Guild Historical GHCD 2320, 55:30 (Distrib. Albany) ****:
From the Promenade Concert, Royal Albert Hall, London, 24 August 1954, we have a thoroughly charming and graceful program of one hour duration led by the ever-enthusiastic John Barbirolli (1899-1970) and his orchestra of choice, the Halle of Manchester. We open with a piece of sturm und drang, Haydn’s 1779 Overture to his opera L’Isola Disabitata, with its four main characters and no chorus. Some turbulent affects finally give way to a happy ending, as Constanza is reunited with Gernando. Next, from the Master’s oratorio The Creation, a fine, Bristol-born lyric tenor, David Galliver (d. 2001), intones an extended aria celebrating the creation of Man in God’s own image. Galliver, by the way, performed at the Australian premier of the Britten War Requiem in 1964.
The major work is the familiar Brahms C Minor Symphony, here realized in vivid colors – quite close in the miking – in carefully etched, poised phrases, the grinding of the strings and tympani close to Furtwaenglerish growls in his 1950s readings of the score. Beautifully hewed gradations to the first movement recapitulation from the Halle, the oboe in particular of exquisite, penetrating power. Woodwinds and plucked strings in fine harmony, and the big cello line, a silky diminuendo to the French horn, then the three-note fate motif and its syncopes to the resolute coda and the dissolution of fiercely antagonistic energies. Grand passions and expansive interior landscapes mark the second movement Andante sostenuto, the oboe prominent, as well as coughing that is never quite on the beat. Heavy breathing from strings, upper and deep basses, vast sighs underscored by the tympani. The solo violin weeps while the French horn and pizzicati move the valediction towards the solace of Nature. The sonics for the Un poco allegretto e grazioso are distant, but the chirps and gurgles of the woodwinds convey a classical pantheism in 5-bar phrases. The intensity becomes palpable for the trio, then Barbirolli has the figures scurry, pizzicato e grazioso, to the ephemeral last chords.
The Adagio of the finale opens with metaphysical yearning, the audience coughs reminders of mortality. Deep growls from the string basses as the music swoops upward towards the French horn from the Black Forest. The antiphonal flute moves us to the first of several pantheistic hymns. The big theme, Beethoven’s Tenth, rolls out with warm leisurely cellos and defined pizzicati in the basses. The ensuing swagger has more of the Academic Festival Overture than Greek tragedy, but the stretti keep moving until flute and horn clear the air for the strings. Oboe and flute now clash with tympani and strings until we end the first period in a breathless rush. The big tune starts the second period broadly, all kinds of chirrups beneath. Barbirolli lunges into the sonata-form and fugal procedures with a relish worthy of that other influence, the Mediterranean Toscanini. A terrific momentum follows building inexorably to the huge climax on the horn call motif, the Brahms version of Valhalla. The last period enters, cellos and woodwinds, quick time, swoops worthy of Koussevitzky, the strings abuzz until the tympanic thunder on three chords. Sweet mysteries for the coda, the Halle tympani fired up now, and Barbirolli totally committed to a ride for the Abyss or Glory. We have only 18 seconds of applause, but collectors can relish much longer the addition of this Halle Brahms C Minor to the Barbirolli legacy.
— Gary Lemco