May 20, 1964, Sir John Barbirolli and the BBC Symphony Orchestra (not the Hallé) travel to Coventry Cathedral for this expansive and impassioned account of Elgar’s Second Symphony, made available here for the first time.
It’s easy to hear some excellent and dedicated playing; it’s also easy to not hear certain details, numerous in fact, lost to the acoustic (which unleashes five seconds of reverberation, a factor Barbirolli takes into account on occasion during his very experienced conducting of this score), although the mono sound is pretty good, well-remastered by Ian Jones (no discolourations), reporting a generalised fullness.
There’s no doubting the ardour and seasoning of the performance (I wonder how many in the 1964 BBCSO had recorded Elgar Two for Boult twenty years earlier, his first recording of five of this work) – very likely a great occasion for those present – and if the opening movement is a bit of a blur, despite JB’s time-taken approach (with something awry for a few seconds from 15:49), there’s much that thrills and moves, and there is intense eloquence in the sometimes-volatile Larghetto. The Scherzo is quite mobile, driven by devils in the middle section – a wholly unholy eruption – with a coda that holds it own in terms of ensemble. The Finale is noble, searing and, in conclusion, seems to poignantly grieve for a vanishing world. Good to report that applause, if there was any in this hallowed venue, is removed.
I am pleased to have heard SJB 1107, completed by an informative booklet essay from Robert Matthew-Walker.