Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Hector BERLIOZ (1803 - 1869)
Le Corsaire Overture (Royal Albert Hall, London, March 1951)
King Lear Overture (Royal Festival Hall, London, December 1954)
Harold in Italy (Usher Hall, Edinburgh, August 1956)
Trojan March (Colston Hall, Bristol, July 1951)
Frederick Riddle, Viola (Harold)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and BBC Symphony Orchestra (King Lear)
Conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4065-2 mono [71.43]
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Throughout his life Sir Thomas Beecham championed the music of Berlioz and his influence was critical to Berlioz gaining recognition in this country during the first half of the last century. Beecham was also an outstanding performer of the music of this great French composer and was probably at his best when conducting the music of Berlioz - appreciating the subtlety of the orchestration and responding instinctively to its rhythmic changes.

Le Corsaire starts at breakneck speed which soon slows down to the Adagio sostenuto section, it is played throughout with characteristic élan.

King Lear is described as a "Grande Ouverture" and at over 15 minutes it is longer than most of the overtures of Berlioz and, frankly, in some performances it can outlast its welcome. It was interesting to compare this performance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra with his earlier (1947) recording with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as re-mastered by Mike Dutton - the earlier recording sounds better but the performance is noticeably slower and less exciting.

For his performance of Harold in Italy the 1956 Edinburgh Festival, Beecham chose Frederick Riddle (then principal viola in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) for the solo part. The work is not an easy one to bring off, with its extremes of tempo and volume, the balance between orchestra and the viola can be particularly tricky. Beecham had earlier made a splendid recording of the work with William Primrose which unfortunately had been marred by poor balance in the second movement. Here at Edinburgh it took a little time to settle down but the performance is of the best though not entirely replacing the Primrose recording (which is unfortunately not available on CD).

The Trojan March finishes off this interesting CD - it is a good performance and sounds well (a stereo version is available with same orchestra on the EMI - 'Lollipops' disc).

This CD contains very fine performances of these interesting works. The drawback however is the recordings. These are all live recordings before an audience - true live performances, not like so many contemporary ones which are actually a collation of parts from several performances edited together. They are disfigured by coughs and other audience noises which tend to become ever more annoying on re-listening (far more than the occasional orchestral misplaying). The BBC recordings are also disappointingly inferior to those of commercial recordings of that time and unfortunately the orchestral sound in Harold in Italy is worse than in the other pieces even though the recording is the most recent one on this disc.

Arthur Baker.

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