SJB 1088

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.