Orchestral Works Volume 1
The School for Scandal Overture. Op.5.
Symphony No. 1, Op.9
First Essay for Orchestra, Op.12
Symphony No. 2, Op.19
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
- Marin Alsop
Playing Time 69.47, Digital Recording, Recorded 8-9 / 12 / 98.At Henry Wood
This is another disc in the wonderful American Series currently being recorded
by Naxos. Some of the discs contain otherwise unavailable works. This is
a boon to collectors with a love of out of the way works. The Naxos operation
(I include here, of course, Marco Polo) has been covering these byways for
many years, but the budget label has slowly been developed to include all
sorts of unusual repertoire. I hope that not too soon we shall see discs
of Piston (we have already had the violin concertos), Schuman, Harris and
the like. Certainly if they are played and recorded as they are here, they
should do well. This is particularly so, now that the market has developed
a healthy appetite for such unusual repertoire and the discs are being offered
at a price that doesn't matter if you don't like the music.
Samuel Barber has always been at the core of middle of the road traditional
American musical life. He was not over-prolific. According to the sleeve,
this disc is the first in a series of the complete symphonic works of Barber
- I can hardly wait for the others.
What we have here are superb recordings of tuneful and well structured symphonies
with purple patches (for example - the oboe solo in the slow passage of the
first symphony is one to die for). The recording is immediate, and clear,
allowing us to hear all the cross-rhythms and complex orchestration without
strain, and there is plenty of enthusiasm from all parts of the orchestra.
It is good to see that our many regional British orchestras are being given
the chance to shine, now that the major companies are retrenching with dramatic
reductions in their classical output.
The only niggle I have, and it is a small one, is that the orchestra occasionally
gives the impression of being slightly uncomfortable in certain passages,
a fault common with most non-American orchestras playing this repertoire.
Where there is no competition, this slight reservation would be of no
consequence, but with these two symphonies, Naxos have a number of competitive
recordings to see off. Jarvi, hardly an idiomatic American conductor,
nevertheless has the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under his baton, and they
feel the pulse as one. Still, this disc is at full price, and you get the
Adagio for Strings instead of the First Essay.
The First Essay is a gem of a work, as is the Second Essay (not issued here).
I am sure the essays would have a much larger following if they were called
something else. The First Essay was commissioned by Toscanini after he had
heard a performance of the First Symphony in Salzburg in 1937. It was first
performed in New York in 1938. Marin Alsop, herself an American, brings great
emotion to bear on this and the other works on this disc and I can recommend
I look forward not only to the next disc in the Barber Series, but to others
in this American Series. I am sure that we are in for an extremely interesting
and enriching experience.