Barbirolli in Amsterdam

0 of 5 stars

Satie orch. Debussy
Gymnopédie – Nos. 1 & 3
Sinfonia da Requiem, Op.20
Symphony No.7 in D minor, Op.70

Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam
Sir John Barbirolli

Recorded on 22 January 1969 in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: November 2003
Duration: 67 minutes

This is more or less the whole concert that John Barbirolli gave with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1969 (the first of five outings for this programme). JB was then 18 months from death, aged 70 – amazingly this was his debut with this great orchestra if not his first appearance in the famed hall, which had been in 1921 as a cellist. Missing is the opening item, Verdi’s Force of Destiny overture, “not available” for this CD release – a shame!

So we start with the two Gymnopédie. Spacious and sweetly turned, maybe too human for Satie’s rarefied vision, but very affecting if not unanimously played. There’s no doubting the dedication though. If similar frailties affect the Britten – of which Barbirolli conducted the premiere, of the original version, in New York in 1941 – with tentative entries and dicey solos, there’s real spirit here too, the orchestra palpably doing its utmost for its belated guest. Balances are lucid, the expression is heartfelt; the climax of the final ’Requiem aeternam’ is a collective outpouring. It’s not hard to hear the painstaking work Barbirolli had put in at rehearsal.

The recording is somewhat disappointing, though, certainly for radio material captured well into the stereo era – a little thin and distant at times, a tad muffled and ragged, and dynamically limited. But detail is clear, and the Concertgebouw’s depth of acoustic is well conveyed. It says something for the sense of occasion here that sonic limitations become irrelevant.

While one wonders how these performances developed over the four repeats (the last on 27 November in Arnhem) – with greater security, one imagines – the Dvorák receives a weighty and deeply felt rendition that gives due reckoning to the composer’s ability to write a dark, troubled and regretful work. True, under Barbirolli, the dance rhythms are a little laboured, if not smudged, yet one appreciates Barbirolli’s trenchant and loving way with the music – airily detailed, fastidiously prepared if fallibly executed, of serious import and given with long-term assurance of resolution.

A release, first and foremost, for Barbirolli’s legion of admirers; and also one for those who respond to big-hearted music-making where ’truth’ is perceptible beneath imperfection, perhaps because of it.

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