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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No.83 in G minor Hob.I:83 The Hen (1785) [21.25]
Symphony No.88 in G major Hob.I:88 Letter V (1787) [23.12]
Symphony No.96 in D major Hob.I:96 The Miracle (1791) [20.08]
Hallé Orchestra/John Barbirolli
Recorded 1949-1952
DUTTON CDBP 9750 [65.21]

This isn’t a new reissue. Barbirolli completists will recognise this as a previous Dutton release on CDSJB1003 and now revamped in their CDBP line without alteration. So we still have the trio of Haydn symphony recordings made between 1949 and 1953, the last of which – No.88 – was never issued and thus is a more than welcome survivor.

Barbirolli was a Haydn conductor of long-standing and the rugged and expressive maturity he brings to this trio of works is one of particular identification. As ever this is at its most prominent in the gravity of the slow movements but it’s also affirmed in the rusticity of the Minuets, a strength abetted by the wind principals who are the superior of the string sections in individuality and corporate imagination.

A live Barbirolli/Hallé recording of No.83 exists and has been issued by the BBC. It shares the same qualities that inform JB’s 1949 Kingsway Hall recording. The second subject of the first movement (Barbirolli used to joke that he didn’t know what a second subject was; it was a critics’ word) is flecked with the subtlest of humour and metrical displacement, tuttis are trenchant, forceful, not always, it’s true, especially streamlined. The strings were not quite responsive enough in 1949 and the slow movement tends to be very slightly let down by them, though the cantilever of his conducting is fine, and the affectionate, lithe Minuet is graced by most attractive winds. Flutes to the fore (the Hale flutes were outstanding) and oboes not far behind, the finale is a bold, affectionate affair. String weight tends to compensate for refinement but boldness wins out.

No.88 suffers initially from a touch of ensemble imprecision, which may or may not have contributed to its having been withheld. But the balance is good and Barbirolli takes both first movement repeats, which shows how forward thinking he was back in 1953.He contrives a noble spaciousness in the slow movement. Dynamics sound scrupulously prepared – note the shading and tapering of string phrases, and note too the obvious care over articulation. That the expressive effect is won through careful preparation can be in no doubt and as anyone who has heard a Barbirolli rehearsal will attest he could be extremely finicky over the smallest detail. Big boned and witty – that’s the Allegretto – and the rustic winds and drones are cherishable.

We can detect somewhat more suave string playing in the 1952 recording of The Miracle than the earlier 1949 disc. The recording quality in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester is excellent – it was presided over by Lawrance Collingwood and David Bicknell – and the heroes of the session were once again the wind section. The highpoint is surely the Andante, a deft example of Barbirolli’s unfolding of melody through acute preparation. The solos for solo violin and cello are well taken, nicely balanced; the chattering winds bring personality and rhythmic bite to the proceedings.

The documentation retains Michael Kennedy’s 1995 notes and this reissue will, one hopes, give renewed interest to these warm hearted and generous performances.

Jonathan Woolf



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