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Barber: Historical Recordings 1935-1960 / Toscanini, Ormandy, Munch

Release Date: 07/05/2011 
Label:  West Hill Radio Archives   Catalog #: 6039  
Number of Discs: 8 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BARBER HISTORICAL RECORDINGS: 1935–1960 Various performers WHRA 6039, analog (9 CDs)

Vanessa (Mitropoulos, cond; Steber, Gedda, Elias, Resnik, Tozzi; Metropolitan Op. Live: New York 2/1/1958.). Medea : Suite (Barber, cond; New SO of London. London 12/12/1950 [Decca LX-3049]). Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance Read more class="ARIAL12">(Mitropoulos, cond; NY Phil. Live: Carnegie Hall 3/16/1958 (156:43) CDs 1, 2)

Overture to The School for Scandal (W. Janssen, cond; Janssen SO of Los Angeles. Los Angeles 3/11/1942 [Victor 11-8591]). Symphony No. 1 : original version (Rodzinski, cond; NBC SO) Live: Studio 8H 4/2/1938. Symphony No. 1 : revised version (B. Walter, cond; NY Phil) Live: Carnegie Hall 3/12/1944. Adagio for Strings (Toscanini, cond; NBC SO) Live: Studio 8H 11/5/1938. Essay No. 1 (Toscanini, cond; NBC SO) Live: Studio 8H 11/5/1938. Essay No. 2 (B. Walter, cond; NY Phil) Live: Carnegie Hall 4/16/1942. Commando March (Koussevitzky, cond; Boston SO) Live: Boston 10/30/1943 (78:35) CD 3

Symphony No. 2: original version (Koussevitzky, cond; Boston SO) Live: Boston 3/4/1944 . Symphony No. 2: revised version (Barber, cond; New SO of London) London 12/13/1950 [Decca LX-3050] . Symphony No. 2: revised version (Barber, cond; Boston SO) Rehearsal: Boston 4/1951 (79:37) CD 4

Die Natali (Munch, cond; Boston SO) Live: Boston 12/23/1960. Prayers of Kierkegaard (L. Price, sop; J. Kraft, mez; E. Munore, ten; Munch, cond; Boston SO) Live: Boston 12/3/1954. Violin Concerto: original version (A. Spalding, vn; Ormandy, cond; Philadelphia O) Live: Philadelphia 2/7/1941 (61:12) CD 5

Violin Concerto : revised version (R. Posselt, vn; Koussevitzky, cond; Boston SO) Live: Boston 1/7/1949. Capricorn Concerto (J. Baker, fl; M. Miller, ob; H. Freistadt, tpt; Barber, cond; CBS SO) Live: 5/2/1945. Cello Concerto (Z. Nelsova, vc; Barber, cond; New SO of London) London 12/11/1950 [Decca LPS-332] (66:46) CD 6

Cello Sonata (O. Cole, vc; V. Sokoloff, pn) Live: Philadelphia 1/28/1973. String Quartet: original version (Curtis Qt) Live: Philadelphia 3/14/1938. Excursions (Rudolf Firkusny, pn. New York City 11/17/1950 [Columbia ML-2174]). Souvenirs (A. Gold and R. Fizdale, pn) 8/15/1952 [Columbia ML-4855] (69:47) CD 7

Dover Beach (Barber, bar; Curtis Qt. 5/13/1935 [Victor-8998]). Knoxville: Summer of 1915: original version (E. Farrell, sop; B. Herrmann, cond; CBS SO) Live: 6/19/1949. Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (E. Steber, sop; E. Biltcliffe, pn) Live: Carnegie Hall 10/1958. Knoxville: Summer of 1915: revised version (L. Price, sop; T. Schippers, cond; NY Phil) Live: Carnegie Hall 11/15/1959. 3 Songs (J. Tourel, mez; Barber, cond; CBS SO) Live: 5/2/1945. Menotti on Barber’s 70th Birthday , Philadelphia 3/9/1980. Interview by James Fassett, New York City 3/16/1958 (79:37) CD 8

Notes on the performances in English (by Barbara Heyman) and in French (by Pierre Brévignon) CD 9, CD-ROM

When I first read the finely detailed and perspicacious review of this set by Walter Simmons in Fanfare 35:3, I initially wondered if I could add anything substantive to that in writing my own overview. However, in the course of listening to the set, enough differences in emphasis and evaluation between us have emerged that a second perspective has something worthwhile to contribute. I will avoid repeating historical and technical details already provided by Simmons and focus primarily upon the interpretations instead.

One important difference between Simmons and me lies in our estimations of the audience for this collection. Simmons opens his review by saying, “Let me be clear: These recordings are not for everyone” and closes with, “In sum, a must for committed Barber aficionados, overkill perhaps for others.” In praising many of the performances, he notes special points of interest such as the inclusion of original versions of works that were later revised, and the participation of many renowned conductors, orchestras, singers, and solo instrumentalists (including the composer), but considers that the sonic limitations of historical performances and the existence of more polished subsequent studio recordings in much superior sound make this an item with very limited appeal. Aside from believing (at least, hoping) that many Fanfare readers appreciate historical recordings and are not dissuaded by such considerations, I was also surprised that Simmons did not mention what struck me as the most important feature of this set. So far as I know, no other composer has enjoyed such a compilation of recordings that includes so many world premiere or very early live performances and studio recordings with the composer’s direct participation. Contrast this with, for example, Dmitri Shostakovich; what wouldn’t we give to have preserved and available comparable initial live performances from Russia of the Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, and 10th symphonies, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk , or virtually any of the string quartets—especially if, as here, one of the symphonies was commercially recorded with Shostakovich as the conductor, and live rehearsal excerpts with him on the podium had survived as well? For me, the sheer historical documentary value of this set is of inestimable value, and makes it an essential reference document for anyone interested in 20th-century music.

Now, on to the performances themselves, beginning on the first two CDs with the live broadcast from the world premiere run of performances of Vanessa at the Metropolitan Opera. This is the one place where Simmons and I are in fundamental disagreement. First, here and in his past reviews of the other four recordings of the opera that have appeared (see 14:3, 28: 1, 31:4, and the 2005 Want List in 29:2), he has repeatedly dismissed Gian Carlo Menotti’s “Chekhovian” libretto as a “slender melodrama,” “ludicrous,” “asinine,” and “preposterously shallow and foolish.” While conceding that “ Vanessa is “no dumber than a lot of Romantic works that have found their way into the repertory,” he decries the “foolish characters and their ludicrously improbable predicament,” calls Vanessa “vain and obsessively self-involved,” and concludes, “It is difficult to understand how Barber managed to conceive such magnificent music to portray the plight of such repellant people.”

This is misconceived rhetorical overkill; Menotti’s libretto is soundly crafted and, while indeed melodramatic in the manner of many 19th-century texts, it compares favorably in plausibility and coherence to La clemenza di Tito, Lucia di Lammermoor, La Sonnambula, Il trovatore, Rigoletto, La forza del destino, Tosca, Madama Butterfly , or any number of other beloved standard-repertoire operas one might call to mind. As for the characters, the only one who really qualifies as “vain and obsessively self-involved” and “repellant” is Anatol; despite Vanessa’s obvious character flaws, Barber clearly sympathizes with his female protagonist, who has nursed grievous wounds of unfilled love through 20 years of waiting. This is underlined by the fact that Erika, the opera’s actual heroine, ends up following in her aunt’s footsteps. The doctor is avuncular, if slightly obtuse; the mostly silent Countess is a cipher who functions as an implicit oracle of moral judgment.

Having said this, I confess that for a long time I did not like this opera, partly because I did not really understand the libretto. A breakthrough occurred when I finally grasped the full implications of Erika’s statement to the Countess at the very end, “Oh, I forgot that you will not speak to me either now.” The Countess’s new stony silence toward Erika signifies, I believe, not just disapproval of Erika for aborting her child by Anatol; rather that Erika’s life has now unwittingly mirrored that of her aunt throughout—that Vanessa too was once “so proud, so pure” like Erika, but she not only succumbed to a seduction by Anatol père as Erika did to Anatol fils , but also likewise conceived a child by her lover and aborted it when he discarded her to marry another woman. Thus, Erika’s final line “Now it is my turn to wait” means her life mirrors Vanessa’s to a far greater degree than I initially suspected. And one wonders: Did this tragedy of fate cyclically passed from generation to generation begin with the Countess, who however did not abort her daughter, Vanessa, and thus can sit in judgment of both Vanessa and Erika for doing so instead? Once this dimension of the story is grasped, the libretto assumes far greater coherence and the characters (apart from the feckless Anatol) become more sympathetic.

Second, I also disagree with Simmons’s assessment of the performance, which he considers to be “of documentary value only, as it is marred by radio station interference, while Steber displays a nervous-sounding warble that is under much better control on the [RCA] commercial recording.” Perhaps I have a greater tolerance for historical broadcasts, but I find the sound quality quite acceptable. More to the point, this live performance has an immediacy and intensity lacking from the studio version, which to me has always felt stilted and self-conscious, with the singers noticeably below their best forms. Much of the blame for that lies with the dry, dead sound that afflicted many RCA recordings around that time and robbed the singers’ voices of warmth and amplitude (it also sabotaged the potentially legendary Nilsson-Björling-Leinsdorf Turandot ). The supposed “nervous warble” in Steber’s voice of which Simmons complains is in fact her normal tightly controlled, steady, rich, heavy vibrato, heard in her other live performances but somehow desiccated by RCA in the recording booth. As I am quite fond of voices with that type of vibrato (Fernando de Lucia, Conchita Supervia, Lauritz Melchior, and Kathleen Ferrier come immediately to mind), I rejoice to hear Steber in her normal vocal estate. It also differentiates her voice from that of Rosalind Elias far more clearly than in the studio version. Nicolai Gedda’s voice likewise rings out with far more weight and color than in the relatively pallid-sounding commercial issue. The Orfeo issue of the Vienna performance with largely the same cast (Regina Resnik was replaced by Ira Malaniuk as the Countess there) is in far better sound and in some ways even more preferable, but I would take this thrilling performance over the staid studio version in a heartbeat.

One final note here: Barber revised the score in 1964–65, condensing the original first two acts into one and making two major changes to the musical contents. In act I (formerly act II) the coloratura “skater’s aria” for Vanessa is removed. At the end of act II (formerly act III), the emphasis is changed from Erika seeking to self-abort her child to her trying to commit suicide; the Countess now disrupts the celebration of Vanessa’s and Anatol’s engagement by raising an alarm at Erika’s disappearance, and does not know that Erika was pregnant by Anatol until after Erika is found in the woods and brought home. I regret the changes and find the original version to be stronger, particularly as the extra music at the end of the new act II is meaningless padding that blunts the original crisp conclusion. For those who wish to have the revised version, the superb Chandos recording is far superior to the merely workmanlike rival on Naxos.

Barber’s 1950 studio recording with an ad hoc English studio orchestra (although some sources state that it was the London Symphony under a pseudonym) for Decca of the suite from his ballet score Medea is one of several he made for that label at that time that are included in this set, and which naturally have significantly better sound quality. It goes without saying that the documentary value of these recordings, like those of Igor Stravinsky recording his own compositions for Columbia, is extremely high, as preserving the composer’s intentions for the interpretations of these scores. As Simmons notes, it is extremely useful as a reference point for tempi and phrasing; it is also an exemplary interpretation for its combination of dramatic tautness alternating with bittersweet lyricism, and for everything but a lack of stereo sound holds its ground with competing versions. Simmons found the 1958 performance included here of Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance by Dmitri Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic—the forces that gave its world premiere in 1956—to be “rather dull until the ‘Dance of Vengeance,’ which projects a truly driven intensity” and of limited value due to “rather poor” sound quality. I, on the other hand, find it engrossing from start to finish, far superior in atmosphere and dramatic tension throughout to the highly regarded 1965 recording for Columbia by Barber’s close associate Thomas Schippers, and in quite acceptable sound despite the rather prominent degree of tape hiss. This is a valuable addition to both the Barber and Mitropoulos discographies.

Disc 3 in the set contains several shorter orchestra works in early performances that are all preserved in somewhat compromised recorded sound. Simmons dismissed the 1942 Werner Janssen studio recording of The School for Scandal overture as “messy” and noted the composer’s own displeasure over some of the conductor’s tempi, expressed in a letter to his uncle Sidney Homer: “Janssen’s performance of S. for S. is wrong because the end of each rhythmic section should go faster ( stretto ) and he takes a sempre più mosso just before the end slower—inexplicably. It spoils the drive. Also the performance is not as light or elegant as some I’ve heard.” Despite this, I find the performance enjoyable; it is characterful, with Janssen’s somewhat more relaxed tempo allowing one to savor the scandal as a quiet buildup of intrigue in the manner of “La calunnia” from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia , instead of a frantic whirlwind of backstabbing. The recorded sound is mediocre for its time but tolerable.

Barber’s Symphony No. 1 is presented here in performances of both its original and revised versions, the latter having a slightly tightened first movement and a new and much superior Scherzo second movement. The symphony was to have been given its U.S. premiere by Artur Rodzinski with the Cleveland Orchestra, but for reasons not explained in the accompanying notes Rudolf Ringwell substituted for him instead. Rodzinski did lead succeeding performances shortly afterward with the New York Philharmonic, London Symphony, and Vienna Philharmonic, all preceding the NBC Symphony broadcast presented here. The sound is actually rather good for a Studio 8H performance of this vintage. Rodzinski’s account is broader than that of Bruno Walter’s which follows it, with a powerful opening movement, a scurrying scherzo, and a darkly introspective, melancholic Andante and finale. The last movement is perhaps too slow; it tends to bog down and lack sufficient momentum for the final climax, which comes off a bit foursquare. For his part, Walter made the first studio recording of the work in its final version; despite never being issued on LP (except in the extremely rare 15-LP Bruno Walter Legacy broadcast set of Jim Svedja), that recording justly retained an iconic cult status. Because of the need to accommodate performance timings to 78-rpm side lengths, Walter was presumed to have modified some tempi in moving from the concert hall to the studio; Barber commented, “Walter loses breadth in the slow part of my symphony to squeeze it on four sides. But he does the beginning and scherzo very well.” The notes for the set consequently assert, “The live performance in this set, however, more accurately reflects Barber’s performance intentions.” For the record (pun intended), the respective movement timings are 6:40, 4:29, 4:28, and 3:50 for the live performance versus 6:20, 4:25, 3:28, and 3:30 for the studio recording. I am not persuaded that Walter did not actually change his interpretive views instead. In any case it is true that the later studio version is more urgent and rhythmically incisive in the three fast movements (and also has better recorded sound), but loses the preferable breadth of the live version of the Andante.

The world premiere broadcast of the Adagio for Strings by Toscanini and the NBC Symphony has its rightful place in the Register of National Historic Recordings, and needs no further comment from me. For me, the performances of the First and Second Essays for Orchestra have an unintentional ironic aspect about them, in that with respect to their contrasting musical contents I wish that the conductors had been reversed, with Walter conducting the more lyrical First and Toscanini the more tensile Second Essay. As it is, since each conductor premiered the works they conduct here, we should be grateful for these audio documents of historic performance, even if neither one quite catches the two maestros at their best; Toscanini is a bit too frenetic and scurrying in the First Essay, and Walter does not quite establish the overall architectural coherence in the Second that Schippers would capture in his classic 1965 Columbia recording (and which I think refutes Simmons’s belief that the work is “one of Barber’s few miscalculations”). Whereas Toscanini again enjoys relatively decent sound by Studio 8-H standards, Walter’s effort suffers from a poor recording that doubtless obscures many of his interpretive touches. The Commando March is a piece I’ve always enjoyed, from its mock-heroic opening chords to its witty and jaunty main theme. This performance of the orchestral arrangement of the band original, given the day after its premiere, captures every element perfectly, albeit in recorded sound with some distortion due to frequency overload.

From a historical standpoint, CD 4 is possibly the most important disc in the set, preserving a broadcast from the world premiere series of performances by Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony of the original version of Barber’s Second Symphony, the composer-led premiere recording of the revised version with the previously discussed New Symphony Orchestra, and an extensive rehearsal of the latter with the composer and the Boston Symphony. I have nothing to add to the superb comments by Simmons on all three. He is dead on target in describing Barber’s instructions to the orchestra as “rather priggish”; when hearing it all I could think of was Tom Lehrer’s classic college fight song parody, Fight Fiercely, Harvard.

As with the Commando March and Symphony No. 2, the performance of Die Natali presented here with Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony is another instance of a performance preserved from the second rather than first day of the concert series of premiere performances. While consisting of a sequence of hymn references dovetailing into one another, the imaginative treatment of them goes far beyond a Leroy Anderson-style medley. To single out just one instance, We Three Kings is provided with an exotic undergirding of faux Middle Eastern melodic motifs by the bassoon, oboe, and percussion. The performance is preserved in good FM broadcast sound, superior to most of the other live items in this set. The underrated but marvelous Prayers of Kierkegaard is here heard in its premiere performance, once again with Munch and forces in Boston. The results here are more mixed; Leontyne Price is superb, Munch and the orchestra perform with commitment but a few rough edges; mezzo-soprano Jena Kraft and tenor Edward Munroe are merely passable in their supporting solos; the chorus struggles with issues of diction and balance. Both Barber (privately) and music critics who reviewed the performance lamented these shortcomings. Matters are not helped by the somewhat opaque and overloaded recorded sound.

Spanning CDs 5 and 6, the two recordings of the Violin Concerto offered here are both extraordinarily special, despite serious sonic limitations. As with the Prayers of Kierkegaard , both are world premiere performances. Penetrating through a muffled acoustic that has the worst sound of any item in this set, Albert Spalding and the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy play their hearts and souls out in the concerto’s original version with an absolutely jaw-dropping fervor that rivets one to the seat. (I played this for a fellow Fanfare critic and friend who is a violinist during his recent visit to me; he commented, “I’ve been underwhelmed by Spalding in the past, but this is far and away the best playing by him I’ve ever heard.”) If Ruth Posselt—now the subject of her own three-CD set on WHRA—and Koussevitzky with the Boston Symphony in the revised version do not quite equal this level of intensity, they are quite good and very much worth hearing.

After the extraordinarily beautiful Violin Concerto—perhaps the most unabashed outpouring of lovely melody for that instrument since Tchaikovsky—the pungent and thorny neoclassicism of the Capricorn Concerto is a decided let-down. Simmons states that it is “one of Barber’s weakest and least convincing pieces— a shameless imitation of Stravinsky.” I find that true of the first movement, where Barber engages in meaningless note-spinning of a modest thematic motif for far too long, but find the two succeeding movements moderately enjoyable. In any case it is worth having yet another composer-led studio recording, the work’s debut on disc. The Cello Concerto is likewise another composer-conducted first recording; I agree completely with Simmons regarding both the occasional discursiveness of this still very worthwhile piece and the very high standard set by the estimable but sadly underrecorded Zara Nelsova. This recording belongs in the collection of every Barber aficionado.

CD 7 brings the listener early recordings of Barber’s chamber music. Despite its status as the most oft-performed such work by an American composer, I find myself unable to warm to Barber’s Cello Sonata, agreeing with Jerry Dubins (in a review of another performance of the work in Fanfare 29:2) on the neither-fish-nor-fowl character of the work. The performance presented here is an exception to the album title’s header “Historical Performances 1935–1960,” being recorded in 1973; however, its inclusion is amply justified by the identity of the cellist (and dedicatee), Orlando Cole (1908–2010), who not only lived to the age of 101 but taught at the Curtis Institute for almost 75 years, numbering among his pupils Lynn Harrell and Lorne Munroe. He was also a member of the Curtis Quartet from its founding in 1927 (its original name was the Swastika Quartet after the symbol for Apollo, the Greek god of music, but it hurriedly changed its name in 1933 with Hitler’s ascent to power) until its dissolution at the death of violist Max Aronoff in 1981. Here he is partnered by a longtime fellow Curtis faculty member, pianist Vladimir Sokoloff (1913–97). The performance is briefly introduced by Cole, who describes being Barber’s “guinea pig” for the work’s composition, playing and commenting on pages as they issued from the composer’s pen.

This is followed by a performance of Barber’s String Quartet by the Curtis Quartet, recorded live at the Curtis Institute the day before the ensemble gave the first public performance of the piece in the U.S. at the Library of Congress. The Curtis Quartet was the first American string quartet to tour Europe, beginning in 1936. Despite the somewhat acerbic sonics, the archival performance is remarkable for preserving a sound document of the original version of the quartet, before Barber extensively revised the first movement and replaced the pedestrian original finale with the much briefer but superior one we know today. Interestingly, the arresting climactic chords in the famous central Adagio movement are not sustained, but passed through very quickly.

The disc closes with two sets of brief occasional piano pieces by Barber, Excursions and Souvenirs , both of which aim to evoke aspects of Americana. While I like Excursions more than does Simmons, and find both sets of performances (from early LP recordings by Columbia) serviceable, neither excites much interest in me.

The final CD in the set is devoted to works by Barber for solo voice. It opens with the classic Victor 78-rpm recording of Dover Beach with the composer as baritone soloist and the Curtis Quartet again doing the instrumental honors. This remains hands down my favorite recording of the piece, as no other baritone has sung the text anywhere near as affectingly as Barber himself; his light, cultivated, English-sounding baritone has a beguiling, haunting beauty, and he is careful not to over-emote. By comparison, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in his famed 1967 Columbia recording with the Juilliard Quartet is almost suffocatingly Teutonic.

Succeeding that are three different performances, in three different versions, of Barber’s most immortal piece apart from the Adagio for Strings , his enchantingly beautiful Knoxville: Summer of 1915 . Simmons had special praise for the first of these, a 1949 broadcast of the original full orchestral version with Eileen Farrell as soloist and composer Bernard Hermann on the podium, declaring that “Farrell had the most beautiful soprano voice I’ve ever heard.” This illustrates perfectly how tastes in voices can differ; the first thought that came to my mind upon reading those words was “Not by a country mile, so long as Claudia Muzio remains in living memory.” But—without taking anything away from Farrell, who had a fine voice indeed—her instrument is not even as beautiful as that of either Eleanor Steber or Leontyne Price in the other two recordings offered here. I find the sound quality of Farrell’s recording more acceptable than does Simmons, but Hermann offers a decidedly leisurely reading and Farrell, while singing quite well, simply does not inflect the text with any degree of awareness approaching that of her rivals here. For her part, Steber commissioned the work and was its original soloist; her classic 1950 recording of the final chamber orchestra version for Columbia, with William Strickland and the Dumbarton Oaks Orchestra (an ad hoc ensemble, I presume), remains unrivaled. Here she performs in recital with a piano accompaniment that unfortunately is decidedly undistinguished. Since Price and Schippers made a stereo studio recording of Knoxville for RCA in 1968, Simmons opined that it rendered the present live performance from 1959 “somewhat superfluous.” I disagree emphatically. The RCA version suffers from a serious interpretive miscalculation by Price, who lightened her vocal texture in an effort to sound childlike and came off sounding pallid instead. Here, she sings unaffectedly in her glorious full natural voice, and Schippers proves a far more involved accompanist than he did later in the studio version, with the broadcast preserved in decent sound. In short, Price comes within a hair’s breadth here of equaling Steber’s studio version, and fans of hers cannot do without acquiring this terrific performance.

The musical selections in this collection close with mezzo soprano Jennie Tourel singing three of Barber’s songs, with the composer conducting the orchestral accompaniment. Of the trio, Sure on This Shining Night is one of Barber’s most beautiful creations, equal in rank to Dover Beach and Knoxville . Unfortunately, the rather harsh recorded sound tinges Tourel’s voice with a somewhat metallic edge that does not do her or the music justice, though it is not intolerable.

The disc concludes with interviews of Gian Carlo Menotti and of Barber himself. In the former—a set of discrete snippets taken from a celebration of Barber’s 70th birthday—Menotti discusses being introduced to Barber; his musical education in Italy, and his being introduced by Barber to the music of Brahms; Barber’s beautiful singing voice and how Barber also introduced him to German Lieder; how Barber’s family “adopted” him; and Barber’s music as “conservative” in the sense of being worthy of being conserved. In the latter, music critic and CBS radio announcer Jim Fassett interviewed Barber during the intermission of the New York Philharmonic concert featuring the Mitropoulos performance of Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance found on CD 2 of this set. The interview is rather stilted, with questions and answers obviously prepared in advance; Barber talks about the recent Metropolitan Opera premiere of Vanessa and the different versions of his Medea , relating the latter to his impressions of Greece as a tourist and his concept of the Medea legend.

A bonus CD-ROM includes a lavishly detailed booklet with notes in English by Barber biographer Barbara B. Heyman and French musicologist Pierre Brévignon. As I do not read French, I cannot comment on that part of the notes; those by Heyman are extraordinarily detailed and informative, but their layout is somewhat hard to follow. For each work, a standard order of presentation is followed, consisting of the details of the recording, the scoring (if needed), a description of how the work came to be composed, listing(s) of the first performances(s), a descriptive discussion of the music, and critical reception of the work. I wish that the listings of first performances had been placed immediately after the details of the recording at the beginning, facilitating comparison of the two, instead of requiring the reader to flip back and forth between pages of text. Also, sometimes additional remarks about a recording are placed at the very end, separate from the information on it at the beginning. The only typographical error I found was on CD 5 rather than in the notes, which has Prayer of Kierkegaard rather than Prayers.

In closing, I would reiterate that the unique historical documentary value of this set cannot be overstated; it also preserves a number of tremendous performances that any lover of Barber’s music will wish to acquire without delay. This superlative release has a guaranteed slot on my 2012 Want List, and carries my highest possible recommendation.

FANFARE: James A. Altena
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