A number of things mark out this Music Concepts set in a hideously
thronged field. The first is the controversial Welsh conductor,
Wyn Morris. The second is that this set includes the Barry Cooper
completion of the Beethoven Tenth. This is the first time the
cycle has been issued in a single box. To be welcomed is that
the return of these recordings by John Boyden (producer) and
Trygg Tryggvason (engineer) is at super bargain price. Most
but not all of them were first issued by IMP but they never
had much of a profile.
I first encountered Morris as the conductor of Isabella Wallich’s
Symphonica of London specially assembled to record a bargain
double LP set of Mahler 8. With its gatefold and low entry price
it had some of the éclat of the Hanae Nakajima Beethoven Fifth
Piano Concerto LP famously available on wobble vinyl only from
Woolworths. They went on to do Mahler 5 and 9 in the same price
bracket. This at a time when Mahler was the domain of prohibitively
full price CBS, Decca and Philips LPs. The Symphonica, I recall,
had horn desks bristling with members of the Tuckwell family.
Morris and Symphonica/IMP started a cycle of the Beethoven piano
concertos with Charles Rosen but this seems never to have got
beyond numbers 2 and 4 lauded and 5 not.
First off this is a really well documented set. The notes are
in English only and run to 24 pages. These offer discographical
detailing though no recording location, track or work timings;
anyone know where these were recorded and perhaps exact session
dates? There are four pages of including music illustrations
where Professor Cooper introduces his realisation of Beethoven
10 - the 'real' one not Brahms’ First. Wyn Morris is profiled,
warts and all across six or so pages. It’s certainly not hagiography.
His belligerence and arrogance coupled with his capacious taste
for alcohol destroyed relationships with orchestra managements
and left him in the cold for almost a decade until in 1984 John
Boyden tried him out with the LSO for a Wagner selection. The
old chemistry rekindled, came back on full stream and a group
of London business magnates backed the present Beethoven cycle
which was issued through Pickwick IMP and in the USA via MCA.
The author of the profile is Gene Gaudette who also surveys
the Beethoven symphonies over five pages. The German original
sung text of the finale of the Choral Symphony plus a side by
side translation is also given.
This is traditional Golden Age stuff where Morris rejects HIP
strictures and embraces red-blooded engagement in a way that
may now make some blench. It’s full flavour, full-on Beethoven
- potent, romping, athletic and not in a lean way either. The
abrasive skirling attack of the brass in the Molto vivace
of the Ninth is invigorating and exciting - nothing ascetic
here. It's not all muscle either as the frictionless platinum
lyricism of the great Ode to Joy theme in the Choral
reports at 4:45 onwards. The quartet of voices are admirable
though Gwynne Howell does show some strain. Their individual
voices can easily be discerned rather than being lost in a general
miasma. There’s no shortage of 'face' here. Shame about the
misspelling of Alison Hargan's name on the box and insert. The
London Symphony Chorus display impressive depth and unanimity.
They gild the heavens with bullion in Elysian tones from tr.
8. It is good that the finale is in six tracks so one can cherry-pick.
This a blazing performance with risks taken, as they say, with
The Fourth is at times Haydn-like but roars and sprints in the
third movement with its strongly predictive Brahmsian echoes.
The Seventh has plenty of heft and gruffly spat-out stamina.
There’s firebrand drive and spitfire attack in the finale. His
Fifth blazes along, drenched in petrol and flaming forward,
stately at times but responding well to the many ignition nodes.
The brass in the third movement impress with their warlike blast
and the finale maintains an iron grip - a shock-troop assault
yet with the requisite torque to capture moments of repose and
accelerate back into full frontal drama. Those imperious trumpets
really reach out to the listener. The Eighth, which can have
a Mozartean dancing divertimento feel to it, here majors on
buffeting tempest rather than ingratiating cassation. The gentler
moods are not rejected but Morris majors on shuddering exhilaration
especially in the outer movements.
Beethoven's ‘Tenth’ was begun before the Ninth and only the
first movement reached any sort of completion. Otherwise Cooper
and a colleague had to contend with about fifty very brief and
tenuous sketches. Cooper's and Morris’s vision gives us a smoothly
golden first movement of some elysian delicacy. The middle movement
is tempestuous in the manner of the gritty explosions of the
Choral. The final Andante offers symmetry with
more of the godlike smiles of the first movement. It ends with
descent into a warm cadence and then a full Beethovenian stop.
It's a very incely proportioned piece of music which you should
hear - whether it has sufficient of Beethoven's wildness I doubt.
The accent is more Pastoral than Fifth.
The Second Symphony is allowed to gruff and growl (III) as well
as charm and serenade in the warmly decorated realms of the
second movement. The finale has plenty of stamina and proceeds
at a typically Morrisian lightning pelt. The Sixth is somewhat
akin in mood. Broadly the even numbered symphonies are more
contented than the odd numbered ones which lean on drama and
heroism. The Andante and the Allegretto are as
serene as I have heard them though this does not mean slow.
After a magnificently focused, fleet-footed and dramatic First
Symphony comes the Eroica. The booklet reminds us that
this is not Morris's only seventh - I wonder how the two compare.
He first recorded the work on LP (never since reissued on CD)
in 1977 with the same Symphonica of London with which he had
recorded the Mahler 8. The present reading is not lacking in
whiplash resilience and fast fury nor in the Marcia Funebre
in epic gravitas. Nervy energy and brusque magnificence
is to the fore in the Scherzo. Now I hanker for a Wyn
Morris Brahms Third and Fourth but it’s not going to happen.
I recall how lacklustre were the Karajan LP box of the nine
symphonies issued in 1977. They left and leave me completely
unmoved - despite the god-like full page poses complete with
apollonian expression and that shock of silvery hair. They compared
very unfavourably with the old Decca cycle by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
which I recall resounding around the house when my father was
playing those Decca LPs in the 1960s. Mind you, I also enjoy
the Beethoven piano concertos played by Friedrich Gulda also
issued by Decca in a single box back in the 1990s and more recently
appearing on Brilliant Classics.
A digital cycle with old fashioned values and a certain intemperate
freshness of approach - be prepared to rediscover Beethoven.
The Wyn Morris Beethoven symphony recording sessions (courtesy of Peter Joelson -
to whom warmest thanks)
9-11 May 1988 Walthamstow Assembly Hall
Symphony No.1 in C Op.21
Symphony No.2 in D Op.36
Symphony No.9 in D minor Op.125 “Choral”
5-6 May 1987 Watford Town Hall
Symphony No.4 in B flat Op.60
Symphony No.5 in C minor Op.67
8 &10 Feb 1988 Walthamstow Assembly Hall
Symphony No.3 in E flat Op.55 “Eroica”
Symphony No.6 in F Op.68 “Pastoral”
7-8 Mar 1988 Watford Town Hall
Symphony No.7 in A Op.92
Symphony No.8 in F Op.93
8 Sep 1988 Walthamstow Assembly Hall
Symphony No.10 in E flat : 1st movement
Coupled with a lecture on the work by Barry Cooper.