Sir John BARBIROLLI conducts = SIBELIUS:  Symphony No. 6; NIELSEN:  Symphony No. 4 – The Hallé Orch. – HDTT 

by | May 25, 2017 | Classical Reissue Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Sir John BARBIROLLI conducts = SIBELIUS:  Symphony No. 6; NIELSEN:  Symphony No. 4 – The Hallé Orchestra – HDTT [various formats including hi-res PCM & DSD from] [Reviewed from DSD64 files], TT:  64:33

Barbirolli shines in two works from Scandinavia.

Sir John Barbirolli (1899-1970) was born in London; his father and grandfather were violinists at La Scala, Milan and young John learned the violin, too.  He changed to playing the cello as a small boy and was taught first at Trinity College, London, then at the Royal Academy of Music.  By sixteen, he was a cellist in Sir Henry Wood’s Queen’s Hall Orchestra.  After the First World War, he continued playing in various orchestras; in addition, he appeared as soloist in concertos (he was an early adopter of Elgar’s Cello Concerto) and in a couple of string quartets.

After gaining a lot of experience conducting in the concert hall and opera house, he formed his own chamber orchestra, the Barbirolli Chamber Orchestra, with whom he made recordings for HMV.  He got an excellent reputation as accompanist in London for top soloists, and his recordings with Heifetz, Kreisler and Rubinstein won him much praise internationally.  After a few years as chief conductor of the Scottish National Orchestra, he was appointed Toscanini’s successor in New York where he was rather more successful than some naysayers give him credit for.  Again,  recordings of high quality from Columbia and live concert recordings are testament to his achievements in New York.

A certain amount of homesickness and uneasiness being away from Britain during the early years of the Second World War saw give up the prestigious New York post and return home during the darkest days of the War to a decimated Hallé Orchestra in Manchester and being presented with the job of rebuilding the orchestra almost from scratch.  While it never reached the standards of virtuosity of the New York Philharmonic, it certainly produced more than respectable results.

On this release from HDTT, Barbirolli’s affinity for music from Scandinavia is on show.  Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4,”The Inextinguishable”, here gets its first stereo recording and a pretty decent performance at that.  It’s both taut and exciting, and the timpani, out in the front, are most impressive.  Recorded by Pye records18-19 September 1959 in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, the sound had early criticism for somewhat cavernous sound, blunting details. This release, from a commercial reel, while sounding a trifle dated and occasionally a little congested, still sounds well enough overall, and Barbirolli followers will be pleased to have this excellent performance in as good sound as this.

Barbirolli made many recordings of the music of Sibelius over a long period, and the Sixth Symphony offered here comes from the end of Glorious John’s career.  During the late 1960s and during 1970 he set down the whole cycle, still much loved all these years later.  The Sixth was one of the more successful readings in the cycle and the Hallé, especially the strings, are largely in very good shape.  Romantic, intense when needed, Barbirolli’s performance brings the outdoors feeling to the fore.  This work featured in his last concert in Manchester around the time of the recording, and Barbirolli, already very ill, was to die a couple of months afterwards.

Recorded rather later than the Nielsen, the sessions for Sibelius’ Sixth date from 21-22 May 1970 and it was set down in the Kingsway Hall. London, and produced by EMI’s famous pair, Christopher Bishop, producer, and Christopher Parker, engineer.  The sound quality here is really very good indeed, HDTT’s mastering to DSD ensuring something of an analog feeling to the results.  All in all, a welcome reminder of Barbirolli’s art.

—Peter Joelson

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