Sir John Barbirolli conducts Russian Favorites = RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Capriccio espagnol; LIADOV: Enchanted Lake; TCHAIKOVSKY: Swan Lake: 5 Scenes; Romeo and Juliet–Overture Fantasy in B Minor; Marche Slav – Halle Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli – Guild

by | Feb 21, 2008 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Sir John Barbirolli conducts Russian Favorites = RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Capriccio espagnol, Op. 34; LIADOV: Enchanted Lake, Op. 62; TCHAIKOVSKY: Swan Lake, Op. 20: 5 Scenes; Romeo and Juliet–Overture Fantasy in B Minor; Marche Slav, Op. 31 – Halle Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli

Guild GHCD,  67:13  (Distr. by Albany) ****:

Culled from HMV and Pye sources–with the cooperation of The Barbirolli Society– these spirited traversals of standard Russian fare led by Sir John Barbirolli (1899-1970) date from 1950-1959 in mono sound except for the Marche Slav (April 1959) in stereo. The concert opens with an idiomatically lilting reading of Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral showpiece in its first CD release, Capriccio espagnol (20 December 1953) taped for HMV and featuring Laurance Turner in the solo violin part. Snare drum and harp receive no direct credit, but their sonic participation proves delightfully present. The string attacks and horn punctuations, feral and vividly pungent, rival the inscription George Szell made in Cleveland that long remained my personal favorite in this volatile music. The fandango bristles with whirling, color excitement at every turn–“veronica” would be a more appropriate term.

From a 23 December 1953 recording from Free Trade Hall, Manchester (also for HMV) comes an item new to CD, Liadov’s sultry mood piece, Enchanted Lake, long a Koussevitzky staple with the BSO.  The languor–likely derivative of Wagner’s Forest Murmurs–floats in a luxurious sea of undulating sound. The Halle strings and winds pipe, chirp, and sigh in mystical fashion, an inspired miniature. The brief, previously unissued suite from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is the earliest of the inscriptions (17 October 1950) on this disc, taped at Kingsway Hall, London for HMV. Barbirolli opens with the famous oboe and strings scene that Fricsay also favors in his DGG version from around the same period. Barbirolli drives the full string statement hard, the trumpets ablaze and the bass fiddles palpitating. We move to the harp introduction to the Dance of Queen of the Swans from Act II, with its lovely violin solo with harp obbligato that eventually adds the cello for a wonderful duet. A pert bassoon-led Dance of the Little Swans leads to the big Waltz from Act I, rife with rubato sentimentale. Here, I wish Barbirolli had taken repeats. Finally, an earthy version of the Hungarian Dance, the Act III Csardas stealthily paced, adding a bit more briskness through each statement of the lassu until it reaches critical mass and boils over in a flurry of virtuoso dervishes, interrupted by a pregnant pause.

Barbirolli kept a soft spot for Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet, here inscribed in Manchester 13 June 1957. The conception is broad but not inflated, with lovely touches from harp, flute, strings, and brass. Striking attacks and tympani pedal for the street brawl between Montagues and Capulets. Several gorgeous statements of the love theme and the polyphonic development section, then the exalted closing pages in their anguished lament for this “tale of woe” in the strong, tumultuous coda, not the softer version Stokowski favored. I have lived with Marche Slav ever since I owned the 78 rpm account with Rodzinski, later favoring the feverish New York Philharmonic rendition with Mitropoulos. Barbirolli opts for a version played for ceremonial pomp. The middle section with snare drum and pizzicato strings carries a real brass-band-fanfare effect. Nice triplets in the brass, the whole quite rousing as it carries the tune God Save the Tsar.

–Gary Lemco

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