Barbirolli had known Debussy’s Nocturnes for at least three decades. His love of and familiarity with Debussy’s music stemmed from the early 1920s, when – as a cellist – he had programmed the French master’s late Cello Sonata relatively frequently. The score of the three Nocturnes was completed less than two weeks after Barbirolli’s birth, in November 1899. The Nocturnes are generally assumed to be based upon a group of texts emanating from Henri de Régnier’s collection of Poèmes anciens et romanesques, first published in 1890.
Barbirolli’s Proms performance from 1965 is suffused with musical understanding of high quality. Note the almost complete silence of the large audience during the opening movement Nuages – testament to the compelling atmosphere Barbirolli conjures; the succeeding fleetness of touch in Fêtes is, frankly, masterly, and the concluding dynamics of the piano bars are demonstrably superb. The final movement, Sirènes, is a profoundly atmospheric conclusion – a sense of wonder that Barbirolli, his orchestra and choir, finely conjured from the notes on the printed page.
Schubert’s Symphony No.9 is given a performance of considerable insight and distinction, all the more remarkable for being ‘live’. Throughout this exceptional account, Barbirolli’s direction is always noble and grand, drawing poetry and a great beauty of sound from the orchestra. In addition there is plenty of power and punch in hand and the rhythmic drive maintained magnificently throughout.
Recorded: Royal Albert Hall, London (Proms) – 20 July 1965 (Schubert) and 26 July 1965 (Debussy)