Also Pelleas et Melisande, Tapiola, and the Oceanides. Sir Thomas Beecham, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI 50999 5 09693 2 6.
I'm willing to bet that if you listened to it, you couldn't tell this recording was well over a half a century old. Recorded in 1955 (1955, imagine that!) the stereo sound comes up like new in this EMI "Great Performances of the Century" remastering. Sure, in quiet passages you can hear a bit of background noise, but during most of the music it disappears to the ear, and you never notice it. What you do hear is a solid, if not particularly deep, bass; a clear, natural midrange; some sparkling highs; and a fine sense of depth and spread to the orchestra. Remarkable, considering that this is one of the earliest stereo recordings EMI ever released for the home.
Anyway, it's the music that counts, and this is one of those albums that has stood the test of time to become a legitimate classic. Beecham came to Sibelius relatively late in his career, but once he found the music, he championed it evermore. The composer himself was later to say that he considered Beecham one of only two conductors he preferred doing his work (the other being Koussevitzky). These recordings explain why.
The disc lists the little Symphony No. 7 first on the album cover, and while it is quite fine, it's really the incidental music from Pelleas et Melisande that stands out. One hears delicacy, refinement, nuance, sweetness, and light throughout the piece as Beecham lovingly caresses each phrase. Following the eight movements of Pelleas (Beecham chose to leave out one movement) is the tone poem Oceanides, which the conductor frankly described as "that strange composition--very strange indeed." Yet I found it far from strange, at least in Beecham's hands, a beautiful evocation of the sea. After the little twenty-minute Seventh Symphony, things conclude with Sibelius's popular Tapiola, again among the best interpretations you'll find, delightfully, charmingly performed as only Beecham could manage it.
I might add in closing that if you own EMI's previous CD transfer, you might find this one slightly better balanced left to right, slightly fuller, and slightly smoother overall. At mid price, it's surely a must-buy.
About the Author
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.
Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.
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