Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 5.
Symphony No. 5
John Barbirolli, cond; Hallé O
BBC LEGENDS 4193, mono (76:04) Broadcast: Manchester 2/22/1963,
Live: Manchester 12/1/1966
Although Beethoven comes first both alphabetically and in playing order on this CD, I have contrived to place
this review under Shostakovich, because I expect that that is where it will find more readers. Barbirolli left behind no studio recordings of Shostakovich’s Fifth; indeed, today he generally is not associated with such repertoire, although (as recounted in Lyndon Jenkins’s booklet note) he hardly ignored music of his century.
As an admirer of both Shostakovich and Barbirolli, I was interested to hear what this unexpected conjunction would yield. Certainly, this is one of the better Shostakovich Fifths I’ve encountered. Its primary limitations are (arguably, at least in the second instance) not even the conductor’s fault. First, one has to make allowances for the narrow monaural sound; had this been a recording intended for commercial release, obviously the engineering would have been better. (Apart from a few instances of tape flutter, it’s very listenable, though.) Second, the Hallé Orchestra never had a reputation for infallibility, and this performance will not inspire one to argue otherwise. Jenkins admits to “a few rough edges here and there” in the finale, but even apart from the final movement, there are several episodes of imprecision and curdled intonation. These don’t bother me greatly, but suffice it to say there are good reasons why this performance would make an odd first choice among all available Shostakovich Fifths.
Even so, it has definite attractions. Perhaps Barbirolli and Shostakovich were an unusual pairing; but what about Barbirolli and Mahler? There are several examples of how fruitful that pairing was, and by bringing out the Mahler implicit in Shostakovich, Barbirolli’s reading finds its compelling point of view. Barbirolli begins the symphony very slowly, with a fine sense of mystery and expectation. The third movement—more private in its utterance than usual—becomes the symphony’s elegiac heart and soul, thanks, in part, to sensitive phrasing from the Hallé’s strings. The second movement becomes more Ländler-like and less mechanical, but no less disquieting than it should be. Barbirolli skillfully builds the terraced climaxes in the outer movements to maximize impact and minimize bombast; he always reserves energy for that ultimate twist of the knife, and much of the orchestral playing, while not always ideally polished, is very expressive. There is no Rostropovich-like slowing down in the symphony’s hammering close, and yet the point is not lost that the “triumph” depicted here is false and hollow.
Turning to the Beethoven, which Barbirolli
record in the studio, it was instructive to hear the conductor choose a tempo for the first movement that is slow by today’s standards—dramatically imposing, but not at all heavy or pompous. Despite centuries of use and misuse, this music still has the power to inflame. The second movement, often hushed and mysterious, but always big in tone, offers contrast without the loss of weight. A sense of occasion is maintained in the third movement and carried over into the finale, although the end of the symphony sounds a bit perfunctory.
This CD does credit to Barbirolli’s reputation as an interesting interpreter, and his unique reading of the Shostakovich makes this release desirable for those who love that particular work as well.
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 5 in C minor, Op. 67 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Sir John Barbirolli
Written: 1807-1808; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 12/01/1966
Venue: Live Free Trade Hall, Manchester, England
Length: 31 Minutes 41 Secs.
Symphony no 5 in D minor, Op. 47 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Sir John Barbirolli
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1937; USSR
Date of Recording: 02/22/1963
Venue: Live BBC Studios, Manchester, England
Length: 42 Minutes 18 Secs.
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