Born in Lancashire, not far from Manchester, I attended many concerts with the Halle and Barbirolli and I knew him for his wonderful performances of Beethoven, Mahler and Sibelius — the first time i ever heard Beethoven's Fifth was the Halle and Barbirolli in Bolton. But I also remember many performances of Haydn Symphonies and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. This latter was a great love of Barbirolli and it came out in the performances These recordings were made only 18 months before the conductor's death. I have never heard them before. The sound quality is excellent and these performances are as good as any made by Barbirolli with the Halle or any other orchestra.
John Barbirolli included Haydn symphonies in many of his concerts throughout his long career. The very first one he ever recorded -- in 1949 with the Hallé orchestra, which he led for more than twenty-five years -- was Haydn's Symphony No. 83, called 'The Hen' for the clucking sounds in the first movement's second subject. The present recording was made in 1969 in a live concert of the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden, one of the really good radio symphonies in the Germany of the time. Strangely he uses the first movement exposition repeat in the finale but not in the first movement; perhaps this was the practice at the time. I actually wanted to hear that first movement repeat because of Barbirolli's delicious shaping of the music. Although Barbirolli is known primarily as a 'romantic' conductor, there is little indication of that in his classically proportioned Haydn. True, he uses a larger orchestra than we hear these days in concert, but the playing of the SWR is delicate yet spirited.
The Hallé had given the very first English performance of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique in 1879 and when Barbirolli conducted it with them the first time, in 1933, older members of the orchestra remembered the approach of Sir Charles Hallé, the conductor of the first and subsequent performances. Hallé had been friends with Berlioz in Paris. Over the years Barbirolli conducted the Symphonie many times and often programmed it on celebratory occasions as when the Hallé moved into their new Free Trade Hall in Manchester in 1951. He had recorded it twice before this live performance was recorded, also in 1968. To say that this is an emotionally intense performance is more than just. Even in the slow (and in other hands sometimes boring) third movement, Scène aux champs, we are wrung out. The Marche au supplice actually comes almost as a relief until we then realize that this is the March to the Guillotine with its attendant horror . The finale, 'Songe d'une nuit du Sabbat', builds to an almost unbearably febrile temperature. This is a great reading of this great symphony.
Recorded sound is quite good. I was not really aware of its age, now 40-odd years. Those bells in the fifth movement of the Symphonie are startling in their lifelike sound.
This is not just a recording for Barbirolli fans. It's for everyone who loves this music.