Thomas Beecham

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9

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Collectors of recordings by Thomas Beecham will be thrilled to own this live account of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, "Choral," with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, but practically everyone else will find it a curiosity of some historical value though not one of the great interpretations of this masterwork. Beecham was admired for his Haydn and extolled for his Mozart, but his approach to Beethoven seems to have been less artistically convincing or personally compelling, if this 1956 recording gives any indication. There aren't any glaring errors, nor, thankfully, are there any gratuitous exaggerations of the music, which might be expected of the time period; but there is a machine-like efficiency in the RPO's playing that suggests rigidity and perhaps excess severity in the conducting. This works well enough in the stern first movement and the stormy Scherzo, but is quite detrimental to the beautiful Adagio and the tenderly expressive passages in the Finale, where fluidity and grace matter much more than beating time. The rapturous singing by bass Kim Borg, tenor Richard Lewis, mezzo-soprano Nan Merriman, and soprano Sylvia Fisher provides the most human element in this stiffly counted and coolly detached interpretation, and their vocals, with those of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, are the most stirring aspects of this performance. Recorded in rather dry monaural sound, the symphony is introduced by an enthusiastic rendition of Edward Elgar's arrangement of God Save the Queen, which is entertaining but not essential for most listeners' purposes.

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