Franck: Symphony/Barbirolli

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 6

John Barbirolli nearly always has something to say in late-Romantic music, and he’s got a singular asset in the Czech Philharmonic at its Ancerl-led, early-’60s peak–quite a relief from the grotty provincialism of his home town team in Manchester. There are wonderful moments here: Barbirolli milks the first movement’s second subject for all it’s worth, but never even suggests vulgarity or self-indulgence. The entire second movement is gorgeous, and the emphasis given the countermelody to the opening English horn solo is simply lovely. On the other hand, the transition between the first-movement introduction and its ensuing allegro sounds stiff and insufficiently contrasted, and the finale could use a bit more sheer energy (though it rises to an impressive coda). The last bars, in which Barbirolli inserts a silly, Mengelberg-style pause before the last chords, really don’t do the rest of the performance justice. It’s not perfect, but it’s passionate and a good listen.

The Dusík double concerto is quite a find. It dates from 1805/06 and has plenty of good tunes and more than a degree of harmonic adventurousness. Recorded live at the 1960 Prague Spring festival, the sound is very restricted and ill-balanced, so it’s hard to get a sense of the piece or of the performance other than to note that the music is certainly worth hearing, albeit with better sonics (the rating is based on the symphony only). The Franck, a studio recording, has dated a bit, and even careful remastering can’t reduce its thinness and restricted dynamic range–but the technical shortcomings certainly don’t get in the way of the performance. It’s good to see this version of the symphony back in the catalog. Barbirolli fans will want it as a matter of course, and it’s important, given all of the horrible live garbage being issued, to ensure that the great man’s authorized efforts remain available. They prove conclusively–contrary to myth, the British press, and the PR of pirate and quasi-pirate CD vendors–that Barbirolli really was at his best in the studio.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Franck: Monteux (RCA)

CÉSAR FRANCK - Symphony in D minor
JAN LADISLAV DUSÍK - Concerto for Two Pianos Op. 63


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