphonies, Vol. 2 = MOZART: Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K. 504 “Prague”; Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543; Divertimento No. 2 in D Major, K. 131 – Royal Philharmonic Orch./ Sir Thomas Beecham – Pristine Audio PASC 413, 76:40 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

Audio engineer and producer Andrew Rose resurrects a trio of classic Beecham renditions of Mozart the conductor inscribed for both Columbia and HMV, 1950 and 1955. Many a collector of the old CBS LPs will recall his fondness for ML 4313 (rec. 18 April 1950), the “Prague” Symphony as led by a virile Beecham with the Royal Philharmonic, a full-blooded account whose sound now has the benefit of having had its formerly sonorities softened enough for us to savor he wit and robust accents Beecham intended.  The Beecham approach to Mozart does not aim for its Viennese charm, even if it be transposed to the Czech capital which greeted Mozart in 1787 with unabashed affection.  Beecham’s opening movement communicates – in the course of four themes spread over 30 measures – a regal pomp and ceremonial verve in its trumpets and drums, as though the spirit of Haydn were nigh, with energetic resonance in the plastic syncopations and counterpoints. Robustly fervent, a spirit of breathless invention and exalted buoyancy permeates the playing, inspired and thrilling alert, at once.

The extraordinary Andante demands we attend the exotic colors and shadowy harmonies, especially in the RPO woodwinds as they progress over low strings. The chromatic line of the strings has sinew and erotic beauty, the music sighing contrapuntally and then becoming decisively and even morbidly martial in spirit.  The vivid colloquy in the winds often moves into the minor mode with an almost Baroque sense of anguish, yet the effect remains elegantly noble. The hectic last movement challenges any ensemble for clarity and dexterity simultaneously; even Leopold Mozart admonished his son’s testing of the Prague players. The RPO bassoon has as much of a workout as the more exposed, higher register players. The explosive and aerial acrobatics move with lithe grace under Beecham, playful but always deftly athletic, a performance with meat!

Beecham originally recorded the 1788 Symphony No. 39 on 22 October 1955 for CBS (ML 5194). Mozart seems to have conceived the work as a constant fusion of polar energies, with melodies that often divide the emergent line among various instruments, like the clarinet. The dotted rhythms and ceremonial splendors of the opening Adagio – Allegro yield to a series of plaintive melodies that indulge the violins’ E strings. The strings execute rocket figures as well as pizzicato magic, and the RPO horns have rarely sounded so opulent. The A-flat Major Andante con moto extends the stately gravitas of the opening of the first movement, offering a darkly colored line that becomes mordant and emotionally troubled. When the full body of strings exults in tandem with the woodwinds, the effect haunts the imagination.

Few Menuetto and Trio movements communicate as much raw power as Mozart’s here in this work. Furtwaengler’s Berlin recording remains the most potently tragic and militant reading I know, quite belying the laendler character of the original folk dance. Beecham’s realization enjoys a healthy swagger and estimable sense of bright purpose. The punctuated winds and horns demand our admiration. The Trio adds a second chalumeau clarinet to the texture, and over the pulsating strings Beecham injects an air of bucolic mystery. The 2/4 Allegro finale proves another galloping example of Beecham’s virtuoso orchestra in delighted, delightful throttle, with exuberant chirps from bassoon and comrade woodwinds. Beecham moves the rising and falling scales with bustling aplomb, the individual colors never once sacrificed while he maintains a luxurious fleetness of execution.

Beecham inscribed the 1772 Divertimento No. 2 fro HMV on 22 December 1955.  The piece would qualify as a serenade, except it calls for four horns and possesses a ceremonial slow movement that may have been intended for a wedding. Beecham’s entire concept here waxes frothy and bountiful of sound, especially in his wind, string, and horn parts. The Adagio plays as a true love song.  Every bar indulges itself in the finesse and stylish elegance of a refined taste. As one reviewer for The Gramophone stated in 1968: “Anyone who doesn’t delight in Beecham’s incomparably stylish way with it, as well as in the superb playing. . .well, I am sorry for him!”  So, save yourself the pity and purchase this exemplary restoration.

—Gary Lemco




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