Rudolf Barshai (1924-2010) – conductor, viola-player and co-founder in 1945 of the Borodin Quartet. Between 1982 and 1988 Barshai was conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. One of their recordings was an album of Sir Michael Tippett’s music, made in November 1984 at the Poole Arts Centre, produced and engineered by Brian B. Culverhouse; the LP cover is illustrated, a reminder of Direct Metal Mastering.
On compact disc CDC 7473302, Barshai directs a vivid outing for the Ritual Dances from The Midsummer Marriage (taken from Acts II & III of the opera). Just occasionally Barshai is a little pedantic, but he projects details in uninhibited style without becoming coarse while ensuring that the music’s enchantment and drama – the thrill of the chase – are fully conveyed; and Tippett’s orchestration glows.
Barshai’s attraction to this composer’s output goes back to a celebrated version of the Concerto for Double String Orchestra, recorded in the early-1960s using a combo of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra & the Bath Festival Chamber Orchestra, which I have never really heard save for the slow movement and then only a few weeks ago. Barshai’s remake is impressive on its own terms, well-judged tempos and the two ensembles are explicitly antiphonal without creating a hole in the middle. What a wonderful piece this is – of irresistible energy, poignant lyricism and refrains, ecstatic singing lines and masterly counterpoint across the groups. I do wish Barshai was a little more expansive in the Finale’s coda – to convey a greater sense of arrival – but I love this music so much as to make this the smallest of reservations.
I can’t immediately think of an alternative version of the Ritual Dances, unless I mention off-air recordings from Celibidache and the LSO (live in London and then on-tour in Japan), but I can cite a Concerto preference, from another Rudolf, Kempe and the BBCSO (RFH concert) on BBC Legends. This said, I wouldn’t want to be without this Barshai pairing.