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Jonathan Woolf
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Jonathan Woolf
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Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Adagio for Strings (1936) [9:32] 
London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn
Violin Concerto, op.14 (1939) [24:21]
Elmar Oliveira (violin); Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin
Essay no.1, op.12 (1937) [9:15]
Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra/Slatkin
Cello Concerto, op.22 (1945) [28:29]
Ralph Kirshbaum (cello); Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Jukka Pekka Saraste,
Agnus Dei (1967) [7:47] 
Winchester Cathedral Choir/David Hill
rec. 1977-98 details not given
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 2282752 [79:31] 


Experience Classicsonline

‘Classics’ certainly - and ‘Pleasure’ is also pretty much guaranteed in this release of much admired performances. Foremost stands the Violin Concerto. I’m sure that violin fanciers would like nothing more than to have an archive performance of the premiere given by Albert Spalding. It would be fascinating to hear how the great American Classicist took the echt-Romantic Barber – and in my case I’d be particularly keen to have heard the tempo he took for the first movement. Well, we can but dream.

But it’s certainly no hardship to listen again to Oliveira and Slatkin in this work. With sensitive shaping of the succulent lyric lines, fine dynamics and a strong sense of alluring sweep this is a captivating recording from beginning to end. There are moments of expressive depth in the first movement as well a vocalised cantilena in the second – not to forget the combative bravura of the soloist-defying finale with Oliveira’s wristily bowed virtuosity to the fore. There are plenty of alternatives in this work from the classic Stern through Bell and on. I tend to admire performers who make a distinction between the first two movements – who take the first movement at a proper Allegro and don’t allow it to wallow at Andante. I think it was Louis Kaufman, at least on disc, who embedded the idea that the opening movement was a glorious but slowish effusion. Oliveira doesn’t quite pass my test there but he’s better than some.

The Cello Concerto is entrusted to Kirshbaum and Saraste. The latter directs the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and that sense of intimacy works well here. The lissom precision of the orchestral playing doesn’t however limit some trenchant contributions from the brass - vital and acutely done. The affecting cantilena of the central movement is a highpoint where Kirshbaum’s well-equalised scale and sure sense of the work’s dramatic and insular expression is at a peak. Here the ruminative and contemplative nature of the narrative is movingly conveyed.

The disc opens and closes with the Adagio for Strings – in the orchestral and vocal guises that have become more familiar to us now than the original quartet context. Previn and the LSO bring a rather noble sense of reserve in their 1977 recording whilst the much more recent vocal performance by Winchester Cathedral Choir and David Hill balances it well. The Essay No.1 is another St. Louis/Slatkin traversal – an intense and structurally acute and penetrating reading.

An excellent conspectus then and well worth investigating if you’ve not otherwise come across the concerto performances in particular.

Jonathan Woolf 

see also Review by Gwyn Parry-Jones  



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