From the very beginning of Sir John's career as a conductor, Haydn's works, particularly his symphonies, featured regularly in the Maestro's concerts and recordings. In fact, one of the earliest studio forays was of Symphony 104, 'London' way back in 1927. This lifelong love for Haydn's music is very evident in the three symphonies presented on this disc.
Recorded in 1949, 1953 and 1954 respectively they were among Barbirolli's favourites, especially #88 of which he was extremely fond. Throughout his composing life, Haydn always sought to bring happiness and optimism to all those who heard his works, and these three symphonies are no exception. The sprightliness of the rhythms, the nobility and humour of the phrasing and the sparkling energy of the 'finales' blended with the wit in the minuets make these symphonies among the sunniest that Haydn ever composed.
Sir John rises to all these delightful diamonds with aplomb and a considerable dose of light-heartedness, delivering interpretations that are fresh and enthusiastically youthful. Hearing them almost 55 years on has not diminished their infectious timbre and style. Maybe one might hesitate to buy due to their being recorded more than half a century ago, but this is precisely the reason why this disc should be in everyone's library.
The remastering by Michael Dutton is a truly amazing miracle of today's state of the art technology. The clarity of detail and excellent balance are of course the feat of Arthur Clarke, Francis Dillnut and Robert Beckett, but hearing this disc on headphones as I did confirms the astonishing soundscape achieved by these great engineers. Distortion is non-existent and tape-hiss is barely audible, if at all. The annotations by Michael Kennedy, although brief, are also an asset to this issue, imparting information not only about Sir John, but also on the symphonies themselves. A wonderful example of what good music mixed with modern expertise can achieve.
Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech