John Barbirolli

Barbirolli Live Recordings, 1937-1943

(CD - Guild Historical #2330/31)

Review by

If you admire the conducting of John Barbirolli, you'll have to check out this first-rate set of performances drawn from his time with the New York Philharmonic in the late '30s and early '40s. Included here are three large-scale works here -- a 1939 Franck Symphony, a 1937 Debussy Iberia, and a 1939 Brahms Double Concerto with violinist Albert Spalding and cellist Gaspar Cassadò -- plus five shorter works and even a bonus track to document the English conductor's time with the American orchestra. Arturo Toscanini, the orchestra's Italian conductor, had peremptorily resigned in spring 1937, and Barbirolli, a promising newcomer at 36, was offered a six-year contract. As the evidence of these recordings demonstrates, the orchestra sounded great under Barbirolli with rich colors, a strong tone, a rich sound, a polished ensemble, and a precise attack. And as proved by their performance, the players clearly loved Barbirolli. After years under the irascible Italian, Barbirolli's honest humanity won him the orchestra's open affection, and their performances here have a glowing warmth that their performances for Toscanini cannot touch. Barbirolli in his youth was a cellist-turned-conductor whose enormous enthusiasm was no less than his immense talent, and these performances are astoundingly passionate and astonishingly virtuosic. Check out the extraordinary power of the climax of Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini Overture, the ravishing sonorities in Griffes' The White Peacock, or the robust rhythms of the closing Vivace non troppo of Brahms Concerto. In every way, these performances show that Barbirolli was his own man and his own musician -- and a man and a musician not one bit less worthy as Toscanini. Guild's sound is exceedingly antique and spotted with technical glitches, but clear enough to let the performances shine through.

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