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Franz von SUPPÉ (1819-1895)
The Beautiful Galatea – Overture [7:13]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra [15:31]
Max BRUCH (1838–1920)
Kol Nidrei for cello and orchestra [12:50]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Capriccio espagnole, Op 34 [15:27]
Introductions by Sir John Barbirolli
David Wilde (piano)
Jacqueline du Pré (cello)
Hallé Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli
rec. live, 9 September 1965, Free Trade Hall, Manchester, UK. ADD mono.

This is the second of a batch of recordings issued by The Barbirolli Society to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the conductor’s death in July 1970. I reviewed another of the discs just recently.

As Robert Matthew-Walker reminds us in his very interesting notes, this release takes us back to a time, almost forgotten now, when British television took classical music seriously. This disc contains the audio track – or most of it – of a concert which Barbirolli and the Hallé recorded live, in front of an audience, for future transmission on BBC2. Amazingly, on the very night the concert was recorded, the other BBC channel, BBC1 was transmitting a Rossini opera live from Glyndebourne. Such luxury is impossible to imagine nowadays. One item is missing from this Hallé concert: Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves was played between the Franck and Bruch pieces but the audio track of that work has not survived. Barbirolli provided short, informal and rather charming spoken introductions to each piece.

The programme begins with Suppé’s overture to his operetta, The Beautiful Galatea. It makes an attractive curtain-raiser. The opening pages of slow music are played with warmth and affection; then, when the pace hots up, the playing is dashing and has no little élan. The pianist David Wilde (b 1935) was a suitable choice as soloist in this concert because he was a native of Manchester. He plays Franck’s Symphonic Variations really well and I especially admired his sensitivity in the more reflective passages (there’s a good example just after 4:00). Of course, he benefits from having a consummate accompanist on the rostrum.

Introducing Rimsky’s Capriccio espagnole, Sir John relates that on his last visit to Leningrad – in 1935 – he met one of the composer’s sons, who was a violist in the orchestra. This is no mere name-dropping. Barbirolli mentioned it in the context of his admiration for Rimsky as a master of the orchestra and the point of the story is that the composer’s son told him that his father had composed a concerto for every instrument in the orchestra but these remained unpublished. (Has anyone subsequently unearthed any of them, I wonder?) Capriccio espagnole isn’t my favourite Rimsky work, but it’s an excellent example of his ear for orchestral colour. Barbirolli conducts it really well. He ensures that the two ‘Alborado’ sections are full of vitality. By contrast, the ‘Variazione’ section has a good deal of grace to it, while the concluding ‘Fandango’ is full of brio, the rhythms sprightly.

You may wonder why I’ve not referred to the performance of Kol Nidrei. The reason is that its quality demands special mention. Introducing the performance, Sir John disarmingly reminded the audience that “I am – or was – an old cellist”. Then he goes on to say that at the age of fifteen he was the soloist in a performance of the work at London’s Queen’s Hall. So, his young soloist, Jacqueline du Pré had the benefit of working with a conductor who knew the solo part from personal experience, just as had been the case when they collaborated on their famous recording of the Elgar concerto. The sessions for that recording had taken place just a few weeks before the present concert.

Right from her first entry, du Pré’s tone is rich and eloquent. You sense you’re in for something special, and so it proves. I found her playing completely captivating. She engages fully with the music and, without undue exaggeration, she pours her soul into this short piece. Barbirolli, it need hardly be said, is with her every step of the way. At 5:47 the orchestra plays the solemn melody in a really noble fashion and when du Pré joins them the intensity grows. From this point on the performance is really very special indeed. This is a fabulous performance of Kol Nidrei; I found it genuinely moving and I can’t readily recall hearing it done better. This performance alone is worth the price of the disc.

The mono sound has been digitally remastered by Ian Jones; it has come up really well, especially when one recalls that the recording is 55 years old. There’s applause after each item but otherwise the Manchester audience are as quiet as mice. As I’ve indicated, Robert Matthew-Walker’s notes are full of interest and, as always, well written. This CD is another highly enjoyable example of Barbirolli’s podium mastery.

John Quinn

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