English Tone Pictures (CD review)

Music of Bax, Delius, and Ireland. Sir John Barbirolli, London Symphony Orchestra and Halle Orchestra. EMI 0946 3 79984 2 7.

I mean, who would rather having conducting English pastoral music than Sir John Barbirolli? Well, maybe Sir Thomas Beecham or Sir Adrian Boult, but close enough. Barbirolli was born in London of an Italian father and a French mother, but he was an Englishman through and through. Like Beecham and Boult, English music was in his blood and bones. One can hear it no better expressed than in this collection of short English tone poems, presented by EMI on one of their “Great Recordings of the Century” albums.

The program begins and ends with evocations of England, first up being Arnold Bax’s portrait of the fifth-century coast of Cornwall, “Tintagel,” the legendary place of King Arthur’s birth. The final piece is John Ireland’s picture of twentieth-century downtown London, “A London Overture.” The two works couldn’t be more different, but they are excellent, contrasting bookends for the collection. “Tintagel” is, of course, the more Romantic, in both senses--fanciful and adventurous yet sensual and passionate. The thrusting waves against the rocky shores are as metaphorical as they are literal.  Barbirolli deals with it exquisitely, at least the equal of Boult’s celebrated version on Lyrita. “A London Overture” is bustling, noisy, and crowded with the sounds of the city.

Next up are five pieces by Frederick Delius, the first three done by Barbirolli and the London Symphony Orchestra from 1965-66 and the last two by Barbirolli’s and the Halle Orchestra done several years later. The nice thing is that if you have Beecham’s collection of Delius’s music on EMI’s “Great Recordings of the Century” series, the present disc duplicates only one of the pieces, the “Irmelin Prelude.” The other four are “The Walk to the Paradise Garden,” “A Song of Summer,” “In a Summer Garden,” and the totally delightful “La Catinda.” Wonderful material.

The sound is splendid throughout, with a slight nod, perhaps, to the later Halle recordings. The sonics are very wide spread, warm, and open, with plenty of orchestral depth and no holes anywhere. This is quite a good disc in every way.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa