Sibelius: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 7; Pelléas and Mélisande; Tapiola; Swanwhite Suite

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 7; Pelléas and Mélisande; Tapiola; Swanwhite Suite
PERFORMER: RPO/Thomas Beecham
Like the recently issued Toscanini Brahms cycle on Testament, this really radiates a sense of occasion. The concert commemorated Sibelius’s 90th birthday on 8 December 1955, and the BBC and their Finnish colleagues made special arrangements to relay the concert to the composer himself in his home at Järvenpää. It also includes some Sibelius which Beecham never recorded commercially, namely six movements from his incidental music to Strindberg’s Swanwhite (he omits ‘The Prince Alone’) as well as his celebrated broadcast recounting his visit to the composer the previous year for the BBC’s Sunday morning programme, Music Magazine. Beecham’s 1938 records with the LPO of the Fourth Symphony set a yardstick by which its successors were judged, and his basic approach remains largely unchanged here. Beecham never re-recorded the Fourth, but he did make stereo versions of the Pelléas music (again without the brief ‘By the Seashore’ movement) and Tapiola with the RPO within a few days on either side of the birthday concert. He also recorded the Seventh Symphony commercially at the same time, but the performance included here comes from a concert at the Royal Albert Hall given the previous year. It has, I think, greater intensity and power than his Abbey Road recording, which I recall the Third Programme broadcasting on the evening of Beecham’s death. Many readers will have heard in the intervening years about this famous concert, and now at long last it comes alive again and we can hear it for ourselves. Robert Layton