Not new, of course.
The same coupling was last on EMI 569349-2 and in this form
was issued a decade or so ago. The Mahler has also been conjoined
with Ein Heldenleben on CZS5 69349-2 and with Metamorphosen
on CZS7 67816-2 – a Rouge et Noir release. This preferred
coupling however seems now to be No.6 with Heldenleben.
They are both late
recordings and both highly controversial. The Strauss was
made in 1969 and was a work Barbirolli had been playing for
over thirty years. But it’s cast very much in his “late period”
manner when it comes to tempi. The LSO has to cope with a battery
of slow speeds. It’s not surprising at all that Barbirolli clocks
in at over eleven minutes slower than Strauss himself in his
own performance. But even so this is still, objectively speaking,
a recording for which one needs to feel some sort of emotional
engagement with the conductor’s approach, otherwise it will
seem highly fractured and unsympathetically unenergised. The
opening paragraph for instance stands as if in mid-air with
a constant sense of retardation of rhythm. The deliberation
naturally is itself deliberate and part of Barbirolli’s structural
plan. The LSO’s leader John Georgiadis plays with great imagination
and concentration – he’s on record as having admired Barbirolli
both as conductor and personality - and he sounds generally
unflustered by the demands placed on him.
Questions of tempo
aside there is a great deal to admire in the nature of the phrasing,
both preparation and execution, and the strong orchestral response.
Climaxes are powerful and the brass sounds especially commanding.
The harp rings out. In terms of emotional response this might
best be characterised as a reading of grandeur, nobility but
a certain weary acceptance.
Its companion, Mahler
6, on this two disc set sports that famous and witheringly
slow first movement. It shares with Heldenleben the feeling
that these are utterly inimitable readings and ones so almost
defiantly personalised that they belong in a sub-category of
their own. Barbirolli’s take on the first movement remains sui
generis and at times almost bafflingly unidiomatic in its
rejection of Mahlerian markings and forward momentum. What is
sometimes glossed in analysis of this performance is that the
very steady tempo Barbirolli asserts in the opening is largely
reinforced in the slow movement too, though to a lesser extent.
The point is architectural-emotive, I suppose, and however much
one may reject Barbirolli’s sense of the symphony, his remains
a performance of great consistency, overwhelming candour and
indelibly pessimistic direction. Technical frailties do intrude
from time to time, especially in the finale, but they are minor;
the New Philharmonia generally acquits itself with distinction
helped by the sympathetically warm recording.