BEECHAM in Seattle, Volume 1: Delius, Elgar, Wagner (1943) - PASC212

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BEECHAM in Seattle, Volume 1: Delius, Elgar, Wagner (1943) - PASC212

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WAGNER Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - Prelude to Act III
ELGAR Variations on an Original Theme ('Enigma'), Op.36 
WAGNER Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - Overture
ELGAR Serenade for String Orchestra, Op. 20 - 2. Larghetto
WAGNER Der fliegende Holländer - Overture
DELIUS On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
Recorded 1943
Total duration: 67:00

Seattle Symphony
conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham

This set contains the following albums:

Beecham in Seattle - the unheard live recordings

"I was informed there was an emergency, so I emerged..."

We are lucky to have any recordings whatsoever of Beecham in Seattle - union disputes precluded any commerical recordings during Beecham's time with the orchestra. To the best of our knowledge there remain three CDs-worth of live material, captured at the start of the 1943 season and preserved first on acetate discs (since melted down), then open-reel tape (since lost), backed up onto more open reel tape (now almost unplayable) and cassette tape. Thus the humble cassette proves the best remaining source of these historic recordings, and it is from excellent transfers of these, supplied by a collector who wishes to remain anonymous, that I have worked.

However it was not the cassette medium which has caused most trouble here - although some of the acetates survived well prior to transfer, others were worn and damaged, and some of that will be audible in places. I also had to merge in approximately 4 seconds of a suitably "digitally aged" modern recording into the Meistersinger Overture to patch a skipped record groove. The result, hopefully undetectable, starts at about 3'12".

Andrew Rose

  1. WAGNER Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - Prelude to Act III [notes / score]
  2. ELGAR Variations on an Original Theme ('Enigma'), Op.36 [notes / score]
  3. WAGNER Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - Overture [notes / score]
  4. ELGAR Serenade for String Orchestra, Op. 20 - 2. Larghetto* [notes / score]
  5. WAGNER Der fliegende Holländer - Overture [notes / score]
  6. DELIUS - On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring* [notes / score]

Played by Seattle Symphony
conductor Sir Thomas Beecham

1: Third Subscription Concert, 8.30PM, October 18, 1943
2, 5: Second Subscription Concert, 8.30PM, October 11 1943
3, 4: Sunday Matinee Concert, 2.30PM, October 10, 1943
6: Sunday Matinee Concert, 2.30PM, September 26, 1943.

Recorded at the Music Hall Theater, Seattle except 17, 18, 20: Moore Hall, Seattle.

*A few bars at the opening of these tracks have not survived.

XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, January-February 2010
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Sir Thomas Beecham

Total duration: 67:00

We have the following information on the tapes:

Sir Thomas Beecham was the music director of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra for the 1941-42, 1942-43 and part of the 1943-44 seasons. His final concert was on Monday, November 1, 1943.

Some of the music on the September and October Subscription and Sunday Matinee Concerts from the 1943-44 season was recorded and broadcast on the Standard Symphony Hour on KOL Radio and the Mutual-Don Lee Broadcasting System. Years later, these recordings were transferred from the radio station's 16-inch 78 rpm broadcast masters before they were thrown out or, rather, destroyed as per the agreement that usually used to exist with such recordings, i.e., the station could use the recordings for a while but then they had to be destroyed.

The recordings were first dubbed to reel-to-reel: one 7" reel of 1800 feet of Maxell UD 35-90 tape recorded in single, quarter-track mono at 3 3/4 ips ("reel master").

This reel master tape was subsequently dubbed onto three Sony UX-S 90 minute cassette tapes making additional cassette safety dubs onto TDK SA 90 minute cassettes. The reel master was also dubbed onto three 1800 foot reels of Ampex 407 Mastering Audio Tape in dual, quarter-track mono at 7 1/2 ips as a "safety master."

Unfortunately the Ampex tape referred to here eventually suffered from the notorious 'sticky shed' syndrome. While it is possible to recover tapes in this condition, the fact that this was not understood prior to the tapes themselves being played has caused irreperable damage to them, leaving us with the Sony cassettes as the only remaining viable source for a best -quality restoration. We are fortunate therefore that the cassettes were well-made on quality equipment which has also been used for replay in the final digitisation dubs.

In all there is sufficient surviving material to produce three CDs of recordings. Volume 2 should comprise Beethoven's 8th Symphony, Mendelssohn's 3rd Symphony and an overture by Bizet, whilst Volume 3 will centre around Dvorák's Cello Concerto (with Mischel Cherniavsky, cello) and shorter works by Massenet, Saint-Saëns and Sibelius.

The concerts covered by the collection:

Sunday, September 26, 1943. 2:30 PM. Moore Theater
Mendelssohn. Ruy Blas. Overture (not recorded)
Prokofiev. Peter and the Wolf (not recorded)
Edward German. Gypsy Suite (not recorded)
Mozart. Concerto for Flute and Harp (not recorded)
Delius. On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
Grieg. Sigurd Jorsalfar. March (not recorded)

Monday, September 27, 1943. 8:30 PM. Music Hall Theater
Rimsky-Korsakov. May Night. Overture (not recorded)
Saint-Saëns. Le Rouet d’Omphale
Beethoven. Symphony No. 4 (not recorded)
Prokofiev. Peter and the Wolf (not recorded)
Dvorak. Symphonic Variations (not recorded)

Sunday, October 10, 1943. 2:30 PM. Moore Theater
Wagner. Die Meistersinger. Overture
Mozart. Marriage of Figaro “No so piu” (not recorded)
Mozart. Don Giovanni. “Batti, batti” (not recorded)
Beethoven. Symphony No. 8
Massenet. La Vierge. The last sleep of the virgin
Sibelius. Valse Triste
Sibelius. Karelia Suite. Alla Marcia

Mozart. Abduction from the Seraglio. “Oh, what joys and pleasure bright” (not recorded)
Elgar. Serenade for Strings. Larghetto
Rossini. William Tell. Overture

Monday, October 11, 1943. 8:30 PM. Music Hall Theater
Wagner. Flying Dutchman. Overture
Mendelssohn. Symphony No. 3

Alexander Brott. The Oracle (not recorded)
Elgar. Enigma Variations

Monday, October 18, 1943. 8:30 PM. Music Hall Theater
Bizet. Patrie Overture
Dvorak. Cello Concerto

Jerome Moross. Symphony (not recorded)
Wagner. Die Meistersinger. Prelude to Act 3
Berlioz, Carnaval Romain Overture (not recorded)


Fanfare Review

There are probably few collectors who remember—if they ever knew—that Sir Thomas Beecham spent about two years as music director of the Seattle Symphony. It was during World War II, and Beecham had left England, doubtless because musical activities there were so severely curtailed. (His memorable explanation: “I was informed there was an emergency, so I emerged.”) Beecham’s tempestuous tenure in Seattle, during which he battled fiercely and publicly with local critics, ended abruptly in late 1943 following a colossal blow-up; it also coincided with the so-called Petrillo ban, a strike by the American Federation of Musicians against the recording companies, so there were no commercial recordings. (Not that it’s likely that there would have been, even without the strike; with the exception of Victor’s recordings of the San Francisco Symphony, the major American record companies showed little or no interest in musical activities on the West Coast, and any expansion during wartime would have been difficult.)

Judging by the notes by Pristine producer Andrew Rose, it is a small miracle that any documents of Beecham’s Seattle years survive at all; he reports that all he had to work with were third-generation cassette dubs from the original acetate discs, which no longer exist. Given that, the sound he has been able to extract from these tapes is impressively full, especially in the Meistersinger act III Prelude that opens this disc. But more about technical matters in due course.

Beecham recorded all of the music on the present disc commercially, twice in the case of the Flying Dutchman Overture and no fewer than three times for the Delius miniature. (EMI also issued a 1959 concert performance of the Meistersinger Prelude, currently available on an ArkivCD.) So, it is reasonable to ask whether the present recordings are of more than documentary interest. On the one hand, even though Beecham was one of the first conductors to embrace and make truly effective use of the phonographic medium, his live performances often feature a level of energy and excitement that far surpasses even that of his finest studio recordings. But—and it is only fair to complicate the equation with this qualifier—there are other live versions of most of these items already available, in sound quite superior to anything Pristine can offer here: the Flying Dutchman Overture and Enigma Variations, both from a November 1954 concert, are on SOMM BEECHAM 20 (Fanfare 31:3) and 22 (32: 2), respectively; the Prelude to act III of Die Meistersinger, from one of the Royal Philharmonic’s first concerts in 1946, is on BEECHAM 19 (31:6).

Regarding the performances given here, the Meistersinger act III prelude is as broad as, and probably more fluid than, the 1946 London version; the act I prelude is typically energetic, with a notable più mosso in the coda. The Enigma Variations is a study in contrasts, the theme and variation 1 (“C.A.E.,” the composer’s wife) quite slow, the second, fourth, and particularly seventh variations (“Troyte”) very fast. The playing is scrappy at times, but “Troyte” makes what Beecham would have called “a grand racket.” The famous ninth variation, “Nimrod,” is wonderfully hushed (the effect unfortunately undermined by heavy surface noise), but not as broad and noble as the 1954 version. Beecham really whips up the finale, his shouts of exhortation to the orchestra quite audible at a couple points. The excerpt from the E-Minor Serenade is tender and sympathetic, its allusion to Die Meistersinger the more evident because of its placement on the disc! The overture to The Flying Dutchman is the weakest orchestral performance, with several instances of less-than-polished ensemble.

Given Rose’s description of his source materials, it is a wonder that any of these recordings are listenable, but for the most part he does make them sound quite tolerable. There are some dropouts in the Meistersinger act I Prelude, and the sound of the Dutchman Overture is awfully thin. The biggest problems, unfortunately, are in the Enigma Variations; starting around the opening of “Nimrod,” worn and damaged acetates cause a great deal of surface noise and blasting. As Rose also notes, the Elgar Serenade and the Delius are missing their opening bars; he does not mention the fact that in the variations, “Dorabella” (variation 10) is missing its first 18 or so measures as well.

All of this material comes from Beecham’s abortive third season in Seattle; according to Rose, two additional CDs’ worth of material exist, and presumably he will issue these in due course. We can hope that they include items new to the Beecham discography; this first volume, by virtue of duplicating repertoire available elsewhere in better performances and sound quality, is primarily for collectors with a special interest in the Seattle Symphony or who, like your reviewer, must have every note Beecham recorded.

Richard A. Kaplan

This article originally appeared in Issue 34:1 (Sept/Oct 2010) of Fanfare Magazine.