The presentation and
packaging of this DVD is best described,
as with many of its kind, as minimalist.
There are no liner notes other than
a bald statement of tracks and performers,
while there is a brief biographical
note about Sir John Barbirolli and his
wife Evelyn Rothwell, who is the oboist
on this recording. Absolutely nothing
is said about the so-called Haydn Oboe
Concerto in C. This work is well-known
to oboists, but has long been accepted
as spuriously attributed to Haydn. Though
it has its attractions, it is nonetheless
a pretty unremarkable piece of work,
and it is impossible to imagine Haydn
having written it. The best guess is
probably that it’s by the Czech composer
Kozeluch, who flourished in Vienna in
the late Classical period.
To anyone who has taken
part in or attended a musical rehearsal,
this DVD contains nothing in the least
bit out of the ordinary. Sir John and
Lady Barbirolli have simply turned up
for a gentle run-through of a straightforward
piece, and the creative temperature
remains low. However, Barbirolli’s purposefulness
and meticulous preparation, despite
the humdrum nature of the music, is
impressive, as is his good humour and
patience. Mind you, with his wife present
– a formidable enough lady in her way!
– he was no doubt on his best behaviour!
There are some amusing little moments,
such as Jubb (as he was known to his
Hallé players) having a gentle
dig at musicologists thus:
where shall we go from?
Rothwell: How about
after the second subject?
Barbirolli: I don’t
know what second subjects are – only
programme annotators know this….
Talking of Evelyn Rothwell
– Lady Barbirolli – it is delightful
to hear her once more, and to relish
the generosity and musicality of her
playing. She was never a flashy note-merchant,
and there are hosts of oboists these
days with more brilliant techniques.
Yet she invested every note she played
with character and interest, and had
a wonderfully rich and expressive tone.
So there is in fact
plenty of interest here for the music-lover,
in particular one who admires Sir John.
The camera-work is unfussy (a modern
director wouldn’t dare hold one angle
for such lengthy stretches – more’s
the pity!), allowing one to become part,
as it were, of the work in progress.
The sound, though rough, is good enough
to allow us to hear what conductor and
soloist are saying, though occasional
comments or questions from the band
members are not so easy to catch.
There are essentially
four tracks, containing the rehearsal
of the first movement, then the performance
of the three-movement piece. A tiny
moment in the great man’s career, perhaps,
but nevertheless a significant document
in the history of 20th century
conducting – and oboe playing - traditions.