> Samuel Barber - Piano Concerto [IL]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Piano Concerto *
Die Natali
Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance *
Commando March +
Stephen Prutsman (piano)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop
* Recorded in Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow 10 and 11 March 2002
Recorded in Henry Wood Hall, 18 March 2001† and 12 May 2002 +
NAXOS 8.559133 [60:32]


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Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, completed in 1962, while not as popular or as consistently melodic as the composer’s Violin Concerto (although the slow movement is haunting enough), nevertheless is strongly individualistic and is regarded as having marked the zenith of Barber’s public acclaim. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1963 and the Music Critic’s Circle Award in 1964. It is a virtuoso work

Prutsman and the RSNO rise well to its demands and present a sturdy and less sentimental reading than some. Their slow movement is lyrical without being unduly saccharine. Instead the mysterious, impressionistic and vaguely Chinoiserie elements are allowed full expression. The outer movements are energetic and brusque, capricious and puckish, the finale angry and grotesque with its skeletal xylophone dance and dry ironies.

Die Natali (1960) as the title would suggest, draws on Christmas carols for its thematic ideas. Well-known and well-loved carols are put through a series of imaginative harmonic and contrapuntal developments. There is colour in the rich and sometimes quirky Arabian treatment of ‘We Three Kings’ and later, darker pages anticipating the Passion (?). But it also often implies the comfortable, confident sound world of the American heartland. A work to make a welcome change over Christmastide.

Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Death of Vengeance was first performed under Mitropoulos on 2nd February 1956. It is from the composer’s ballet Medea and the suite has already appeared on Naxos 8.559088. The fourth, fifth and seventh movements are reworked in this piece to form a logical dramatic continuation from Medea’s black meditation characterised by deep, disturbed bass ostinatos and threatening skeletal figures that contrast with more tender feminine instincts (cooler flute material) before the voluptuous dance that bristles with indignation and vengeful anger.

The brief Commando March was composed during World War II in 1943. As well as the usual Max Steiner-like bombast it has an attractive cheeky sardonic twist.

Naxos’s fine Samuel Barber series continues with another attractive album, this time of rather less familiar works played with style.

Ian Lace

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