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Maestro glorioso Holden
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Maestro Glorioso: Ten Essays in Celebration of Sir John Barbirolli
By Raymond Holden
First published 2021
206 pages
ISBN-10: ‎ 0955671043
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0955671043
Retail price £20.00
The Barbirolli Society

Raymond Holden is a considerable and lucid voice on Sir John Barbirolli. His book of ten Barbirolli essays finds a natural home under the aegis of The Barbirolli Society.

It is not Holden’s first book. His others are: Glorious John (a collection of Barbirolli’s lectures, articles, speeches and interviews); and Barbirolli: A Chronicle of a Career which recounts the conductor’s concerts and recordings in book and CDR form (review). These two were also published by The Barbirolli Society.

The conductor’s library shelves are also crowded with the Barbirolli Society’s CDs; these draw deep - and continue so to do - from Hallé radio broadcast archives. Try their disc of the Benjamin symphony (review); would that they had broadcast/recorded his Proms performances of Bax symphonies 5 and 6. Then again the Society’s transcriptions join and complement multi-compact disc volumes from Warner, BMG and West Hill Radio Archives.

Holden’s essays range over a considerable, if disparate, landscape and are unlikely to disappoint. They light on aspects of the man and his music-making and illuminate and enthuse.

Essays 1 and 3 tackle the conductor’s allegiance to British music. They do so in two parts and examine his championing of works across the UK, while in New York and then in Manchester. There’s also a chapter (Essay 6) on Barbirolli and Elgar: ‘From the Cradle to the Grave: Barbirolli, Elgar and In the South’. Other themes are not neglected: Barbirolli and Mahler 2 (an essay in words and tabular analysis form with music examples); Bruckner 8 (in similar format); and ‘The Conductor, Sibelius and the Critics’ (Essay 8); it’s a pity that the Barbirolli/Sibelius/EMI cycle was seriously hit and miss. Back to the essays. Each is underpinned by fruitfully extensive end-notes across pp.172-195.

Barbirolli was endorsed in the most practical way by EMI in its LP boxes of classic opera. The second essay addresses that sphere: ‘A Knight at the Opera: Barbirolli and the Lyric Theatre’. Generally, the world of recorded music embraced the conductor as reflected in Essay 4: ‘A Life Recorded: Barbirolli and the Gramophone’. His touring glory days are sampled in ‘A Cockney Down Under: Sir John Barbirolli in Australia’. The microscope is also focused down on Mahler 2, and the broader principles are examined in ‘Barbirolli on the Art and Craft of Conducting’.

To add a welcome visual dimension there are nine photographic plates and they are splendidly reproduced.

The span of Barbirolli literature is enriched by this book. Over the years, much has been done for Beecham and Stokowski and each has his own chronicler authors and companies. The Barbirolli Glorioso part of the title may remind us of the Membran budget 10-CD conductor series but, be reassured, Holden stands loftily aloof from that tendency. Where will Holden next take the library for Barbirolli pilgrims? We can sure it will be done with depth, elite finish and style.

Rob Barnett

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