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Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Capricorn Concerto (1944) [14:08]
A Hand of Bridge (1959) [9:44]
Mutations from Bach (1979?) [5:43]
Intermezzo from Vanessa (1958) [4:26]
Canzonetta for oboe and strings (1978) [8:46]
Fadograph of a Yestern Scene (1971) [9:40]
Stéphane Rancourt (oboe); John Gracie (trumpet); Karen Jones (flute)
Lesley Craigie (sop); Roderick Williams (bass); Louise Winter (mezzo); Simon Wall, (ten) (A Hand of Bridge)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Marin Alsop
Rec. Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, 12 May 2000 (Fadograph); 27 Oct 2002 (Intermezzo; Canzonetta); 9 Feb 2003 (Capricorn; Bride; Mutations)


Barberís Capricorn Concerto, a triple concerto scored, like Bachís Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, for trumpet, oboe and flue soloists, with strings, is cast in three short movements. It was named after Barberís home at Mount Kisco, where he retreated during service leave in World War II, in the company of his friend and fellow-composer Gian-Carlo Menotti and Menottiís son Chip. The three movements reflect all three personalities. The Concerto was named ĎCapricorní after the fantastic winter light experienced around Mount Kisco The music is Ďmoderní in style; Barberís Romanticism is less in evidence here, the music more astringent and diamond bright but playful too with a note of plaintiveness, introduced, at one point, by a ĎLast Postí-like trumpet call.

A Hand of Bridge is amusing, jazz-based, cabaret-style music to accompany a game of bridge with singer/speakers. It is not far removed from the world of Waltonís Façade. One woman is preoccupied with deciding what colour hat she will buy while the first man worries that his illicit love affair might be discovered. The work is a jewel, a mini-satirical opera for four characters, the four bridge players. The second woman, to music of pathos, bewails the pain of love and bereavement while, to a morose drone and then exotic rhythms, the other man has lewd thoughts about being a sultan with lots of naked girls and boys. The difficulty here is that Naxosís usual sparse booklet allows no space for the libretto and the uncredited singers (identified in headnote from the Naxos website. Ed.), especially the morose woman, are not exactly shining examples of good diction.

Mutations from Bach, a homage to Barberís favourite composer, is solemn yet majestic. It is scored for four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba and timpani. Alsopís reading makes an impressive impact and is nicely balanced and impressively spaced across the sound-stage.

Barberís Vanessa told the story of a woman whose lover returns only to fall in love with her daughter. The lovely Intermezzo from the opera depicts the cold, remoteness of Vanessaís abode (chill harp arpeggios) and the desolation that grips her heart and the cry of anguished despair at the impassioned climax.

Marin Alsopís well-received Barber cycle comes to its conclusion with this album which ends with two late works:

Fadograph of a Yestern Scene was influenced by James Joyceís Finneganís Wake, one of Samuel Barberís favourite books. Alsop captures very well the Debussy-like fragrant, dreamy atmosphere of this impressionistic music that seems to suggest an other-worldly, possibly Arabian Nights, romance - an opium-induced dream?

The music of Barberís Canzonetta was originally intended to be part of an Oboe Concerto but the composer, disillusioned after the catastrophic failure of his opera Anthony and Cleopatra, and in an alcoholic despair, was too ill, and dying, to complete it. His only student, Charles Turner completed this beautiful last tribute to Barberís genius. I feel I cannot do better than to quote Daniel Felsenfeld at this point, "ĎIn its limited way,í writes Barbara Heyman, Barberís biographer, Ďthe Canzonetta offers an appropriate elegy to the conclusion of Barberís career.í The tonality of the work embraces every device Barber loved, from Late Romanticism to the more astringent modernist sounds, and his Ďvocalí writing for the oboe betrays his deep, lifelong affinity for the voice. This final work is almost a winnowing down of Barberís total musical self, a beautiful intimate, quiet final offering." Yes, and how sympathetically and movingly Stéphane Rancourt and Marin Alsop sing it!

Apart from some poor diction singing in A Hand of Bridge, this is a very worthy conclusion to Alsopís Barber cycle for Naxos.

Ian Lace

see also review by Rob Barnett

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