Britten, Elgar, Walton

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Britten,Elgar,Walton
WORKS: Sinfonia da requiem; The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra
PERFORMER: Hallé Orchestra, BBC SO/John Barbirolli
These recordings all date from the last few years of Barbirolli’s life, and except the Young Person’s Guide were taken at live performances. Audiences were quieter 30 years ago, and there is little that is seriously obtrusive in their coughed contributions. There’s the odd brass fluff that would have been avoided in the studio, but these do not detract from the thrill of some electrifying performances. The presence of rough edges that today might be electronically sandpapered only adds to the raw excitement conjured by a master in full flight. In the South, recorded at the Festival Hall in London just two months before Barbirolli’s death, was, as Michael Kennedy’s sleevenotes point out, a relatively late discovery for the conductor, but his reading triumphantly matches the passionate intensity and range of mood of his other Elgar recordings. Walton’s Partita follows in a contrastingly light vein, while Britten’s Sinfonia da requiem is exuberantly doomy. Only in the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra is lo-fi a problem, in a BBC studio that sounds as if a gas pipe is leaking. But if you can mentally silence the hiss, the performance is as worth cherishing as all the others. Christopher Wood