The combination of
the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Yoel
Levi has been responsible for several
notably successful recordings for Telarc;
this Barber disc is another of them.
The assembled programme is a strong
one, covering much fine music from the
’thirties and ’forties, when Barber
established his position as a major
figure on the international stage.
Those who know the
Overture to The School for Scandal –
the musicians especially – will testify
that in terms of rhythmic complexity
and ensemble it is one of the most challenging
pieces in the orchestral repertory.
The Atlanta players meet the challenge,
to be sure, and in doing so they set
their standard. The clarity and vibrancy
of the recorded sound gives Barber every
Plaudits as to virtuosity
are also deserved in the two Essays
and Medea’s Dance. In these pieces Barber
shows himself a true master of the orchestra,
with scoring that brings out the most
from the musical material. For example,
both Essays find some beautifully realised
shadings of dynamic, while the opening
of Medea’s Dance – known as her Meditation,
is captured to perfection. While these
performances do not surpass the highly
successful rival Naxos
versions with Marin Alsop and the
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, they
do achieve the same high standard of
playing, interpretation and recording.
And if the different repertoire combinations
suit, that might be the compelling factor.
The Adagio for Strings,
Barber’s most celebrated piece, of course,
still sounds as fresh as the day it
was rewritten (from his String Quartet).
Again the dynamic shadings are a significant
factor in Levi’s performance, and he
certainly knows how to hold an eloquent
line of expression. With excellent sound
this can hold its own against a crowded
field of rival versions.
Knoxville, one of Barber’s
most beautiful and imaginative creations,
has the advantage of a major solo artist
in Sylvia McNair. Her performance has
all the vision and sensitivity that
Barber demands, though not everyone
will be comfortable with the quality
and closeness of her voice as far as
the imagery of the child’s narrative
is concerned. Again the tempi are well
chosen and the phrasing is eloquent.
This well produced
and beautifully performed disc is supported
by excellent and thorough documentation,
with detailed notes by Richard Rodda.