For those acclimatised to Boult's often stately tones
in the later EMI set, these Barbirollis will come as a jolt. Barbirolli
has no inhibitions about breathing passion into the pages of the two
The Pye tape of No. 2 has been out of the catalogue
for years. This restoration, courtesy of Michael J Dutton, is exemplary.
The performance has a considerable exuberance and tension which is cuttingly
felt in the Lento - Allegro Molto. Barbirolli's passion, convulsive
response and dramatic vision are never in doubt. Listen to the way he
chases and goads the tempo in the first movement at 7.03. Boult's vision
is not as vivid as this - whether in the 1950s Decca monos or the 1960s/70s
EMI stereos. Listen also to the premonitions of Dona Nobis at
8.53 in the first movement. The massed violin tone suffers slightly
from a hollow thinned out tone when the playing rises to climactic address.
Barbirolli delivers No. 8 (which was written for him)
with molto espressione. This tape was issued early on in the
life of the CD by the PRT company who perpetuated a long-lived Pye Golden
Guinea (GSGC) LP coupling with Bax's Fand and Butterworth's Shropshire
Lad. Dutton have recently restored the Butterworth and Bax to the
Close up, the grain of the Cozart and Fine (the Mercury
team) taping (almost half a century old) tells in the rawness of the
string sound. Nevertheless the analogue tape still has astounding bite,
richness and resonance. Its downside is a zoomed-in approach with instruments
cosily spotlit in sound that must have dallied with saturation level
in the ferric oxide stock of the time but which steers just the saints'
side of disaster. I was brought up short in a way that no other recording
has done when listening to the scherzo. We know that VW kept his faculties
lively in engaging with others' music as well as his own. At 1.10 the
strident woodwind strongly point to Shostakovich of all people! This
is a lovely and caring performance of a symphony that is so much more
than just a showcase for an assemblage of 'spiels and 'phones.
The set is lent further authority and attraction by
a RVW/Barbirolli discography and by notes from Michael Kennedy.
One small but artistically virtuous point.The gap between
the epilogue of No. 2 and the start of No. 8 is generous. It is in the
accumulation of these small good judgements that one builds up a picture
of a company's values - so much more eloquent and unambiguous than mission
Anyone caring for these works needs to have these performances.
They will remind you that Vaughan Williams is a composer whose music
need not be passion-neutral.
I have my fingers crossed that Dutton will be able
to secure the licence to issue the tapes of Barbirolli in Antartica
(the work he premiered) and with Philip Catelinet in the Tuba Concerto.
Other projects remain and are likely to remain fanciful dreams including
the vision that somewhere out there a collector has some dusty but perfect
tapes of Barbirolli conducting Bax 5 at Cheltenham and Bax 6 at the
Proms. Both happened during the 1950s but to date no recordings have