BERLIOZ: Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14. SCHUBERT: Symphony
No. 5 in B Flat, D. 485. BEETHOVEN: Prometheus Overture, Op.
BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68.
Here are two welcome additions to the Eduard van Beinum discography, the first appearance on CD of his 1947 Decca recording of the Brahms First, originally issued on five 12-inch 78 rpm discs. The Concertgebouw had made an earlier recording of this work in September 1943 with the then-new bright star on the conductor horizon, Herbert von Karajan, and would record it twice more with Van Beinum, in September 1951, also for Decca/London (issued on LP, now available on a Japanese Decca CD -- POCL 4713), and in October 1958, a stereo Philips recording currently available in the US only as an import (Philips 462 534). This is a 2-CD set also containing the other three Brahms symphonies, No. 4 in stereo, Nos. 2 and 3 mono, far superior sonically to the initial CD issue of this recording on Philips (420 854), which had compromised sound because of the infamous "No Noise" processing. The 1947 recording of No. 1 is what you would expect from the famed Dutch conductor, sturdy, solid, sensible and powerful, a touch brisker than his later versions. This work is particularly meaningful to admirers of Van Beinum; he was rehearsing it with his beloved Concertgebouw in 1958 when he died from a massive heart attack.
The Brahms CD also brings to the catalog Kathleen Ferrier's definitive recording of the Alto Rhapsody recorded in December 1947 with Clemens Krauss and the London Philharmonic (a live performance two years later with Fritz Busch on the podium is available on Danacord). This all-Brahms CD is filled out with another rarity, Academic Festival Overture with Krauss and the London Symphony, recorded two months before the Rhapsody.
With the other CD we again encounter repertory Van Beinum recorded more than once. Symphonie fantastique was a particular favorite of his (I vividly remember hearing him many years ago when he conducted a blazing performance of it as guest conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra). Beinum first recorded the Fantastique in Amsterdam in September 1943 for Polydor, a recording never issued (do the masters exist?). This Dutton issue contains his second recording, from September 1946 for Decca originally issued on six 78 rpm disks; he would record it again in September 1951, also for Decca, for LP. The latter has been issued twice on CD, first on Beulah (117), more recently on a Japanese Decca import which is a far better transfer (POCL 4713). Surprisingly the 1946 Decca recording has a fuller, more natural sound than the later one on the same label, which is leaner in textures, although more vivid in brass sound. Schubert's Symphony No. 5, a mono recording made in September 1946, is a welcome addition to Beinum's Schubert discography; only the Symphony No. 4 and excerpts from Rosamunde remain unissued. Collectors surely will wish to own his splendid, vital performances of Symphonies 3, 6 and 8 on a Philips import (462-724). This new CD is filled out with a November 1946 recording of Beethoven's Prometheus Overture, with the London Philharmonic, never before issued. It is a tantalizing reminder of the splendor of Beinum's early London LP of Beethoven overtures recorded in London, also never issued on CD.
Dutton's transfers on their two new CDs are typical of their fine work. Music & Arts' transfer of the Fantastique is equally good (M&A 2054), but the Dutton issue has less surface disturbance. Both of these new CDs are essential for Van Beinum enthusiasts. There is quite a bit of duplication in Van Beinum CD reissues. However, many fine performances remain unissued, including The Swan of Tuonela, Finlandia and Tapiola (Sibelius), Taming of the Shrew Overture (Wagenaar), Don Juan (Strauss), L'Arlesienne music (Bizet), The Moldau (Smetana), Benvenuto Cellini Overture (Berlioz) and Act III Prelude to Lohengrin (Wagner). How about it, companies?