Haydn: Symphony No. 83; Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique
John Barbirolli’s Haydn from 1969 is very much of its time, and not without some fine qualities. One can sense the affection in which the conductor held this work. But seen through the glass of more recent Haydn performances, this one is staid and at times even stodgy: the second movement Andante is more of an Adagio, the Allegretto Minuet a solid Andante. The text too is corrupt in parts – why, I can’t say, when Haydn’s autograph has always been available: we lose the dotted rhythms at the very end of the first movement and much of the legato phrasing in the opening theme of the finale.
The Symphonie fantastique finds Barbirolli much more at home. Drama and dreaminess are here in abundance, allowing us to savour this work’s extraordinary extremes. Only two things militate against total enjoyment. First, a curiously bumpy interpretation of the little rallentando at the end of the waltz theme in ‘Un bal’. Then, more annoyingly, Barbirolli’s all-too-vocal encouragements in passages of heightened emotion. Sadly, these include the beginning of the ‘Scène aux champs’, where cor anglais and oboe do battle with sighings and moanings. I hadn’t realised until now how glad I am that modern recordings have rid us of such things, which used even to be prized (notably in the case of Toscanini) as tokens of commitment.