> Samuel Barber - Première Recordings [RB]: Classical Reviews- April 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Overture to The School for Scandal (1931) [8.05]
The Janssen Symphony of Los Angeles/Werner Janssen
rec. 11 March 1942, Hollywood
Adagio for Strings (from String Quartet Op. 11) (1932) [7.07]
rec. 19 March 1942, Carnegie Hall, New York
Capricorn Concerto (1944) [14.08]
Julius Baker (flute), Harry Freistadt (trumpet), Mitchell Miller (oboe), Saidenberg Little Symphony/Daniel Saidenberg
rec. 1946, New York
Dover Beach (1931) [7.45]
Samuel Barber (baritone)/Curtis String Quartet
rec. 13 May 1935, Church Studio No. 2, Camden, New Jersey
Essay No. 1 (1938) [7.21]
Philharmonic Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
rec. 20 Oct 1940, Philadelphia Academy of Music
Cello Sonata (1932) [16.58]
Raya Garbousova (cello)/Erich Itor Kahn (piano)
rec. 1947, New York
Symphony No. 1 (in one movement) (1936) [17.36]
Philharmonic SO of New York/Bruno Walter
rec. 23 Jan 1945, Carnegie Hall, New York
PEARL GEM 0049 [79.37]


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With the exception of the very rare Dover Beach set, these mono U.S. recordings are from the 1940s; three from the period of the USA's engagement in the Second World War.

The Capricorn Concerto flickers and Pulcinellas away in Saidenberg's hands with more romantic juice than the later recording on Everest and this despite being taken from audio material that has taken some bruising from time's battering.

Amazing how well dynamic contrast is conveyed in the Ormandy Essay No. 1. This delves deeply into a lode later exploited so fruitfully by Howard Hanson in his Second Symphony and previously familiar from Barber's own First Symphony and from Dover Beach itself. Walter finds smiling grace as well as relentless angst in the Symphony (modelled on Sibelius 7 though in four sections - each separately tracked here). I am convinced that this mid-European stance is what prompts, with such force, memories of Vaughan Williams' Tallis Fantasia in the Andante Tranquillo (track 13) as well as auguries of William Alwyn's pre-Raphaelite Lyra Angelica. If you have trouble with Barber the protesting romantic then this version will win you over to the symphony. When you contrast it with David Measham's version (on a long gone late-1970s Unicorn RHS LP) you realise what variety of approach can be accommodated by this work. The original discs are in very good fettle contrasting with the narrow constriction of the results achieved only a year later for the Capricorn Concerto on the Concert Hall label.

Barber's singing of Dover Beach has the advantage of his clearer diction and smoother production when compared with the later Columbia recording by Fischer-Dieskau. The Curtis are more alive to the sunless passion of this piece than the DF-D's 1967 Juilliard on Sony Classical MPK 46727.

Janssen, an MGM Hollywood fixture, here gives the overture more vehemence and beef than I am accustomed to. It is more akin to the Essays than to say Arthur Benjamin's Overture to an Italian Comedy or Bax's Overture to a Picaresque Comedy.

We have only to glance at the roster of performers to detect how highly Barber was esteemed in the 1930s and 1940s. That said Saidenberg, Janssen and Garbousova are not exactly big names by comparison with Ormandy, Walter and Toscanini. Garbousova makes a warm exponent of the romantic and un-garrulous sonata which, however, lacks strongly memorable invention.

These varied delights (all première recordings) are packed together with the same generosity to be found in Pearl's other Barber disc (Symphony No. 2, Cello Concerto, Medea Suite on Pearl GEM 0151 running to 77.47). The irresistible and varied virtues of this disc are accentuated and contributed to by the six page 'sleeve-note' by Dr Arthur E Zimmerman, by sound booklet cover design decisions (not a consistent strain in the Pearl catalogue), by rare photographs contributed by Jacob Harnoy (whose own historic record-line we hear too little of) and by Pearl's discographical detailing - the latter an exemplar to the industry.

Rob Barnett

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