Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, completed
in 1962, while not as popular or as consistently melodic as the composer’s
Violin Concerto (although the slow movement is haunting enough), nevertheless
is strongly individualistic and is regarded as having marked the zenith
of Barber’s public acclaim. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1963
and the Music Critic’s Circle Award in 1964. It is a virtuoso work
Prutsman and the RSNO rise well to its demands and
present a sturdy and less sentimental reading than some. Their slow
movement is lyrical without being unduly saccharine. Instead the mysterious,
impressionistic and vaguely Chinoiserie elements are allowed full expression.
The outer movements are energetic and brusque, capricious and puckish,
the finale angry and grotesque with its skeletal xylophone dance and
Die Natali (1960) as the title would suggest,
draws on Christmas carols for its thematic ideas. Well-known and well-loved
carols are put through a series of imaginative harmonic and contrapuntal
developments. There is colour in the rich and sometimes quirky Arabian
treatment of ‘We Three Kings’ and later, darker pages anticipating the
Passion (?). But it also often implies the comfortable, confident sound
world of the American heartland. A work to make a welcome change over
Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Death of Vengeance
was first performed under Mitropoulos on 2nd February 1956.
It is from the composer’s ballet Medea and the suite has already
appeared on Naxos 8.559088. The fourth, fifth and seventh movements
are reworked in this piece to form a logical dramatic continuation from
Medea’s black meditation characterised by deep, disturbed bass ostinatos
and threatening skeletal figures that contrast with more tender feminine
instincts (cooler flute material) before the voluptuous dance that bristles
with indignation and vengeful anger.
The brief Commando March was composed during
World War II in 1943. As well as the usual Max Steiner-like bombast
it has an attractive cheeky sardonic twist.
Naxos’s fine Samuel Barber series continues with another
attractive album, this time of rather less familiar works played with