The young John Barbirolli was hardly known in America when the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra chose him to be Arturo Toscanini's successor starting in 1937. The 36-year-old Londoner's first season was a triumph with both players and audiences, and although his years in New York would be increasingly marred by unfair rivalry with Toscanini - lured back to lead a specially created NBC Symphony - and by partisan hostility from two influential critics, Barbirolli's tenure can now be looked back on as a real success. From 1938 until 1943, when he returned to the UK to take over Manchester's Hallé Orchestra, Sir John made a series of recordings in New York for American Columbia and RCA Victor which are still essential for a full appreciation of this revered conductor's career, "performances that are as competitive today as they were when initially released" (Fanfare). Sony Classical is pleased to reissue them in a newly remastered six-album set.
Among the treasures here are Debussy's Iberia and Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini and the first-ever recording of Schubert's Fourth ("Tragic") Symphony, together cited by Gramophone as "a demonstration that the Philharmonic-Symphony had few rivals in the world at the time as a recording orchestra ... A forceful, high-powered reading [of the symphony] which yet has a Schubertian smile ... The crisp attack in the Tchaikovsky, even tauter than in Barbirolli's superb 1969 HMV New Philharmonia version, is thrillingly caught. The Debussy brings the most vivid sound of all, weighty and full of presence, with castanets and brass leaping out from the speakers. This is a white-hot performance, every bit as exciting as those of Toscanini, and with a moving vein of tenderness in the slow second movement."
There are several works by Mozart, among them the Clarinet Concerto with Benny Goodman and the Symphony No. 25 and Piano Concerto No. 27 with Robert Casadesus. The Piano Concerto's opening Allegro "is beautifully shaped with an almost palpable sense of wonder in the music and the pianist is definitely having a ball of time," said Classical Net. "The final Allegro is also very commendable for its grand sense of pomp and majesty ... The exquisite symphony also receives wonderful attention and care from Barbirolli and the NYPSO. Here one can sense the conductor's love for Mozart's inspired melodies ... Benny Goodman is a characterful interpreter of the Clarinet Concerto."
"The generous flavor of Barbirolli's Brahms comes through in the Academic Festival Overture and the Second Symphony," wrote Audiophile Audition's reviewer. "The Overture is rife with ceremonial grandeur and jolly spirits. The D major Symphony has a debonair airiness and bucolic relaxation about it." And Sibelius's First Symphony" should delight fans of Barbirolli's 1960s complete traversal of the symphonies ... The conductor's warmth, vision, and emotional urgency has lost none of its appeal in the more than half century that has passed" (Fanfare).
Nathan Milstein is playing the Bruch Concerto with "the Philharmonic-Symphony in tremendous form," exclaimed MusicWeb International's critic. "Barbirolli opens powerfully and Milstein responds in kind; not over emoted and with vibrato perfectly scaled to the demands of the music. He is really quite withdrawn and introspective in the Adagio, powerfully so indeed, and Barbirolli brings out the horn harmonies in a way that seems to reveal them for the first time. There is romantic fervour but also passagework clarity and digital cleanliness in the finale ... a model of concerto accompaniment and creative collaboration."
- Disc 1 -
1 Purcell (Arr. Barbirolli): Suite for Strings, Woodwind and Horns (Remastered)
2 Debussy: Images Pour Orchestre, L. 122: No. 2, Iberia (Remastered)
3 Tchaikovsky: Francesca Da Rimini, Op. 32 (Remastered)
4 Respighi: Antiche Danze Et Arie Per Liuto, Suite No.3 (Remastered)
5 Respighi: Fontane Di Roma (Remastered)
- Disc 2 -
1 Schubert: Symphony No. 4 in C minor, D. 417, "Tragic" (Remastered)
2 Schubert: 5 German Dances, D. 89 (Remastered)
3 Brahms: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73 (Remastered)
4 Sibelius: Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 39 (Remastered)
5 Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43 (Remastered)
- Disc 3 -
1 Smetana: The Bartered Bride, JB 1:100: Overture (Remastered)
2 Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34 (Remastered) with Mishel Piastro, Violin; Joseph Schuster, Cello
3 Ravel: La Valse, M. 72 (Remastered)
4 Berlioz: Roman Carnival Overture, Op. 9 (Remastered)
5 Brahms: Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80 (Remastered)
6 Debussy: Petite Suite, L. 65, No. 4 "Ballet" (Remastered)
7 Debussy: Première Rhapsodie, L. 116 (Remastered) with Benny Goodman, Clarinet
8 Bach, J.S. (Arr. Barbirolli): Sheep May Safely Graze, BWV 208, No. 9 (Remastered)
- Disc 4 -
1 Mozart: Clarinet Concerto in a Major, K. 622 with Benny Goodman, Clarinet
2 Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-Flat Major, K. 595 (Remastered) with Robert Casadesus, Piano
3 Mozart: Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183 (Remastered)
- Disc 5 -
1 Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 (Remastered) with Nathan Milstein, Violin
2 Tchaikovsky: Suite No. 3 in G Major, Op. 55: IV. Tema Con Variazioni. Andante Con Moto (Remastered)
3 Various (Arr. Barbirolli): An Elizabethan Suite (Remastered)