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Minus the Adagio

Barber and some orchestral music,

Naxos    8.559044

Samuel Barber: Violin Concerto. (c) 2001 HNH International Ltd


The slow movement of a string quartet unexpectedly gained the musical world's esteem, probably to Samuel Barber's surprise when it happened. Maybe he latterly felt it an overindulgence and wished it otherwise. His radiant Violin Concerto of 1940 has not gained the same exposure, although in such a virtuosic performance as from Barber's fellow American, James Boswell, one could wish it more [listen -- track 3, 0:00-0:57].

By no means a modernist, Barber used a language generous in harmonic and textural colour. There are times when the resulting mixture seems a little unfocussed, yet only blips on a pleasant landscape. The concerto is mostly lightweight with tuttis the more dramatic when they appear. The effervescence of the final moto perpetuo neatly balances the foregoing movements' comfortable demeanour and pace.

Other works selected include opus 1, a Serenade for strings, which for all its pleasantries has no cohesive voice, and finally a much tauter piece in Music for a Scene from Shelley. Yes, it could pass for film music but plays out its dramatic role well [listen -- track 13, 3:19-4:20].

A ballet suite of nine pieces entitled Souvenirs throws no surprises in its popular dance forms and neat, comfortable music. The Violin Concerto is the work here which really displays Barber's strengths. As a CD valuation of Barber -- other than the Adagio for strings -- this is a worthwhile project, proving his compositional gifts, particularly in the concerto.

The Royal Scottish National assists the music with clear-cut performances under the direction of Marin Alsop.


Copyright © 21 November 2001 Basil Ramsey, Eastwood, Essex, UK






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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular Wednesday series of shorter CD reviews