Sony's valuable exploration of the legacy of Thomas Beecham continues with this disc of slightly less mainstream repertoire, and what a satisfying release it is! I have never thought of Dvorak's symphonic variations as one of his stronger works, and I have to admit that not even Beecham really manages to convince me otherwise. Still, the liveliness alternated with lyricism he brings to the work and the palette of colors realized at least seems to ensure that no one else is going to convince me either (it should be mentioned, though, that he omits two variations) - the climax, for instance, is truly impressively handled.
More interesting is the Rimsky-Korsakov section - apparently, Beecham conducted the whole Le Coq d'Or on two occasions, but I suppose we can only dream of having a recording of that. The suite, however, gives us the typical colorful Rimsky magic, perfectly realized here with smoldering brass, beautifully wistful woodwinds and lively strings. The first movement is sensitively and mystically picturesque, and the second movement mysterious, almost ominous. Beecham (and the Royal Philharmonic) are equally good with the interesting instrumental moves of the third and the boastful fairy-tale processional feel of the fourth. This is Beecham an the Royal Philharmonic at their very best, and in the kind of music to which Beecham truly brought a magical touch, making it sound far more like the masterpiece it in the end might not be (I do recommend hearing the whole opera, though).
Balakirev's Tamara might just be a masterpiece, however, or at least pretty close. Again, Beecham is a master of structure and variations in atmosphere, and the instrumental contributions are simply stunning. This is, then, overall a truly impressive and recommendable release (documentation is fine as well), and an urgently recommended one. Sound quality is very fine mono (though perhaps somewhat too distant in the Dvorak).