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Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Opus 24* (1948)
Second Essay, Opus 17 (1942)
Third Essay, Opus 47 (1976)
Toccata Festiva, Opus 36 (1960) ^
*Karina Gauvin, soprano
^Thomas Trotter, organ
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Marin Alsop
Recorded 27 October 2002 (Knoxville), 3 May 1999 (Second Essay), 18 March 2001 (Third Essay), Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, 11 June 2002, Paisley Abbey (Toccata)
NAXOS 8.559134 [56.55]

Marin Alsop and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra continue their highly successful Barber series with this interesting programme of shorter works.

The excellence of enterprise is established by the opening item: Knoxville. This recollection of childhood innocence is among Barberís most captivating and enchanting compositions, and the partnership of these musicians captures the tone admirably, The recording too is particularly fine, from Henry Wood Hall in Glasgow. Karina Gauvin is deserving of special praise, moreover, for her combination of faultless, warm timbre and tightly articulated rhythmic control. A rare combination, perfectly suited to this music.

The two Essays for orchestra bring other features of the composer to the fore. Both pieces are strongly crafted, and Marin Alsop sees this as her priority in performing them. Accordingly one senses an overview of direction rather than an indulgence of phrasing in the shorter term. Maybe this is why the Second Essay seems a finer work than the Third; maybe it is true of the music itself.

The final item, the appropriately titled Toccata Festiva, was recorded in the ample acoustic of Paisley Abbey, where Thomas Trotter could add the richness and weight of organ tone. The drawback is that the acoustic has less definition and impact than that of Henry Wood Hall, and some of the brilliance of the organ part is probably lost. Be that as it may, the results are still impressive, and this is undoubtedly an excellent addition to an already distinguished collection of Barber performances.

Terry Barfoot

see also review by Rob Barnett

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