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Barbirolli Conducts Sibelius

4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Composer: Jean Sibelius
  • Audio CD (26 Jun. 2000)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Barbirolli Edition
  • ASIN: B00004TQPX
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 456,068 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Symphony No. 2: Allegretto
  2. Symphony No. 2: Tempo Andante, Ma Rubato
  3. Symphony No. 2: Vivacissimo
  4. Symphony No. 2: Finale (Allegro Moderato)
  5. The Swan Of Tuonela
  6. Symphony No. 7: Adagio - Vivace - Presto - Adagio

Disc: 2

  1. Symphony No. 1 In E Minor, Op. 39: Andante, Ma Non Troppo - Allegro Energico
  2. Symphony No. 1 In E Minor, Op. 39: Andante (Ma Non Troppo Lento)
  3. Symphony No. 1 In E Minor, Op. 39: Scherzo (Allegro)
  4. Symphony No. 1 In E Minor, Op. 39: Finale: Quasi Una Fantasia (Andante - Allegro Molto)
  5. Symphony No. 5 In E Flat, Op. 82: Tempo Molto Moderato - Allegro Moderato - Presto
  6. Symphony No. 5 In E Flat, Op. 82: Andante Mosso, Quasi Allegretto
  7. Symphony No. 5 In E Flat, Op. 82: Allegro Molto - Un Pochettino Largamente

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Many people will be familiar with Barbirolli's later EMI stereo cycle of Sibelius symphonies, made in the 1960s with the wonderful Halle Orchestra. Those recordings are very accomplished in their own right, however, if you want to hear a younger, more energetic Barbirolli in Sibelius, then you should certainly check out these fantastic recordings.

Symphonies 2 and 7 were originally issued as mono HMV recordings, whilst the 1st and 5th are early stereo recordings made by Pye. The sound quality is very good and in fact the balance in the mono recordings is slightly better I would say. All but the 7th Symphony were recorded in Manchester's Free Trade Hall.

As these recordings were made between 1949 and 1957 we get to hear a slightly younger, more impulsive Barbirolli, who isn't afraid to push the tempo in certain movements - to thrilling effect. If you're sometimes irritated by the slightly ponderous approach towards certain symphonies in the later EMI cycle, then you should definitely check out these earlier recordings. All the Barbirolli trademarks are here - highly personalised, romantic readings that are full of rugged, earthy playing from the Halle. Yet there are also some very virtuosic performances here as well - the orchestra may not have had the corporate elan of their London counterparts, but they certainly knew how to play Sibelius in the 1950s and '60s. In fact I would say that back then they probably could have given some of the more famous orchestras a run for their money in this repertoire.

Starting with the 7th, which was recorded in 1949, we get to hear Barbirolli shaping the opening Adagio section in a manner that suggests an image of slow-moving tectonic plates.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars 2 reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Star Performances/Four Star Sound 21 Mar. 2001
By Scott D. Harris - Published on Amazon.com
This is one of the best Barbirolli Society releases to appear thus far. Barbirolli and the Halle Orchestra were well-known as Sibelian interpreters throughout their time togther; this double disc captures their single symphony recordings made for EMI (HMV) and Pye Records during the 1950's. All of these recordings save the 7th Symphony were done in Manchester's Free Trade Hall; all save Symphonies 1 and 5 are in mono. The mono recordings are from HMV, the stereo are from Pye in what must have been some of the very first stereo efforts in the recording industry.
Let me say at the outset that these are all great performances. Barbirolli, at least for me, captures the Sibelian idiom very well in these recordings. Particularly notable are the 1st Symphony, the Swan of Tuonela, and the 2nd Symphony. The Halle plays intensely for Glorious John and there is almost no slack in tension throughout this set, despite the years separating many of the recordings.
A word about the sound - the Pye recordings have been very well-remastered by Dutton Laboratories - they betray only a mild loss of bass, but exhibit great clarity in the treble registers, along with an acceptable level of air around the orchestra. At times, though, the HMV mono recordings sound fuller, more rich and well-balanced. Overall, a "must-have" for anyone interested in Sibelius or this conductor.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Historically interesting 19 Mar. 2005
By Charles T. Neal - Published on Amazon.com
Strangely, the monaural disc is by far the better of this two-CD collection. The orchestra is better balanced and Barbirolli's Sibelius interpretations are much closer to "definitive" than on the stereo disk. Barbirolli well accomplished the difficult task of making sense out of Sibelius' seventh symphony, a one-movement work which shows him to have been a true twentieth-century composer, not just a late romantic, nationalistic throwback. Sir John brought out those twists of harmony and orchestration which make the listener raise his eyebrows and say "been listening to a little Shostakovitch here and there, Jean, old man?" His rendition of the second symphony is superb, and any deviations from what we might expect from the later great conductors are on the up-tempo side, which I found to be an exciting improvement. True, it's hard to go wrong with the second, as it's arguably the best-known and most-played of the Sibelius symphonies. In places of Slavic or Scandinavian heritage from Murmansk to South Dakota, it's at least within the experience of a secondary school orchestra student. I'm sure thousands have heard the conjured-up tale of how the processional part of the finale supposedly represents Finnish prisoners of war trudging home from Russia through the snowbound forests -- a tale likely invented by school conductors to placate the unfortunate cello or bassoon student who had to play all those repetitive scales, rolling under the melodic line (I was the latter, a bassoon student, and found my part quite an exercize in endurance and attentiveness, at about age 16). Barbirolli captured that and so much more; this finale doesn't have those places that just sort of lie there within your hearing, it MOVES, it flows. The same is true of the other movements. The scherzo in particular has a measure of extra life to it not found in other interpretations. And the orchestra is well balanced, here, in spite of the monaural recording. Particularly impressive is the full, rich, dark sound of the oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, perfect for Sibelius. That includes an English Horn soloist for "the Swan of Tuonela" who is of similar caliber to the great Louis Rosenblatt, who sounded much the same with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Ormandy.

Sadly, the first disk is a disappointment compared to the second. The notes say that Barbirolli once said "we don't play Sibelius just for the Finns," to which I'm tempted to retort, "No, you didn't play it as WELL as the Finns, or for that matter, the Swedes." If you've heard Jukka-Pekka Saraste's rendition of the first symphony with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Barbirolli's is sadly lacking by comparison, most notably in plodding tempos and poor orchestral balance. Some of that might be the recording technique -- strangely, it seems that the engineer's idea of "stereo" was to imbed the microphones at two different places in the first violin section, so that the violins overpower everything else. Particularly in the first symphony, one wishes for a separate volume control for the woodwinds and especially the brass. Sibelius without good, solid brass sounds musically emasculated, and this recording sounds like the brass (and woodwinds) are playing in the studio next door, compared to the overpowering violins. But we can't blame the engineers for Barbirolli's choice of tempi. These two symphonies are good candidates for "most plodding, lifeless Sibelius" I've ever heard. It's the exact opposite of the rousing up-tempo rendition he gave of the second symphony. The expansive grandeur of the finale of the fifth is caught, all right, but at the expense of any sense of direction. That gorgeous triple-meter horn theme we all know and love doesn't come off, partly because the horns are so far from the microphone and partly because of Barbirolli's plodding tempo. The same is true throughout his rendition of the first. Passages which have a near waltz-like lilt under other conductors sound more like unhurried, stately classical minuets here. Barbirolli's rendition of the fifth is quite inferior, say, to Esa Pekka Salonen's recording with the Philharmonia on the old CBS Masterworks label (which is a thrilling recording, the kind that sends chills of awe up the spine).

In summation: you get a most accessible Seventh, a novel, lively Second, a good "Swan of Tuonela," but also a good historical lesson in how much interpretation of the First and Fifth symphonies has changed since Barbirolli's recordings ... and changed decidedly for the better since Sir John did it.
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