> BARBER Piano Concerto [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)

Piano Concerto (1960)
Die Natali (1960)
Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance (1955)
Commando March (1943)
Stephen Prutsman (piano)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Marin Alsop
Rec 10th-11th March 2002, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow (Piano Concerto, Medea), 18th March 2000, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow (Die Natali), 12th May 2000, Henry Wood Hall (March)
NAXOS 8.559133 [60.35]


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The Naxos American Classics series goes from strength to strength. This latest issue from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Marin Alsop maintains the high standards of playing and recording of their previous issues; and now that Alsop has become principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, her profile in British musical life will become stronger still.

Naxos is rightly proud of its imaginative approach to repertoire, and this collection features some well known Barber pieces alongside rarities. The major work is undoubtedly the Concerto, which receives an excellent performance from the American pianist Stephen Prutsman. While he does not eradicate memories of the classic recording by the work's first soloist, John Browning (Sony Classical), he has both technical command and sensitivity at his disposal, features which Barber placed as equally significant in this and other large-scale compositions. The recorded balance places the piano centre stage a little more than in the obvious sense, and some instrumental details are lost among the orchestral contributions. These are not a major problem, but there is more detail in the orchestral score than comes over on occasions here. However, the performance itself is exemplary.

Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance is surely one of Barber finest works, a twelve-minute showpiece, at once atmospheric and exciting. He drew upon music from his existing ballet score of 1947 - already recorded in this series - when he completed this orchestral piece eight years later. The Meditation is beautifully played here, with some fine string playing in particular, and very well balanced by the conductor. As a result the Dance makes a stronger impression still, when the full and accurate recorded sound comes into its own. The disc will repay its modest outlay for this performance alone.

The other items are less well known. Die Natali, a slighter piece contemporary with the Piano Concerto, is entertaining enough, a sequence of variations on Christmas carols. Whether it bears repeated listening is open to question. But the occasional outing will do no harm, and the colourful scoring and excellent playing of the Scottish orchestra bring their rewards.

The short Commando March, composed for the U.S. Army Air Force Technical Training Command Band (sic) in 1943 when the war was at its height, is here offered in its later orchestral version. This was introduced by Koussevitzky in Boston later that year, and makes a suitably stirring impression.

Terry Barfoot

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