Sibelius, Dvor‡k

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Dvorak,Sibelius
LABELS: BBC Legends
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 8
PERFORMER: BBC SO, RPO/Thomas Beecham
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4154-2
The appearance of these performances prompts both rejoicing and the dusting off of superlatives. Thomas Beecham customarily elicited playing filled with verve and distinct expressive character, but even by his standards these concert performances possess exceptional focus, energy and commitment (and both are capped by ecstatic outbursts of applause). Listening to this Sibelius Second sent me on a search for another recording of the work that can rival this one’s intensity, its sense that every phrase is filled with import. I didn’t find one, although Bernstein (1966) and Maazel (1964) are not entirely eclipsed. One might object that even this most Romantic of Sibelius’s symphonies needs a less heated, more austere treatment than Beecham offers, particularly in the final peroration, where Beecham trumps Sibelius’s requested molto largamente with blazing optimism. But only an utterly uncompromising vision for a grander approach (decidedly not provided by the current critical favourite, Colin Davis’s torpid LSO version on RCA) could challenge this spine-tingling performance. Beecham’s Dvorák Eighth includes some unusual interpretative touches – a stately, nostalgic treatment of the third movement (by contrast, Iván Fischer evokes a folkish character through liberal portamento), and a finale in which Beecham (at Dvorák’s request) plays the first theme briskly, at nearly the pace of the outburst that follows (most conductors differentiate these passages more markedly). If this performance does not sweep away the competition, it is still memorable. Recorded sound in both performances is fine for its age and provenance. Do not miss this disc. David Breckbill

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