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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Violin Concerto, Op. 14 (1941)
Souvenirs Ballet Suite, Op. 28, (1952)
Serenade for Strings, Op. 1 (1928)
Music for a Scene from Shelley, Op. 7 (1935).
James Buswell (violin), Royal Scottish National Orchestra Marin Alsop
recorded 27/1/01 (Violin Concerto), 11-12/5/00 (Souvenirs), 3-4/5/00 (remainder) in the Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow. DDD
NAXOS 8.559044 [64.20]


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The Violin Concerto was written for the child prodigy and Flesch pupil, Iso Briselli, but ended up being premiered by Albert Spalding with the Philadelphians and Ormandy on 7 Feb 1941.

Buswell gives a thoughtful reading making quite a few new points along the way and doing so in a refreshing way (particularly in the long first movement). This is good in its own right but also for those for whom the work has become stale although I am not going to forsake the Isaac Stern classic now on Sony Theta with the concertos for piano (the classic Browning version) and cello (Yo-Yo Ma). The orchestral contribution is very good and I was specially taken with the emotion-drained oboe solo at the start of the andante. The slight downside is the tendency to thinness in the string sound - part of the character of this orchestra, at least in the studio. Coordination is excellent - just listen to the dashing Presto and the discreetly chattering precision trumpet work at 2.55. James Buswell's tone in this Naxos recording is not as enriched as some. I have seen at least one reviewer taking exception to its acidic edge.

Souvenirs is a favourite work of mine discovered when I heard it in 1977 played by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Ashley Lawrence in a BBC Radio 3 Matinée Musicale programme. There have not been many recordings (Serebrier and Slatkin) but this is the best so far. The six movement ballet suite takes as its subject the Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel, 1914 with each movement focusing on a different part of the hotel - from lobby, to Third Floor Hallway, to Corner of Ballroom, to Tea in the Palm Court, to a Bedroom Affair and a finale simply called The Next Afternoon which for me expresses the constant renewal of life and incident in the hotel. The style is Gallic, plenty of Ravel, some Offenbach, Poulenc perhaps (Les Biches), and Rossinian flightiness. Sample the delectably breathless Two-step and then prepare yourself for the sultry Hesitation Tango which rises to an orgasmic climax - yes the subtitle is A Bedroom Affair. Here Alsop and the Glaswegian orchestra pace to perfection and the dramatic peak, when it comes, is voluptuously done (2.21) by the French Horn section. They deserve special recognition for this. The music then sinks back into the pillows.

The rather vapid and cold Serenade for Strings (his Op. 1) has never been one of my favourite Barber works but it is tenderly done by the RSNO.

Music for a Scene from Shelley takes us back into the damask romance which is Barber's natural milieu. It dates from 1933 and was written after the composer had been reading Shelley's 'Prometheus Unbound' (an epic set, on the largest scale, by Havergal Brian for soloists, chorus and orchestra but whose full score has disappeared). This builds quickly from shadowlands to Sibelian climacterics. This is a full-bloodedly romantic, not to say melodramatic, piece written perhaps with knowledge of Howard Hanson's first two symphonies and foreshadowing Rozsa's Hollywood music.

This disc is a strong and inexpensive introduction to Barber with Souvenirs making it indispensable to Barber enthusiasts and balletomanes. Others will find that they acquire fine performances of the Concerto and the Scene. If I disdain the Serenade it reflects my prejudice against the work rather than the interpretation.

More please Naxos and do get Mr Buswell to look at the two violin concertos by Paul Creston and the single concertos by Edward Burlinghame Hill and Leo Sowerby.
Rob Barnett

see also review by John Phillips

 


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