There have been quite a few discs featuring Barbirolli concerts in the inestimable BBC Legends series but none have approached this magnificent collection of English music that was so dear to the conductor's heart. The pompous aloofness with with the National Anthem is introduced is quite out of this world and reminds one of days of yore when the sun never set on the Empire! Rawsthorne's 'Street Corner' Overture is also quite lovingly played with the proper brash and boisterousness that it so intensely deserves. Vaughan William's Eighth Symphony was Barbirolli's special piece, it having been dedicated to him and this a searing account of the work that is quite unrivalled by other competitors, not least Barbirolli's own excellent première recording now featured on a Dutton/Barbirolli society disc. Next is Arnold Bax's Oboe Quintet with the conductor's wife, Evelyn Rothwell taking the solo part. This is another magical interpretation with the players really taking to the music and Rothwell's playing is characterful and distinctly old fashioned, yet so characterful on all counts. Delius was another conductor dear to Barbirolli's heart and this almost sensual interpretation of the oft played, 'On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring' is a demonstration of that love. Walton's 'Crown Imperial' moves along with all the swagger and bluster that one could imagine with the additional Trumpeters and band of the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall providing an extra added power to the brass section. But the real gem on this disc comes in the final piece. We have heard manay versions of the ever popular thub thumper, 'land of Hope and Glory' but this one is fairly the most beautiful ever heard. The glorious voice of Kathleen Ferrier and the swaggering Hallé Orchestra sing and play with an almost unsustainable nostalgia and one does not hear the crackles and swishes from the old 78's, but only a tearful and long gone patriotic beauty that is simply a tear jerker. As a conclusion to this review, I believe it would be appropriate and fitting to quote the Manchester Guardian critic, Norman Shrapnel who reviewed the opening of the Free Trade Hall on that emotional and unforgettable afternoon on the 16th November 1951.
'Here was a tribute, in superb dimensions, to many a great day in the old Free Trade Hall, a household tune of strong direct sentiment, wonderfully magnified. It was fine and it was right, but lovers of the tune will fear that never again can they hope to hear it in such glory'.
'There were few dry eyes' indeed. The Glory has not departed!
* Ceremonial opening of the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, November
Copyright © 2002, Gerald Fenech