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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb 'Knoxville' and Some Barber Rarities
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...
Published on 19 May 2004 by J Scott Morrison

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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellently played version of Barber's nostalgic masterpeice
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"...
Published on 27 Sep 2004 by Ian Thumwood


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13 of 13 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 (Middlebury VT, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Barber - Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op 24; Toccata Festiva, Op 24 (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
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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
By 
Ian Thumwood "ian17577" (Winchester) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Barber - Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op 24; Toccata Festiva, Op 24 (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
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellently played version of Barber's nostalgic masterpeice, 27 Sep 2004
By 
Ian Thumwood "ian17577" (Winchester) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Barber - Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op 24; Toccata Festiva, Op 24 (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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