Imagine discovering this, one of the most snowily romantic of works, in an
overwhelming performance and recording. That, in short, is what you have
here. I would certainly recommend this recording with the live Beecham and
Szell as representatives of the best traditions (and there are different
approaches to this symphony). Oh you will find more refined sound and more
generous couplings however the chances of bettering this musical event are
weighed against you.
The symphony belongs in a group of works which includes the under-rated Kullervo,
the first two symphonies, the Lemminkainen Legends and En Saga. Tchaikovsky
and Balakirev ( in the third movement track 3 at 8.20 listen for echoes of
Barbirolli, renowned for pacing ideas and energy, brings to the proceedings
a febrile intensity and plans climaxes into the overall structure extracting
every ounce of drama. This is no anonymous performance. Instead it exudes
an almost Stokowski-like individuality. The orchestra (not Barbirolli's usual
partner) seem totally engaged. There is a Tchaikovskian brilliance in the
pizzicato in the first movement (2.40) and an imposing string entry at 6.19
The second movement's (andante ma rubato) steadily fluttering woodwind are
memorable for its slow motion butterfly movement. Playing of great poetic
eminence is drawn from everyone and this is aided by Charles Gerhardt's recording
which was made at Walthamstow Town Hall in the 1960s as part of the Readers'
Digest classical music series.
Barbirolli time and again evinces a grand feeling for dynamic terracing.
He is a grandee of the whirlwind and a master romancer. The crowning glory
of full-throated fanfares in the finale is rivalled only by Beecham in his
shout-spurred BBCSO Colston Hall performance (for years available on a World
Records Club LP). There is a great deliberation about the Allegro Moderato
finale but no feeling of lassitude. The last pages tremble with intensity
(18.24 ) and all unforgettable majesty of a fanfare-crowned finale.
As for the rest, this is a platinum performance played with explosive rips
and tugs of energy. It deserves permanence in the catalogue
I am not sure about playing times but Barbirolli's later recording of this
symphony (HMV) is not as fleet or as intense.
There are superb and specific (English only) notes.