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Barber: Symphony No 1, Piano Concerto / Browning, Slatkin

Release Date: 05/10/1991 
Label:  Rca Victor Red Seal Catalog #: 60732   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Samuel Barber
Performer:  John BrowningLeonard Slatkin
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 9 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Hot on the heels of Neeme Jarvi's Chandos version of Samuel Barber's First Symphony comes this rival one of a work which in its time marked a breakthrough in American music, but which has been seriously neglected on disc. The symphony by Mrs Beach may make a more unusual coupling on Chandos, but with his all-Barber coupling Slatkin has an obvious advantage, particularly when on balance his is the more powerful performance of the symphony itself, notably at the very start, where the tautness of attack by the St Louis players immediately commands attention, while Jarvi builds tension more gradually. Generally Slatkin favours Allegros taken slightly faster, but the slow section, Andante tranquillo, is broader, making the overall timing of both Read more versions almost identical. In the lovely oboe melody of that Andante tranquillo the St Louis principal is allowed a more generous espressivo, playing very beautifully, but the simpler folk-like treatment that Jarvi's oboist gives at the more flowing speed is more rarefied in its beauty, a very valid alternative. Though Jarvi's sense of spontaneity gives extra warmth at times, I would finally opt for Slatkin, when ensemble is a degree crisper, and the final section builds to a stronger, more purposeful climax. One incidental advantage is that the RCA disc provides separate tracks for each of the four distinct sections in this one-movement work, where the Chandos has it on a single track.

In any case the coupling will be the decisive point with most collectors, and it is good to have a new recording of the Piano Concerto by the pianist for whom Barber originally wrote this formidable half-hour work, John Browning. He recorded it not long after the first performance, with George Szell and the vintage Cleveland Orchestra (Columbia, 6/65—nla), and that classic account, not yet reissued here on CD, still stands supreme for its passionate thrust and power. At rather broader speeds, with the piano balanced more forwardly, this new version may not be so high-powered, but particularly in the slow movement there is a sensuous quality, a warmth in the lyrical flowering I had not fully appreciated before, whether in the original recording or in Tedd Joselson's version for ASV. Browning's playing of the elaborately decorative figuration is magical.

Those two works alone, lasting together over 50 minutes, might have been counted fair measure for a whole CD, but happily Browning and Slatkin, forming an impromptu duo, had the bright idea of adding the two-piano work, Souvenirs. With its sequence of popular dance pieces, ''Waltz'', ''Schottische'', ''Hesitation Tango'' and so on, Souvenirs is not parody, as Browning points out in the printed conversation supplied as a note, but ''pure nostalgia''. He and Slatkin play the suite like that, with an attractive lightheartedness, even if for such rhythmic music I should have preferred a brighter, less fruity piano tone. That extra was recorded in the Manhattan Center, New York, while the orchestral works were recorded in the St Louis Orchestra's usual venue, the Powell Symphony Hall, with clean, well-balanced results.

-- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone [11/1991]
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 1, Op. 9 by Samuel Barber
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; United States 
Date of Recording: 10/1990 
Venue:  Powell Symphony Hall, St Louis 
Length: 21 Minutes 39 Secs. 
Concerto for Piano, Op. 38 by Samuel Barber
Performer:  John Browning (Piano)
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1962; USA 
Date of Recording: 10/1990 
Venue:  Powell Symphony Hall, St Louis 
Length: 29 Minutes 9 Secs. 
Souvenirs, Op. 28 by Samuel Barber
Performer:  Leonard Slatkin (Piano), John Browning (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1952; USA 
Date of Recording: 10/1990 
Venue:  Manhattan Center, New York City 
Length: 18 Minutes 24 Secs. 
Notes: Transcribed: Samuel Barber 

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