The Fifties, which were the last decade of Beecham's life, were not his glory years. The public resented him for sitting out the worst of the war in America, and his Royal Philharmonic was no longer the cream of British orchestras, being seriously outplayed by the Philharmonia under Karajan, Klemperer, and Giulini. But the magic held good on many occasions, including this 1954 concert with the BBC Sym. that gives us Sir Thomas's only postwar Sibelius Second (so far as I know). He fervently championed Sibelius -- not a daring cause like his advocacy of Delius, since Sibelius was universally popular in the Twenties and Thirties.
Although professionals never quite abandoned the prejudicial notion that Beecham was an amateur of limited technique, his inspired readings are undeniably great, and here we have a performance full of passion and drive, without a single slack or unconvincing moment. The conductor's kinetic, freewheeling treatment of the second movement alone is a marvel. Execution isn't top drawer compared to Karajan's Sibelius with the Philharmonia from the same period, but that matters little. The chief drawback for listeners who don't collect historical recordings will be the dated mono sound, but it displays a big soundstage with good depth and considerable detail. The thinness of the sound, along with a stream of audience coughs, makes it hard for the more mysterious and somber aspects of the score to register; it's mostly Beecham's ebullience that you come away remembering. Yet this is a complete interpretation, not a one-note wonder. I found it riveting.
From 1959 but in no better sound comes the Dvorak Eighth. I know of very little Dvorak from Beecham - typically for him, he liked to play one of the obscure Legends - although you'd think that the music's high spirits would have attracted him. In this Eighth the first movement is brightly and smartly done. If you expect depth, Beecham is more inclined toward propulsion and excitement. Even though the recorded sound doesn't have much impact, I loved the exuberance of this movement and the conductor's unabashed affection for the big lyrical tune. The Adagio is sharply drawn and full of contrast, an unusual but very effective approach. The solos by the concertmaster and paired clarinets are vividly played, embedded in a powerful orchestral background. The Scherzo sweeps along with panache; its broad, overt emotionality is reminiscent of Tchaikovsky in Beecham's hands. The finale is bold, brisk, and amazingly jaunty, in keeping with the conductor's overall sunniness in this score. the style is about as un-Czech as you can get, which will commend it or condemn it depending on your perspective. Beecham's fans will call this a great performance.
I loved both accounts and am happy to see them released in best sound; the earlier version on EMI, however, sells for very little on the used market here at Amazon and doesn't sound significantly worse.