Saturday, 13 May 2017

Sir Thomas Beecham and Bax’s The Garden of Fand

I recently posted about an early version of Lennox Berkeley’s Divertimento recorded in 1948. Alec Robertson writing in The Year’s Work in Music, 1948-49 noted several works recorded under the auspices of the British Council. These included: Alan Bush’s ‘Dialectic’ for string quartet, Michael Tippet’s String Quartet No.2 in F sharp, Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens for chorus and orchestra, the present Divertimento and Arnold Bax’s The Garden of Fand. This last piece was performed by Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961)

Alec Robertson wrote:
‘Bax’s Garden of Fand has for long been one of Sir Thomas Beecham’s favourite pieces; and to say that means we are likely to be given a superlative performance of it on records. This is indeed the case in his recording with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and those of us who heard Sir Thomas conduct the work at his seventieth birthday concert last May will feel glad that our friends overseas can hear his masterly interpretation of this romantic music.
The Garden of Fand is the sea, but, as the composer tells us on the score, the tone-poem has no special relation to the Celtic legend which inspired it. Bax adds that he seeks, in the earlier portion of the work, to create the atmosphere of an enchanted Atlantic completely calm beneath the spell of the Other World and he goes on to tell of the immense wave that tossed a boat and its occupants on to the shore of the Lady Fand’s miraculous island where they dance and feast. Then Fand sings her song of immortal love enchaining the hearts of her hearers for ever, and finally, we learn that the sea overwhelms the whole island and the human beings on it, while the immortals, like the Rhinemaidens in Götterdämmerung, laugh at the foolish mortals now lost in its depths. Twilight falls, and the sea subsides, and Fand’s garden fades out of sight.
The varied colours of the orchestration – which includes two harps, celesta, glockenspiel, and cymbals – are beautifully reproduced in this well-balanced recording, which is never too loud.’

Note:
Beecham’s 70th birthday concert was the second of two events: one held in Liverpool on 27 April 1949 and the other at the Royal Albert Hall on 2 May 1949. This latter concert, which was sponsored by the Daily Telegraph included, as well Bax’s The Garden of Fand, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No.35 ‘Haffner’ K.385, Frederick Delius’s Sea-Drift with Gordon Clinton (baritone) and the Luton Choral Society, Richard Strauss’s Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome, Jean Sibelius’s Tapiola, op.112 and Hector Berlioz’s Trojan March, from The Trojans. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Beecham. 

Sir Thomas Beecham had recorded Bax’s The Garden of Fand in London on 14 December 1947 at the No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London. The other work recorded that day was Richard Strauss’s Ein HeldenlebenFand was released on 78 rpm discs (HMV DB 6654-6655). Subsequent releases included LP EMI HQM 1165, ‘The Beecham Legacy, Volume 9’ (1968) and CD EMI CDM 7 63405 2. The most recent incarnation of this work would appear to be included in the EMI Sir Thomas Beecham English Music collection EMI CLASSICS 9099152.

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