Symphony No.7. + Works by Mozart, Mahler and Wagner.
From The Art of Conducting Volume 3.
BBC Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Serge Koussevitsky
Classics The Art of Conducting CDM5 65918-2 [76:48] mid-price.
Symphony No.7 (20'36") on 4 tracks recorded 1933 "live". Reissued
the Seventh Symphony relies a lot on sonority, historic recordings
tend to lose a considerable degree of "substance", more than other
pieces of music. Well, at least for me. But when I first heard this
1933 version on the Pearl label, I was astounded by the quality
possible. Despite the unavoidable hiss and the reduced sound body,
this historic Seventh is very listenable. Koussevitsky conducts
with fine pace and a genuine understanding of the organic progression
of the Symphony. The BBC Symphony, particularly the strings, singing
with great - almost silvery - intensity. Listen for their churning
storm in the Adagio section (track 10, letter L in score).
As a whole, the orchestra sounds great, but specific wind solo and
section parts aren't really flattered on this recording. The trombone
solos are powerfully played, though there isn't any bloom around
you like the main body of this performance, do make sure you hear
the ending. One special attribute of Koussevitsky's reading here
is the trumpet high "C" played in the final chord. This is an option
chosen by a few conductors - I know some people don't like it, but
I find it can add a tremendously heroic, earth-shaking sheen over
the music, as the trumpet section hymns the glory of C major above
the orchestra. In Koussevitsky's attempt here, the "historic" soundscape
adds a certain poignant edge over this effect - and when I first
heard it, I was bowled over completely.
can no longer remember how the quality of the remaster on the Pearl
label was like (I don't even know if the album is available), but
I was glad to be able to find this reissue on "The Art of Conducting"
series on EMI. You will hear swish at the beginning, but fortunately
it fades off and only reappears intermittently. The rest of the
recording is satisfactory to my ears, but I curse EMI for ending
the disc very rudely and abruptly at the same moment the final chord
finishes, which deprives us of that cosmic reberb at the end.
Symphony No.7. Violin Concerto. Tapiola.
New York Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham.
LABORATORIES CDAX 8013
[76:09] full-price. Symphony No.7 (19'23") on 4 tracks, recorded
June 1942. Issued 1996. MONO.
Sir Thomas Beecham, possibly the most English of the English conductors,
was a good friend and champion of Sibelius. His recordings of the
composer's music are loved and respected by many. The fact that
three separate companies have elected to issue three separate historic
recordings of his Sibelius records, each with one of the Seventh,
surely attests to this. In 1942, Beecham (left, with Sibelius) recorded
this reading for American Columbia in New York - which he then considered
not up to standard and sued the record company for issuing them
without his approval - he lost.
first thing that strikes one is the richness of this superb remastering
- it doesn't sound old at all and is very immediate. The strings
glow with rich tone, the woodwinds flutter and sing with golden
voices (even the oboe has a punchy pungent tone about it), the brass
ring with confidence and even the timpani boom with dignified bass.
Details abound - there is a wind (trumpet/horn???) pedal in the
third track which I confess I've never heard before (this is why
I have so many different versions...) elsewhere.
unstoppable sweeping momentum of this performance is its greatest
asset - phrases move, rush and streak forward with windswept strength
and riverine flow, entirely natural. Quite simply, the irresistible
forward pulse which Beecham achieves here is very very rarely heard.
At no point does Beecham lose control, and yet the orchestra sounds
so "free", so playing-without-inhibition. I suspect some listeners
will consider this reading to be rushing or heavy-handed - but give
it some time, try it out a few times and let it speak to you.
tone of this performance is bright - trimphant. It brims with glorious
confidence and optimism, quite simply one of the most joyous versions
of the Seventh I've ever heard. The directly uttered layers of the
final bars are majestically wrought with finality, and Dutton Labs
culminate this triumph of a recording by giving us the reverb into
silence. The Nutcase's Choice for Historic
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Sixten Ehrling.
[217:40] full-price (3CD set). Symphony No.7 (19'57") on 1 track,
recorded 29 Jan 1952 (part of first complete cycle on record). Reissued
seems a fairly straightforward reading - maybe "aloof" in a good
way. There is a sense of detachment, but the performance exudes
a sense of sweep and the C minor climax in the middle is powerful
wrought but in a somehow "light" feeling. The reading is quiescent
yet has something powerful to say. Ehrling's conducting is exemplary
in the sense that he gets the flow and structure of the symphony
very right. If you like a very "untouchable", faraway quality to
the Seventh, you might like this one. The 1952 sound has been remastered
well, with ample dynamic range and good tone quality in the orchestra.
The woodwinds are particularly clean, though I am a little uncomfortable
with the slightly wobbly trombone. Not exactly recommendable above
the rest of the versions here then, but nevertheless worth hearing.
Maybe it'll grow on me.
"Sibelius Week 1954": Symphony No.7. Violin Concerto. Tapiola.
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. David Oistrakh/Finnish RSO/Fougstedt
[66:06] full-price. Symphony No.7 (19'23") on 4 tracks, recorded
June 1954. Issued 1993. MONO.
1951 onwards, a festival was held in Helsinki every year, called
Sibelius Week. As the name suggests, it was a time of celebration
in the name of Sibelius' music. The festival was reorganised as
the Helsinki Festival from 1968 onwards, so that it could feature
other composers (oh, and the 1960s is also the only period so far
of a downward trend in Sibelius' popularity).
the festival of 1954, David Oistrakh and Sir Thomas Beecham were
among the participants. This disc includes the former's performance
of the Violin Concerto - which so impressed the Finnish that the
audience not only gave him a standing ovation, but the orchestra
spontaneously burst into a fanfare in honour of the soloist. In
my opinion, among Oistrakh's many recordings of this concerto, this
isn't his best! But that's another story...
Thomas' reading of the Seventh was one of the high points of the
Sibelius Week, 1954. It is a direct and forward performance, timed
at just 19'23. The musis is handled with great sense of momentum
and dignity. Occasionally there are some rather hard-hitting moments
- certainly this rendition is not as mellow as his 1955 recording
for EMI (below), but similarly skilfully and idiomatically played.
Indeed, there is definitely a darker edge to the music (well, both
conductor and composer were near the end of their lives) and the
climaxes are powerfully sculpted (though the third one sounds a
little ugly). All is aided by the very satisfactory Ondine remaster.
Unlike the 1955 version, Beecham chose to draw out the final chord,
whose dark atmosphere is similar to Koussevitsky's reading (see
above) - overall it is done with heartfelt feeling, floating grandly
and serenely to the end.
Symphony No.7. Pelléas et Mélisande Suite. The Oceanides.
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham
Classics Beecham Edition CDM7 63400-2
[76:09] mid-price. Symphony No.7 (20'17") on 4 tracks, recorded
November 1955. Issued 1990.
recordings were made as in celebration of the composer's 90th birthday
and considering their age, they are remarkable performances. Though
to some extent the readings lack the finesse of modern recorded
readings - I would say because there were few, if any, precedents
- there are insights aplenty to the readings. (In fact, Sibelius
asked Beecham to record The Oceandies).
this early stereo recording (which I think has even more depth than
Colin Davis' RCA recording) of the Seventh Symphony has wonderful
pace, the kind Beecham the conductor was famous for instilling in
his Royal Phil players. The famous string section of this orchestra
produce some really beautiful sounds, as does the trombonist. Unusally
for me, I enjoyed the final two thirds of this performance more
than first third, the latter whose progression is not quite so smooth.
The final bars have a slightly different "sequence" (one of the
great mysteries of this Symphony is the way the final sequence of
instrumental layers manifest) which Beecham sculpts with vision.
Though I still don't like the way many British conductors "straighten"
the final chord into a block, this remains a very respectable reading.
The disc is coupled with Beecham's equally famous renditions of
the Pelléas et Mélisande Suite and Tapiola.
and Chandos discs are available in Singapore from HMV (The Heeren)
and Borders (Wheelock Place). DG, EMI and Sony discs can be ordered
from the usual places. Look for Naxos at Borders or Tower/Suntec
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