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Gemini - Barber: Orchestral & Chamber Works / Slatkin, Et Al


Release Date: 05/24/2005 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 86561   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Samuel Barber
Performer:  Elmar OliveiraJudith LeClairStanley DruckerJeanne Baxtresser,   ... 
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 28 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Drawn from recordings made between the mid 1980s and the mid 1990s, this dyad containing a number of Samuel Barber’s most popular orchestral and instrumental works is an attractive package, assuming you don’t already have these same and/or other performances in earlier incarnations and/or other versions.

Everyone of course must know Barber’s Adagio for Strings, one of the most widely celebrated pieces of music ever written by an American composer. What some may perhaps still not know is that the piece had its birth in 1936 as the slow movement to a string quartet that Barber was working on at the time. It can be heard in its original form in a fine performance by the Emerson Quartet on DG, coupled with string quartets by Ives.
Read more In its ubiquitous orchestral version, the Adagio has some 150 recordings to choose from, so I will not attempt a comparison. Suffice it to say that this one is as good as any of them.

Somewhat neglected until recent times has been Barber’s Violin Concerto, a work that had an odd commission in 1940 from the soap maker, Samuel Fels, on behalf of his adopted son. Originally in two movements, its intended dedicatee complained that the work was “too simple and not brilliant enough for a concerto.” Barber immediately set out to address the complaint by composing a third movement for the pampered prodigy that was highly virtuosic, whereupon the ungrateful twerp declared the piece unplayable. It received its first public performance by Albert Spalding in Philadelphia in 1941. In recent years, the concerto has gained more of a foothold in the repertoire, receiving a drop-dead gorgeous recording with Hilary Hahn on Sony, a rapturous reading by Gil Shaham (coupled with the Korngold) on DG, and an excellent performance on Telarc with Robert McDuffie. Those versions, and in that order, would be my top choices. Elmar Oliveira is a well-regarded violinist and serious musician who has never quite managed to break through to the very top rank, though I think he is deserving of reappraisal. That said, in this recording of the Barber concerto, his tone production does not quite match the smoothness of the aforementioned artists, nor do I sense the loftiness of vision they bring to the first two movements.

The three Essays for Orchestra are, in my opinion, among Barber’s most important and masterful orchestral works. Having played in a performance of the First Essay myself, I can attest to the fact that these pieces reveal more and more of their strengths and beauties with repeated hearings. These too have had some excellent recordings, one of which is with Neeme Järvi on Chandos. In this repertoire, however, I have to say that these performances by Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis band are really quite gripping and stunning.

The Cello Sonata strikes me as more of a mixed bag, both in terms of its unevenness and its fortunes on disc. It is a fairly early work—the composer was only 23 when he wrote it in 1933—and Barber seems not yet to have settled into his full neo-Romantic suit. There are, to be sure, exquisite moments, like the melody that begins at approximately 2:00 into the first movement, but there are many equally odd juxtapositions of content and style that don’t seem to fit, like the agitated section that begins at 3:35 in the same movement. The piece gives the impression of being infected by Ives, while simultaneously trying to fight the infection off the way the body tries to rid itself of a virus. It has had a number of recordings, many of which seem equally at loose ends knowing what to pair it with. Vivaldi hardly seems appropriate, but then neither does Alfred Schnittke. The performance here by cellist Alan Stepansky and pianist Israela Margalit is well enough played, but the piano seems to have been recorded in a different, and rather resonant, acoustic space, so that it often swamps the cello.

Summer Music is a wind quintet for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn, written in response to a commission Barber received in 1953 from the Chamber Music Society of Detroit to write a work for the Detroit Symphony’s first-desk wind-players. It, too, has enjoyed several outings on disc, among which is a knockout on BIS with the Bergen Woodwind Quintet.

As set out at the beginning, this is an attractive all-Barber collection, especially if you don’t already have these works in your collection. Many of the individual pieces, as indicated, are available in alternative versions that I happen to prefer, but in most cases, they are also more expensive. None of the performances here is less than very good, and Slatkin’s Essays, in particular, are well worth having. Recommended then as a fine starter kit for those new to Barber’s music.

Jerry Dubins, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

1.
Adagio for Strings, Op. 11 by Samuel Barber
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; Rome, Italy 
Date of Recording: 05/1988 
Venue:  Powell Hall, Saint Louis, Missouri 
Length: 9 Minutes 7 Secs. 
2.
Concerto for Violin, Op. 14 by Samuel Barber
Performer:  Elmar Oliveira (Violin)
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; USA 
Date of Recording: 04/1986 
Venue:  Powell Hall, Saint Louis, Missouri 
Length: 24 Minutes 13 Secs. 
3.
Essay for Orchestra no 2, Op. 17 by Samuel Barber
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1942; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/1988 
Venue:  Powell Hall, Saint Louis, Missouri 
Length: 10 Minutes 53 Secs. 
4.
Essay for Orchestra no 3, Op. 47 by Samuel Barber
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1977-1978; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/1988 
Venue:  Powell Hall, Saint Louis, Missouri 
Length: 12 Minutes 11 Secs. 
5.
Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance, Op. 23a by Samuel Barber
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1955; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/1988 
Venue:  Powell Hall, Saint Louis, Missouri 
Length: 13 Minutes 8 Secs. 
6.
Summer Music, Op. 31 by Samuel Barber
Performer:  Judith LeClair (Bassoon), Stanley Drucker (Clarinet), Jeanne Baxtresser (Flute),
Joseph Robinson (Oboe), Philip Myers (French Horn)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1956; USA 
Date of Recording: 06/1994 
Venue:  Recital Hall, Purchase University, NY 
Length: 11 Minutes 37 Secs. 
7.
The School for Scandal Overture, Op. 5 by Samuel Barber
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1931-1933; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/1988 
Venue:  Powell Hall, Saint Louis, Missouri 
Length: 8 Minutes 28 Secs. 
8.
Essay for Orchestra no 1, Op. 12 by Samuel Barber
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/1988 
Venue:  Powell Hall, Saint Louis, Missouri 
Length: 9 Minutes 22 Secs. 
9.
Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 6 by Samuel Barber
Performer:  Alan Stepansky (Cello), Israela Margalit (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1932; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/1994 
Venue:  Recital Hall, SUNY Purchase, NY 
Length: 18 Minutes 58 Secs. 
10.
Canzone for Flute and Piano, Op. 38a by Samuel Barber
Performer:  Israela Margalit (Piano), Jeanne Baxtresser (Flute)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/1994 
Venue:  Recital Hall, SUNY Purchase, NY 
Length: 4 Minutes 25 Secs. 
11.
Excursions (4) for Piano, Op. 20 by Samuel Barber
Performer:  Israela Margalit (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1942-1944; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/1994 
Venue:  Recital Hall, SUNY Purchase, NY 
Length: 14 Minutes 4 Secs. 
12.
Nocturne for Piano, Op. 33 "Homage to John Field" by Samuel Barber
Performer:  Israela Margalit (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1959; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/1994 
Venue:  Recital Hall, SUNY Purchase, NY 
Length: 4 Minutes 28 Secs. 
13.
Souvenirs, Op. 28: Pas de deux by Samuel Barber
Performer:  Israela Margalit (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1952; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/1994 
Venue:  Recital Hall, SUNY Purchase, NY 
Length: 4 Minutes 51 Secs. 
Notes: Version: 1952 
14.
Souvenirs, Op. 28: Two Step by Samuel Barber
Performer:  Israela Margalit (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1952; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/1994 
Venue:  Recital Hall, SUNY Purchase, NY 
Length: 1 Minutes 59 Secs. 
Notes: Version: 1952 

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