Barbirolli: The First Orchestral Recordings (Wagner, Elgar, Delius, Debussy etc.) | Barbirolli Society SJB1096

Barbirolli: The First Orchestral Recordings (Wagner, Elgar, Delius, Debussy etc.)


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Label: Barbirolli Society

Cat No: SJB1096

Format: CD

Number of Discs: 1

Genre: Orchestral

Release Date: 15th November 2019



This collection begins with the recordings Barbirolli made for the Edison-Bell Company in their large recording room, capable of housing an orchestra of up to 50 musicians. The first work is the Overture to Wagner’s Der fliegende Höllander and despite the age of the recording, we can readily appreciate Barbirolli’s infallible grasp of the score and again in the Prelude to Act III of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger – the undoubted sense of inherent nobility is superb, the very slow tempo fully sustained and controlled. In the Humperdinck Overture we witness Barbirolli’s control from a finely-sustained Adagio first section, setting the rich sylvan mood of the family scene of Hansel and Gretel.

Also included are two exceptionally rare Barbirolli recordings – unique in his repertoire – made in London for Spanish HMV with him conducting the London School of Cellos. The project must have been very close to the young JB’s heart – for although purists may look somewhat askance at the repertoire, it is the musicianship and depth of feeling – to say nothing, in the original work by Pablo Casals – that is most striking. The first is a world premiere recording of Casals’ La Sardana for cello ensemble, composed not long before in 1926. The ensemble and technical mastery of Barbirolli’s players – as the homage of one noted cellist to another – remains a remarkable listening experience. In the arrangement of the Mozart bass aria from Die Zauberflöte the sense of musical drama and emotional feeling fit the original so convincingly.

Our collection concludes with the recordings Barbirolli made with the Chamber Orchestra of London’s Chenil Galleries. The large famous art gallery was situated in King’s Road, Chelsea where regular concerts were given under Barbirolli’s direction. The recordings were made at the Vocalion Studios in central London in January and October 1927 for the National Gramophonic Society, when the ensemble was called the National Gramophonic Society Chamber Orchestra.

The two 1927 recording sessions from which our performances are taken are significant in that much of the music recorded was by living British composers. Each work was also a first recording, including music by Debussy and Marcello. By far the most important item is Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for strings: at that time, Elgar had begun his immortal series of recordings of his own music for HMV. The one important orchestral score Elgar was never to record was the Introduction and Allegro. Peter Warlock’s Serenade (written for Delius’s 60th birthday in 1922) and Delius’s Summer Night on the River are from these sessions on 3 January 1927 where we hear another world premiere recording – the only such recording ever made. This is of Debussy’s Danse sacré et danse profane, commissioned in 1904 by the French harp manufacturers Pleyel and published in that year by Durand.

The new chromatic harp, for which the work was written, was not in general use at that time, and Durand persuaded Debussy that the publication should state ‘or piano’ in terms of the solo part. It remains a curiosity of gramophone history that the very first recording of this work should be in the piano and string orchestra version. In Barbirolli’s recording, the pianist is Ethel Bartlett and the piano timbre in this recording will come as a surprise to many listeners used to hearing a harp in this music, but the artistry of pianist and string orchestra is tangible.

The final music is an arrangement by Barbirolli of the Allegretto movement from the Sonata in C major, op.1 no.5, by Benedetto Marcello (1688-1739). In this performance the listener will readily appreciate the control of string dynamics that Barbirolli conveys: here, self-evidently, is a master conductor at work.

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