Inside the Record Business

By Melville-Mason, Graham | Musical Opinion, May/June 2011 | Go to article overview
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Inside the Record Business


Melville-Mason, Graham, Musical Opinion


12: The Beechom Collection and SOMM

In the year marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Sir Thomas Beecham, the author explains the history of the founding of the series devoted entirely to his recordings, many of them previously unissued, on the independent SOMM label.

Siva Oke founded the SOMM label in 1995 and quickly established The Beecham Collection as an important house series within the wider scope of its catalogue. This fortunate association came about through Siva's time working with Arthur Ridgewell at Unicorn Kanchana, learning of Arthur's long passion for the artistry of Sir Thomas Beecham and the fact that he had securely archived so much material with the support and approval of Shirley, Lady Beecham. Arthur convinced Siva of the importance not only of preserving but also making available many of these valuable recordings not accessible through the established commercial channels, a view supported by Lady Beecham. A dedicated sound engineer was needed to prepare these recordings and the experienced expertise of Gary Moore was well known. He joined Lady Beecham's 'team' and has been devoted 'well beyond the call of duty' in preparing the tapes for issue, ensuring that the best possible sound quality has been preserved from material which was sometimes not recorded in ideal conditions. Lady Beecham wanted the recordings to be fully documented and she asked me to write the booklet notes, as she insisted that they should be written by someone who had known Sir Thomas and members of his orchestra, as well as having attended many of his concerts from 1949 to 1960. The Beecham Collection was founded with the approval of the Sir Thomas Beecham Trust and is done so also in support of the Beecham Scholarship Fund, set up at thirteen British universities in memory of Sir Thomas and which benefits also by members of the 'team' volunteering their services.

Lady Beecham's 'team' consists primarily of Arthur Ridgewell, with his unrivalled knowledge of the Beecham recorded and broadcast legacy coupled with a lifetime of tracking and preserving such material, joined with the initial selection of recordings and then hours of patient detailed preparation and editing of the original material. For his dedication to this task, we owe him a great debt of gratitude. To this he adds his talent as initial programme editor and producer. The technical remastering is in the hands and ears of Gary Moore, who came to Sir Thomas through hearing his recording of Delius's On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring when he was a lad, after which he was 'hooked'. Technical training in the RAF led him to sound engineering for Philips Records in the 1970s and building valuable experience in working with international artists. In the same decade he met Arthur Ridgewell who greatly expanded his knowledge and love of Beecham recordings, forming also a strong friendship. After skilfully and patiently mastering the recorded material, each issue will go through several masterings before he and Arthur agree and the disc is passed to Siva for the major task of production and marketing. My role is mainly one of research and documentation plus technical musical advice as an academic musicologist, although I had first seen Sir Thomas conduct in 1949 and met him for the first time in 1951 through friends in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Amongst them were Albert (Ken) Cayzer (principal viola), Dennis Brain, Richard (Bob) Walton and Denis Vaughan, who were all family friends, while a lifelong friendship with Gwydion Brooke came through a mutual involvement in playing the bassoon. I met Arthur in Edinburgh in 1965 and began another long-standing friendship arising from the mutual admiration of the genius of Sir Thomas Beecham.

While Siva Oke grew up with Beecham's EMI "Lollipop" LPs, her own appreciation of his special qualities grew with her studies at the Santa Cecilia Conservatoire, the Royal Academy of Music and later under the guidance of her piano teacher, Cyril Smith.

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