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Barbirolli in New York

Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio Espagnol
Tchaikovsky Suite No.3 in G Theme & Variations
Sibelius Symphony No.1

New York Philharmonic Orchestra
John Barbirolli (conductor)

Recorded between 1940-2

Excerpts from the CD liner note written by Michael Kennedy ...

A writer in the Daily Sketch rhetorically asked why Britain had let Barbirolli go to America, and gave as the answer: His fault was that he was British and did not belong to the old Royal College tie brigade which controls British music. In this respect it is interesting to quote from a letter which Eugene Ormandy, conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, wrote to Fred Gaisberg of HMV on 16 January 1937:

What do you think of the engagement of Barbirolli? I not only think he is an excellent conductor but I am convinced that he deserved the job. The Philharmonic Orchestra plays better for him than it did for any other conductor outside of Toscanini, and that means a great deal. They all like him personally and musically. Now I hope that his countrymen will feel the same way about him as the Americans do. In music there should be no politics, and they should accept a person for what he is worth; and Barbirolli is certainly worth a good deal.

Even more outspoken had been Francis Toye's letter to John himself (4 December 1936): Between you and me, I have always felt that not only as regards yourself but as regards practically all important English musicians except Beecham, my colleagues do not do their duty.

Barbirolli's first full New York season as the Philharmonic's permanent conductor was important enough in itself: under the shadow of Toscanini's return to start a new orchestra it took on additional stature and excitement. He had arranged an attractive and wide-ranging series of programmes: a feature of his New York period, scarcely appreciated at the time, was the amount of contemporary or unfamiliar music he included, particularly American music.

Among the soloists who played concertos with him were Arthur Rubinstein, Gieseking, Josef Hofmann, Mischa Levitzki, Efrem Zimbalist, Szigeti, Piatigorsky and the eleven-year-old pianist Julius Katchen who, it is said by Sir John Drummond in his autobiography Tainted by Experience, infuriated Barbirolli by pointing out an error in the orchestral accompaniment that the conductor had noticed but could not pinpoint. It's the second clarinet, the boy said. Drummond adds: Julius was still nervous of Barbirolli in Manchester all those years later.

After Barbirolli's performance of Franck's symphony in November 1937, Arthur Judson, one of the most reserved and undemonstrative of men, wrote thus to his conductor:

My dear Barbirolli. In the last twenty years I suppose that I have heard every conductor of note do the César Franck symphony. The best of these was done by Stokowski until I heard your performance of it last Sunday. I have never heard anything to equal that, and I just wanted you to know it.

It was one of the most successful seasons in the Society's history, with attendances high and the financial deficit reduced. The critics were generally favourable to Barbirolli. He received unstinted praise from Lawrence Gilman and won over Samuel Chotzinoff, a convinced Toscaniniite, who stated that fears that the Philharmonic would lose support when Toscanini returned had proved groundless. This topic had been the principal item of press questioning when Barbirolii stepped off the liner and, whatever his personal misgivings, he had described the formation of the NBC Orchestra as splendid - the more good orchestras there are, the better for music. The return of a man like Toscanini can do only good for us all.

Some of Olin Downes's notices in the New York Times read fairly mildly today, and often he bestowed high compliments. Yet some were vicious and there was always an undercurrent of hostility and grudging, rather than wholehearted, praise. His notice of the Strauss concert upset John, particularly remarks about inaccuracies and poor intonation in the performances of Till Eulenspiegel and Don Juan. A tissue of lies, John wrote in his press-cuttings book, the performances were technically at any rate perfect. To Evelyn he said more:

I suppose I must suffer the fate of some pioneers and I suppose Don J. and Till in their clean and vital guise (if I may say so) must have sounded strange to them... Even Downes, in his diabolically clever way, tries to damn the rest, but admits he has never heard the Bourgeois Gentilhomme sound quite like that... He was the one who wrote nastily about me before I ever set foot here, and I think it the greatest tribute that the Schubert and Gentilhomme articles should have appeared from him. He is obviously safeguarding himself from the day when he knows I will be a power here, and with these things to show, he can always say that, although he may have criticised me, he always 'knew the real quality of the man' (as he has said to a friend of mine). It is significant and curious that either he is rather nasty or marvellous, a very good sign...

CDSJB 1025

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Product ID CDSJB1025
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