Samuel Barber's cello concerto has long been considered the weak sister among his three concertos for solo instrument; this release may alter that perception. It was written in 1945, when he was thirty-five, a time in his life when he was still brimming with confidence about his music, not yet on the defensive against attacks received from many quarters, and not yet attempting to bring contemporary elements into his work. Some of the brouhaha was well-intentioned: Americans in the musical world naturally wanted our first internationally successful composer to represent us at our best, our newest and freshest; others decried his conservative romanticism out of personal jealousy at his wide acceptance.
This EMI Angel release Barber & Shostakovich: Violin Concertos places a new package on a time-honored item, the Barber and Dmitry Shostakovich violin concerti as interpreted by violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg with the London Symphony Orchestra led by Maxim Shostakovich. It originally came out in 1992, and the original release, while it was no "Chant," proved a dependable seller. By reducing the price and putting it into a new package, EMI Angel might seem to be hoping to attract buyers who missed it the first time around, but this is a special case in that it is making available again what may have been the finest recording made by Salerno-Sonnenberg under the terms of her EMI contract.
Except for John Williams’s theme from Schindler’s List , the compositions on violinist Alexander Gilman’s program with Perry So conducting the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra all suffered a certain amount of neglect after their first performances and recordings. Isaac Stern (and Louis Kaufman and Robert Gerle) brought Samuel Barber’s concerto to the attention of listeners, and now it has just about entered the repertoire, and students adopt it for competitions. Alexander Gilman produces a glowing tone from his Giovanni Battista Guadagnini violin, but the engineers don’t set him so far forward as Columbia’s did Isaac Stern; if Gilman plays with less ruddy energy, he more than compensates for it in subtlety and refinement.
The threads that connect the string quartets on this "American album" by San Francisco's Cypress String Quartet are a little tenuous. The booklet speaks of the mixture of ethnic influences that has been characteristic of concert music in the U.S., but two of the works, Kevin Puts' Lento assai and Samuel Barber's String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11, do not use ethnic materials at all.
In the 20th century, the great American composers – simmering in the mighty melting pot – evoked Hollywood glamour, folksy landscapes, irresistible swing, poignant nostalgia, showbiz pzazz, sweet sentiment, streetwise sophistication, and hypnotic minimalistic drive. This 6-CD box – featuring such citizens of the world as Simon Rattle, André Previn, The Labèque Sisters, Renaud Capuçon, Hélène Grimaud and Paavo Järvi – take us on an exhilarating journey across the musical horizons of the USA.
Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto is well-suited to Hilary Hahn’s expressive range and technical proficiency. Perhaps it is also an ideal vehicle for her impressive musicality, which always overrides virtuosic flashiness. Hahn’s seriousness is matched by the work’s earnest style, and her intellectual grasp of the music is as strong as her emotional commitment to it. Hahn opens the neo-Romantic Allegro with a full sound, complemented by the artful writing for winds. B
While Gil Shaham's interpretation of Barber's violin concerto may have been more soulful, or David Zinman's interpretation of his Music for a Scene From Shelley more dramatic, no one would say that James Buswell's interpretation of the concerto is anything less than heartfelt or that Marin Alsop's interpretation of the Shelley music is anything less than affecting.