Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sir John Barbirolli - Great Conductors of the 20th Century




The Barbirolli volume in the Great Conductors series focuses on relatively rare items in his discography. This Elgar Enigma Variations, for example, is his first stereo version, not the later, better-known one. The latter boasts a better orchestra, but this 1956 Pye release has a lot going for it too, not least the extra touch of warmth in the string-centered slower variations like "Nimrod".

There's also a long out-of-print Ravel Mother Goose Suite with the Halle winds a bit overextended, a heavyweight Meistersinger Act One Prelude, and a magnificent "Love Duet" from one of Barbirolli's rare complete opera recordings, Puccini's Madama Butterfly, with Scotto and Bergonzi in great voice.

The real rarity though, is the Mahler Second, a work Barbirolli often performed in his later years but never recorded. EMI provides incisive cleaned-up stereo sound for this live performance from Stuttgart made shortly before his death. Barbirolli's performance is full of passionate fervor but the execution is often slipshod. Still, admirers of Barbirolli's Mahler will want his only available Mahler Second. --Dan Davis

cd info

flac, scans

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