Latest Releases

COVER SJB1086-87 Messiah

Barbirolli conducts Handel’s ‘Messiah’



The Barbirolli Society’s latest release is a 2-CD set of Handel’s Messiah with soloists Elizabeth Harwood, Marjorie Thomas, Gerald English and Kim Borg, and with the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus and the Hallé Orchestra and Choir. The performance was recorded for the BBC Home Service on 4 December 1964 in the King’s Hall, Bell Vue, Manchester and broadcast on 23 December 1964.

For Barbirolli Handel’s Messiah was more than a great work of art: for him, as we may hear throughout this performance, the oratorio reveals aspects of the European human condition of universal significance. As yet another example of Barbirolli’s interpretative genius, the work once more transcends time and place, as this great musician uncovers the inner spirituality through his recreation of the music, his inspiring conviction and understanding conveyed through his musicians’ performance after more than half a century.

This Limited Edition 2-CD set is released by arrangement with BBC Worldwide Limited.

Cover SJB1084-85 Nielsen Mahler

Barbirolli conducts Nielsen and Mahler

SJB 1084-85

This Barbirolli Society release is a 2-CD set of the complete concert given in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester on 20 October 1960, with the combined forces of the Hallé and BBC Northern Symphony Orchestras. The concert consisted of Nielsen’s Symphony No.5 and Mahler’s Symphony No.7.

Michael Kennedy, writing in 2000, stated: ‘Performances of the (Mahler) Seventh were much rarer then than they are today, and Mahlerian scholars and enthusiasts flocked to Manchester for the event, among them Deryck Cooke who was profoundly impressed by Sir John’s ability to make the work’s structure cohere. This was an especially significant comment coming from Cooke, who harboured many doubts about the symphony and confessed to finding it most ‘problematical’. ’

By 1960, Nielsen’s British champion in print, Robert Simpson, had been a senior member of the BBC for nine years, and it is not difficult to recognise his involvement in the planning of this concert. In 1954, Simpson wrote of Mahler’s Seventh: ‘Designed on a vast scale, with a scheme of ‘progressive tonality’…it consists of two very large movements flanking three less large ones in its centre. In the very middle is a rather grim and ghostly scherzo and on either side of it are two movements called Nachtmusik; the first of these (the second movement of the Symphony) is a kind of twilit march and the other (the fourth movement) is a greatly protracted nocturnal serenade. The first movement is gigantic in size and tragic in import and the finale is brilliant, sometimes contrapuntal and often brassy, like a more tense, nervous version of Die Meistersinger.’

Later that same year (1954), Simpson was to write of Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony as being the composer’s ‘greatest achievement, and it is difficult to think of a modern symphony which contains such an immense range of feeling, such enormous power or such constructional strength.’ Without any question, therefore, this programme would have carried its great significance, both musical and temporal, to the many listeners in Britain and on the Continent – an importance not lost on The Times or on the other leading British newspapers of the day. The weight thus placed on Sir John Barbirolli’s shoulders by such inspired programming was very great, and it is a measure of his insightful genius as an interpreter of these two very different composers that he was to produce such magnificent interpretations of these very different symphonies, such as – more than half a century later and thanks to further evolved technology – we can experience for ourselves today.

COVER SJB1083 Prague 1958

Barbirolli – Prague Spring Festival, 1958

SJB 1083

In 1958 Sir John Barbirolli and the Hallé had been invited to the Prague Spring Festival and their first Prague concert, in the acoustically admirable Smetana Hall given on 24 May, was of Berlioz’s Roman Carnival overture, Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. The following evening (the performances on this CD) the programme opened with a Weber’s Oberon overture followed by Vaughan Williams’s Eighth Symphony and the concert concluded with Brahms’s First Symphony.

It is a source of considerable interest and gratitude that Czech Radio has retained the original tapes of the Weber and Brahms works, and has kindly made them available for release by the Barbirolli Society – the interest being that this is a very rare surviving performance of Brahms’s C minor Symphony under Barbirolli’s baton – for there are only two other known recordings (either live or commercially taped) of the Symphony conducted by him. Whatever the combination of circumstances which led to this dearth of surviving interpretations, we should be thankful to the Czech engineers for capturing such a musically rare event.

The performances are remarkable for their intensity and structural cohesion, and, in the Weber overture, for the character and delicacy of the individual playing where called for. The spontaneous and enthusiastic ovation following each work here by the Czech audience demonstrated the truth of the comment by an observer at the time, who noted that at the conclusion of the Symphony, ‘Barbirolli had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand’.

The recordings are from the archives of Czech Radio and are published here for the first time.

COVER SJB1082 Czech PO

Barbirolli conducts the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra

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For Barbirolli, the 1950s and 60s became a golden age for his art and the gramophone, and his reputation became more widespread than those famous recordings of his from the 1930s with the London Philharmonic, London Symphony, and New York Philharmonic Orchestras which originallly established his name on disc. Having first visited the Prague Spring Festival in 1958 with the Hallé, making a considerable impact in the then communist country of Czechoslovakia (a concert from that visit is available on the Barbirolli Society label SJB 1083) a return engagement to Prague for Barbirolli became an urgent necessity – for him alone if necessary.

And so, almost two years later to the day, we can hear part of the programme he gave with the Czech Philharmonic in May 1960, comprising his own Elizabethan Suite and Mahler’s First Symphony. The Mahler is a performance of rare quality, the players responding to this late 19th-century evocation of their Bohemian provenance with demonstrable love and affection, keen to impress their distinguished conductor with their dedication to the recreation of this masterpiece. The remaining work in the programme was a Concerto for Two Pianos by Jan Dussek (released on CD by Supraphon) in which the soloists were František Maxián and Jan Panenka. For his second visit, Barbirolli spent more than a week in Prague, and nine days before conducting the concert recorded here, he was interviewed on Czech Radio (included as a bonus track on this CD), in which conversation he discussed his impressions of the Prague Spring Festival, the great Czech conductor Václav Talich (who was to die less than a year later) and the city itself.

The recordings are from the archives of Czech Radio and are published here for the first time.

COVER SJB1081 Rubbra

Barbiroilli conducts Rubbra

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In many ways, Rubbra’s Fifth Symphony may be considered his most immediately attractive. It was premiered on 26 January, 1949 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Adrian Boult at the Royal Albert Hall, but it was Sir John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra’s recording of the work under the auspices of the British Council – the first recording of any Symphony by Rubbra – which had a notable impact and substantially reinforced the composer’s name internationally. The recording was made in December 1950 at EMI’s No 1 Studio Abbey Road, London, with Rubbra present. Early commentators were at one in their admiration of Rubbra’s Fifth Symphony, The Times critic in particular singling out the impression that the symphony ‘accords with the famous definition that music is thinking in sound without concepts’, continuing that the ‘slow movement has a grave beauty that is impressive.’ Many also naturally referred to the solo horn tune which opens the Scherzo, noting its genuine instantaneous memorability. For such a work, no finer choice of interpreter could have been chosen than Barbirolli: the composer himself was forever fulsome in his praise of Barbirolli, and on more than one occasion said of his deep appreciation for what the conductor and his orchestra had revealed.

The Sixth Symphony was the result of a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society, and Barbirolli’s was clearly (if not quite the work’s second performance) one of the earliest accounts the Symphony had received up to that time. This CD includes a previously unpublished ‘live’ recording from the 1956 Cheltenham Festival – taken from Rubbra’s own private collection. What is quite clear, almost 60 years later, are the depth and concentrated power of Barbirolli’s reading of this great work. Here is music that has the compelling inner drive and utterly convincing grasp of the conductor’s perception – knowing where each phrase is going, and why – the result is a reading such as can never have been exceeded by those conductors drawn to this profound symphony. Barbirolli’s sense of organic growth is astonishingly convincing, his perception and understanding of this music being a practical demonstration of what Harold Truscott described as prerequisites for musicians approaching Rubbra’s music – ‘application and thought’ – here demonstrated by Barbirolli and his orchestra at the height of their powers.

Symphony No.6, Op.80
Hallé Orchestra conducted by Sir John Barbirolli
Cheltenham Festival, 17 July 1956 previously unpublished recording

Loth to depart
(Improvisations on Virginal Pieces by Giles Farnaby, Op.50, No.4)
Hallé Orchestra conducted by Sir John Barbirolli
No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, 15 December 1950

Symphony No.5 in B flat, Op.63
Hallé Orchestra conducted by Sir John Barbirolli
No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, 14 & 15 December 1950

COVER SJB1078-79 Mahler

Barbirolli conducts Mahler & Stravinsky

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By the time of his death, Sir John Barbirolli had conducted all the Mahler symphonies except the Eighth “Symphony of a Thousand”, and the reconstructed Tenth. He conducted the two completed movements of the Tenth (the Adagio and Purgatorio). Recordings are available for Nos.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9.He conducted the Adagietto of the Fifth on several occasions, the first of these being in New York. He performed the song-cycle Kindertotenlieder, with Elena Gerhardt at the Royal Philharmonic Society concert on 29 January 1931. He conducted it in Manchester in 1946 and several times later with Kathleen Ferrier (see the Barbirolli Society release SJB 1080).

In 1959 he decided to prepare the Ninth Symphony and the acclaim for his interpretation inaugurated 16 years of almost an obsession with Mahler. He repeated the Ninth in the next Hallé season and programmed it in Edinburgh, Sheffield, Leeds, Houston, Chicago and elsewhere. He conducted the Second in La Scala, Milan, for he was determined to spread the gospel of Mahler worldwide. In January 1963 he conducted the Ninth in Berlin, where Mahler’s music was little known. In 1965 he conducted the Second three times in Berlin with Janet Baker.

We are fortunate that this thrilling performance of the Resurrection Symphony, recorded on 12 March 1959 in the Free Trade Hall, with Victoria Elliot and Eugenia Zareska as soloists and the Hallé Orchestra and Choir, is now available for the first time.

Probably few people think of Barbirolli as a Stravinsky interpreter, but he regularly programmed a handful of works and did them impressively. The rhythms and colours of the Firebird and Petrushka ballets evoked some exciting performances. He gave excellent accounts of the Symphony in Three Movements and the more classic Symphony in C. The Symphony of Psalms was a favourite too if there was enough rehearsal time to do justice to the great work. It obviously had been well prepared for performance on the evidence of this disc taken from a broadcast from the Edinburgh Festival on 28 August 1957. The choir had to travel overnight from Manchester and arrived at Prince’s Street Station at 5am on a miserable cold and wet morning. Their spirits lifted when they saw the familiar figure, with his large hat and carrying his stick, waiting to greet them. He gives the music a reverential quality but does not indulge in any exaggerated religiosity. Typically, he probes the score for every ounce of lyricism without compromising the music’s baroque style.

Previously unpublished recordings

COVER SJB1080 Barbirolli Ferrier

Kathleen Ferrier and Sir John Barbirolli

SJB 1080

This CD presents musicians and music-lovers with a profound conundrum, made more inexplicable by the vivid reminder it brings of the loss to the world of the artistic qualities of Kathleen Ferrier. For it is her artistry that must surely strike us forcibly on being given the opportunity of coming into contact with these live performances from the late 1940s and early 1950s, thankfully preserved from BBC broadcasts. It is that reminder of what the world of music lost, when Ferrier died, a victim of the scourge of cancer, in October 1953 at the age of 41, bringing to a tragic end a career that barely traversed nine years.

She recorded Kindertotenlieder in London in October 1949, almost a year to the day after the performance on this CD took place on 13 October 1948 – a broadcast ‘live’ from Manchester’s Albert Hall. For those who know this work intimately, succeeding generations should be grateful that Ferrier’s account with Barbirolli has been preserved: it is a performance of great penetration and depth, such as to reveal exactly why Bruno Walter, on hearing Ferrier sing for the first time ‘…recognised with delight here was potentially one of the greatest singers of our time.’

Lennox Berkeley had written Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila in 1947 for contralto and string orchestra, expressly for Ferrier. As it was his first solo vocal work, Berkeley consulted with Ferrier during its composition, recalling that ‘she put herself at the service of the music.’ She gave the first broadcast performance at the end of April 1948 with the Arnold Goldsbrough Orchestra, and this subsequent performance from November 1949 under Barbirolli reveals the insight of both artists with music of their British contemporaries, more so perhaps as Ferrier never recorded the work commercially.

It seems that Sir John Barbirolli was responsible for introducing Ferrier to the Poeme de l’amour et de la mer by Ernest Chausson, setting a poem by Maurice Bouchor and composed between 1882 and 1890. Barbirolli played in the cello section of the orchestra at the work’s London premiere, on 29 May 1919 at Queen’s Hall, conducted by Geoffrey Toye. The recording on this CD comes from a performance in Manchester’s Deansgate in March 1951, and offers Ferrier’s superb account of this masterly score, a work which had obviously come to mean something very personal to her and to Barbirolli. A few days before Kathleen Ferrier died, the conductor visited her in hospital. He was clearly deeply moved on that occasion when she sang the opening of the Chausson (as Barbirolli recalled), ‘in a voice with all the bloom and tender ache of spring in it…the glory that was hers remained untouched.’

Mahler’s Kindertotenleider is a previously unpublished recording

COVER SJB1071-72 Dvorak Symphonies

Barbirolli conducts Dvorak

SJB 1071-72

Dvořák’s Seventh and Eighth Symphonies were recorded by the Mercury team (produced by the Americans Wilma Cozart and Harold Lawrence, with Robert Fine as recording engineer) at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. The ‘New World’ came last, in March 1959, with Douglas Terry as producer, and Robert Auger as engineer. The recording of Dvořák’s Scherzo Capriccioso preceded that of the Eighth Symphony by one day, and the three shorter Legends, from the ten which comprise Dvořák’s Opus 59 set, were taped in September 1958, being produced by John Snashall with Robert Auger once more as recording engineer. In fact, the two CDs which form this set from the Barbirolli Society constitute the first integral release of these three symphonies and their accompanying shorter works alone in their original stereophonic format for many years, and it is a measure of the quality of those original Pye/Mercury recordings that they would appear to the unknowing ear, to have been made far more recently.  

The British composer Robert Simpson, editor of the two-volume compendium The Symphony in 1966, wrote of Barbirolli’s recording of the Seventh Symphony: ‘Barbirolli gives a vivid and well disciplined account of the great D minor Symphony which, despite its neglect, is one of the greatest since Beethoven. Barbirolli succeeds in enlivening the music with inimitable touches of warmth and character.’ And in discussing the ‘New World’ recording, he wrote ‘A spontaneous, warm-hearted performance, unaffected and thoroughly musical. This is Barbirolli in his least uncomplicated form.’ The G major Symphony was issued first, in March 1958, the stereo recording being full of the richness and natural balance typical of the best of Mercury recordings from the 1950s, as we can hear on this latest transfer.

As such, the natural stereo sound, Mercury’s microphone technique securing Barbirolli’s instrumental balance unencumbered by technical interference, reinforces Robert Simpson’s comment of the conductor being captured ‘in his least uncomplicated form’. Direct, but never simple, Barbirolli reveals the nature of this positive and outward-looking symphony with rare insight and understanding.

Symphony No.7 in D minor, Op.70
Symphony No.8 in G, Op.88
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 ‘From the New World’
Legends, Op.59
Scherzo capriccioso

Hallé Orchestra
Recorded Free Trade Hall, Manchester
28 June 1957 (Scherzo capriccioso); 29 June 1957 (Symphony No.8); 8 August 1957 (Symphony No.7);
3 September 1958 (Legends); 31 March & 1 April 1959 (Symphony No.9)

COVER SJB1073-74 Tchaikovsky Symphonies

Barbirolli conducts Tchaikovsky

SJB 1073-74

Listening to the quality of these performances after more than 50 years, we can but regret that we do not have recordings of those first three Tchaikovsky symphonies under Barbirolli’s baton: the three later symphonies, in this 2-CD set, may be amongst the most popular and well-known in the entire orchestral repertoire, but they are each very different, one from another, and consequently pose quite different interpretative challenges, which not all conductors can meet with equal artistry. That Barbirolli was able to do so is demonstrated time and again in these recordings – for examples, such long stretches as the development in the first movement of No.6, the inner pulse of the middle movements of No.5 and the supreme majesty of the finale, together with the power Barbirolli unleashes at climactic moments in No.4 – plus a thrilling account of the Marche Slave – these are realisations such as would surely have excited the composer’s intense admiration, as they do for all of those who honour Tchaikovsky’s memory today, throughout the world.

Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.36
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.74 ‘Pathetique’
Marche slave, Op.31

Hallé Orchestra
Recorded Free Trade Hall, Manchester
22–24 May 1957 (Symphony No.4); 20–22 August 1958 (Symphony No.6);
30–31 March 1959 (Symphony No.5); 2 & 9 April 1959 (Marche slave)

COVER SJB1075-76 Elgar

Barbirolli conducts Elgar

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Elgar’s friend, the arts patron Frank Schuster wrote to the composer after Barbirolli’s 1927 debut concert with the London Symphony Orchestra performing the Second Symphony: ‘I must just tell you that to my thinking Barbirolli gave a remarkably good account of your No 2, playing it as it is written and, what’s more, as it is felt.’ The Enigma Variations was a work Barbirolli himself took wherever he went. It was a major part of his first New York Philharmonic programmes, and he included it in his debut concert at the Hollywood Bowl. In this 1956 stereo recording, his account is certainly in the highest class and is additionally notable for including Elgar’s optional organ part in the finale, the last variation EDU (No. 14 – a self-portrait), to impressive effect.

Of all the great musicians of the 20th-century to have come from the North of England, the contralto Kathleeen Ferrier has to be numbered as arguably the finest and best-loved. It was during World War II that she came to prominence. The Free Trade Hall in Manchester had been the home of the Hallé Orchestra prior to Barbirolli’s appointment, and it was reopened on November 16, 1951, the year of the Festival of Britain, the occasion being marked by a magnificent orchestral concert in which the concluding item was Kathleen Ferrier’s singing of Elgar’s ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. Reporting in the Manchester Guardian on the event, Norman Shrapnel wrote: ‘..lovers of this tune will fear that never again can they hope to hear it in such glory.’ Sixty years and more later, we have to agree with him.

Variations on an Original Theme (‘Enigma’), Op.36
Introduction and Allegro, Op.47
Serenade in E minor, Op.20
Dream Children No.1, Op.43, No.1
Cockaigne (In London Town) – Concert Overture, Op.40 (1949/50 recording)
Cockaigne (In London Town) – Concert Overture, Op.40 (1954 recording)
Symphony No.2 in E flat, Op.63
Land of Hope and Glory – Kathleen Ferrier, contralto (Ceremonial Opening of the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, 16 November 1951)
Hallé Orchestra
Recorded: No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London and Free Trade Hall, Manchester
30 April 1949 (Serenade); 15 December 1949 and 2 February 1950 (Cockaigne – CD1);
2 February 1950 (Dream Children); 1 September 1953 (Introduction & Allegro);
4 January 1954 (Cockaigne – CD2); 8–9 June 1954 (Symphony No.2);
21 and 23 June 1956 (Enigma Variations)