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.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa