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Barbirolli – Russian Favourites
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Swan Lake Ballet Op 20 – excerpts (1875/7) [16:54]
Romeo and Juliet (1869, rev 1880) [20:38]
Marche Slave Op.31 (1876) [8:34]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Capriccio Espagnol Op. 34 (1887) [14:24]
Anatole LIADOV (1855-1914)

The Enchanted Lake Op. 62 (1909) [6:08]
Hallé Orchestra/John Barbirolli
rec. Free Trade Hall Manchester, 1953-59; Kingsway Hall, London, 1950 (Swan Lake)
GUILD GHCD 2325 [67:13]
Experience Classicsonline

Guild, in association with the Barbirolli Society, gives us a quintet of Russian performances culled from the 1950s. Only the last of them, the Marche Slave, which was recorded in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester in 1959, was taped in stereo. The rest exist in very serviceable mono. Barbirolli discographers will want to note that the Rimsky and Tchaikovsky Swan Lake extracts were in the HMV BLP series whilst the Liadov was in their HMV 7ER seven-inch series. Romeo and Juliet and the Marche Slav date from Barbirolli’s Pye contract – 1957 and 1959 respectively.

Capriccio Espagnol gets proceedings off to a rather pot-boiling but nevertheless very exciting start. As English conductors went Barbirolli was not quite in Albert Coates’ league of incendiary Russian performances, nor perhaps in Beecham’s, but he proves to lack for little in this sizzling traversal. The Free Trade Hall recording still packs a punch and the solos are taken with real verve, Laurence Turner – the leader – prominently, though the wind principals and the principal cellist all acquit themselves splendidly. Liadov’s The Enchanted Lake is suitably languorous and evocative – there’s a pleasurable sheen on the fiddles and a sense of languid movement that gives a sense of pulse to the impressionism.

Swan Lake was the earliest of this selection to be recorded, at Kingsway Hall in October 1950. The selections were the Swan theme, the Introduction and Dance of the Queen of the Swans (Act II), dance of the Little Swans (also Act II), the Act I Waltz and finally the Hungarian Dance (Czardas – Act III) – in that order. It’s obviously a more boxy recording than its more up-to-date disc confreres – the later Free Trade Hall was distinctly more diaphanous than the 1950 Kingsway, at least in this set-up - but we can hear Barbirolli in all his balletic warmth in this selection. Though well balanced the Hallé brass does sound a little recessed – no Stokowski blockbuster, this – but there are compensations once more in Turner’s eloquent playing of the Introduction and Dance; similarly the principal cello once again. There’s real vitality in the Act I Waltz, which is programmed after the Act II Dance of the Little Swans and before the Act II Czardas. Romeo and Juliet is the only complete recording Barbirolli left of the work – his 1969 traversal is missing the coda. It’s a considered, powerful reading and though not always flattered by the mono sound, a valuable example of Barbirolli’s way with the work.

Three of these performances are making their first appearance on CD, another inducement to purchase, along with the characteristically fine notes.

Jonathan Woolf


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