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.
see also review by John