What can I say? What can I add to the peaens of praise already written??
Except this: I too grew up with Barbirolli's Sibelius. I will never, ever forget 'getting into' the Fifth Symphony for the very first time. This recording could well be the definitive version of this 'granite slab' of music - the word 'symphony' is almost inadequate. It is breathless, rapt, invigorating...alive.
One loves Sibelius - emotionally - for those unmatched moments in his works when your pulse quickens and your heart almost stops beating: the closing bars of both the 1st and 3rd movements of the Fifth Symphony; the bars where, in the achingly personal slow movement of the icy Fourth Symphony, Sibelius finally allows the mournful main theme to thaw out, flow from its imprisonment in the woodwind and then swell out, into the full orchestra - but all too briefly; the breathless sense of rising anticipation that one hears during the busy recapitulation in the opening movement of the Third (said by Sibelius to represent fog rolling in from the English Channel); also the powerful, rousing, climactic ending to the Third's brassy finale; the whole of the sublime Sixth Symphony, which one loves as one loves a shy friend; and the opening of the Seventh, as well as the choral-like ending, with its rapt sense of otherworldiness, that carries its spirit into realms that are beyond mere music. Sibelius fans will know exactly what I mean.
The Seventh Symphony could well rate as the second-greatest musical work of the 20th century. First place: La Mer.
When it comes to Sibelius, Barbirolli is your only man. The Halle Orchestra is the 'instrument' he plays, with utter virtuosity.
A love affair with this composer, this conductor and this orchestra is one that age will never dim.