> Barbirolli - Vaughan Williams, Rawsthorne etc...[SL]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Alan RAWSTHORNE Street Corner Overture
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphony No 8
Arnold BAX Oboe Quintet arr. Barbirolli for strings
Frederick DELIUS On hearing the first cuckoo in spring
William WALTON Crown Imperial
Edward ELGAR Land of Hope and Glory
The British National Anthem

Evelyn Rothwell (oboe)
Kathleen Ferrier (alto)
Trumpeters and Band of Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall
Hallé Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli
Rec 1960s ADD
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4100-2 [72.19]


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Time was when the National Anthem added a sense of occasion to a concert, whether as arranged by Elgar in its three verse form for choir and orchestra with which Sargent opened his Royal Choral Society concerts (‘Confound their politics, Frustrate their knavish tricks’), in its other more rarely used Elgar setting with soloists, choir and orchestra, in the splendid choral arrangement by Britten, or more generally in its single-verse purely orchestral version with or without Gordon Jacob’s fine harmonisation. Beecham always made something of it (listen to BBCL 4044-2), so did Barbirolli. Those who attended his concerts will remember, as Michael Kennedy reminds us in his sleeve note, how Sir John habitually conducted the first half of the Anthem facing the audience before turning to the orchestra.

This CD begins with a weighty ‘straight’ Anthem, with full organ, at the start of a St. Cecilia Festival Royal Concert in 1969, on this occasion attended by the late Queen Mother. (It was actually preceded by a fanfare by Ketèlbey, presumably omitted as that was not conducted by Barbirolli). The concert continued with the Walton and Delius items, not as they appear on this CD. (Oddly enough, neither work is listed on the front cover.) This Cuckoo, while pleasant enough, has nothing special to recommend it. Crown Imperial here is a bit sluggish and more of interest for the use of the Kneller Hall brass in the final statement of the trio. The Rawsthorne overture was also in that programme, beginning the second half (after another fanfare), but the performance we have here instead is from an earlier Festival Hall concert in April 1968. (Barbirolli also took it to the Edinburgh Festival.) A 1967 Proms performance of VW’s Eighth Symphony and a studio performance in November 1968 of the Bax Oboe Quintet as arranged for strings by Barbirolli are the two substantial works on the CD which ends with further pageantry: an extract from the re-opening of the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, with Kathleen Ferrier singing Land of Hope and Glory. Pure nostalgia, for which, considering the occasion, we might forgive the funereal pace. (For those troubled by such things, this rarity comes from an acetate with a certain amount of surface noise.) So altogether this is a bit of a mishmash.

The Bax is certainly the most valuable item as it is otherwise unrecorded (and rarely performed). While Barbirolli’s arrangement of the quintet is no improvement on the original, it might at the time have given the work a wider circulation. It is a welcome rarity. If only it could have been coupled with a Bax symphony under Barbirolli! There are two commercial recordings of the Delius with Barbirolli, and two also of the Vaughan Williams (one a 1961 public concert from Lugano on ERM 181-2). A good coupling for the Eighth might have been the Sixth Symphony which Barbirolli never recorded commercially and although two performances with foreign orchestras have been available on CD, one with the Hallé would be well worth issuing. A 1969 performance exists. Perhaps the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto with Gina Bachauer (the other work in the first half of the St. Cecilia concert) does not exist, but I sometimes wish that the BBC Legends releases were more concerts and records of special occasions instead of a miscellany of recordings thrown together, here using five different occasions. At least, unlike LSO Live releases, BBC Legends preserve audience applause. But while this CD is certainly not without interest, surely a more worthy tribute to Sir John could have been assembled from the Archives?

Stephen Lloyd


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