MOZART: Symphony No. 36 in C, K. 425 "Linz"
STRAUSS: Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40
Sir John Barbirolli had a special association with the London Symphony. When only 20 he was one of its deputy cellists and, in December 1927, when Sir Thomas Beecham cancelled four days before a concert, the LSO invited Barbirolli to fill in, a major move upward in his conducting career. In 1944 he was invited to be their principal conductor, but he decided to stay with the HallÈ Orchestra, which he had just taken over the year before. Barbirolli often conducted and recorded with the LSO. It is suggested in the CD notes that this concert, given in Royal Festival Hall the afternoon of September 28, 1969, was his last concert with the LSO.
Barbirolli conducted Strauss's Don Quixote often, as well as Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel and Death and Transfiguration. He never conducted Also sprach Zarathustra, Sinfonia domestica or the Alpine Symphony. Heldenleben apparently was a favorite of his which he first conducted in the early '30s with the Scottish Orchestra. He also conducted it in Manchester in 1950 with the 120 players of the combined HallÈ and BBC Northern Orchestras. From the sound of the LSO on this live recording, it seems there were extra players -- this is grandiose Strauss, played vibrantly with "all the stops out." Brass playing is exemplary -- and beautifully captured by the BBC engineers. John Giorgiadis, leader of the LSO, described how, at Barbirolli's home, they went through the score note by note to ensure correct expression, phrasing and nuances.
A few days after the concert, Barbirolli and the LSO recorded Heldenleben in EMI's Abbey Road Studios, currently available in a Double Forte 2-CD set coupled with Barbirolli's Mahler Sixth with the New Philharmonia Orchestra (69349). That performance took 50:34, about 4 minutes longer than the live event. Both are shorter than the recent DGG issue of Sergiu Celibidache's November 1979 concert performance with the SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony, which takes a stultifying 52:08 - nine minutes longer than Fritz Reiner's 1954 RCA Chicago recording, about ten minutes longer than either of Willem Mengelberg's recordings. Inexplicably, the producers have assigned nine tracks to Heldenleben (as did Testament on the reissue of the Clemens Krauss Vienna recording) rather than the usual six.
Mozart's "Linz" symphony also was a favorite of Barbirolli's and he included it in his first concert with the New York Philharmonic in 1936. It is given a fine if a touch ragged performance -- probably most rehearsal time went to the Strauss. This CD, with its superb Heldenleben and bold, vibrant sound, is a far greater tribute to Sir John than the disappointing EMI set with the HallÈ Orchestra of symphonies and other works of Sibelius recorded from 1966-1970 (see R.D. review).
R.E.B. (Jan. 2001)