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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Petite Messe Solenelle (1864)
Ria Ginster (soprano)
Bruna Castagna (mezzo soprano)
Charles Kullman (tenor)
Leonard Warren (baritone)
Westminster Choir
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/John Barbirolli
Recorded 9 April 1939
Barbirolli Rarities
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Un Ballo in Maschera Act III Eri tu?
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Ring Out Wild Bells
Lawrence Tibbett (baritone)
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 29 December 1940
Camille SAINT –SAËNS (1835-1921)

Samson et Dalila – Mon Coeur
Kathryn Meisle (mezzo soprano)
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 1938
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Parsifal – Act I – Grail Scene
Mein Sohn, Amfortas
Nein!…Lasst ihn unenthüllt
Nehmet hin meinen Blut
O Heilige Wonne
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra
Recorded Carnegie Hall 17 April 1938
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Lieder

Verführung
Gesang der Apollopriesterin
Salomé

Ah! Du wolltest mich nicht
Und deine Zunge
Oh! Warum hast du mich nicht angesehn Jochanaan?
Ach! Ich hahe deinen Mund geküsst
Richard Bonelli (baritone)
Norman Cordon (bass)
Schola Cantorum and St Paul Choristers
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/John Barbirolli
Recorded Carnegie Hall, 24 February 1938
GUILD GHCD 2254/55 [2 CDs: 145.38]


Many years ago I acquired a tape of this performance of the Petite Messe Solenelle. Expectation ran high but hope was dashed because the sound was so wretched that one might as well have been listening to a performance recorded underwater – and I never listened to it again. Until now. I dug it out to make points of comparison but I didn’t get far. Doubtless the tape wasn’t a first generation copy and didn’t necessarily reflect the true qualities of the acetate from which it had been copied. Nevertheless for all its manifold limitations – more to follow on that score - this Guild release has prima facie engaged in a little miracle of audio restoration. For one thing I was able to listen uninterrupted to the performance, now revealed as deeply human and powerfully affecting, and one that affords interpretative pleasure far, far beyond the commonplace.

Barbirolli remained proud of his performance of the work, and it was he who introduced it to the American continent during his second full season in charge of the NYPSO. They play the orchestrated 1867 version of course. Granted many would now prefer the original chamber ensemble, a kind of proto-Fauréan intimacy of twelve voices, two pianos and a harmonium but Carnegie Hall 1939 was hardly the place for that kind of thing. So let’s deal with the problems inherent in this broadcast performance, all dealt with honestly and straightforwardly in the notes. The Rossini first appeared on an Edward Smith LP – from which possibly my tape derived – which was full of distortion and missing passages. Finding the original acetates it was discovered that the Kyrie was damaged, as was the Cum Sancto Spirito, the end of the Gloria and other sections elsewhere were missing and there was a plethora of surface noise, as I can well attest. Richard Caniell was particularly inspired by the concluding Agnus Dei and I’m glad he was. The problems of acetate noise and constant scuffing still remain. There’s no getting away from it and on rare occasions the sound does come and go.

Still there are considerable rewards for those who are willing to accept these limitations. The choir is incisive, the orchestra plays well, and the soloists, though disparate in their expressive responses, offer a well-contrasted and thoughtful quartet. Bruna Castagna is impressive in the Gloria where one finds oft-derided Charles Kullman open-hearted in his replies (London Green in his notes finds him overly sentimental but I find him attractive). Barbirolli shows his mettle in a wonderfully buoyant Domine Deus where he gives Kullman expert rhythmic support and it’s just a shame that there are moments of distortion at the top in the Qui Tollis duet between Castagna and the marvellous Ria Ginster, whom I haven’t mentioned yet but who is the pick of the four singers. Leonard Warren’s warmth and nobility are very apparent in Quoniam Tu and the long Credo, though there’s some distortion in places, is illumined by Ginster’s expressive understanding and by the rigorous but animated fugal section at the conclusion. The orchestral Preludio Religioso is full of Barbirolli’s rich cantilena, his portamenti and diminuendi and the little violin solos that so conspicuously add colour to the score. And I do agree with Caniell that the Agnus Dei is very special indeed – above all here and throughout the work Barbirolli observes and respects the stylistic provenance of this work and doesn’t try to make grandiose quasi-opera out it. It is worthy of Caniell’s work in this restoration.

The second disc brings us Barbirolli Rarities in which he accompanies a variety of singers in more broadcast material. From the Ford Hour series in Detroit he accompanies Lawrence Tibbett in grave Verdi and manly Tennysonian Gounod (more surface noise here but it’s not really problematic if you’ve survived the Rossini). Kathryn Meisle is rather heavy in the Saint-Saëns but Rose Pauly is radiant in her Strauss songs and fully lives up to her exalted status as a Salome in the extracts from the final scene, a New York broadcast from February 1938. The Parsifal Grail Scene suffers from occasional distortion and there’s a difficult acetate join at 5.30 in the scene starting Nein!…Lasst ihn unenthüllt but Cordon and Bonelli are good but not outstanding. It’s a shame that the chorus is cut off at the end – possibly because of time limitations.

It’s hard to make a definitive recommendation – pro or contra – in a set of this kind. Its appeal will be limited I think to admirers of the conductor, who will be rewarded with very rare material, and maybe also devotees of changes in performance practice in twentieth century music-making. Those who value the work may have Chailly’s Bologna version of the full orchestration or the chamber force version (Sawallisch, Cleobury). It’s clearly been a labour of love to bring the Barbirolli recording to a wider audience and I commend Guild for having had the courage to do it.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Robert Farr

 

 



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