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Sir John Barbirolli conducts Sibelius, Schubert & Britten
Saal 1, Funkhaus, Cologne, 7 February 1969
Sir John Barbirolli (1899–1970), born in London of Italian and French parentage, is remembered above all as conductor of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, which he helped save from dissolution in 1943 and conducted for the rest of his life. Earlier in his career he was Arturo Toscanini’s successor as music director of the New York Philharmonic, serving from 1936 to 1943. He was also chief conductor of the Houston Symphony from 1961 to 1967, and was a guest conductor of many other orchestras, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic, with all of which he made recordings.
Both in the concert hall and on record, Barbirolli was particularly associated with the music of English composers such as Elgar, Delius and Vaughan Williams. His interpretations of other late-Romantic composers, such as Mahler and Sibelius, as well as of Classical and early-Romantic composers, including Schubert, are also very much admired.
These recordings have never been released on CD before.
They represent live accounts of music by composers with whom Barbirolli was very much associated, notably Schubert and Sibelius.
Barbirolli never recorded Britten’s Serenade for tenor, horn and strings, so the present release represents a new addition to his large discography. It features the wonderful singing of Gerald English, who was closely associated with Britten, and the great horn-playing of the German master Hermann Baumann.
The only other recording Barbirolli made of Schubert’s Symphony No.4 was with the New York Philharmonic in 1939, so this 1969 live performance with the KRSO in excellent stereo is essential for any collector in this great conductor’s work.
Even though Barbirolli made four studio recordings of the Sibelius Symphony No.2, this performance in Cologne is live and has extra adrenalin and excitement.
“The rarity here is a compelling performance of Britten’s Serenade...[English's] vocal timbre is clear, well-enunciated and youthful, contrasting with Barbirolli’s weighty, autumnal take on the piece...Barbirolli’s defiantly trenchant, smouldering Schubert 4 is a guilty pleasure. Better still is the conductor’s final performance of a favourite work, Sibelius’s Symphony no 2. Craggy, expansive and heartfelt, this is a supremely enjoyable, moving experience.” The Arts Desk, 13th April 2013
“We don't think of Barbirolli as specially associated with Britten's music...His response to the Serenade for tenor, horn and strings's range of sounds and moods is memorable nonetheless...Sibelius's Second Symphony is here an exemplary display of how to generate an enthralling voltage-level from the podium without pulling the music about.” BBC Music Magazine, June 2013 ***
“the mixture of affection and drive in the performance [of the Schubert] makes for real pleasure...Gerald English sings with great subtlety, ease in the upper register, clear diction and an understanding of the music’s style...[the Sibelius] remains a performance that any admirer of the conductor will want to hear.” MusicWeb International, 23rd May 2013
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Schubert: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4
After their acclaimed recording of the complete Beethoven symphonies in a new musical guise, a highly-regarded cycle of Richard Strauss's tone poems, the complete Mahler symphonies and a number of other musical projects with which they attracted widespread attention, David Zinman and the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich now devote themselves to the symphonies of Franz Schubert. We began with 2 volumes – one containing Symphonies 1&2, and the second containing the 7th Symphony, and this is now followed by the brand new recording of Symphonies 3 & 4, released on 2nd July 2012.
“Listening to these sprightly performances under Zinman — 76 years old, but hardly veteran-sounding — one has to concur with Dvorak’s astonishment that the young Schubert could express himself with such “deep pathos”.” Sunday Times, 12th August 2012
“There's certainly a lightness and litheness to the way that he and the orchestra launch into the opening movement of the D major Third, though the textures are still fairly dense, without any of the transparency that period instruments would bring to this music. The performance of the Fourth, in C minor, goes for broke and ratchets up the tragic intensity as much as it can.” The Guardian, 15th August 2012 ***
“Zinman brings such a musicianly personality to everything he touches: phrasing and articulation are completely natural, without a trace of the overemphatic leanness of period instrument performance, but equally avoiding the lugubriousness of 20th century tradition...he captures the wit and lilt of the Third Symphony, in a way that makes it sound like a young cousin of Haydn’s ultra-civilised London symphonies.” Financial Times, 18th August 2012 ****
“The Fourth Symphony quickly sheds the gloom of its opening Adagio, and, though Zinman is too smooth an operator to capture its breakneck audacity, it’s a handsome, rewarding performance.” The Independent, 14th October 2012 ****
“Zinman and his expert band give predictably athletic, tightly disciplined performances of two contrasting early Schubert Symphonies...With sparing string vibrato, crisp, no-nonsense tempi and valveless trumpets and horns, the performances have a period feel.” Gramophone Magazine, November 2012
“Zinman presents these two very different symphonies engagingly. There’s sensitivity to their flowing lines, a welcome lack of affectation in Symphony 3 and an intelligent clarification of the ambivalence of Symphony 4. It’s just a pity he hasn’t quite managed Abbado’s capability of creating really thrilling finales.” MusicWeb International, March 2013
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Schubert: The Symphonies Volume 1
Between 1976 and 1978, Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra made recordings of the complete Schubert symphonies for Decca, as well as some of the incidental music for Rosamunde. Other than the Schumann symphonies, it was the only symphony cycle this tremendous Decca artist made for the label. The recordings were all made in the Mann Auditorium and were all produced by Ray Minshull, who, together with John Culshaw and Christopher Raeburn, worked extensively with Mehta during his exclusive Decca years. 29 April 2011 marks the 75th birthday of Zubin Mehta and this cycle is being issued as a homage to this great musician in his birthday year. Volume 1 contains the first four symphonies as well as the mighty Eighth, the ‘Unfinished’.
“The weighty approach works most convincingly in the Tragic Symphony.” BBC Music Magazine, October 2011 ***
“vital, well-styled” Gramophone Magazine (Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2)
“Mehta secures neat, articulate, musically fluent performances from his Israeli orchestra and the Decca engineers reproduce them with admirable lucidity and absence of fuss” Gramophone Magazine (Symphonies Nos. 4 & 8)
“Mehta directs a performance well inside the Viennese tradition … crisply pointed readings admirably suited to these youthful inspirations.” Gramophone Magazine (Symphony No. 3)
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Schubert: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5
Since 2011 Sir Roger Norrington has been The Stuttgart RSO’s Conductor Laureate, so remains committed to the orchestra. These recordings of Schubert symphonies continue their successful partnership.
“For all his occasional idiosyncrasies, Norrington's freshness and imagination in Schubert are always compelling. If your taste is for period-style performances, this coupling, brilliantly played and finely recorded, has no rivals.” Gramophone Magazine, November 2012
“Norrington delivers an impressively austere account of No. 4's dramatic slow introduction, and his performances throughout are imbued with characteristic insight and intelligence. Only his easy-going view of the Fifth Symphony's minuet is curiously at variance with the music's character.” BBC Music Magazine, Christmas 2012 ***
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Schubert: Symphonies Nos. 4, 8 & 9
“ Klemperer was aware of the sheer beauty of the music, but his usual care over articulation, balance and phrasing makes the listener even more conscious of the way in which the composer builds up his large-scale structures and textures from the repetition and variation of the smallest phrases.” MusicWeb International, June 2012
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Rafael Kubelik conducts Schubert & Mahler
Kubelik was the first conductor born after Mahler’s death to display a lasting commitment to his music in Salzburg. In 1959, together with the Venna Philharmonic and excellent soloists, he offered a compelling programme that paired Mahler with Schubert. The symphony, with its melancholic opening movement and pugnacious closing Allegro, led seamlessly into the fatalistic drinking song at the beginning of the Mahler and into the ensuing movements.
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Carlo Maria Giulini conducts Schubert, Debussy, Franck & Rossini
In February 1969 Giulini presented a programme with a particularly intelligent compilation. Rossini's overture to Semiramide, Symphony No.4 by Schubert, Psyché et Éros by César Franck and La Mer (Debussy) outlined the development from classical music to Impressionism, with each composition already relating to the next one. On 15 February 1969 Joachim Matzner's critique in Die Welt was entitled "Drama and utmost sensitivity". He went on to say that there was hardly another conductor who could combine a melody so sensitively with dramatic tension. "All the melodic phrases, no matter how aristocratic and subtle his conducting, were threedimensional, the counterpoints, rather than being just an additional part were true to their name, defining accents were deployed. And yet, even when the music was intensified almost to the limit, in Giulini's hands it sounded fundamentally unostentatious – neither blurred nor conspicuous. His rendering of Debussy's La Mer in all its marvellous flexibility, its transparency, its colours that never took on a life of their own, made it one of the grandest events to have been put on in Berlin's concert halls for many a year." On 21 February 1969 Rudolph Ganz, writing in the Frankfurter Rundschau, started by praising the intelligent compilation of the programme. Of the overture to Semiramide he wrote that it was no jolly piece of noise but a paragon of precision; Schubert's Symphony No.4, dubbed by the composer the 'Tragic', was just that – neither pompous nor bathetic, but nervous and tense. The romantic climax was Franck's brief fragment Psyché et Éros and Eros and the thrilling finale was La Mer, which was "... extraordinarily animated and vivid. Here again Giulini's tense precision that missed not a single detail of the score was paramount, yet he coaxed a supreme performance from the musicians of the Philharmonic Orchestra." From the booklet note by Helge Grünewald
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