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American Classics - Barber: Capricorn Concerto / Alsop

Release Date: 02/22/2005 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559135   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Samuel Barber
Performer:  Karen JonesStephane Rancourt
Conductor:  Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This sixth and final disc in Naxos’s series dedicated to Barber and featuring Marin Alsop and the RSNO is worth getting for the Capricorn Concerto. Even had the rest of this release been comprised of scraps off the compositional workbench (something that is definitely not the case), the present version of Barber’s affectionate salute to his home, family, and the Baroque would deserve to be heard. It is the gentlest, most lyrical of readings, with poignancy in its more tender moments and bracing drollery in the rest. In its playfulness, energy, and lucidity, this version is the antipode of so many dryly academic recordings that have appeared over the years.

A Hand of Bridge is an excellent work, too little heard because of its
Read more length: who wants to schedule a 10-minute opera with four leads? Yet its length is perfectly judged for its literary subject and treatment: a hand of bridge played by four people who sing in recitative their outward responses, and expand more operatically on their inner musings over a variety of topics. I have to say that in this instance, Alsop and company come off as second best. The singers are too recessed compared to the orchestra, their voices too operatic, and their manner too stiff. An old Vanguard release with the underrated Vladimir Golschmann and the Symphony of the Air (last seen on Vanguard Classics 123) is to be preferred. Analog sound and all, its singers are fully into the idiom, which is much closer to Broadway than an opera house. So close, in fact, that one could imagine Sondheim setting Menotti’s sharp-edged libretto, though I don’t think he’d produce anything nearly as distinctive.

The rest of the works on this release range from relatively well known, such as the elegiac Intermezzo from Barber’s first opera, Vanessa, to the hardly ever heard, including the Mutations from Bach for brass and timpani that utilize the plainsong “Christ, thou lamb of God.” (It harmonizes and rescores the work first according to Joachim Decker, then twice as set by Bach; and finally Barber’s own version, before returning to the serenely beautiful Decker.) In these pieces, the RSNO is again first-rate, and Alsop’s conducting a fine example of clarity, nuance, and balance. Rancourt has both the technique and the sweet tone to perform wonders in both the Capricorn Concerto and the Canzonetta for oboe and strings. Mention should also be made of the unnamed trumpeter who adds such accuracy and brightness to the former work.

Sound quality is exemplary, and detailed; well-informed liner notes by David Felsenfeld are supplied. Any lover of Barber’s music will want all six CDs, though I would probably single out this release and the one that features the Violin Concerto and Serenade for Strings (Naxos 8.559044) as a fine introduction to the art of a great composer.

Barry Brenesal, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

Capricorn Concerto for Flute, Oboe, Trumpet and Strings, Op. 21 by Samuel Barber
Performer:  Karen Jones (Flute)
Conductor:  Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944; USA 
Vanessa, Op. 32: Intermezzo by Samuel Barber
Conductor:  Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1957; USA 
Canzonetta for Oboe and Strings by Samuel Barber
Performer:  Stephane Rancourt (Oboe)
Conductor:  Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1979-1981; USA 
A Hand of Bridge, Op. 35 by Samuel Barber
Conductor:  Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1958; USA 

Sound Samples

Capricorn Concerto, Op. 21: I. Allegro ma non troppo
Capricorn Concerto, Op. 21: II. Allegretto
Capricorn Concerto, Op. 21: III. Allegro con brio
A Hand of Bridge, Op. 35
Mutations from Bach
Vanessa, Op. 32: Act III: Intermezzo
Canzonetta, Op. 48: posth.
Fadograph of a Yestern Scene, Op. 44

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