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  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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This is the third Barber disc in the American Series currently being recorded by Naxos, using Scottish forces under the leadership of the highly talented Marin Alsop. I thought that some of the playing was a little stiff on the first disc, but that the later disc was an improvement on the first. This shares the same recording sessions for the minor items on this disc, but the Violin Concerto is more recent.

Marin Alsop has now managed to develop an almost genuine American feel for rhythms in her Scottish orchestra and there is absolutely no complaint in that area with this new disc.

Barber's Violin Concerto enjoys an enormous popularity and deservedly so as its melodies are gloriously romantic. I bet that the original commissionee of the work became very annoyed when having turned down the concerto he saw how popular it was to become.

It is written in three movements and has two initial slow movements followed by a manic finale which progresses wildly from start to finish. The soloist, James Buswell performs the concerto extremely well with plenty of deeply felt emotion, which I found very satisfying. The only area of concern I have, is to do with the tone of his instrument or perhaps it is a resonance or placement problem in the Naxos recording equipment/studio. The very good sleeve note tells us that the instrument which he plays is a 1720 Stradivarius, but have such relatively wiry sounds ever emanated from a proper Strad?? The sound of the violin is not actually that bad, but for the epitome of a modern romantic concerto, there are many better examples available.

The ballet suite is a much less substantial work, and is in six relatively short sections. According to the composer, the ballet was described thus: "One might imagine a divertissement in a setting of the Palm Court of the Hotel Plaza in New York, the year about 1914, epoch of the first tangos; Souvenirs remembered with affection, not in irony or with tongue in cheek, but amused tenderness."

We then have the Serenade for Strings, an early work, which is an arrangement of Barbers early Serenade for String Quartet. This was composed in 1928 when he was eighteen. The Serenade does not provide any dramatic revelations but is well worth listening to as it provides very tuneful work.

The Music for a Scene from Shelley gives us yet another picture of the composer inspired this time by Debussy. The one movement work was inspired by Shelleys Prometheus Unbound, but we are told by the composer that the work is in no way programmatic. The performance is as good as I have heard and I am happy to recommend this disc wholeheartedly except for the minor niggle about the tone of the violin in the concerto.

Recording quality and presentation are both outstanding more please Naxos especially for the symphonic works of Piston, Schuman, Harris and the like.

John Phillips


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