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.