Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin

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COMPOSERS: Balakirev,Borodin,Rimsky-Korsakov
WORKS: Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor
PERFORMER: London Philharmonic Choir, RPO, BBC SO/Thomas Beecham
Beecham made so many commercial recordings in his long career that it’s only relatively recently that his legacy of live performances has been explored in any depth. He recorded the Balakirev Symphony with the RPO for EMI in 1955, a year before this studio performance with the BBC SO. It’s broadly similar in outline, but scores by being caught on the wing. In the unison string opening, Beecham squeezes even greater intensity out of it, not only in the more focused incisive tone, but also by making just that much more of the portamento between the third and fourth notes. And the scherzo and finale have all the extra energy of the live situation, where both conductor and orchestra are really going for it, taking risks with no prospect of retakes. In the Rimsky-Korsakov Suite, recorded in the same studio only three days later, the orchestra is the RPO, and their sound is rounder and warmer: interesting how a great conductor can impose his personality on different orchestras, while still allowing them to keep their individual characters. The Polovtsian Dances build up a fine head of steam in the Festival Hall in 1954, and the mono recordings are good for the period. Martin Cotton