SIBELIUS: En Saga, Op. 9 (Rec. Nov. 14, 1938 & July 7, 1939). Lemminkainen's Return (Rec. Oct. 12, 1937). The Bard, Op. 64 (Rec. Nov. 15, 1938). Festivo, Op. 25 No. 3 (Rec. Dec. 14, 1935). Finlandia, Op. 26 (Rec. Feb. 1, 1938). Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Op. 63 (Rec. Dec. 10, 1937).
London Philharmonic Orch/Sir Thomas Beecham, cond.
NAXOS 8.110867 (B) (ADD) TT : 79:05

BEETHOVEN: Overture, Allegretto and Finale from The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43 (Rec. Nov. 1, 1942). Coriolan Overture, Op. 62 (Rec. June 1, 1931). Leonore Overture No. 1, Op. 138 (Rec. June 2, 1931). Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72a (Rec. May 30, 1930). Egmont Overture, Op. 84 (Rec. June 2, 1931). Allegro scherzando from Symphony No. 8, Op. 93 (Rec. June 10, 1927). Turkish March from The Ruins of Athens, Op. 113 (Rec. Nov. 1, 1942). SCHUBERT: Marche militaire in D, Op. 51 No. 1 (Rec. April 17, 1942). Rosamunde Overture (Rec. Nov. 30, 1938).
Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/Willem Mengelberg, cond.
NAXOS 8.110864 (B (ADD) TT: 68:30

As many historic Beecham CDs are no longer available, this Naxos issue is particularly valuable. A Koch Legacy CD (3-7061) issued more than a decade ago contained much of the same music listed above, omitting Festivo and Finlandia, but adding Valse Triste and In Memoriam- Funeral March. Mark Obert-Thorn did the Koch transfers, and redid all of them for this Naxos issue, which costs about half the price of the Koch issue. Beginning about 1930 Beecham was a champion of Sibelius' music including it in many concerts and making many recordings as well. This 1937 recording of Symphony No. 4, in spite of its rather dated sound, is considered interpretively to be one of the strongest ever made. A specially produced set of miniature bells was used in the finale, with approval of the composer, as it was felt the originally scored glockenspiel might not record well. All of these recordings were made in EMI Abbey Road Studio 1 in London, although part of En Saga was redone in Kingsway Hall, London, eight months after the original sessions. With Obert-Thorn's masterful transfers it is difficult to tell which part this is. Sound on all of these recordings is quite detailed with an unresonant acoustic very well conveying the distinctive performances.

The Mengelberg/Concertgebouw Beethoven/Schubert collection is a delight, coupling together all of Willem Mengelberg's Beethoven overtures recorded for Columbia 1930-31, plus one of my favorite Beethoven recordings of all times, the Allegro Scherzando from Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 recorded for Columbia June 10, 1927, sessions that also produced the second and third movements of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, Cherubini's Anacreon Overture and J. C. Bach's Sinfonia Op. 18 No. 2. The spontaneous music-making heard in this four-minute recording is remarkable, representing Mengelberg and "his" Concertgebouw Orchestra at their peak of performance. What a joy it is! And we also have other treasures, two of the Leonore overtures plus Coriolan and Egmont, and three excerpts from Prometheus recorded for Telefunken in 1942 and the Turkish March—plus a unique performance of Schubert's Marche militaire (listen to those strings!) and the same composer's Rosamunde overture. All treasures here, in superlative new transfers by the master, Mark Obert-Thorn. And at budget price!

Needless to say, both CDs are highly recommended, and thank you Naxos!

R.E.B. (August 2003)