GHCD 2325 – Barbirolli, Russian Favourites – 1950-1959

Hallé Orchestra, Sir John Barbirolli – Conductor

To the CD in our Shop Juni 2007

Italienisches Feuer auf russischer Glut
Eine der glücklichsten Allianzen von Dirigent und Orchester: Sir John Barbirolli spornt mit russischen Orchesterwerken das Hallé zu exzellenten Interpretationen an.
Zu den Dirigenten, die alles dirigieren, was bei drei nicht schnell genug auf den Bäumen ist, gehörte Sir John Barbirolli sicher nicht. Der Vollblutdirigent französisch-italienischer Abstammung hatte durchaus seine Vorlieben. Als Mentor zeitgenössischer Musik – er dirigierte u.a. die Uraufführungen von Brittens ‚Sinfonia da Requiem’, die achte Symphonie von Ralph Vaughan Williams oder Darius Milhauds ‚Ouverture philharmonique’ – machte er sich einen Namen. Weniger bekannt ist, dass er ein umfangreiches Repertoire russischer Komponisten in die Konzertprogramme mit ‚seinem’ Hallé Orchestra aufnahm und auch einige Werke für die Schallplatte einspielte. Die ‚Barbirolli Society’ hat in Kooperation mit ‚Guild’ eine CD mit Aufnahmen Barbirollis aus den 1950er Jahren herausgebracht. Es ist dies gängiges Repertoire russischer Orchesterwerke: Rimski-Korsakows ‚Capriccio espagnol’, Anatole Liadows ‚Zaubersee’, Tschaikowskys ‚Romeo und Julia’, ‚Marche Slave’ sowie Ausschnitte aus ‚Schwanensee’, wobei die Aufnahmen der Werke von Rimski-Korsakow, Liadow und Tschaikowskys ‚Schwanensee’ zum ersten Mal auf CD erscheinen. Erst kürzlich hat Erich Kunzel seinen aalglatten Taktstock in russische Orchesterwerke getaucht und in ein kaltes, oberflächliches, unerträglich zuckersüßes Disneyland verwandelt. Mögen Barbirollis Einspielungen von 1950, 1953, 1957 und 1959 auch nicht dem tontechnischen Bombast heutiger Zeiten standhalten können, so mag man ihnen dennoch den Vorzug geben, denn um wie vieles tiefgründiger, nuancierter, farbiger formt Barbirolli diese Musik heraus! Mit subtiler Agogik und fein austarierter Dynamik geht er bei Rimski-Korsakows ‚Capriccio espagnol’ ans Werk. Das Hallé liefert Barbirolli einen satten, warmen Klang und reagiert auf sein Dirigat mit exzellenter rhythmischer Verve wie es bei Liadows ‚Zaubersee’ mit herrlich balancierten Phrasen und orchestraler Tiefenstaffelung reagiert. Profund beleuchtet Barbirolli Tschaikowskys‚ Schwanensee’-Ausschnitte. Jedem Detail der Partitur wird Barbirolli gerecht und spannt doch den Bogen über das Ganze, ohne sich im Einzelnen zu verlieren. Große Momente evoziert Barbirolli mit seiner Einspielung von Tschaikowskys ‚Romeo und Julia’, große Momente einer durch und durch stringenten Klangkultur und Orchesterhomogenität, wo es schier unglaublich erscheint, wie Barbirolli die Phrasen in den Streichern mit einer solchen glutvollen Binnenspannung ausformen lässt. Manchem heutigen Ohr mag das vielleicht zu überzogen sein, doch die Frage, ob Dünnbrüstigkeit oder Opulenz der Vorzug zu geben sei, entscheidet sich hier unbedingt zugunsten des Letzteren. Klangtechnisch aufgefrischt, erteilen diese teils über ein halbes Jahrhundert alte Aufnahmen noch so manche Lektion in Sachen reifer, musikantischer Interpretation.
Erik Daumann

American Record Guide May / June 2008

These performances were recorded originally by EMI and Pye in the period 1950-1959. With the exception of the 1959 Marche Slave, they are all mono, though of good to excellent sonic quality. The earliest, a 16-minute Suite of familiar numbers from Swan Lake, is (though musically excellent) least impressive sound wise, though still undistorted and well bal­anced. Barbirolli recorded another Romeo and Juliet with the Philharmonia, in stereo, but it lacks the final three minutes owing to unfore­seen difficulties in getting it recorded in the allotted Session time. This one is a splendid alternative, fiery and spirited, if slow-paced. The Halle trumpets Sound out magnificently at the central climax, and the concluding mea­sures-now heard in their entirety-are thrilling. The 1957 Sound is mono, but first rate nevertheless, and the whole affair is most satisfying. The stereo Marche Slave is a tour de force musically and sonically, and it ends in a hair-raising final climax.

Anatol Liadov (1855-1914) was a talented composer whose orchestral works were well shaped, polished, beautifully melodic, and skilfully orchestrated. He was ambitious, but unfortunately also lazy and indolent, and his capacity for procrastination often outran his formidable ability as a composer. Many of his works are incomplete fragments, and the catalogue of finished compositions is not large. The Enchanted Lake is typical-melodic, colourfully orchestrated, and (at 6:08) concise to a fault. It is played splendidly by Barbirolli and the Halle; and the sound, though monaural is, clear, detailed and incandescent.

Unlike Liadov, Rimsky-Korsakoff was dedi­cated, hardworking, and productive. Capriccio Espagnol is brilliant and colourfully orchestrat­ed, with a fanfare that returns periodically to link the episodes into a bright, though some­what hyperactive symphonic entity. The per­formance is first-rate, and the 1953 monaural sound is not only undistorted, but also way ahead of its time in detail, brilliance, colour, and resolution of detail.

This compilation is released in cooperation with the Barbirolli Society at modest mid­range cost, and it presents an excellent picture of some of Barbirolli’s best work with the Halle in the decade of the 1950s, when high-fidelity was king of the hill. 1 found it revealing, excit­ing, at best thrilling, well worth its reasonable cost. Detailed notes and commentary are included. MCKELVEY

Thursday February 21 2008

Culled from HMV and Pye sources–with the cooperation of The Barbirolli Society– these spirited traversals of standard Russian fare led by Sir John Barbirolli (1899-1970) date from 1950-1959 in mono sound except for the Marche Slav (April 1959) in stereo. The concert opens with an idiomatically lilting reading of Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral showpiece in its first CD release, Capriccio espagnol (20 December 1953) taped for HMV and featuring Laurance Turner in the solo violin part. Snare drum and harp receive no direct credit, but their sonic participation proves delightfully present. The string attacks and horn punctuations, feral and vividly pungent, rival the inscription George Szell made in Cleveland that long remained my personal favorite in this volatile music. The fandango bristles with whirling, color excitement at every turn–“veronica” would be a more appropriate term.

From a 23 December 1953 recording from Free Trade Hall, Manchester (also for HMV) comes an item new to CD, Liadov’s sultry mood piece, Enchanted Lake, long a Koussevitzky staple with the BSO.  The languor–likely derivative of Wagner’s Forest Murmurs–floats in a luxurious sea of undulating sound. The Halle strings and winds pipe, chirp, and sigh in mystical fashion, an inspired miniature. The brief, previously unissued suite from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is the earliest of the inscriptions (17 October 1950) on this disc, taped at Kingsway Hall, London for HMV. Barbirolli opens with the famous oboe and strings scene that Fricsay also favors in his DGG version from around the same period. Barbirolli drives the full string statement hard, the trumpets ablaze and the bass fiddles palpitating. We move to the harp introduction to the Dance of Queen of the Swans from Act II, with its lovely violin solo with harp obbligato that eventually adds the cello for a wonderful duet. A pert bassoon-led Dance of the Little Swans leads to the big Waltz from Act I, rife with rubato sentimentale. Here, I wish Barbirolli had taken repeats. Finally, an earthy version of the Hungarian Dance, the Act III Csardas stealthily paced, adding a bit more briskness through each statement of the lassu until it reaches critical mass and boils over in a flurry of virtuoso dervishes, interrupted by a pregnant pause.

Barbirolli kept a soft spot for Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet, here inscribed in Manchester 13 June 1957. The conception is broad but not inflated, with lovely touches from harp, flute, strings, and brass. Striking attacks and tympani pedal for the street brawl between Montagues and Capulets. Several gorgeous statements of the love theme and the polyphonic development section, then the exalted closing pages in their anguished lament for this “tale of woe” in the strong, tumultuous coda, not the softer version Stokowski favored. I have lived with Marche Slav ever since I owned the 78 rpm account with Rodzinski, later favoring the feverish New York Philharmonic rendition with Mitropoulos. Barbirolli opts for a version played for ceremonial pomp. The middle section with snare drum and pizzicato strings carries a real brass-band-fanfare effect. Nice triplets in the brass, the whole quite rousing as it carries the tune God Save the Tsar.
Gary Lemco

MusicWeb Tuesday 19 Febraury 2008

Guild, in association with the Barbirolli Society, gives us a quintet of Russian performances culled from the 1950s. Only the last of them, the Marche Slave, which was recorded in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester in 1959, was taped in stereo. The rest exist in very serviceable mono. Barbirolli discographers will want to note that the Rimsky and Tchaikovsky Swan Lake extracts were in the HMV BLP series whilst the Liadov was in their HMV 7ER seven-inch series. Romeo and Juliet and the Marche Slav date from Barbirolli’s Pye contract – 1957 and 1959 respectively.

Capriccio Espagnol gets proceedings off to a rather pot-boiling but nevertheless very exciting start. As English conductors went Barbirolli was not quite in Albert Coates’ league of incendiary Russian performances, nor perhaps in Beecham’s, but he proves to lack for little in this sizzling traversal. The Free Trade Hall recording still packs a punch and the solos are taken with real verve, Laurence Turner – the leader – prominently, though the wind principals and the principal cellist all acquit themselves splendidly. Liadov’s The Enchanted Lake is suitably languorous and evocative – there’s a pleasurable sheen on the fiddles and a sense of languid movement that gives a sense of pulse to the impressionism.

Swan Lake was the earliest of this selection to be recorded, at Kingsway Hall in October 1950. The selections were the Swan theme, the Introduction and Dance of the Queen of the Swans (Act II), dance of the Little Swans (also Act II), the Act I Waltz and finally the Hungarian Dance (Czardas – Act III) – in that order. It’s obviously a more boxy recording than its more up-to-date disc confreres – the later Free Trade Hall was distinctly more diaphanous than the 1950 Kingsway, at least in this set-up – but we can hear Barbirolli in all his balletic warmth in this selection. Though well balanced the Hallé brass does sound a little recessed – no Stokowski blockbuster, this – but there are compensations once more in Turner’s eloquent playing of the Introduction and Dance; similarly the principal cello once again. There’s real vitality in the Act I Waltz, which is programmed after the Act II Dance of the Little Swans and before the Act II Czardas. Romeo and Juliet is the only complete recording Barbirolli left of the work – his 1969 traversal is missing the coda. It’s a considered, powerful reading and though not always flattered by the mono sound, a valuable example of Barbirolli’s way with the work.

Three of these performances are making their first appearance on CD, another inducement to purchase, along with the characteristically fine notes.
Jonathan Woolf



The much-loved conductor and cellist Sir John Giovanni Battista Barbirolli was most closely associated with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, which he led for almost three decades. He was also music director of the New York Philharmonic and the Houston Symphony Orchestra, and conducted many other orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Renowned for his interpretations of music by English composers such as Elgar and Vaughan Williams, Barbirolli was also well-known as a conductor of the music of Gustav Mahler. Since his sudden death in 1970, the reputation of Sir John Barbirolli has grown, aided by a series of broadcast recordings which were never available during his lifetime, and many of his sterling qualities can be appreciated in the new anthology of performances from the 1950s featured on this highly desirable disc. The great man and his beloved Hallé Orchestra play works by Russian composers Nicolay Rimsky-Korsakov (Capriccio espagnol), Anatole Liadov (his mystical ‘fable-tableau’ The Enchanted Lake) and Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky (excerpts from his Swan Lake ballet, Marche slave, and the Romeo and Juliet fantasy overture). All receive deeply sympathetic and virtuosic performances in admirable sound, making this a highly enjoyable collection.