American Classics - Barber: Orchestral Works Vol 1
(Scottish National Orchestra; Marin Alsop, conductor)
As composers go, Samuel Barber's output was rather small, and of that output only a few pieces have any kind of currency. But those few are major orchestral gems. Barber's music does require an adept and sympathetic orchestra (and conductor) to get them just right, however. On this release, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, with Martin Alsop conducting, handily accomplishes that task. Their rendering of The School for Scandal Overture rivals the famous Schippers version, and Alsop's take on Symphony No. 1 easily demolishes the Järvi (on Chandos) and the Slatkin (on BMG). The underexposed and rarely performed First Essay for Orchestra has no rivals here at all. Of particular merit is Alsop's handling of the mercurial Symphony No. 2, which so troubled Barber that he later disavowed it. Barber completists will relish this sympathetic reading. (review by Paul Cook)
Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings is a powerful piece, packed with emotional intensity yet also extraordinarily listenable--and popular. Here, Barber's short masterwork of simplicity and resonance gets eight treatments, from those he approved of (Charles Munch and the strings of the Boston Symphony; the Tokyo String Quartet; organist David Pizarro; and the Smithsonian Chamber Players) to new interpretations that don't quite match with the older renditions.