When Beecham came to Australia, one cartoonist depicted him as conducting with a magic wand. Listen to him conducting these colourful Bizet orchestral items and you'll know why. In the "L'Arlesienne" suites, the melodic lines, especially for woodwinds, are beautifully phrased, there is amazing gusto in the Farandole, and the string playing in the Adagietto is like gossamer. The Bizet symphony was recorded in Paris during Beecham's last series of recording sessions. The 80 year old conductor works his magic here too, identifying and eliciting all the freshness of the 17 year old composer's symphony. These are performances to treasure for all time.
This disc compiled from stereo recordings made in 1956 and 1959 clearly demonstrates Beecham's unique style of conducting and making music. The recordings themselves, although showing the superiority of the RPO over their French counterparts, is still heard to better effect in this new remastering than on previous issues.
The symphony is played by the French orchestra and was chosen because of its sonic characteristics especially as regards the narrow bored horns. It betrays a certain wiriness of string tone and the horns, with their vibrato and narrow bore tend to sound rather euphonium like. Nevertheless, Beecham enables them to play with a particular swagger and dancing gait, even at his fairly steady speeds. There is a gentility too in the phrasing used. All of these features of course, will be well known to collectors of Beecham's recordings as will this compilation that has been presented before but not with this remastering.
The L'Arlesienne suites are of the same quality of phrasing, particularly from the leaders of the woodwind section, and the technical superiority of the RPO as an orchestra must also be recognised. Beecham had collected a hand-picked group of section leaders for this orchestra and they led, not just the woodwind, but also the brass.
Barenboim reputedly said, listening to these recordings when preparing his own and quoting these sleeve notes, 'Perhaps we should pack up and go home.' I also own that recording and I am very glad that he did not pack up and go home until at least he had finished his own version. Nevertheless it is easy to see what he meant.
This is one of those recordings which deserves the description of a Great Recording of the Century' and on that basis alone it surely must warrant serious consideration as a purchase, particularly in this new mastering.
I first heard snippets of this on Classic FM - the only Radio Station I listen to - and can still sell me music, and before they said who it was, I immediately recognised this as 'Bizet' - even though I had only ever heard his fabulous Opera 'Carmen'! There are 'essences' of Carmen here - particularly in the trademark of minor crescendos creeping up and building in the background of the main music.
Not a lot is heard of Bizet - apart from the aforementioned Opera which everybody recognises and likes - even if they claim not to like opera or classical music per se. This is a selection of lesser known pieces which will delight any fan of his great opera. It's a really beautiful CD and it's difficult to pick a favourite piece, but 'Menuet' is pretty lovely!
Bizet is definitely one of the world's greatest composers - perhaps not by volume - but certainly on melody. About the only other composer I could recognise so instantly was the late great John Barry - though worlds apart.
on 24 April 2014
Everything said here so far I would have to agree with -BUT. The 'Great Recording of the Century' here is the Arlesienne music. There is a much better Beecham recording of the Symphony in C, which I think EMI may have allowed to escape its vaults onto CD very briefly. But, of course, it's in mono, which we are supposed not to want to buy. For some reason EMI could not at first record in both systems in Paris, and so it had to be done again for stereo. My gut feeling is that Warner will not be interested in reissuing it, because their computer will tell them it's in mono, and they will come down hard on any independent who proposes to do so. For anyone who knows both versions the difference is astonishing. if you come across it, even on LP,grab it.
on 24 April 2013
I remember L'Arlesienne being the title music for the schools broadcast on Radio Singapore in the mid-1960's. Memory can be fickle, but I feel this version, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham is the one they used. It was recorded in 1956, and the CD is in EMI's "Great recordings of the century" series.
So it has great sentimental value to me, and could be to anyone else who remembers Aisha Akbar presenting the Singapore schools broadcasts.
The full track was played each day, in order to give children time to assemble in the room with the radio. There were also lessons on Radio Singapore for singing the Christmas carol based on the music.
On the evidence of this wonderful recording, Beecham and Bizet were made for each other.
The Frenchman composed his delightful Symphony in C at the grand old age of 17. He was only to live another twenty years, but in his all too short life managed to give the world one of its greatest operas (Carmen, of course) as well as one of its most beautiful and moving duets (Au Fond du Temple Saint from The Pearl Fishers) and
works such as the L`Arlesienne suites, included on this flawless disc by Beecham and orchestras from both England and France.
While the Symphony is a mostly sunlit affair, full of heartstopping phrases and orchestral swells, all of which Beecham points up with his customary amused flair and wit, the two suites at times exude a pleasing melancholy, balancing the characteristic flashes of joy and lyricism.
If a CD can be a cherished possession - and why not? - then these repackaged and remastered recordings from over fifty years ago are a treasure of rare wonder and beauty. This music is not exactly profound, but it is endlessly enjoyable, inventive, and Beecham`s alert conducting brings out each felicitous phrase, every `change in the weather` so to speak. His way of pacing and phrasing music like this was second to none and, as I say, he and Bizet sound like theirs was a marriage made in musical heaven. Beecham had both simple pleasure in melody and a peculiarly English lyrical melancholy in his musical (and personal) make-up - how else could such a staunch urbanite have championed Delius so avidly and so successfully? - as well as a Falstaffian bluster, and all of those qualities are on show in the peerless way he brings out the various elements of this lovable music.
This disc is one of the finest in EMI`s Great Recordings of the Century series, with the usual informative booklet, and in excellent sound.
Just over an hour of unadulterated pleasure.
As someone once said to me, "Never underestimate Bizet". They were right.
My copy cost £1 from the discard shelf at my local public library and I bought it not knowing its legendary status.
It was only after I listened to it - and was delighted by both the performances and the amazingly good sound quality - that I did the research and discovered what a find I had.
Beecham had an affinity with French music and his treatment of both the symphony and the suites here oozes charm and delicacy - what could be more Gallic and refined than his tripping account of the minuet in Suite no.1? He then moves into the most tender and restrained Adagietto you could wish. The slightly thin stereo sound does not always do complete justice to the RPO strings, but how beautifully they and especially the woodwind caress this music. It is possible to deliver this music with more drive and propulsion, but how sweetly Beecham lingers over the pastoral interlude for flutes and oboes in the carillon, transporting us into a gentler, Arcadian world, then seamlessly swells into the mini-finale. At first listening, I thought I could do with a bit more bite in the opening movement of the second suite, but it is after all called a "Pastorale" and I trust Beecham's instincts and so it proved as he eased into the Moorish dance with its light, distant tambourines. Beecham easily encompasses the grander aspirations and denser orchestration of the Intermezzo without becoming portentous and the saxophone is a delight, as are the harp, flute and saxophone once more in the Minuet that Guiraud cunningly lifted from Act 3 of Bizet's "La Jolie fille de Perth". The Farandole is appropriately sonorous and stately, entwining with the "Marcho dei Rei" from the Prelude and building to a splendid climax.
As has often been remarked, l'Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française is not as polished an outfit as the RPO but they play with verve and commitment, watery horns, grainy woodwind and all. Beecham draws out all the sprightly bounce and élan of this little miracle of a symphony, sounding closer in age to the 17 year-old-composer rather than the octogenarian he was when he recorded this piece in 1959.
on 11 December 2015
It's a good performance, especially the Arlesienne suites. I'm very happy with this version by Beecham. I haven't heard others with which to compare it, I must admit, but I don't feel the need to look elsewhere.
on 14 November 2013
Not much to be said apart from the fact these are classic, Beecham performances from the early 60's that still hold up today. Sound quality is good so it is no surprise as to their continued popularity.