Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 4 in C minor D417 “Tragic” [27:54]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Serenade for tenor, horn and strings Op 31 [24:37]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 2 in D major Op 43 [45:45]
Gerald English (tenor); Hermann Baumann (horn)
Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester/Sir John Barbirolli
rec. live, Saal 1, Funkhaus, Cologne, 7 February 1969
ICA ICAC 5096 [52:47+45:45]
Although it is to his recordings with the Hallé Orchestra that most collectors will turn for the fullest representation of Barbirolli’s art, he also had a close relationship with a number of other orchestras.
According to Raymond Holden’s brief but interesting note he was particularly enthusiastic about his work with the Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester - now renamed the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln. The concert recorded here was part of a tour of Germany and Holland he made with the orchestra. If it is typical of their collaboration then his enthusiasm was very understandable. It might be hard to claim that any of the performances here were amongst the best recordings of these works but their understanding, eloquence and sheer musicality makes them all very well worth hearing.
Schubert’s Fourth Symphony can seem unrelenting and even dull in a poor performance. The first movement in particular can seem unnecessarily repetitive if not treated with care. Fortunately Barbirolli makes it clear at all times where the music is going, and the resulting mixture of affection and drive in the performance makes for real pleasure.
The Britten is perhaps more interesting rather than convincing as a whole. Gerald English sings with great subtlety, ease in the upper register, clear diction and an understanding of the music’s style. When the line lies low he is occasionally less successful, at least as recorded here with Hermann Baumann’s rather uninteresting performance of the horn part too dominant. Barbirolli ensures that the strings play with great eloquence and hits on tempi
that are convincing even when they differ from those the composer indicates. This is an interesting addition to the many recordings of the Serenade but not the revelation for which I was hoping.
Sibelius is a composer for whom the conductor had great respect. The
performance here of the Second Symphony is similar in general character
to those of his commercial recordings that I have heard but with the
additional excitement of a live performance. Like the other works the
recording is more than acceptable for its age although the balance at
times seems odd and unrealistic, and as a result some important lines
are hard to hear. Nonetheless this remains a performance that any admirer
of the conductor will want to hear. It and indeed the whole concert
are worth hearing for others too, especially in demonstrating that in
his latter years he was not always addicted to slow speeds or to holding
the music up excessively.