Barbirolli’s concert programmes with the New York Philharmonic (or Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York, as it was known then), were enterprising and forward-looking. In addition to the standard symphonic repertoire, he included a surprisingly large number of performances of contemporary music, including many pieces by American composers, as well as works by British composers. Schumann and Tchaikovsky were among the many composers whose music appeared in Barbirolli’s concert programmes and commercial recordings. He had recorded the Schumann's Cello Concerto with Gregor Piatigorsky (1934) and the Violin Concerto with Menhuin (1938) both with the New York Philharmonic. This 'live' recording of Schumann’s Fourth Symphony is from New York’s Carnegie Hall on 7 November 1937, early in his first full season with the orchestra.
Tchaikovsky had long been in his blood. At the age of twenty, he played solo cello in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dan Godfrey. He recorded many works by Tchaikovsky, including Francesca da Rimini and the Suite No. 3 in G with the New York Philharmonic and Symphonies Nos. 4, 5 and 6 with the Hallé Orchestra. Later in life, Barbirolli once commented that he would sometimes smile at some of the things that he did in his conducting in his youth. He may have smiled and enjoyed the exuberance of his performance of the Tchaikovsky Fifth. The accelerando of the finale raises not just a smile but also the hairs on the back of the neck. This recording of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony is an ‘off-air’ recording of a concert broadcast from Utica in New York State during the last week of November 1939. Between 20 November and 3 December 1939, Barbirolli was on tour with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and they played at fourteen different centres in as many days – Scranton, Baltimore, Washington, Pittsburgh, Toledo, Kalamazoo, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Columbus, Utica, Dayton (Canada), Hamilton, Ottawa and Toronto. The tour was the highlight of the 1939-40 season and was much enjoyed by both the orchestra and conductor. Barbirolli and the orchestra read ecstatic eulogies of themselves in every town they visited.