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Barber - Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op 24; Toccata Festiva, Op 24 [CD]

Karina Gauvin, Marin Alsop Audio CD
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Frequently Bought Together

Barber - Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op 24; Toccata Festiva, Op 24 + Barber: Violin Concerto + Samuel Barber: Orchestral Works, Vol.1 / Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2
Price For All Three: 19.45

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Product details

  • Orchestra: Royal Scottish National Orchestra
  • Conductor: Marin Alsop
  • Composer: Samuel Barber
  • Audio CD (29 Mar 2004)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B0001N9ZF2
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 121,598 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Samples
Song TitleArtist Time Price
Listen  1. Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24Karina Gauvin16:51Album Only
Listen  2. Second Essay, Op. 17 : Second Essay, Op. 17Marin Alsop11:21Album Only
Listen  3. Third Essay, Op. 47Marin Alsop14:22Album Only
Listen  4. Toccata festiva, Op. 36Thomas Trotter14:17Album Only


Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb 'Knoxville' and Some Barber Rarities 19 May 2004
By J Scott Morrison HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Audio CD
Marin Alsop and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra have proven credentials in the music of Barber. They have already recorded the symphonies, the concerti, the First Essay, the 'School for Scandal' Overture and more. Here they continue what appears to be part of what may become a complete traversal of Barber's orchestral scores with competitive recordings of the Second and Third Essays for Orchestra, the grand Toccata Festiva (with Thomas Trotter, organ) and, best of all, a simply splendid 'Knoxville: Summer of 1915' with Canadian soprano, Karina Gauvin.

'Knoxville' is a work that never fails to speak to me. It somehow prompts a nostalgia for a past that I did not actually experience but which feels utterly accurate in its evocation of those long-ago days when people sat on their porch swings 'rocking gently and talking gently' that it still, after many years' familiarity, brings a lump to my throat. Of course, James Agee's prose poem about those times is an American classic. I've known this piece ever since the original recording by its dedicatee, the inimitable American soprano Eleanor Steber. Steber had long been a friend of Barber's and later premièred the name role in his great opera 'Vanessa.' Her performance, for me, is without parallel and it is still available on CD. However, Steber's voice is a big one, a dramatic one (as was Leontyne Price's; she made the second recording of the piece) and 'Knoxville' can also be very effective when sung by a soprano with a more lyrical sound. In that category would be the recordings of Sylvia McNair (what a glorious voice she has!) and Dawn Upshaw. Gauvin's voice is more like Upshaw's and although I presume she is a native French speaker (she's from Montréal), her diction is better.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine version of Barber's nostalgic masterpiece 9 Oct 2004
Format:Audio CD
I must admit that I am not that enthusiasticd for American Classical music, but as soon as I heard that the budget label Naxos were issuing a CD of Samuel Barber's "Knoxville;1915" I rapidly acquired a copy.
The CD is coupled with three other compositions by Barber that, although pleasant, are hardly spectacular. However, there is little to offend listeners who have reservations about 20th Century music as Barber was very much as conservative. Never-the-less, it is interesting to discover this music that was previously unknown to me.
Most purhcasers will buy this disc for the composer's setting of James Agee's nostalgic poem that results in something that captures in music the melancholy of the period evoked by the likes of Owen and Sassoon in English poetry and Alain-Fournier's "Le grand Meaulnes" in literature. The playing by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is one of the pluses of this CD, although I wish the diction of the singer had been better. All in all though, this matches the high standards typified by this label that has done much to introduce myself and other music fans to classical recordings at an affordable price.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Audio CD
I must admit that I have never been a great fan of American Classical Music although from time to time there are composers such as Gottschalk and John Adams who have emerged from the ordinary to produce something special. Samuel Barber's nostalgic "Knoxville:1915" is one such composition, occupying the niche in clasical music that Alain-Fournier's "Le grand Meulnes" takes in literature. Like the other reviewer, this speaks to me of a time before the world would be forever changed by the Great War and is a million miles away from the composer's over-played, syrupy "Adagio for strings." Although I would normally never listen to classical or operatic singers, "Knowville" is a composition that, through it's greatness, is able to sweep aside any predjudices since it evokes a time in history that most people yearn for.
Great as the playing of the orchestra is on this track however, it is let down by the poor diction of the singer that makes the words of James Agee's poem almost unintelligle. I must admit to hearing better sung versions on Radio Three. Thankfully, the superb orchestration is played to it's fullest potential and at the budget price, it would be curmudgeonly to grumble. This is particularly the case given the fact that the balance of the disc if given over to three of Barber's Neo-clasical orchestral works that, whilst passing an agreeable three-quarters of an hour, are somewhat unremarkable and compare unfavourably with some of the composer's more capable contemporaries such as Bela Bartok, Olivier Messiaen or even Francis Poulenc.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb 'Knoxville' and Some Rarely Heard Barber Scores 19 May 2004
By J Scott Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Marin Alsop and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra have proven credentials in the music of Barber. They have already recorded the symphonies, the concerti, the First Essay, the 'School for Scandal' Overture and more. Here they continue what appears to be part of what may become a complete traversal of Barber's orchestral scores with competitive recordings of the Second and Third Essays for Orchestra, the grand Toccata Festiva (with Thomas Trotter, organ) and, best of all, a simply splendid 'Knoxville: Summer of 1915' with Canadian soprano, Karina Gauvin.
'Knoxville' is a work that never fails to speak to me. It somehow prompts a nostalgia for a past that I did not actually experience but which feels utterly accurate in its evocation of those long-ago days when people sat on their porch swings 'rocking gently and talking gently' that it still, after many years' familiarity, brings a lump to my throat. Of course, James Agee's prose poem about those times is an American classic. I've known this piece ever since the original recording by its dedicatee, the inimitable American soprano Eleanor Steber. Steber had long been a friend of Barber's and later premièred the name role in his great opera 'Vanessa.' Her performance, for me, is without parallel and it is still available on CD. However, Steber's voice is a big one, a dramatic one (as was Leontyne Price's; she made the second recording of the piece) and 'Knoxville' can also be very effective when sung by a soprano with a more lyrical sound. In that category would be the recordings of Sylvia McNair (what a glorious voice she has!) and Dawn Upshaw. Gauvin's voice is more like Upshaw's and although I presume she is a native French speaker (she's from Montréal), her diction is better. Alsop's musical direction is spot on and the RSNO plays beautifully for her. This is definitely a competitive recording of this great piece. [Sidebar: Renée Fleming's performance of 'Knoxville' at the concert a few years ago to dedicate the new Harris Hall at the Aspen Music Festival has achieved legendary status. When is SHE going to record it?]
The Second and Third Essays for Orchestra came after his 1930s favorite, the First Essay. The Second, written at the request of Bruno Walter, was premièred by Walter and the New York Philharmonic in 1942. It is the most dramatic and tightly constructed of the three. It is given an incisive performance here. The Third Essay was a late work, premièred in 1976 by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. It is less overtly Romantic than the earlier pieces, opening with unaccompanied timpani and xylophone whose asymmetric melodies and rhythms supply motifs for the rest of the work. It is the least played of the three but would be an effective concert opener and is given an effective reading here.
The 'Toccata Festiva' was also premièred by Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was commissioned by a Philadelphia heiress to inaugurate a new pipe organ. The writing for the organ is virtuosic, displaying all facets of an organist's technique. The acclaimed English organist, Thomas Trotter, here plays the solo part with élan and the imaginative orchestral accompaniment is expertly managed by the RSNO. This piece is rarely heard for some reason but I well remember one live performance about ten years ago that had me wondering why; perhaps its because of the heavy requirements placed on the organist's hands (and feet - there is one unaccompanied passage for pedals alone that makes one gasp). It's a barn-burner and a sure crowd pleaser that does not pander to vulgar tastes.
This is an worthy continuation of this worthy series. Recommended.
TT=56:55
Scott Morrison
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Disc 17 Jun 2004
By David A. Wend - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Once again, Naxos has come up with a superb disc in their Samuel Barber series. I have heard several recordings of Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and this new one succeeds perfectly in capturing the lyricism and mood of the music. The soprano, Karina Gauvin, sings with great feeling, capturing every nuance of James Agee's words. Her voice reminds me of Eleanor Steber, who commissioned this piece, and with the beautiful singing and orchestral playing, this recording of Knoxville is one of the best available. For me, however, the very best Knoxville remains the Leontyne Price recording with Thomas Schippers. There is a hard-to-define quality in Ms. Price's voice that conveys the feeling that she has lived what she is singing about.
This CD also holds the Second and Third Essay for Orchestra, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra beautifully plays both. The Second Essay was commissioned by Bruno Walter in 1942 and is, like his First Symphony, a compact work with enough musical ideas for a longer work. It is good to see the Third Essay, the least recorded of this form, coupled with the Second. The Third Essay, from 1976, is dominated by the opening theme imaginatively scored for percussion instruments. Like the earlier Essays, the third has an abundance of musical ides and moments of beautiful lyricism with an underlying melancholia. An even rarer work of Barber's in the Toccata Festiva for orchestra and organ, written when Mary Zimbalist, a wealthy patron of music, offered to buy a new pipe organ for the Philadelphia Orchestra. Barber was offered a commission by Eugene Ormandy for the Toccata. The work is a miniature concerto for organ with virtuoso playing required from the soloist. The orchestra has a magnificent accompanying role with music written not as a backdrop for the organ but with beautiful long passages that make it a partner in the performance.
This is a very rewarding disc wonderfully conducted by Marin Alsop, who has become the leading Barber proponent with this 5th disc of his music.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Naxos series of Barber recordings continues virtuously 6 Dec 2004
By drdanfee - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
The idea of virtue, connoting an active quality of goodness, might seem oblique in connection with a music recording; but something very like virtue gathers as this regular, 16-bit CD spins merrily in my upsampled player.

Kudos to Ms. Galvin, a Canadian soprano of some reputation. I am sorry to say that I found her earlier recordings very fine, but less than consistent. One track seemed compelling to me, followed by a track or two that seemed competent and not much more. In this case of Barber's Knoxville, all hesitations and doubts must simply dissolve in the face of her superb vocalism, matched effortlessly to Barber's rather mystical setting of the famous Agee text. While the words tell us of a long-faded American tapestry of extended family, timeless childhood being, and the passing parade of changing civilization in the early twentieth century; Barber's genius is that he has the music make clear to us that this snapshot captures its time and place as variants of a universal human condition. I am reminded of the character's return to life's moments after having first settled into the empty grave's chairs playwright Thornton Wilder puts on one side of the stage, across from passing life as we typically live through it. It's all happening too fast, the character exclaims, bringing home to us the ineffable poignancy of our having lived so much that we cannot capture the first time around, nor recapture in memory or nostalgia or recollection. This music is dangerous repertoire, insofar as it asks us as audience members to remember that we do not live so long, nor so fully on this earth, regardless of how many years we do live. In less than expert hands, this piece can turn pale and maudlin, rather than - as here sung by Ms. Gauvin - poised and elegant and wise with melancholy acceptance.

Based on this CD, it is safe to conclude that Ms. Gauvin has matured into consistency of being in command of her considerable resources.

The remainder of the CD only makes inescapably clear how well the entire series is being steered and helmed by Marin Alsop. Typically, she has been offered the Bournemouth Symphony in England, by an orchestra administration who surely know a gifted conductor when they hear one, even if she is a woman. Thank you, Antonia Brico. (First woman to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic, among other things, in 1930's.) The late Walter Legge is supposed to have said that he knew he was hearing a great conductor when somebody could take a sixth rate orchestra and get them to play like a second rate band.

So far, none of the orchestras that have been privileged to play under Marin Alsop have been in the world's famous top ten; but when you hear these performances, you find yourself thinking that maybe a whole lot of very fine music is going on the world, aside from marketing cache or brand-name recognition. The Scottish RNO has been a good orchestra for some time now; so the Barber series has been continuing at a very high level, indeed, especially when you consider that Naxos is a budget label by design. Here we have absolutely nothing of the old 101 strings; or the east European radio orchestra scratch.

One is grateful to the series, if for nothing else than so eloquently demonstrating to us that there is more to the music of Samuel Barber than his reputation as a slightly dotty old-uncle of a past American master allows. To classify him as an American romantic composer is fine, so long as you know the difference between sappy-fizzy romantic bar drinks with parasols from Taiwan on top; and something else in American music which seems to be aging into a liquored-up strong finish with a rich, complex bouquet. Barber's harmonic and narrative directness capture something that we have come to recognize as a definitive dimension of our national identity in music. But the lyricism and the harmony are not sugar-intensive, in these performances. (Just right, this disc.)

Marin Alsop and the RNSO reminds us in the second and third essays for orchestra that Barber could and often did say more in ten or fifteen minutes, than some blustery composers seem to say in thirty or forty-five. There is an almost late-Sibelius concision of evolution at work here, with a surprising sense that tonality is not the placid glass surface that many who don't listen too closely might assume it to be.

Finally, we get the little-played Toccata for organ and orchestra, written to show off the Philadephia Orchestra's new organ, a gift of philanthropic Mary Zimbalist. If you like the organ mix with orchestra, this will tickly your fancy. It is played deftly and with musical imagination by Thomas Trotter in the lofts.

If you don't know Barber, this is a rewarding place to start. If you have been collecting the Barber Naxos series previously, then take heart, this one is another keeper. Five stars, not that distantly shining, almost right above us on a very, very clear night.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Recording Which Gives Barber His Due 14 July 2004
By Timothy Kearney - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
For about two months now, this recording of Barber's works has appeared every time I log on to Amazon.com suggesting I purchase it, so I decided to take a chance. As is so often the case with Naxos recordings, it was worth the gamble.
Most people who purchase the recording are more than likely purchasing it for the collections best known piece KNOXVILLE: SUMMER OF 1915. The work was commissioned by the soprano Eleanor Steber in the late 1940's, composed by one of the great contemporary composers of the time with words from the poem by James Agee, and premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra by the great Serge Koussevitzky. With such a background, could the work be anything but destined for greatness? As other reviewers have noted, the work is a favorite of sopranos such as Steber and Leontyne Price and there are other wonderful recordings of the work. While I agree that sopranos such as Price and Steber have masterfully performed and recorded the work, Karina Gauvin's performance is also worth noting. Perhaps because her voice is not as powerful as many of her predecessors, she is able to give the work a simpler rendition which would be in keeping with Knoxville, Tennessee in the early part of the last century. It is difficult to understand what she is singing at times, but the recording ahs the words in the liner notes, and the diction problems seem to fade with familiarity.
The SECOND ESSAY FOR ORCHESTRA, the THIRD ESSAY FOR ORCHESTRA, and the TOCCATA FESTIVA are lesser known Barber works but demonstrate his tremendous musical gifts. The SECOND ESSAY is a more traditionally composed piece, the THIRD is somewhat experimental. Thomas Trotter does a masterful job conducting the Royal Scottish Orchestra. The TOCCATA FESTIVA is a bold and exciting piece that would require a skilled orchestra and an organ virtuoso, and this recording contains both.
While nearly all Naxos recordings can be characterized by quality and price, this collection deserves a special place in its catalog.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It just misses 18 Oct 2008
By Glen A. Gill - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
First, bravo to Naxos for doing a Barber series; long overdue. I'm just sorry that Thomas Schippers wasn't around to do it. Alsop is a fine conductor but her Barber misses. Perhaps part of the reason was the choice of orchestra. Don't get me wrong. The RSNO is a very fine orchestra but they just don't have the right feel, or she just isn't conveying the right mood. This may not be her fault entirely. Non-American orchestras performing American music never seem to get it right; ever.

For a person on a very slim budget, these are OK and there is something to be said about consistency. But, for those who want something more definitive, you must search out the recordings by Thomas Schippers. His recording of Medea's Dance, the Adagio (the only version to own), the Second Essay and the School for Scandal with the NYPO are infinitely superior despite the dated sound. Then, you have his recording of the Knoxville with Leontyne Price. Regarding the Toccata, Schippers never recorded the work but he was the person Barber went to when he needed help with writing the organ part. Generally, the superior version is the one by E. Power Biggs with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
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