Thomas Beecham

Mozart: Symphony No. 41 "Jupiter"; Clarinet Concerto; Bassoon Concerto

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Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in EMI's Great Recordings of the Century series combines Thomas Beecham's final "Jupiter" symphony (which he had recorded at least twice before) along with Mozart's Clarinet Concerto as played by Jack Brymer and Gwydion Brooke as soloist in the Bassoon Concerto. At the time, these Royal Philharmonic Orchestra musicians were part of an elite group of wind players known popularly as "The Royal Family," and included trumpeter Richard Walton and horn player Dennis Brain.

Beecham was a consummate Mozartian, but not one beholden to concepts of period authenticity. He favored a big boned, romantic approach to Mozart and used the whole of his Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to achieve that end, rather than paring it down to meet an eighteenth-century dimension perceived as acceptable. His readings of Mozart are very flexible in tempo and follow a nearly improvisatory course which may very well reflect the whim of the moment. Still controversial is his choice of tempo in the third movement "Minuetto & Trio" within the "Jupiter" -- at six minutes, it's slower than nearly everyone else is by far. Nevertheless, at the very least these are spirited, original and exceptionally intuitive Mozart performances that have delighted music lovers for generations, reaching an audience far beyond what even Sir Thomas himself might have hoped for when he made them.

The soloists are especially good, Brymer later re-recorded the Clarinet Concerto with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields for Philips, and that performance has ever since served as the litmus test for others who would challenge its supremacy in this key Mozart work. This earlier recording with Beecham is more dazzlingly virtuosic and a tad less sweet than that made with Marriner. Gwydion Brooke delivers a fat, but fluid tone on the bassoon and never barks out the music, which works wonders in what is normally Mozart's least accessible concerto. EMI's early stereo sound is antiquated by the standards of digital, even in this remastered version, but it is warm and excellent for its time. While Beecham's way with the "Jupiter" might not be to all tastes, the concerto performances are indispensable, and easily justifies Mozart: Symphony No. 41's stated designation as a "great recording."

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