Reviews

GHCD 2320 – Barbirolli at the Proms – 1954

Hallé Orchestra, SIR JOHN BARBIROLLI – Conductor; David Galliver – Tenor

To the CD in our Shop


Fanfare March / April 2008

There is at times a chemistry between some of the greatest conductors and the orchestral they worked closely with that transcends the technical limitations of those saure ensembles. Three exam­ples 1 like to give of this are Ansermet and L’Orchestre de la Suisse-Romande musicians, Abravanel and the Utah Symphony, and Barbirolli with the Halle Orchestra. 1 doesn’t think I’m stating any rev­elations when 1 note that none of these three orchestras, currently or at any time in the past, were world-beaters. Yet an numerous occasions, when spurred an by the conductors mentioned above, they were capable of tuming in powerful readings that equal or surpass the best competition.

The current reissue is a case in point. Barbirolli recorded the Brahms First with the Vienna Philharmonie in the mid 1960s, and it is a limp performance, overly discursive in tempo, and inclined to lose momentuni yet in 1954, the conductor led his Halle musicians in a live concert that featured the Same Symphony at Royal Albert Hall. (That concert also included the two Haydn selec­tions offered here, plus bis Symphony No. 104, and the Double Concerto of Brahms. Talk about giv­ing an audience their money’s worth!) 1 wouldn’t call it one of the best readings in the catalogue, but it has a convincing combination of drive and lyrical eloquence-in short, the Barbirolli touch. The Andante sostenuto flows ardently, and the Scherzo is a genuine allegretto (about 95 BPM) that com­bines delicacy and swiftness without slowing for the trio. The opening movement 1 find stiff in its Joints, poor at moments of transition, but the finale focuses an passionate immediacy instead of pro­fundity, and achieves both.

L’isola disabitata has been recorded twice, to my knowledge. In an age before that, when Haydn’s operas were neuer performed, muck less recorded, Barbirolli’s championing of this opera’s overture must have seemed quixotic. Did he view it, perhaps, as his own “lollipop” work, to put against the various discoveries of Beecham? Regardless, he takes the opening section slowly, with great care for phrasing in the strings. The main allegro section receives a whiplash treatment, as though it were patt of the Sturm und Drang movement. It isn’t, but Barbirolli is certainly exciting, and the clarity of Haydn’s part-writing is emphasized to great effect.

Finally, the tenor patt for “In Native Worth” from The Creation is performed effectively by David Galliver in an old-fashioned British oratorio mannet meaning that diction is emphasized, and emotion is nowhere to be found. (Think a not quite as successful Walter Widdop.) In fairness to Galliver, the slightly distant miking does his voice no favors, though his grim reading does even less for the text, in my opinion. Elsewhere, the Sound is excellent, especially considering the live origins surprises embedded within. But Overall I’m impressed, and 1 agree that this mute is one of the most enduring and fruitful that American experimentalism has followed. Harrison makes a compelling argument for his lifetime commitment to this sound world. As 1 believe Terry Riley has Said, it’s as though the intervallic and harmonic palette of black/white/gray has been expanded into Technicolor. And the recording sounds wonderful, the notes clearly stating that everything has been done without any multitracking or pro­cessing to alter the sound in post- production. So what you hear is really what you get.
Robert Carl


Fanfare January/February 2008

The current release is derived from BBC Transcription Service discs of a Proms concert given in London’s Royal Albert Hall an August 24, 1954. Brahms and Haydn were two composers for which Barbirolli had a special affection. He opened the program with Haydn’s Overture to his Opera The Uninhabited Island, followed by the tenor aria, “In Native Worth,” from the “And God Created Man” tableau of Haydn’s Creation.

Anyone who thinks Beethoven invented Sturm und Drang need only listen to the Haydn over­ture, written in 1779, when Beethoven was nine years old. The storm-tossed music Haydn composed to depict the remote Atlantic island seems strangely at odds with what the newly married Constanza and her husband Gernando are doing there in the first place-they’ve sailed to the island for their honeymoon. But the events that unfold soon explain the overture’s intense drama. The somewhat cavernous acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall amplifies the agitation, but it also enlarges the Sound of the orchestra rather out of proportion, considering this is still a Classical-period score.

Tenor David Galliver (1925-2001) was, according to his biography, apparently a favourite in England from about 1952 to 1960, where he is remembered for his performances in the Bach Passions, in Mozart’s operas, and for a 1958 performance of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius under Barbirolli before Pope Pius XII. In the mid 1960s, Galliver moved to Australia, where he continued his career. To the best of my knowledge, this is my first encounter with hem, and it is probably unfair to form an opinion based an such a short excerpt from Haydn’s Creation. The voice itself is pleas­ant enough, but Intonation is not very precise. To those readers-one hopes they are few and far between-who refuse even to consider performances that omit repeats, 1 say it’s your loss; for Barbirolli’s Brahms First an this disc packs one powerful punch. The slow introduction is perhaps just a bit too slow for my taste, but the main body of the first movement is swift and driven, and reaches a truly fearsome climax. The Andante sostenuto is a sweet summer Idyll; the Un poco allegretto e grazioso strikes just the right tempo and mood; and the great finale is impressively rousing. The Sound, equally enlarged by the half, does not seem as out of place in the Brahms as it did in the Haydn. There is, however, a fairly noisy contingent of coughers and throat clearers that may annoy listeners and repeated hearings.

Overall, 1 rate this release very highly. I’ve always been fond of Barbirolli’s conducting, and not just his Brahms. His Mahler is very fine and probably underrated. Recommend.
Jerry Dubios


American Record Guide January / February 2008

This program, which bears the Imprimatur of the Barbirolli Society, was recorded in August 1954 at a concert in the Albert Hall. Its monau­ral sound is, if not outstanding, decent by the standards of historische aufnahmen. This seems to be the only currently available per­formance of Brahms 1 by Barbirolli, though excellent recordings of all four of the Brahms symphonies in grandly spacious stereo, played by the Vienna Philharmonic, reside in EMI’s vaults.

This Guild release is moderate in tempo at TT 42:23 and seems spacious and relaxed. It does not lack passion, however, and when fire and vigor are needed the Halle plays as though possessed. The end result is a fine memento of the conductor’s style in fairly good monaural sound. But the EMI stereo counterpart is the slowest performance I’ve ever heard at 49 min­utes. It’s 1:20 slower than the already slow VPO/Böhm from DG, and it unfolds with a measured grandeur that is really breathtaking despite the funereal pace. Obviously it is not for everyone, but it is one of the best. This one from Guild is an acceptable Substitute. The dif­ference between the two is so great in Il that 1 initially thought that a repeat may haue been omitted in the Guild release, but the score Shows indicates no repeat in the andante. The Albert Hall audience is noisy.

The Haydn Uninhabited Island refers to the overture to an obscure Haydn opera, L Isola Di­sabilitata, which turns out to be a vigorous, hy­peractive, and altogether memorable seven minute composition in Haydn’s familiar ma­ture style. I’m not familiar with the rest of the opera, but alter reading the plot Synopsis 1 sus­pect that its overture is the best thing about it.

The brief Creation excerpts are sung expressively and in the Best high British Orato­rio style by tenor David Gauner, who offers a most interesting example of this genre. The 20th Century, unfortunately, has essentially killed the oratorio-the one obvious exception is Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast-and also the incidental music to plays, like Nielsen’s Alad­din, Griegs Peer Gynt and Sibelius’s Pelleas and Melisande. Too expensive now at union rates. Also too bad for classical music. This Guild offering, though a little short on playing time, should satisfy Barbirolli’s admirers for now, the more so since it is a midprice release.
MCKELVEY


MusicWeb Tuesday July 24 2007

We know Barbirolli’s symphonic Brahms best from his 1966-67 Vienna cycle. That was a rather enervated quartet of performances by common consent though there were rewarding things about it. But he did record the last two symphonies with the Hallé and made a fine New York 78 set of the Second.

It’s no great surprise then to find that this live 1954 Proms performance of the C minor is altogether a more lithe, vital and convincing document than the one with the Vienna Philharmonic made over a decade later. Tempo transitions are managed more effectively and the directional curve of the music making is very much tensile and determined. In fact it displays an urgency pretty much missing from that later performance and indeed from the studio recording that Furtwängler made in Vienna seven years previously. Barbirolli controls the opening movement with real symphonic power and control but it’s in the slow movement that he is most characteristically himself. This has surging accelerandi and an operatic intensity that binds the music to the lyric rather than the central European philosophic axis – not an absolute of course but it’s tempting to make the distinction in the light of the Italianate lyricism of his conducting here. The finale is taken at a fine tempo and Barbirolli avoids rhetorical excesses and bombast, especially brass bombast. There is a small amount of sectional indiscipline and lack of optimum blending. And there’s some slight tape distortion, which can be heard most audibly in exposed wind statements. But I wouldn’t make too much of these things – they’re minor.

The coupling consists of Haydn. Barbirolli makes a dashing, big band show in the fast sections of the overture to L’Isola Disabitata. This was a very obscure piece for him to parade at the time – and even sleeve note writer and Barbirolli authority David Ll. Jones can find no other performance of it by the conductor. Nor, rather amazingly, did Barbirolli ever perform The Creation in its entirety – only excerpts. So quite what galvanized him to programme these two at the Proms is really anyone’s guess. Gulliver sings well – a lyric tenor essentially but with sufficient weight to cope with any declamation put his way. I note he sang in Part I of Gerontius when Barbirolli performed it before Pope Pius XII in 1958.

Concert programmes were longer then, even in 1954. The rest of this Prom concert included Haydn’s Symphony No.104 and Brahms’s Double Concerto with Endre Wolf and André Navarra. The former work was a great favourite of Barbirolli’s and he recorded it twice on 78s. The Brahms he recorded with Campoli and Navarra. Even so I’m sure admirers would welcome the rest of this Prom concert – actually, assuming it still exists, it would have made a good two-for-the-price-of-one double CD set.
Jonathan Woolf

Classical Net Monday March 05 2007

The enterprising Swiss label Guild has now branched out into historical recordings that are excellently remastered.

This fine taping of Sir John Barbirolli’s recording of Brahms’ Symphony #1 with the Halle’ Orchestra from a 1954 Promenade Concert is well worth reissue with its sweeping First Movement and heroic Finale.

I was pleasantly surprised by the clarity of the recording from the Royal Albert Hall with particular emphasis on the Halle’s strings, a glorious ensemble in those heady days of the 1950’s. The Haydn items are rarities, a bold interpretation of the overture from the opera, ‘L’Isola Disabitata’ and an aria from ‘The Creation’ sung by the underrated David Galliver are also extremely welcome. Thumbs up to this first issue from Guild and may we have many more rarities from the historical arena.
Gerald Fenech