Sir John Barbirolli conducts Boston Symphony Orchestra

by | May 19, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Sir John Barbirolli conducts Boston Symphony Orchestra

Program: An Elizabethan Suite (arr. Barbirolli); DELIUS: The Walk to
the Paradise Garden; WALTON: Partita for Orchestra; BRAHMS: Symphony
No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73
Studio: VAI DVD 4304
Video: 4:3 Black&White
Audio: Mono PCM
Length: 94 minutes
Rating: ****

From 1957 through 1979, WGBH-TV co-produced more than 175 Boston
Symphony Orchestra concerts to be distributed to public television
stations. Recorded on two-inch videotape and 16mm kinescopes, more than
100 programs remain in the Archives of the Boston Symphony Orchestra
and WGBH Educational Foundation. Due to the fragility and deteriorating
condition of the originals, the programs proved inaccessible prior to
the reformatting process that has now made them available to the DVD

Sir John Barbirolli (1899-1970) appears in a telecast from Sanders
Theatre, Harvard University, 3 February 1959, with music dear to his
heart and intellect. These are his first appearances with the BSO,
having made his debut in this program 30-31 January. Sporting a long
baton, Barbirolli reveals the fluid stick technique that elicits fluid
reponse from the BSO players. The shimmering moments from his
arrangement of The King’s Hunt section of An Elizabethan Suite is a
lovely case in point, with the dynamics at ppp and Barbirolli’s coaxing
nuances through facial expression. The Delius Walk to the Paradise
Garden from A Village Romeo and Juliet has a grand sweep and leisure,
with Barbirolli’s relishing big gestures, and the camera panning
throughout the various string, harp and woodwind choirs, with an
occasional double exposure of the conductor and the harp in the frame.

Walton’s three-part Partita for Orchestra had as its impetus a
commission from George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, so if this is
not its premier at the BSO it has to be among the early performances.
The brass section simply shines throughout the energetic antics of this
piece, and so the camera gives it full exposure, occasionally drawing
back to provide a long shot of Barbirolli’s leading the full orchestra
in one of several explosive moments. At the conclusion of the Partita,
Barbirolli graciously accepts applause, tipping his hand in a salute to
the full orchestra, who tap their bows appreciatively.

The Brahms D Major Symphony, a Barbirolli staple, has both tension and
sympathy between conductor and orchestra, with loving cello warmth and
winsome playing from the principal flute, Doriot Anthony Dwyer. The
camera angle overhead is above Barbirolli’s favored cello section.
Driving energy to the recapitulation in the first movement has us
looking at oboe, flute, and then full string and tympani complement,
savoring a muscular interpretation that does not lack for tender
intimacy. The final bars elicit glowing figures from horns James
Stagliano, Charles Yancich, and Harry Shapiro, along with Roger
Voisin’s trumpet. The Adagio is molded along plastic and energized
lines, with startling punctuations from the brass, the camera zooming
in on the horn, bassoon, and oboe; note that the secondary theme has a
marked marcato character that I found noteworthy. After a lithe
Allegretto grazioso (in which there are not so much pitch drop-outs as
dynamic swoops in sound-level), the Allegro con spirito fianle has
Barbirolli at his most aristocratic, feet planted apart, head, neck,
and shoulders all invoking the orchestra to ever-more passionate
outbursts and achieving a rousing peroration that brings down exciting,
unanimous applause.

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