Sir John Barbirolli conducts Gold and Silver = Opus Kura

by | Nov 26, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Sir John Barbirolli conducts Gold and Silver = LEHAR: Gold and Silver, Op. 75 (2 versions); DEBUSSY: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun; TCHAIKOVSKY: Swan Lake–Ballet Suite; CHABRIER: Espana; DONIZETTI: Don Pasquale Overture; RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Capriccio Espagnole – Halle Orch./ Sir John Barbirolli – Opus Kura OPK 7057, 68:48 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Sir John Barbirolli (1899-1970) leads his responsive Halle Orchestras of Manchester in light music from diverse cultures from HMV originals that appeared on 78s, extended play 7,” and 10” vinyls. The last offering, a later performance of the Hungarian Lehar’s splendidly colorful Gold and Silver Waltz, appeared on the Pye label in 1957 and presents a slightly broader approach.
Barbirolli, for all his dedication to the music of Britain and Mahler, remained fond of light Viennese and Hungarian fare, what Beecham passed on as “lollipops.” The sonic homogeneity of the Halle in the opening 1952 Gold and Silver rendition proves lustrous, the horns, snare, and battery as royally militant as the waltz sequence is sensuous. The Debussy Prelude, despite relative briskness, evokes Mallarme’s poetic world of vaporous intimacy, the flute and harp in dreamily carnal collaboration.
The five excerpts from Swan Lake (rec. October 1950) present compelling testimony of the intensity Barbirolli could evince from his ensemble, especially principals violin Laurence Turner and cello Harold Beck. The mystical urgency of the opening Scene rivals what Fricsay achieved with his RIAS orchestra, and that says something. Wonderful bassoon play in the Dance of the Little Swans, buttressed by feathery string work. The magnificent harp cadenza that opens the Dance of the Queen of the Swans leads to Laurence Turner’s violin solo over the harp’s ostinato. Diaphanous woodwind play over pizzicati follows, then more of Turner in a gypsy vein. Cellist Beck joins the alchemical mix, and the impassioned duet sails into the posterity of fine collaborations. The Act I Waltz offers drama as well as breadth and inevitability of sonic line. The suite ends with the Hungarian Dance from Act 3, stylized and aristocratic, rife with pregnant pauses waiting to burst into fertile, hypnotic  motion.
If Sir Thomas Beecham considered the Chabrier Espana Rhapsody his private domain, then Sir John’s performance (rec. 1954) certainly proves a serious interloper, since the music has wit, drive, and  an acid tongue. The character piece moves with such flair and savoir faire, the strings, harp, triangle, and woodwinds in perfect symmetry, that we quite assume we behold a local Spanish feria. Donizetti (January 1954) offers Barbirolli an opportunity to exploit his own Italian roots and his penchant for opera. Cellist Beck opens the festivities with an aria supported by winds, plucked strings, and horn. The flute extends the melos, and tripping strings urge us into robust (Rossini-like) opera buffa in the kind of perfect ensemble that Barbirolli’s old predecessor at the New York Philharmonic, Arturo Toscanini, expected as a matter of artistic discipline.
The Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio espagnol (rec. December 1953) always provides a natural orchestral showpiece, and few recorded performances equal that of George Szell and his zealous Cleveland Orchestra. But Barbirolli’s lacks not a whit of stylish Spanish sentiment nor virtuoso ensemble from his various brass, wind, string, and battery elements. The five sections hold together resonantly, moving from the furious Alborada to a gripping Fandango in seamless transition. Principal Laurence Turner reminds us that Rimsky-Korsakov originally conceived his 1887 color composition as a possible violin fantasy with orchestra. The sheer bravura, the combination of speed and tonal, color, and dynamic frenzy places the Barbirolli Capriccio among the supreme versions available to us.  Crystal- clear transfers from producer S. Aihara.
—Gary Lemco

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