Thomas Beecham / Constantin Silvestri

Liszt: Faust Symphony; Tone Poems; Psalm XIII

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Back in its day, Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's 1958 recordings of Liszt's "Faust" Symphony and tone poem Orpheus were greeted with heartfelt gratitude by the listening public. Here were performances of tremendous power but wonderful delicacy, of terrific sophistication but marvelous tenderness, of high-minded idealism and deep-in-the-body sensuality that seemed to capture all the aspects of Liszt's multifaceted genius. In this nearly half-century-later reissue, Beecham and the RPO's performance still sounds grand, if not quite so grand as it sounded then. The caveat is not for the playing -- the Royal Philharmonic was then one of the finest London orchestras and its playing here combines brilliant polish with a very un-English passion -- nor is it for the conducting -- Beecham was then one of the very finest English conductors and his direction here combines compelling commitment with unstoppable joi de vivre. No, the caveat is for the recording itself, which, while it sounded great in the early days of stereo, here sounds dim, distant, and dated in this 2005 reissue. Also, additional caveats may be the inclusion of Constantin Silvestri and the Philharmonia's rough and ready recordings of Liszt's Les Préludes and Tasso and Beecham's over-the-top recording of Liszt's hellbent for glory setting of Psalm XIII. Still, anyone who loves the works will want to hear Beecham's recordings of A Faust Symphony and Orpheus, still arguably among the finest performances of either work ever recorded.

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