Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Mozart,Wagner
WORKS: Symphony No. 35 in D (Haffner)
PERFORMER: Hallé Orchestra/John Barbirolli
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4076-2 ADD mono/stereo
According to Thomas Beecham – never over-generous with compliments when it came to his colleagues – Barbirolli made the Hallé into ‘the finest chamber orchestra in the country’. Listening to these performances – and especially the 1966 Siegfried Idyll (poorly recorded though it is) – you can hear for yourself what Beecham meant. Warmly expressive as it is, there’s also an intimate, confidential quality, as though one were listening to an ensemble of soloists communing with one another as well as with their audience (Wagner originally wrote the work for 15 instruments). It’s a deeply touching performance, and if you can put up with the distant, faintly acidic sound, as convincing as any other in the current catalogue – and a good antidote to the impressive but fatally suave Karajan Vienna Philharmonic account on DG. Neither the Mozart nor the Beethoven has quite that large-chamber-group quality, but again there’s the expressive warmth and openness, the rich, rounded orchestral tone, and the unmistakable sense that this was a conductor who, on the whole, worked by persuasion rather than coercion. Barbirolli’s Beethoven Seventh is far in spirit from Carlos Kleiber’s legendary DG version – too far for my liking. Lovely though the Barbirolli is, it feels too comfortable after the furious driving energy and taut rhythmic muscle of the Kleiber. But the Mozart is pure delight. It’s hard to imagine anyone who isn’t a period-instrument fundamentalist being able to resist it. Compelling and impressive as John Eliot Gardiner’s Philips recording with the English Baroque Soloists is, put it beside Barbirolli and you’ll see at once what it lacks. Stephen Johnson