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BARBIROLLI conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra

SJB 1092-93
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.