> BARBER Knoxville, Dover Beach etc MPK46727 [RB]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Knoxville - Summer of 1915 (1947)
Eleanor Steber (sop)/Dumbarton Oaks Orchestra/William Strickland rec 1950 mono
Dover Beach (1931)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (bar)/Juilliard Quartet rec 1967
Hermit Songs (1953)
Leontyne Price (sop)/composer (piano) rec 1954 mono
Andromache's Farewell (1962)
Martina Arroyo (sop)/NYPO/Thomas Schippers rec 1963
SONY Classical MPK 46727 [51.22]


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This exploration of the vocal dimension of Barber's music has been in the Sony catalogue for a decade - quite a survivor!

As Robert Cushman says in his booklet notes, Barber came from a family in which the vocal art was prominent. His aunt was the mezzo Louise Homer (1871-1947). Fischer-Dieskau is a mite mournful but Arnold's Dover Beach is admittedly hardly a bright subject. It would be welcome if some company would record Maurice Johnstone's setting for baritone and orchestra. Has anyone else set the poem?

The Steber Knoxville is a pioneering classic but I prefer Dawn Upshaw's Teldec version. It is a work that easily worms its way into your affections - an operatic scena really and of tellingly balanced emotional symmetry. Leontyne Price and the composer premiered the Hermit Songs in 1953 and made this recording a year later. These are well worth hearing and will appeal if you have taken to Leo Smit's Dickinson songs or Finzi's Hardy or the songs of Herbert Howells. Price is very clear and I defy you not to be won over in The Monk and his Cat which lilts along with a Caribbean smile. The settings are of Irish texts from the 8th to 13th centuries as translated and adapted by Auden, Chester Kallman, Howard Mumford Jones and Sean O'Faolain.

After such intimacy the hot up-blast of the orchestra in the scena Andromache's Farewell comes as a voltage jolt to the listener. There is an asperity and astringency about the music in which Barber quarter opens the door to dissonance. Arroyo is in fully blooming operatic voice and there can be no doubting that this is music for a grand auditorium. Andromache already bereft of her husband, Hector (her parting from Hector is charted by Bliss in Morning Heroes). Here she bids farewell to her son Astyanax who is to be executed by the Greeks. The music has that same tenderness, that same turbulence and ambition that is to be heard in Barber's own Antony and Cleopatra and Walton's Troilus and Cressida. Did Barber ever contemplate setting Euripides Trojan Women - a subject that was set by Cecil Gray - another of the great unknowns. A pity that the engineers pull back on the controls at 9.13 just as Arroyo reaches a glorious climax. Still these are all analogue AAD originals and tape saturation had to be managed. You have to hear this: Schippers with all his considerable operatic cunning and the NYPO at his bidding make a great collaboration.

The playing time is short, regrettably. Interpretive values are high and Barber enthusiasts must have this. Sadly no texts are provided although all singer enunciate with care without being mannered.

A disc made memorable by Arroyo and Steber and by Price's faithful clarity, restraint and grip on the intimacy of her songs.
Rob Barnett


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