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.