Here's an incandescent reading of the Bruckner Third with a few obstacles blocking a listener's full enjoyment. The sound from 1964 is fairly edgy mono; the BBC taped the performance at the Halle Orchestra's hall i Manchester without an audience at a time when they were broadcasting in perfectly good stereo from London. Climaxes bring scratchy microphone distortion. The orchestra, never first rate, plays without mistakes but isn't a smoothly operating machine by any means. Finally, Barbirolli is close enough to the mike that his loud grunting can be heard off and on. If you can get past these impediments -- the worst for me being the shrill, thin treble -- the performance itself is urgent, passionate, and riveting. I'd go so far as to call it one of a kind.
The Bruckner Third is the first symphony that reveals his full genius, and if it isn't considered an outright masterpiece, Barbirilli plays it as if it were, and that makes a huge difference. He sets urgent tempos and phrases everything from the heart. There are striking dramatic outbursts and wide dynamic contrasts -- this is very far from the refined, overly literal performance style that prevails today. Full-out expression is the order of the day in Barbirolli's Bruckner, although he never recorded any of the five symphonies that were in his conducting repertoire. It took BBC Legends to release some live broadcasts, starting a re-evaluation that led, in many quarters, to seeing Barbirolli as one of the great Brucknerians, despite the roughness of the Halle's playing compared to famous ensembles like Berlin and Vienna. An eloquent but somewhat roughly played Tannhauser Over., also in mono, fills out the CD.
In his review, the Gramophone's authoritative Bruckner specialist, Richard Osborne, says this about the edition being used: "BBC/IMG says, incorrectly, that this is the 1877 Nowak edition (first published in 1981!). The Third exists in three versions: 1873, an 1877 revision which Barbirolli may have seen in the 1950 Oeser edition, and the foreshortened, orchestrally 'improved', arguably spurious but undeniably effective, Bruckner/Schalk re-write of 1889. Widely favoured by conductors of Barbirolli's generation -- Behm, Karajan, Szell and Wand all made powerful recordings of it -- it is this 1889 text that is used here."
I can only second Osborne's final comment: "Barbirolli's fervent -- occasionally audible -- involvement with the music carries all before it."