Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Cello Concerto op 22
Medea Ballet Suite op 29
Adagio for Strings

Wendy Warner (cello)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Marin Alsop
Recorded at Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, May 2000
Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Two immediate thoughts: the music of the American composer Samuel Barber (1910-81) is grossly under-performed (and indeed under-rated); and the cello concerto repertoire is relatively meagre. On hearing this Barber concerto (composed in 1945, and subsequently revised) for the first time, why, I asked myself, is it not up there with Dvorak, Elgar and Shostakovich? It's an absolutely terrific work, quite able to hold its own in such exalted company, and a fine example of what I would call Barber's distinctively spiced late-romantic idiom. It is magnificently laid out for the solo instrument, and though he employs a large orchestra the composer's judgement in matters of balance is faultless. If, like me, you love his Violin Concerto, you will find this cello concerto equally pleasing.

It begins with a modest, even inconsequential, orchestral dialogue, which the soloist joins in almost casual fashion; but from this seemingly slender material a majestic first movement structure soon emerges. The second movement siciliano is ravishingly beautiful, and the molto allegro e appassionato finale bristles with energy and emotion. Soloist Wendy Warner combines authoritative virtuosity with a sure grasp of the work's character.

The Medea ballet suite is another unfamiliar masterpiece, dating from about the same time as the concerto. In his setting of the Greek legend, Barber produced a powerful, uncompromising score, tender and dramatic by turns, and notable for many brilliant features of orchestration, both subtle and strident. The disc is completed by the Adagio for Strings, which receives a straightforward performance happily devoid of excessive sentimentality.

The popularity of this latter piece irked Barber - and justifiably so (it almost put him in the sad league of 'one work' composers). Still, if its inclusion persuades the punters to invest in this record, they will be richly rewarded (at a give-away Naxos price!) by the rest of the disc, which forms part of a series of Barber recordings undertaken by the American conductor Marin Alsop, who has suddenly burst into prominence over here among the still small band of women conductors. On this disc she secures splendid playing from the RSNO, and the recorded sound is well-nigh perfect.

Adrian Smith

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board.  Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.This is the only part of MusicWeb for which you will have to register.

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: