is a “Great Recording of the Century” if ever there was one.
Recorded more than forty years ago it sounds as fresh as ever
and, honestly, so much has been written about these readings
that there is very little to add. I don’t know about the sales
figures but I suspect that there must be a worn LP or a CD in
practically every music-lover’s collection.
few who have resisted earlier bets should definitely hasten
to the nearest record store now, especially since this latest
incarnation also includes Sir John’s sparkling version of Cockaigne
for good measure. With rasping trombones, blazing trumpets and
the Philharmonia strings velvety but incisive this is as ebullient
a reading as one can come across; a charming picture postcard
of Edwardian London. It wouldn’t be Barbirolli if he didn’t
linger lovingly over the lyrical pages. First and foremost,
though, this is carefree and jolly music – Elgar at his most
of course it is for the other two works that most people will
want this disc. Today Elgar’s Cello Concerto is a standard work
in concert halls around the world, challenging even the Schumann
and Dvořák concertos. I believe that this is to a certain
extent thanks to the present recording. From the very start
one can feel the almost transcendental rapport between the young
soloist, barely turned twenty, and the ageing maestro. One can
dip into the recording at almost any point and feel the magic.
Take the opening of the third movement which is played with
such simplicity that it feels like sacrilege even to breathe.
Try also 9:10 in the last movement where the LSO strings swell
so unforgettably. There is an inevitability about the whole
performance that is not easy to analyse or rather, as with most
great works of art, analysis often tends to obscure instead
of clarify wherein the greatness lies. Why is Mona Lisa such
an undisputed masterpiece? Both the painting and this recording
go directly to the heart.
that is exactly what Janet Baker’s singing of Sea Pictures
also does. Back in the early 1970s I first heard Where Corals
Lie on a Janet Baker sampler LP. I have long since lost
count of how many times we played this song. Later, when we
found out that it was actually part of a song-cycle, we enlarged
our collection and found that the song made an even greater
impression in its rightful setting. It is so magically performed
here. It ranges from the frail Sea Slumber Song via the
serene beauty of In Haven to the sacred solemnity of
Sabbath Morning at Sea and the powerfully dramatic declamation
of The Swimmer, all backed up by a Wagnerian orchestra.
The purity of tone is amazing, absolutely even from top to bottom,
from the hushed pianissimo to the full-voiced final pages of
Sabbath Morning and most of the Swimmer.
and above Jacqueline du Pré and Janet Baker looms Sir John’s spirit,
loving and sensitive. Yes, indeed: Among the many jewels in the
GROC series this one shines possibly brighter than any of the