Trawling for treasure
BILL NEWMAN seeks out Golden Age performers now reinstated on CD
BBC BBCL 4055-2
Many years back I heard Sir John Barbirolli's performance of Strauss's
Ein Heldenleben on the BBC Third Programme with the combined Hallé
and BBC Northern Orchestras.
It is strange to reflect that during the thirties, forties, and fifties
it required the advocacies of other conductors to keep the Strauss tone
poems in the repertory, particularly Mengelberg, Reiner, Böhm and Beecham.
When Sir Eugene Goossens gave a rare airing to Also sprach Zarathustra
with the BBC Symphony, critical understanding in the press next day was
both conflicting and confusing. What was the music about? Should one take
it seriously? The Sinfonia Domestica and Ein Heldenleben also
had their detractors because of the exaggerated autobiographical content.
I overheard two elderly gentlemen in the Royal Festival Hall in the sixties
express uncertainty about the latter work's value -- bombast, or
great music? Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic dismissed any doubts.
Today we are hopefully beyond such petty inhibitions. Barbirolli's
compulsive commitment to this music and attention to detail, his balancing
of forces allowing important wind solos the freedom to be heard, the nasal
satire of woodwind configurations in 'The Hero's Adversaries',
and the broadening of power in 'Deeds of War'. The return to the
main subject at its close is majesterial [listen -- track 10,
The final apotheosis in 'The Hero's Retirement from the World and
the Fulfilment of his Life' is marked by a continued sense of stillness,
quite unique in comparison with other performances.
Barbirolli's disappointing EMI commercial recording can now definitely
take a back seat. Now, can we finally have that wonderful Mahler 6 with
the Hallé Orchestra from the Proms?
To be continued >>
Copyright © 23 May 2001
Bill Newman, Edgware, UK
CD INFORMATION - BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4055-2
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