MAHLER: Symphony No.7*+.  BRUCKNER: Symphony No.9+.
BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra(+),and HallČ Orchestra(*); Sir John Barbirolli, cond.

BBC LEGENDS  BBCL 4034 (2 CDs) (Mono) (ADD)  TT: 2:17:36

While neither of these concert performances is quite consistent enough to qualify as a first choice, they are worthy documents of Sir John's work in repertoire he didn't record commercially. (In fact, he never got to record Bruckner at all—Otto Klemperer, like Barbirolli under contract to EMI, was apparently the company's first choice for this repertoire.)

As you might expect, Sir John understands the Ninth's vaulting majesty and aspiring lyricism, drawing appropriate playing from his HallČ Orchestra: the strings sing their broad themes warmly and vibrantly, while the brass chorales are powerful and full-throated. The solo reeds' sharp tuning, unfortunately, is a persistent irritation. Nor is the first movement quite ideal interpretively: where steady tempi would enhance the music's grandeur, Barbirolli's impulsive accelerations—as in the recently issued Mahler Third (BBC Legends BBCL 4004-7, 2 CDs)—instead undercut it, producing some slurry playing as well. The other two movements are better, with the Adagio a moving valediction.

That's not a mistake in the headnote—the BBC Northern and HallČ orchestras combined for this 1960 Mahler Seventh, celebrating the composer's centenary. Sir John emphasizes the darkness of the first three movements. He leans strongly into the accents and has the bows "sit long" on the strings, so that despite the bright, forward winds and pervasive detached articulations, the first movement comes off as weighty and tenuto. The main theme proper has ample thrust; the movement’s tempo adjustments feel like variations on a basic pulse, to unusually cogent effect. In the first Nachtmusik, after the woodwinds' flickering shadowplay, the horn theme is mournful rather than assertive, with eerie col legno strings providing a march impulse; the Scherzo, too, is somber, except when the L”ndler motifs attempt to break through. The second Nachtmusik is quintessential Barbirolli in its pulsating warmth. Unfortunately, the Finale feels as padded as ever, with Sir John's episodic gearshifts fragmenting the movement; the exciting coda, however, draws a justifiably rousing response from the audience.

The monaural airchecks are clear and vivid.

S.F.V. (May 2000)

(Ed. note:  this 2 CD set sells roughly for the price of 2 mid-price CDs).