A fabulous Mozart Requiem is revealed in these new XR remasters
Beecham's brilliance heard here as never before, with sterling performances throughout
REVIEW - Requiem (Fontana LP, 1958)
"After all these years of thinking that Fontana was the name of a family of seventeenth century Italian composers of chamber music, I now see that this is a mirage. Fontana is a record label. And a very good one, too, judging by this new Mozart Requiem. In THE GRAMOPHONE for January, 1957, A.P. hinted that the best thing to do with this tiresome Requiem situation was to persuade Philips to release the Bruno Walter version, available for some time in America. Philips have done better : they have given us an English recording, with a fine team of soloists, the R.P.O., and the B.B.C. Chorus under Sir Thomas Beecham's meritorious baton.
The recording is remarkably vivid and sonorous, with just enough reverberation to add dignity, though not too much to impair clarity—at least in the orchestral part. I find the chorus less satisfactory in this respect, for, although they produce a good body of tone, the usual faults of balance are there (loud sopranos and tenors, reticent contraltos and basses) and the words are not too clear. Even the Vienna Opera Chorus in D.G.G.'s version, for all its subdued woolliness, manages to get some of the words across. After all, the one common and constant factor in all these performances is the Latin text, and it should moreover be a decisive factor. If the text is even slightly inaudible, the loss to the general quality of the performance is great. Happily, the four soloists chosen by Sir Thomas have excellent diction and an ability to blend well in ensembles.
Beecham's "Tuba mirum" is a resounding and remarkable triumph. Instead of the usual feeble apology for the last trump, sounding for all the world like a solitary and henpecked trombonist practising in a railway tunnel, we have all the spine-chilling, blazing brass that we normally associate with Berlioz. The effect is truly magnificent. What is more, the obbligato trombone accompanying the bass soloist is here replaced by a more decorous violoncello —unauthentic perhaps, but the only way to avoid the kind of bathos that one usually associates with this noble number. Indeed, on replaying this passage, I am sure that if Mozart had ever corrected proofs of the Requiem, he would have switched the trombone solo elsewhere, just as Beecham has done.
Nowakowski has a noble organ, but is not quite happy in pure cantilena. Kim Borg does better on D.G.G., but on the other hand Nowakowski is superb in the ensembles, providing a firm and resonant bass line, and never intruding too much. Elsie Morison gives a beautifully cool and steady performance, with reliable intonation and splendidly musical phrasing. She achieves the seraphic quality of tone that Krips's choir boys ought to have but don't, and (unlike Seefried in the D.G.G. version) descants above the other soloists without over-dominating them. Monica Sinclair deals capably with the contralto sections, and Alexander Young adds lustre to the tenor solos and lift to the ensembles. The "Benedictus" is most sensitively done, though even here I could have wished for smoother singing from Nowakowski. As for the orchestra, there is plenty of bite in the R.P.O.'s brass, and their mellifluous woodwind can hardly be bettered.
I have hinted that Sir Thomas takes liberties with the score, but in nearly every case they are entirely justifiable liberties, and they add immeasurably to the power of the music. The organ's chordal support in "Rex tremendae" is an example of an eminently effective addition to the score, though I wondered whether this number coincided with the beginning of a new session, for a slight sharpening of pitch appears to take place at the beginning of this band.
In summing up, I have no hesitation in dismissing any small defects, for the performance as a whole is majestic and compelling, and the recording is throughout of excellent quality. Let us hope that Signor Fontana gives us more of the same kind."
D.S, The Gramophone February 1958 [link]
REVIEW - Schubert Symphony No. 5 (EMI LP, 1960)
"A new coupling, and an extremely attractive one. The B flat symphony is almost as celebrated as the Unfinished and Great C major; the third in D is a charmer to which Beecham has long been devoted— it is notable for a magical slow movement, and a minuet unusually marked vivace (though Beecham firmly takes it Allegretto pomposo), and also perhaps for a first movement first subject tune that's hardly more than a rhythm yet seems as characteristically Schubertian as any of his greatest melodies.
Both symphonies have been decently represented on disc before. Markevich's version of No. 3 is coupled with Schubert's fourth symphony, and is preferable if only in point of sound to the Decca MP which is much older than its date of reissue—and sounds every minute of its age. Of the various versions of No. 5 that by Jochuxn (coupled with Mozart in G minor K.550) was the most effective.
But Beecham, being on home ground, comfortably out-classes his rivals—save in one respect, that he chooses (as in concert performances) to dock eight bars from the first movement of No. 3 and four bars from the slow movement of No. 5. His other gramophone rivals do not share his views on the structure of these movements.
This reservation dealt with, I can go ahead and record the deep pleasure and refreshment which Beecham's performances afford. He nurses the charms of No. 3 solicitously, pointing the lilt of the tunes and the give-and-take of the structure; the middle section of the slow movement (an ancestor of "Bella figlia dell' amore") exemplifies his treatment to a nicety; Markevich, at a quicker, less sophisticated tempo, shows the charms of the clarinet tune, but Beecham goes further and tells us that they are magic. Rightly, Sir Thomas appreciates the inherent beauties of the B flat symphony, and exposes it without interpretative special pleading. The first movement flows gently along, serenely and philosophically classical—though Beecham never allows us to forget that Schubert knew and admired Beethoven's music. The sublime slow movement sounds more purely beautiful in Jochum's slower performance but Beecham gives it an extraordinarily emotional and articulate quality. The finale is all innocence but it conveys overtones of profound wisdom. The exquisitely polished playing of the Royal Philharmonic matches the conductor's conception, and the sound on the disc is vital, but gloriously warm."
W.S.M, The Gramophone April 1960 [link]
Notes on the recordings:
This recording of Mozart's Requiem is one of those happy instances which demonstrates the merits of Pristine Audio's 32-bit XR remastering system at its best, lifting what was a dull-sounding and indistinct choir into a degree of brilliance and clarity one would never have suspected from the original recording. Indeed, the entire recording has been transformed to an extent one can only really appreciate by hearing "before" and "after" side-by-side - especially in the Ambient Stereo version I wholeheartedly recommend here.
The later Schubert recording was far more successful in its original incarnation, but this, too, has been brought into even finer focus by the XR process, with additional use of phase-alignment software helping to produce a more sharply-defined stereo soundstage than before.
Together they're a superb-sounding record of Beecham at his very best.
CD covers to print:
CD-writing cuesheet (save as .cue):
|Download our Full Discography
Printable text listings of all Pristine Audio historic releases
|XR remastering by Andrew Rose:|