SATIE: Gymnopédie No. 3. Gymnopédie No. 1. BRITTEN: Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20. DVORÁK: Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70.
Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam/Sir John Barbirolli, cond.
TESTAMENT SBT 1252 (F) (ADD) TT: 67:29

The first time John Barirolli appeared in the Concertgebouw was in 1921 when, as a member of a string quartet, he "lugged his cello up and down those long stairs of the Grote Zaal..." He had conducted the Hague Residency Orchestra several times during the '50s, but didn't conduct the Concertgebouw until January 1969 when he gave five performances of the same program: Verdi's La forza del destino overture, two Gymnopoédie of Satie, Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem and Dvorak's Symphony No. 7. Bernard Haitink had been conductor of the orchestra for four years; Barbirolli's old-fashioned, romantic conducting style took a while for the orchestra to accommodate. Apparently after a somewhat rocky start in the first rehearsal things went very smoothly; Barbirolli said, "After so many years conducting all the famous orchestras of the world, I am now concluding with the incredibly beautiful Concertgebouw Orchestra. We rehearsed for 12 hours; it was a sensation—as if I was making chamber music with very old friends."

It's a beautiful concert centered on Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem, a work particularly close to the conductor as he had given the world premiere in March 1941 with the New York Philharmonic (this is available on Nmc). There is another live performance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra from a concert in Royal Albert Hall in 1967, issued on BBC Legends. The 1969 Amsterdam performance was the first in that country and finds Barbirolli in a more expansive mood than two years earlier. The two short Satie pieces are langorous to the extreme, the Dvorak symphony surely among the finest recordings of the work. Unfortunatelyt, the Verdi overture (which would have fit onto the CD) was not available. A plus is the sound quality, a Dutch radio recording that has vividly captured the warmth and resonance of the famed Dutch hall. Hats off to Testament for making this available! I shall return to this recording often.

R.E.B. (July 2003)