Blast from the Past: Sir John Barbirolli
Various distractions kept me from my fabulous, much-in-demand series devoted to favorite artists from the old days, but I'm happy to resume it today with a salute to Sir John Barbirolli.
This English conductor left a remarkable stamp on music, especially, IMHO, the works of his countrymen (noble interpretations of Elgar and Vaughan Williams) and of Mahler. Barbirolli could take tempos that no one else seemed to consider -- a very slow scherzo in Mahler 1 or very, very slow march in the opening of Mahler 6, for example -- and yet could make them seem totally persuasive. He could get deep inside the notes to find fresh layers of drama or poetry. He had, in a word, style. I've never heard a performance led by this guy that didn't impress me in some way, from scratchy 78s to his late stereo recordings.
Last week marked the 110th anniversary of the conductor's birth (Dec. 2); he died nearly 40 years ago. He is well worth remembering now. I couldn't find much live-action footage of Barbirolli, but I think the clip of him leading the Halle Orchestra in "Le Corsaire" Overture by Berlioz captures a good deal of his beautiful music-making (ignore the misspelling of the piece done by whoever posted it on YouTube).
Then drink in the glorious sounds of two sublime vocalists who seemed extra-inspired when collaborating with Barbirolli: Kathleen Ferrier, singing what has to be the most stirring account ever of "Land of Hope and Glory," recorded live a couple years before her death; and Janet Baker, singing the profound Mahler song "Ich bin der Welt abhanden Gekommen":