By having an Italian father, a French mother and by being born in Victorian Bloomsbury, it seems that John Barbirolli set himself up for a life with a natural affinity for Italian, French and English music. It was an ideal pedigree for a poetic and sensitive musician.
The performances of French music on this disc were made during the 1950s – a vintage period with the Hallé Orchestra. His supreme conducting of Debussy can be heard in the Prélude – rich with poetic detail and a strong surge of sensuality floods the string tone, with red-blooded brass playing. There are plenty of musical jokes in Ibert’s Divertissement – Barbirolli extracts the fun but leaves the music with its own dignity.
The waltz-skit on The Blue Danube is an example of Ibert’s wit and who can resist the final chase with police whistles being blow amid the chaos? The Carnival of the Animals – a ‘grand zoological fantasy’ – was a popular item in the repertory of the famous piano duo Rawicz and Landauer. They are heard here in the 1954 HMV recording. Unusually, the famous Swan – a dignified and beautiful melody – is scored here for the whole cello section.
When Anna Pavlova danced the famous ‘Dying Swan’ at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1920, the solo cellist was none other than John Barbirolli. She was so pleased with his playing that she asked to meet him. When recounted the incident in later years he said: ‘She had a grip of iron – nearly broke all my fingers!’.
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