Older Ives enthusiasts may recall the First Piano Sonata in performances by William Masselos who played the work for the first time in 1954, the year the composer died. Odd, but familiar in Ives, for such a masterpiece to have to wait 45 years to be heard! Masselos made two recordings (nla) which established the character of this richly inventive work. The one by Noel Lee (on a Nonesuch LP—only available in the USA) made in the late 1960s is almost as impressive. Joanna MacGregor's recording is now a landmark since there is effectively no competition in the British catalogue: DJF found little to recommend in John Jensen's performance on Music and Arts (9/90) so it is best to compare MacGregor, who is certainly busy in the recording studios these days, with these earlier Americans.
Baritone Gerald Finley's generous selection of Barber's songs includes two of his most familiar cycles, 11 individual songs, and Dover Beach, for baritone and string quartet. The songs all come from Barber's early period and range from "There is nae Lark," written when he was 17, to the Hermit Songs of 1953. Finley doesn't have a huge voice, but he can deliver plenty of power when required, and he has an appealing warmth and ease. His delivery is refreshingly free and unmannered, and it is ideally suited to the directness of Barber's songs. He shows wonderful sensitivity to the texts and makes even the most overdone songs, such as "The Daisies," sound convincing and newly imagined. The Hermit Songs are sung almost exclusively by women, perhaps because of the tradition that Barber established when he gave the premiere performance accompanying Leontyne Price, whose recording remains a gold standard. The texts, mostly written by Medieval Irish monks, largely reflect a male perspective, and Finley's fine performance ought to give courage to more men to take up the cycle.
Never-heard music from the mighty Keith Jarrett – performances recorded in the mid 80s, and featuring Jarrett working in a mix of jazz and classical styles that's pretty darn great! The first piece is Samuel Barber's "Piano Concerto Op 38", performed with the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies – but Jarrett's performance brings an edge and sense of air that recalls some of his own compositions for larger groups from the 70s, especially with Davie at the helm.
Roberta Alexander’s outstanding CD of vocal music by Samuel Barber demonstrates the soprano’s understanding of the composer’s musical language and emotional content … The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic plays very well under the tasteful leadership of Edo de Waart.
For all the agony as to the status of classical music in the modern musical landscape, the three 20th century string quartets on this fine French release can be said to have entered the repertory, with a reach that extends far beyond the U.S. They go quite well together, which is the first point in favor of France's Quatuor Diotima here; both Steve Reich's Different Trains, for string quartet and tape, and George Crumb's Black Angels for electric quartet feature an artificially enhanced string quartet, and even Samuel Barber elected to "enhance" his String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11, by orchestrating its central movement and making it into the famous Adagio for strings. Highly recommended.
This sparkling suite for violin and piano came into being when the composer had to adapt his incidental score for a production of Shakespeare's play to the impending absence of the chamber orchestral. The result is a brilliant piece for violin and piano, which the composer quickly released in a four-movement version. There are other recordings of the chamber orchestra suite in five-movements that duplicate only three of the movements of this version. Violinist Gil Shaham and pianist André Previn are ideal partners in this brilliant performance. The four movements allow Shaham to show four sides of his violinist's personality: He skips and plays in carefree fashion in the opening movement, indulges in the grotesquery and parody of the second, gets to play the romantic in the garden scene of the third movement, and dazzles with virtuosity in the final hornpipe. Previn's part is more than mere accompaniment; the piano often has a large part of the mood of the music and his contribution is, to use a word already employed here, ideal.
An imaginative mixture of the popular and the unusual. Barber’s only quartet has at its heart the famous Adagio for Strings: the latter is an arrangement of the second of the quartet’s two movements. That Adagio – which here benefits not only from the unfamiliarity of the chamber original but also from the Duke’s sensitively understated approach on their first recording for Collins Classics – is here surrounded by some captivating faster music (including a brief return to the opening Molto allegro’s ideas). And Robert Maycock’s excellent booklet notes hint at what those famous seven minutes of slow, sad passion in particular could really be said to be about: young homosexual love in the Austrian woods. Thirty years later, in 1966, another American in Europe, and still in his twenties, wrote his first string quartet, though it’s unlikely to be a direct reflection of love, this time in Paris.
The growing popularity of Samuel Barber abroad is confirmed by this Swedish release with only one American musician, conductor Andrew Litton, in sight. It's an impressive set, with a very strong performance of the Cello Concerto, Op. 22, the most difficult of Barber's concertos for both performer and listener. The work was written for Georgian-born cellist Raya Garbousova, and it is unusual in that it was worked out in close collaboration with her; for other cellists (Yo-Yo Ma being a notable exception) its high double stops and the like have proven fiendishly challenging.
Two immediate thoughts: the music of the American composer Samuel Barber (1910-81) is grossly under-performed (and indeed under-rated); and the cello concerto repertoire is relatively meagre. On hearing this Barber concerto (composed in 1945, and subsequently revised) for the first time, why, I asked myself, is it not up there with Dvorak, Elgar and Shostakovich? It's an absolutely terrific work, quite able to hold its own in such exalted company, and a fine example of what I would call Barber's distinctively spiced late-romantic idiom.