John Barbirolli

Franck: Symphony in D minor; Dusik: Concerto for Two Pianos

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For hardcore fans of warm-hearted John Barbirolli, this disc of his performances with the Czech Philharmonic in Prague from the early '60s will be quite interesting. Because while Barbirolli did make most of his recordings in England for EMI and made most of those with the Hallé Orchestra, he did make recordings with other international orchestras as well. There are his deeply moving French National Orchestra recording of Debussy's La Mer and his profoundly affecting Berlin Philharmonic recording of Mahler's Ninth as examples of his ability to transform any orchestra into his own great-hearted ensemble. But what, Barbirolli fans wanted to know, would he sound like conducting the warm-hearted Czech Philharmonic?

He would sound like this 1962 recording of Franck's Symphony in D minor: big-hearted but sloppy with soaring melodies played but slightly out-of-sync strings, rousing climaxes played by brazen but marginally blatant brass, and touching harmonies played by piquant but vaguely colored woodwinds. Whether it was because the orchestra was unfamiliar with Barbirolli or vice versa, this recording of Franck's Symphony is not quite together, not quite convincing, and often quite embarrassing as orchestra and conductor try, with the best will in the world, to play together and simply do not succeed. The 1960 recording of Jan Dussek's Concerto for 2 pianos is just as disjointed but with the addition of Frantisek Maxian and Jan Panenka's skittering and sliding pianos adding to the aural confusion. Supraphon's sound is obviously old but still wonderfully real. This disc is only for the hardest of hardcore fans of John Barbirolli.

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