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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    




Sir John Barbirolli
John BARBIROLLI (1899-1970)

An Elizabethan Suite
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)

Symphony No 8 in D minor (1956)
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)

Capriccio Espagnol Op 34 (1887)
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)

España – rapsodie (1883)
Hallé Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli
Recorded in concert at the Teatro Kursaal, Lugano on 11th April 1961
AURA AUR181-2 [60.48]



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Aura’s fine disc catches the Hallé and Barbirolli on tour in Lugano in 1961. It’s an eclectic concert with Barbirolli’s own Elizabethan Suite and some Spanishry in the form of the Capriccio Espagnol and Chabrier’s España. The main focus of interest however is the work dedicated to him, Vaughan Williams’ Eighth Symphony.

Firstly the Elizabethan confection, which like his Purcell Suite is anachronistic (even then) charming and irresistible in equal measure. Byrd, Farnaby and Bull are the composers whose works are woven into the Barbirollian tapestry. His efforts were certainly not as pervasive or as famous as those of his occasionally antagonistic fellow countryman, Thomas Beecham and his Handelian conflations. But they are cut from recognisably the same cloth even if Barbirolli’s are less pompous and more obviously pliant. They also remind us of Barbirolli’s place in the scheme of things in the renaissance of sixteenth and seventeenth century music on record - not least when he was part of André Mangeot’s Quartet in the mid-1920s and recording English chamber music of this period for Compton Mackenzie’s National Gramophonic Society label (an offshoot of the then newly established The Gramophone magazine). So in this spirit I was immediately seduced by the string saturation of the Earl of Salisbury’s Pavane and the nobility and expressive diminuendos Barbirolli imparts. As I was by his vigorous foot stamps in the Irish ho Hoane – lashings of gallantry and vim here as well. The King’s Hunt ends the suite – hurrying, scurrying strings and a hilarious muted strings episode that should raise a smile from even the flintiest of hearts.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol opens with glittering panache but there is also a lilting gravity in the strings that adds lustre and depth to the performance. The pizzicati are executed with precision and clarity, a decisive and unstoppable head of rhythmic steam thus generated and, dynamically vertiginous, the performance ends in blazing splendour. España is a six-minute encore of animation and colour in Barbirolli’s hands. The Eighth Symphony was in the Hallé’s bloodstream by now and they sound marvellously dramatic here. The vibraharp emerges with clarity; the cellos sound energised and the violins enter the Fantasy first movement with passionate sweep. Maybe there are some ensemble slips here but they pale into insignificance when weighed against the fervour and animation of the playing and the conducting. The melting second subject, the hushed intensity generated with what one best call an intense chastity of sound, are all hallmarks of the Barbirolli string sound and treasurable examples at that. But Barbirolli marshals the movement to a close with intense concentration, alive to the complex evolutionary patterns and mutability of the work’s direction. In the Scherzo alla marcia Barbirolli is adept, as few of his competitors ever are, at the insouciant humour of the movement. The brass-packed punch, the off-beat stresses, the idiomatic orchestration; this is every bit as distinctive and complete a sound world as cultivated by, say, Janáček in his own very different brass writing. In the beautiful Cavatina the weight of string tone and levels of emotive intensity are wonderful to hear, the rise and falling of the lines accommodated with perfect touch and timing. Whereas in the Toccata finale Barbirolli’s drive and drama, the swirl and the glitter, the resurgent stentorian brass are all magnificently aflame. Wonderful stuff.

Barbirolli’s commercial Eighth is available on Dutton in their Barbirolli series CDSJB 1021 coupled with the London. A BBC Legends BBCL 4100-2 has the 1967 Prom performance of the Eighth coupled with Crown Imperial, the orchestration of Bax’s Oboe Quintet, Delius’ Cuckoo and an acetate of Ferrier’s Land and Hope and Glory. But this 1961 Lugano concert is a most dramatic and persuasively alive performance and the rest of the concert is brimful with incident and colour and life. No reservations – just acclamation.

Jonathan Woolf



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