The imaginative impetus and fierily poetic conviction
which Barbirolli breathes into Bax's Fand should make us all
lament that he never recorded Bax's Fifth and Sixth symphonies both
works that he conducted with the Hallé at the Proms and the Cheltenham
Festival during the 1950s. But the return to the shop-shelves of this
work and of the Butterworth, after so many years, is a matter for celebration.
The last time this was listed was in the 1980s on a PRT CD in a carbon
copy of the original Pye LP. Incidentally, the Grecian-styled cover
of that LP is reproduced on the back of the Dutton booklet. A very
The Butterworth suffers somewhat from the stress of
almost fifty years since the recording sessions it shared with Fand
at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester in June 1956. The strings do
not sing with quite the succulence for which you would now ask and the
fortissimo outbursts sound mildly stressed. Lovely playing though
with some confidently close up balances for some of the solos. Similar
close-ups in the Bax seem entirely natural although one would never
hear the celesta with this clarity in the concert hall. Still, in the
case of the Bax, this is the best performance in the catalogue and will
take a lot of beating.
The rest of the set is in mono. The three Ireland works
are extremely well done. The Forgotten Rite is a work of druidic
suggestion from the pagan history of the Channel Isles - especially
Jersey. The Hallé's first oboe really marks out his solos stressing
the links with the Russian romantics. Barbiirolli takes the work at
a concentratedly expansive rate. Great work also from the harp, horns
and strings. Barbirolli knew well the value of dynamic variety and used
it just as much as tempo and balance shifting. After the subtle mysteries
of the Rite we come to the trudging dogged conflict of Mai-Dun
where mystery is less an issue and truculence and defiance are the
order of the day. If parallels can be drawn with Bax, Mai-Dun is
to the Forgotten Rite as Northern Ballad No. 1 is to Nympholept.
These Things Shall Be has come in for a lot
of stick. There is the irresistibly utopian naivety of the words of
John Addington Symonds and the lingering and objectionable resistance
to a work that (ever so discreetly) quotes The Internationale. Barbirolli
gives the work the best performance I have heard and certainly leaves
the Boult (Lyrita Recorded Edition LP) way behind. This one has an all-conquering
onward rush. We must remember that the work dates from the same era
as Britten's Ballad of Heroes, Alan Bush's Piano Concerto (with
even more challenging words set à la Busoni in the finale) and
all of this against the background of the Spanish Civil War and with
thoughts, still fresh, of European battlegrounds and white gravestones
stretching into the far distance. The Hallé Choir blaze out in
flaming tones. A pity that the tape sounds stressed or afflicted with
warble or wow just once or twice. But these are trivial demerits when
measured against the performance and I do urge you to hear this and
to turn up the volume. Barbirolli gives this work the performance of
a lifetime and surely Ireland must have been pleased with this. And
when the great choir, in a whisper, reach out to you with the words
'Say heart what shall the future bring?' I defy you not to shiver. The
words are printed in full. If you are looking for a musical experience
that transcends the workaday then this is it! Yes, flawed in sound but
perfection in its emotionally targeted reach and sincerity.
The second disc covers much more familiar British territory.
Greensleeves is released for the first time on CD as is the Tallis.
Both are from sessions at the Houldsworth Hall, Manchester in 1948 and
1946 respectively. The same venue was used for Barbirolli's classic
version of Bax 3. Both works have inwardness and a richness of tones
uprising in recordings of their age. They do not displace the famous
EMI Sinfonia of London version coupled with the Elgar Introduction
and Allegro but they are well worth hearing. I was rather taken
by surprise by the Greensleeves - a work which hitherto I had
regarded as lightish confection. Barbirolli handles it with such easeful
care that I was left wondering about it.
The Enigma has never been issued before and
proves to have plenty of character. His Troyte is taken at a
rip-snorting rate. The last time I heard something like this was with
Norman Del Mar and the RPO (I still hanker after that performance -
once available on Polydor). No-one is clear why this recording was not
used but for some reason the orchestra and conductor went back into
session in October the same year and re-recorded it. The October performances
Barbirolli manages the hiccup and dolly-lilt of Lullaby
just as well as the light music insouciance of his own Elizabethan Suite
and his Purcell-based suite for strings. I noticed some problems with
a low-level scudding noise on the final Elizabethan tracks.
Dutton dot every i and cross every t
with immaculate and comprehensive attention. Michael Kennedy's notes
are no mere also ran.
There are some extraordinary things in this collection;
indeed the first CD is outstanding and should be in the collection of
any British music enthusiast.