SAMUEL BARBER: String Quartet, Serenade, Dover beach, Songs
This is an excellent disc which, to anyone who has any interest in the works of Samuel Barber, would be a must. It covers a range of works that represent Samuel Barber's output, from his opus 1 written, when he was 18 (if not earlier) to one of his last works, his opus 45. This is predominantly a song recital disc (being a singer himself, vocal works were an important mode of expression for Barber). The bulk of the songs are performed by a mature Thomas Allen, a fine singer in my opinion, who here is in firm voice and gives excellently refined and expressive performances.
However the lure for me for the disc was the String Quartets. Opus 1 is of particular interest as Barber wrote it firstly with 4 movements but then edited it down to three. This leaves the Dance (allegro giocoso) as the final movement, and this is a delight. But the work I was really seeking was the string Quartet op 11 (as far as I can determine, this recording being the only one in the current catalogue). This I find somewhat surprising, as the string quartet is the original setting of the famous adagio, which was orchestrated by Barber at a later date. I find listening to the lighter quartet version here really helps focus the mind, whereas the now rather hackneyed and overplayed orchestral version tends to wash over one in a rinse of syrupy fluid. This later string quartet is also in three movements. The first movement and the adagio are 8 & 7 minutes respectively, the closing 3rd movement a brief two and half mins only. However the emotional intensity of this last movement juxtaposed to the languorous lyricism of the 2nd, the adagio, seems to sit perfectly well. It is a bit of a mystery why the work is so rarely performed. The powerfully if slightly stridently voiced Eric Cutler and Bradley Moore ( piano) close the disc with four songs for tenor, "Despite and Still" opus 41.
This is a compilation disc. The Thomas Allen songs were recorded in 1993 @ St George's Brandon Hill, the Endellion String Quartet 1990 @ Blackheath, and the Eric Cutler @ the Lyndhurst Hall London in 2003. However the quality of the recordings are such that there is an evenness of technical excellence throughout the CD, and the varying times and locations are only obvious through reading the accompanying disc-notes. Though these notes are intelligent and informative: my one criticisms being that, even though both Allen and Cutler display excellent diction, the text of the songs, and the names poets would not have gone amiss, never more so than in Cutler's excellent interpretation of the tango-rythmed Solitary Hotel from op 41
I bought the album for two items in particular and return to both frequently: the String Quartet with the sparse original of the Adagio; and the sensitive and wonderfully atmospheric setting of Dover Beach in which the baritone is supported by a string quartet. These are merely the highlights of a very fine compilation.