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Record Box - Planning your collection - with Bill Newman


Global Fascinations and Sophistications

Samuel Barber


Samuel Barber Orchestral Works Volume 1 (c) 2000 HNH International Ltd

Three recent discs in Naxos' American Music Series conjure up memories. I must have worn out Bruno Walter's 78rpm New York Philharmonic recording of Samuel Barber's First Symphony, so I was pleased when CBS/Sony reissued it on CD. Superb as that was, Howard Hanson's Eastman-Rochester Mercury LP had far more physical punch; surprisingly, subsequent versions mainly afford mixed blessings. You really have to hear this work live - I did when Gail Kubik included it in an all-American concert at the Royal Festival Hall with the London Philharmonic in the late 60s. Its impetuous sweep and tensile strength picture the young composer releasing all his pent-up anguishes and frustrations on a world which two years hence was to be plunged into turmoil [listen -- track 4, 4:11-5:09]. No wonder that ardent pacifist Toscanini liked it.

The calmer but menacing message behind Essay No 1, a Toscanini commission, finally bursts asunder just before its serene close when the timpanist thuds out the war-like warning [listen -- track 5, 6:40-7:40], but Barber was never happy with his second venture into symphonic form - his so-called Radar Symphony, which survived as an isolated central movement for some years. The composer recorded the work complete with the New Symphony Orchestra for Decca before banning performances of the first and third movements. Thanks to the late Andrew Schenck it has re-entered the arena intact. In the capable hands of Marin Alsop, the remarkable lady now in charge of the Colorada Symphony, it sounds as if Barber was wrong to change his mind. School for Scandal Overture (earlier in 1933) - where lightheartedness is a constant feature - sets the seal on what must be a major recording achievement for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

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Copyright © 15 November 2000 Bill Newman, Edgware, UK







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