John Barbirolli

Bruckner: Symphony No. 7; Beethoven: Egmont Overture; Prometheus Overture

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With the profusion of excellent all-digital recordings of Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 in E major, probably the most popular of all his works, one might regard this 1967 recording by John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra as suitable only for music historians and dedicated collectors. Certainly, the excessively hissy analog sound, the narrow frequency range, the distorted orchestral tutti, and the occasional grunts, coughs, and humming that can be heard in the background of this live BBC performance are not inducements to purchase this disc, especially when so many clean, full-range, and noiseless recordings are readily available. However, once one has acquired one or two good contemporary recordings, there may be reasons why a budding Brucknerian might want to investigate legendary performances from the past, if only to understand how the music was once interpreted and understood. In Barbirolli's expansive reading, a leisurely rubato is detectable, and the attentive listener may find that the sound is more opaque and thicker than what is heard in many modern renditions. The emphasis was on a more homogenous ensemble blend than is usually heard nowadays, and Barbirolli's big-hearted, unabashed emotionalism was regarded then as utterly appropriate for this composer. One rarely encounters such a free, gushingly Romantic treatment anymore, and by recognizing how this music was frequently performed at mid-century (alas, even with the notorious cymbal crash and triangle roll in the Adagio!), this recording may aid our appreciation of today's scrupulous scholarship and the meticulous playing that comes from a deeper awareness of Bruckner's true intentions. The filler works -- Beethoven's Egmont Overture and Prometheus Overture -- are much cleaner in reproduction and reasonably straightforward in performance, though neither is ideally recorded nor particularly worth having, even to fill gaps in a collection.

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