This latest Barbirolli release from Testament has a BBC recording from the Town Hall, Manchester on 21 January 1964. The session included Mozart’s Symphony No.40 and excerpts from Wagner’s Gotterdämerung with the Finnish soprano Anita Välkki.

In his booklet note, Mike Ashman writes: ‘For the 1964 concerts in Manchester one version of the programme included music from Tristan, Der fliegende Holländer and the Siegfried Idyll, the other (a BBC pre-recording in Manchester Town Hall [as featured on this CD]). They were both delayed commemorations of the 150th anniversary of Wagner’s birth. According to Frances Graham in the Manchester Daily Express, ‘“There were not enough top-flight sopranos to go round”, Sir John Barbirolli explained last night. “We decided to wait until January 1964 – the middle of our 1964 season – for our celebration. We also wanted to wait for Finnish soprano Anita Waelkki [Välkki]”. It was a worthwhile wait. Miss Välkki’s singing must have come as a revelation to even the most experienced Wagnerian. It was a stupendous performance.’

Kirsten Flagstad (Isolde); Eyvind Laholm (Tristan); Enid Szánthó (Brangäne); John Gurney (King Marke); Daniel Harris (Kurwenal, Melot)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/John Barbirolli
(recorded Carnegie Hall, New York, 16 April 1939)
West Hill Archives WHRA6044

Here Barbirolli conducts the first complete performance in America of Act II. This is a rare opportunity to hear Barbirolli conducting a substantial portion of this opera of which he left no commercial recording. A co-production with The Barbirolli Society.

‘John Barbirolli’s conducting is wonderfully virile and also alive to every mood-change. To those accustomed to the torpor of Furtwängler’s overrated 1951 studio performance, the opening bars will be a shock. Like Böhm, Barbirolli drives forward observing the Sehr lebhaft (very lively) marking, and 2/2 time signature, with mercurial phrasing from the woodwind and strings. There is urgency in the scene with Isolde and Brangäne, which is entirely apposite; Isolde is longing to get her hands on Tristan and her servant is warning her of the consequences of such an action, but Barbirolli is also able to relax. When Tristan enters, the New York Philharmonic exults with wonderfully concentrated abandon: this really is great orchestral playing. When the tension subsides and the love-in-death duet begins (at “O sing hernieder, Nacht der liebe”) Barbirolli slows right down but without grinding to a halt. Like all great conductors Barbirolli is able to make every tempo change sound seamless and inevitable and the cumulative effect is immensely powerful. For this reason, the unusual soloists, and (for the year) excellent sound, this release is self-recommending.’


Here is an outstanding new release from ICA Classics with Sir John conducting the Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester in Schubert’s Symphony No.4 Tragic, Britten’s Serenade and Sibelius’s Symphony No.2. The outstanding soloists in the Britten work (new to the Barbirolli discography) are Gerald English and Hermann Baumann. The stereo recording was made in Cologne on 7 February 1969.

ICA Classics – ICAC 5096 (2 CDs)