John Barbirolli

Bax: Tintagel; Delius: The Walk to the Paradise Garden; A Song of Summer; Irmelin Prelude; La Calinda; In a Summer Garden; Ireland: A London Overture

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For lovers of English tone poems and fans of post-Romantic orchestral music at its most lush and expansive, these classic performances by Sir John Barbirolli are essential listening. Recorded in the 1960s with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Hallé Orchestra, the performances of works by Arnold Bax, Frederick Delius, and John Ireland have a slightly veiled quality due in part to EMI's conservative engineering, but also to some of the choices made by the conductor. Both orchestras have a somewhat muted tone in Barbirolli's interpretations, and the effect in most cases is appropriate to the mellow emotions of the pieces and their subtle orchestration. If any tracks are standouts, the 1965 performance Bax's Tintagel deserves pride of place for its rich scoring, stirring themes, and moody depiction of the famous castle on the Cornish coast. The vivid rendering of Ireland's A London Overture, recorded on the same date as Tintagel, also deserves high marks for its strong tone painting and rhythmic vitality. Delius' pieces are generally softer in their timbres and less clear-cut in their forms, often seeming like free rhapsodies on endlessly evolving melodies; to that end, Barbirolli brings out the flowing lyricism in The Walk to the Paradise Garden, and infuses A Song of Summer and In a Summer Garden with a similarly heightened songfulness. This 2007 reissue in the Great Recordings of the Century series has been fully remastered, so these performances sound as good as they ever will, and tape hiss and other incidental background noises have been minimized.

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