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COVER SJB1098-99 70th Birthday WEB

70th BIRTHDAY CONCERT – 1969

In 1968, Barbirolli had been directing the Hallé continuously for a quarter of a century – a tenure longer than that of any of the orchestra’s conductors before or since (other than that of its founder Sir Charles Hallé). The following year, 1969, marked Barbirolli’s 70th birthday, and for the conductor’s ‘birthday concert’ the music played was his personal choice. Barbirolli selecting three works that must have been of great personal significance.

Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro was the one work of Elgar’s that Barbirolli – himself a string player who had played the composer’s then-new Cello Concerto at the outset of his career – had taken as his own. In the course of his recording career, which in 1969 spanned almost 50 years, Barbirolli made no fewer than six commercial recordings of the Introduction and Allegro.

During his career, Barbirolli conducted all nine Vaughan Williams symphonies and it was the Sixth that he gave 69 performances in twenty years. It is not generally known that Barbirolli was the second conductor to perform the work: three months after Boult’s premiere, Barbirolli introduced the symphony to the Cheltenham Festival. Vaughan Williams’s then-new symphony had made a deep impression on Barbirolli and his choice of the Sixth Symphony for his 70th birthday programme means we have a magnificent reading of this work for posterity.

Sir John’s birthday concert ended with a profound performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Throughout this performance, Barbirolli’s grasp of Beethoven’s tonal plan and of the work’s emotional expression is of the highest order, fully supported by the commitment of ‘his’ orchestra. We must be grateful this rare recording survives, adding to our understanding of Barbirolli’s interpretative qualities.

Barbirolli’s sudden death took from the world a very great conductor in the full flood of his performing career; his many surviving recordings continue to attest to his interpretative genius – including this release, which captures so well the sense of occasion, reinforced by the inclusion of tributes paid to him on his birthday. To hear such heartfelt comments from the Hallé’s long-term leader, Martin Milner, alongside others from his biographer Michael Kennedy, Jacqueline du Pré, Daniel Barenboim, a long-time audience member as well as an insightful interview with Barbirolli himself, make this release in the 50th year of his passing one which ideally captures the conductor at the height of his powers. It is a unique set in every way.

SJB 1098-99 (2-CD set)

COVER SJB1100 BBC2 1965 WEB2

BROADCAST CONCERT – 1965

This was a televised concert from the Free Trade Hall in Manchester on 9 September 1965 and broadcast on BBC2. Each work was introduced by Sir John in his pleasant, knowledgably avuncular manner, we also have the earliest surviving recording played by Jacqueline du Pré of Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei for cello and orchestra. This performance is of more than usual interest, for it took place a few weeks after du Pré and Sir John had made their legendary EMI recording of Elgar’s Cello Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra.

The opening work is Franz von Suppé’s ‘The Beautiful Galathea’ overture to his two-act operetta a very popular concert item long into the twentieth-century, and especially with Sir John. César Franck’s Variations symphoniques for piano and orchestra was also a very popular work at the time of this broadcast, but is almost forgotten today. In this compelling account, the participation between the excellent soloist David Wilde and Sir John’s orchestra is almost tangible. Note particularly the fine sense of phrasing by Wilde in the more reflective passages and the genuine sense of cohesion throughout from soloist and conductor.

Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei follows – the score terms the work as an Adagio on two Hebrew Melodies for Cello and Orchestra with Harp and falls into a flowing set of variations on two Jewish themes. Barbirolli knew the piece intimately: in his spoken introduction he describes playing Kol Nidrei himself ‘at the old Queen’s Hall in London.’ His detailed knowledge of the solo part enabled him to partner du Pré in a manner unmatched by virtually any other conductor on record. Jacqueline du Pré’s account itself is of the very finest artistry. It is fully expressive, tonally incomparable and the combined sensitivity of soloist and orchestra is profoundly moving – as the subsequent audience applause indicates. Du Pré and Barbirolli’s combination in Elgar’s Concerto a few weeks earlier had surely forged an unbreakable interpretative bond between soloist and conductor.

Finally, a brilliant performance of a brilliant work – Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral showpiece, Capriccio espagnol. In Sir John’s introduction, he disarmingly let slip the extraordinary fact that he had met Rimsky-Korsakov’s son in Leningrad in 1935 – a viola-player in the orchestra – and one can well imagine the empathy between interpreter and creator, for there is a wonderful cohesion, sensitivity and brilliance in the orchestral playing of quite outstanding unanimity. The entire work is brilliantly played with full and natural character – not merely treated as some kind of virtuoso showpiece. Here is a great interpreter and orchestra at work, and, with distinguished soloists, creating an hour-long television concert of classical music capable of captivating listeners more than half-a-century after it took place.

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COVER SJB1101 Tristan Act 2 WEB

WAGNER Tristan und Isolde – Act II

Although the discography of Sir John Barbirolli is (today, thankfully) both remarkably large and wide-ranging, his extensive work in opera at various periods in his life is less than fully represented. So when a rare surviving recording of Barbirolli conducting a live performance of Act II from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde comes to light, and is found to be sonically good enough to be released, we must be grateful, first for the recording’s survival and secondly for the technical skill which has made aesthetic appreciation of the performance possible today.

However, the committed listener cannot but be disappointed that the tape of this performance at the 1954 Henry Wood Promenade season of Act II from Tristan und Isolde, and taken from the BBC transmission, is not complete, but rather than let the surviving tapes languish in silence in a vault, with Scene 3 incomplete, we have decided to release the performance. Although the off-air recording quality of the original tape is not of the best quality, it is still more than good enough to appreciate the undoubted musical qualities of the performance. With Mödl and Windgassen truly at the height of their considerable powers, and with Barbirolli on the podium, the result is a piece of treasureable music-making from singers brought up in the correct Germanic tradition in this music, in the hands of a great conductor performing before arguably the most appreciative audience in the world.

As a bonus, the CD also includes Barbirolli conducting the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, a recording from Carnegie Hall, New York in 1938.

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BROADCAST CONCERTS 1947 & 1951


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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Eine kleine Nachtmusik in G major, K.525
I. Allegro
II. Romance. Andante
III. Menuetto. Allegretto – Trio
IV. Rondo. Allegro

Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Fennimore and Gerda – Intermezzo

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.4 in B flat major, Op.60
I. Adagio – Allegro vivace
II. Adagio
III. Allegro vivace – Trio (Un poco meno allegro)
IV. Allegro ma non troppo
Broadcast from the Milton Hall, Manchester, 5 December 1947

Paul CRESTON (1906-1985)
Fantasy for trombone and orchestra, Op.42†
Broadcast from the Milton Hall, Manchester, 10 May 1951
Maisie Ringham, trombone†
Hallé Orchestra conducted by SIR JOHN BARBIROLLI

PREVIOUSLY UNPUBLISHED RECORDINGS

THE FIRST ORCHESTRAL RECORDINGS


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THE EDISON BELL RECORDINGS – 1927
WAGNER The Flying Dutchman – Overture
WAGNER The Mastersingers – Prelude to Act III
HUMPERDINCK Hansel and Gretel – Overture
PUCCINI Madama Butterfly – Love duet (finale)
MASCAGNI Cavalleria Rusticana – Santuzza’s aria
LILIAN STILES-ALLEN (soprano) DAN JONES (tenor)
SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

THE SPANISH HMV RECORDINGS – 1928
CASALS Sardana
MOZART (arr: Barbirolli) The Magic Flute – Possenti numi
LONDON SCHOOL OF CELLOS

THE NGS RECORDINGS – 1927
ELGAR Introduction and Allegro
WARLOCK Serenade for Delius’s 60th Birthday
DELIUS Summer Night on the River
DEBUSSY Danse Sacré & Danse profane (Ethel Bartlett, piano)
MARCELLO (arr: Barbirolli) Allegretto
CHENIL GALLERIES CHAMBER ORCHESTRA (NGS Chamber Orchestra)

FIRST RELEASES ON CD

COVER SJB1095 website

BARBIROLLI conducts SHOSTAKOVICH & RICHARD STRAUSS

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This broadcast concert by Sir John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra from January 1963 paired works by Richard Strauss and Shostakovich, and from which our recordings are taken, is an exceptional one. Certainly, in so far as Barbirolli’s concert repertoire is concerned, this programme was notable for being the first occasion when he conducted Shostakovich’s mighty Fifth Symphony.

Of the two purely orchestral works making up this broadcast concert it was the earlier composition, Richard Strauss’s tone poem Tod und Verklärung which began the programme. Although the subject-matter of the work (depicting the death of an artist) may appear to some as rather meretricious, in a dramatically powerful and committed account – such as Barbirolli undoubtedly secured from the Hallé on this occasion – the music can be both emotionally quite moving and structurally completely satisfying. On hearing Barbirolli’s masterly account, one could be forgiven for thinking he had conducted this work many times throughout his life. This occasion was not the first time Sir John had essayed the work, but it had not appeared in his programmes for quite a few years; yet again, he delivered a performance that went to the very heart of the work, his fellow-musicians in his Hallé Orchestra responding with full-hearted and committed artistry.

In January 1963, a quarter of a century after that remarkable premiere of Shostakovich’s Fifth, and in defiance of the work’s detractors, Barbirolli secured a demonstrably excellent performance, free from any exaggeration. Barbirolli’s performance is so superlatively good that one’s attention is held throughout, especially in the slow movement, which contains some very beautiful music. One must also mention the inherent warmth of the Hallé Orchestra’s corporate sound: theirs is no transcontinental brilliance, with hard-cutting brass and massive string strength – such qualities are impressive in themselves, and suit certain schools of composition admirably – but as we may hear from this recording, the result in the Hallé’s case is an almost tangible, if difficult to describe, sense of inner cohesion, from which Barbirolli draws the finest shades of interpretation – ranging from great power and warmth to gossamer delicacy.

Here is a further example of the artistic truth of Barbirolli’s interpretative genius, and we must thank the Barbirolli Society who have rescued and made available this great performance for later generations.

COVER SJB1094 website

BARBIROLLI conducts ELGAR, MOERAN, DELIUS & ELGAR

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Sea Pictures was performed more often by Sir John Barbirolli than by almost any other British conductor, his singers being Kathleen Ferrier, Norma Proctor, Constance Shacklock, Janet Baker and Kerstin Meyer – the performance with Meyer being part of the penultimate concert he ever conducted, at the King’s Lynn Festival in 1970.

Sea Pictures remains a very difficult work for the soloist: the range required is exceptional. In addition, Elgar’s word-setting in that final song (The Swimmer) is highly demanding, with very few pauses for breathing-space. Not all contraltos feel able to tackle this remarkable masterpiece, but Constance Shacklock, truly, one of the finest contraltos – along with her near-contemporary, Kathleen Ferrier – England ever produced, has more than the full measure of the composer’s demands, and she is supported to the hilt by Barbirolli, whose atmospheric tempo-setting for each song is exceptional. This performance is a 1958 broadcast from the Royal Albert Hall.

E. J. Moeran’s Serenade has a curious interest of its own, in that the original 8-movement version of the Serenade was premiered in 1948, but on publication two movements (Intermezzo and Forlane) were withdrawn – for reasons which are not entirely clear. In this very rare live performance from the 1952 Cheltenham Festival, Barbirolli restores the Intermezzo which reinforces the natural musical language of the composer, perhaps owing something to the folk-based stylisation of Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite of 1926. Moeran’s Serenade, however, is no mere reflection of Warlock’s piece, but an individual work of great inherent beauty. Judging by the care and empathy with which Barbirolli invests the work, it clearly had great appeal for the conductor and his orchestra.

The other works here are Delius’s A Song of Summer (a 1945 broadcast) and the Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams in a performance from the Grieghallen in Bergen in 1963.

COVER SJB1092-93 website

BARBIROLLI conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra

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These recordings are taken from concerts given in Buenos Aires during a concert tour with the Philharmonia Orchestra and include symphonies by Dvorak (8th) and Sibelius (2nd) coupled with performances of two works which Barbirolli never recorded in the studio, Richard Strauss’ Don Juan and Stravinsky’s Firebird suite.

As Robert Matthew –Walker writes, so we have two symphonies, by Dvořák and Sibelius, which were, one might say, staples of his repertoire, alongside two works which he much less-rarely programmed – played by an orchestra of international renown whose association with Barbirolli was not, at the time, considered to be particularly close. In such circumstances, one might have half-expected the performances of the less-familiar works to be no more than a little better than routine – or one might, from a less gifted or less experienced conductor than Barbirolli.

Yet, once again in this great musician’s career, his grasp of the evergreen Dvořák G major Symphony is total – a really vivid performance in fine style, perceptible through the rather dated broadcast sound, a reading which adheres pretty strictly to the score with refreshing effect, especially of the entrancing third movement. All-in-all, here is a vivid and sunlit performance of this exceptionally beautiful and vigorous symphony, as spacious and expressive as the music deserves.

Barbirolli’s reading of the Second Symphony of Sibelius is equally fine; a beautifully turned account of this still-exciting work, not lacking in fire and intensity when called for, but never over-done, and revealing the amazing originality of the work’s first movement in a reading so carefully wrought that one would have thought conductor and orchestra had been partners in this masterpiece for years.

In the less-frequently-encountered scores in Barbirolli’s repertoire, as we can hear all too clearly, the performances of the Strauss and Stravinsky works rank highly. Both accounts are exceptionally clear-cut, without ever sacrificing the warmth that – even in early Stravinsky – forms part of the pictorial narratives of each masterpiece.

Such is the range of expression in these concert performances that one can – at the distance of more than half-a-century – claim each one to be of a standard such as is rarely heard in live performances at any level today, the brilliance and sensitivity of the Philharmonia Orchestra readily apparent across the intervening decades. The audiences in South America must have been thrilled at the outcome of this visit by such distinguished musicians – as we can readily hear and acknowledge.

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BARBIROLLI conducts BRUCKNER

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Bruckner Symphony No. 8, Delius In a Summer Garden and Sibelius’ 5th Symphony. These recordings with the Hallé Orchestra are taken from the Free Trade Hall (Bruckner 8th) and a concert given in the Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway.

The most truly astonishing aspect of the recording of the Bruckner is that this performance was the first time in Barbirolli’s career that he had conducted the Symphony. Here, demonstrably, as Robert Matthew –Walker says in his notes accompanying this issue, we can experience his interpretative genius at its finest.

For too often, Delius’s music was criticised for its ‘rhapsodic’ utterance or ‘shapeless’ form – but what, in fact, do those critical terms mean? As with all great original composers, Delius’s music ‘shapes’ itself, and although such innovations as his works contain demand much in the way of interpretative understanding, once that has been mastered by a sympathetic conductor, the result can indeed be revelatory.

Such, one may assert, is the case here. Barbirolli’s shaping of the phrases and paragraphs which go to make up this wonderful orchestral essay is as masterly as his control of the far larger structures in Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony; the continuous ‘thread’ the music possesses is never broken, with the attentive listener carried by Delius’s unique sound-world to the music’s full understanding.

Such similarities may also be discerned in Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony: a structure so completely original in twentieth-century orchestral music as to continue to astonish the listener – but only when the performance demonstrates those qualities fully.
In this performance, Barbirolli achieves a wondrous combination of life and cogency such as one rarely hears.

BARBIROLLI conducts DVORÁK, WEBER & ROSSINI

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Every conductor, at some time in their career, will be called upon to accompany a soloist in a concerto – but relatively few conductors have been soloists themselves in public performances, thereby experiencing the partnership, so to speak, from the ‘other side’. Barbirolli had done so, of course, from his earliest years as a professional, which undoubtedly gave his conducting of a concerto a special sense of unity.

On this release under his baton we can hear for ourselves Barbirolli’s innate empathy with his soloists – and whilst, in view of our opening remarks, it may be felt the Dvořák Concerto might exhibit that empathy to a greater degree than Carl-Maria von Weber’s Konzertstück for piano and orchestra, there are other factors which – in this particular instance – demonstrate Barbirolli’s genius in orchestral accompaniment.

The soloist in the Weber, from the 1958 Proms, is Rayson Whalley who was a fine musician, someone who – as with other orchestras – would play a solo concerto part at rehearsal if the engaged soloist was absent, and would take the piano part in those scores which called for a piano in the orchestra. Such musicians were sometimes referred to as the ‘house pianist’, but any assumption that in Whalley’s case he was in any way less than top-notch is soon disabused on hearing such a fine account of a (nowadays) unjustly neglected masterpiece.

Although many music-lovers will be familiar with the Dvořák concerto, this particular performance – caught in an off-air BBC television sound recording from 1963 – not only has the compelling recreative totality of a ‘live’ performance, but also exhibits a number of interpretative characteristics which reveal a strongly expressive yet classical account of natural distinction, with Tortelier’s superb technique combined with Barbirolli’s unfailing sense of the music’s structure, and with much of the quality of the soloist’s playing obviously communicating itself, through Barbirolli’s direction, to the orchestra.