“These radio recordings of Beecham in full flight could not be more welcome. The mono sound is limited but beefy and immediate, with fine transfers by Paul Baily, even though the opening Corsaire Overture is taken from an acetate disc, not a tape. What above all hits you hard from first to last is that Beecham in such live performances of Berlioz conveyed a manic intensity, a red-blooded thrust that brings out to the full the characterful wildness in this ever-original composer, making almost any rival seem cool.
So, the Corsaire Overture has a fierceness and thrust entirely apt to the Byronic subject, culminating in a swaggering climax that verges on the frenetic. It will have you laughing with joy. You find a similar approach in Beecham's studio performances of this overture, but this is even more uninhibited in its excitement. King Lear – with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, not the RPO – surges with warmth in the lyrical first half, before similarly building excitement in the Allegro.
Harold in Italy, recorded in 1956 in the dry acoustic of the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, with the dynamic range compressed so as to magnify pianissimos, as at the very start, is specially valuable for having as soloist Beecham's chosen leader of his viola section, Frederick Riddle. It was Riddle who made the first recording of the Walton Viola Concerto in 1937 with the composer conducting, arguably still the finest ever interpretation, and here his expressive warmth and responsiveness to Beecham's volatile inspiration make up for the sort of intonation problems that the viola at that period always seemed to invite, even with players of this calibre. The pauseful tenderness of the Adagio section just after the start of the finale, is similarly magnetic, thanks to both conductor and soloist, bringing out the parallel in the review of themes with the finale of Beethoven's Ninth. The Trojan March makes a swaggering encore, a performance the more electrifying for being recorded at the opening concert of the Colston Hall in Bristol in 1951.”