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Samuel Barber: Orchestral Works, Vol.1 / Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 CD

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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  • Samuel Barber: Orchestral Works, Vol.1 / Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2
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  • Samuel Barber: Orchestral Works, Vol.2
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  • Barber: Violin Concerto / Souvenirs (Ballet Suite) / Music for a Scene from Shelley / Serenade for Strings
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Product details

  • Orchestra: Royal Scottish National Orchestra
  • Conductor: Marin Alsop
  • Composer: Samuel Barber
  • Audio CD (1 May 2000)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B00004T6KQ
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 124,349 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Product Description

Product Description

NAX 8559024; NAXOS - Germania; Classica contemporanea Orchestrale


There's more to Barber than his Adagio for Strings--hijacked by the movies as a universal anthem for wartime angst--so it's great to hear these lesser-known works. His output, particularly the smaller-scale works, offer rich rewards. The overture to Sheridan's witty comedy The School for Scandal is a delightful romp with meandering melodies that conjure up images of wagon trains on the prairie while the haunting expansive theme of the Essay echoes the mood of the Adagio and is not easily forgotten.

Barber's symphonies are somewhat uneven in quality, mainly because of his extensive revisions, and veer from the amazing to the mundane. Alsop and the RSNO create a lustrous sound and the first symphony in particular gives the cracking brass section ample opportunity to show off. It's Sibelian-like qualities couldn't be more different from the second, sounding uncannily like Britten's Peter Grimes written two years earlier in 1942. --Susan Nickalls

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
Marin Alsop makes Barber fly in a way no other conductor can. The RSNO gives a haunting performance and this is one of the best recordings of a Barber symphony - ever! Their performance of the Adagio for Strings in March induced tears. This CD is a must in any classical collection.
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By Sentinel TOP 500 REVIEWER on 4 Sept. 2010
Format: Audio CD
This is another Naxos gem in a rapidly growing list. At one time Naxos recordings were too often let down by some fairly rough playing/interpretations, poor recording, or both! Happily this is almost a thing of the past, and as far as this performance and production is concerned, it is easily the equivalent (or better) than any full-price rival. Alsop really makes the strings of the Royal Scottish shimmer and sing with a luminous intensity, while the production gives a lustrous richness to the performance. There is really no better way to sit back in the comfort of your home and slip into some very tasty Barber indeed.
Both symphonies clearly benefit from this approach, as does the 'School for Scandal'overture, with the work appearing much more tightly orchestrated, and with a momentum which appears just right. But perhaps the hidden gem here, and the acid test of the musical performance, is the 'Essay for Orchestra', a delightful miniature which glitters throughout a wonderfully lively and inspired performance. These performances come highly recommended in Gramophone, BBC and Penguin Guides, the latter awarding a coveted 'rosette', while this was also editor's choice in Gramophone. Convinced?
A superb bargain.
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Format: Audio CD
Marin Alsop recorded these two symphonies with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in 1998. This is the first time I have heard the symphonies; I have no other versions in my collection with which I can make a direct comparison.

Barber’s first symphony (1937) possesses an American self-assurance that fails to dispel profound doubts about the troublesome times in which it was written. Its one movement lasts twenty minutes, but any listener will clearly sense its division into three sections. A contemporary comparison would be Walton’s first symphony in feeling if not in format.

Symphony No. 2 (1943-4) is in three movements and lasts thirty minutes. It is a darker work than its predecessor. The first movement has a nervous energy, a restless questioning; the second possesses a sense of bewilderment; whilst the third sees the nervous energy return in an angrier mood, but this is resolved into resignation at the symphony’s end. One senses a few bad notes here and there, but otherwise this is a good performance with good (but not very good) sound quality.

The other items on this disc are Barber’s ‘School for Scandal’ overture, which brought Barber to notice and was written when he was twenty-three, and his ‘First Essay for Orchestra’. The first is full of the wit and good humour of Sheridan’s original play, and musically is a cross between Strauss’s ‘Till Eulenspiegel’ and Holst’s ‘Beni Mora’. The second is darker and deeper but still communicates with ease.

Overall, then, this is a good set of pieces with a good set of performances. There no doubt are better ones out there, but I was satisfied with Alsop’s work here.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Recently discovered Barber - and the more I listen the more I like. These Naxos recordings are really top flight. Highly recommended.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x92f7eed0) out of 5 stars 29 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9377a30c) out of 5 stars Masterfully lush, like an ocean or thunderstorm 19 April 2005
By A. Drinkard - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This disc is by far the most beloved of my collection. Nothing has ever pushed me to the brink of emotional explosion like the First Symphony has as it is played here. Absolutely gives me chills. The chaconne of the final movement (though the symphony is played as one large movement) is haunting. I only wish I could share it with everybody. Now, that having been said, you'll likely find The School for Scandal Overture to be a little more accessible. It too is fascinating. As are the Essay and the Second Symphony, which is particularly well played. For the price, this is an amazing treat. As others have mentioned, this disc really shows that Barber was much more than a one-hit-wonder (referring to his oft-played 'Adagio for Strings'). He can really pack a punch, so to speak. And that's all I have to say about that.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
By B - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Since I do not have the formal musical training which would allow me to comment on the technical virtues of this performance, I can say, without regret, that this is your best bet for the price. The First Symphony is a lush, one movement masterpiece. The Second Symphony, sadly disowned by the composer, is also worthy of further performance. And the First Essay for Orchestra and the School for Scandal are more than worthy fillers. The sound quality matches Barber's music for lushness. The price is unbeatable. The performance of the First Symphony, at least, matches that of a full priced version performed by Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony and released on RCA. Romantic, elegant, emotional, and tasteful.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92efffb4) out of 5 stars The Symphony No. 2 Makes This Release a Bargain 3 Oct. 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Having read the astute comments by the other reviewers listed on this page, I'm amused to learn we all have different objections to this recording, though in sum we find it recommendable. My gripe concerns The School for Scandal Overture. Alsop chooses an unfortunately leaden tempo for this mercurial work and proceeds with a leaden stick through most of it. Only at the end do the orchestra and she seem to perk up. The beginning seems especially tentative in phrasing.
That said, I find few negatives in the rest of the performances here. I also own the Zinman/Baltimore recording of the Symphony No. 1, and while I remember it is as being a fleet, commanding performance, Alsop's seems its equal. The first movement, given a dutiful Allegro ma non troppo tempo, does seem just a trifle sluggish in Alsop's reading, but the other movements are very well done.
Nothing earthbound about Alsop's performance of Symphony No. 2, which recreates the fear of flying our men in the air experienced during World War II. If you don't know this work (as I did not when I came to this recording), it is certainly worth hearing. It's a troubled and troubling symphony, its airborne gestures, especially in the first movement, being both scenically captivating and dramatic to a T. The lovely Andante brings the only repose in the form of long-breathed melodies with a glacial beauty, interrupted by an icy tumult at its core.
The symphony represents Barber's most forward-looking work, besides the Piano Concerto, so it is interesting to note that in the Second Symphony, which Barber tried to suppress from further peformance and publication, he uses one of the motives that shapes the later work. The third movement of the symphony starts with this restless motive, though Barber doesn't explore it as thoroughly as in the Piano Concerto; he isn't the first composer to recycle promising material. But the third movement of the symphony seems repetitious and static through much of its course, unlike the first two movements. The dramatic peroration caps the symphony admirably, but by then the material of the movement has outworn its welcome, at least for me. Maybe that's the chief reason Barber rejected the work: It had a recalcitrant movement that he couldn't or didn't want to whip into shape. But this is just speculation, and I'm very glad to have made the acquaintance of this thought-provoking work.
Alsop and company make a compelling case for it throughout, as they do for the much more familiar Essay for Orchestra No. 1. Both have all the drama one could wish for, and I have no quibbles here about tempos or phrasing.
The engineer for Naxos' British Isles-based recordings, Tony Faulkner, captures the orchestra in typically warm, full sound.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x938acee8) out of 5 stars Well Play Performances of Barber Essentials 24 Jun. 2002
By David A. Wend - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This CD is a great introduction to the music of Samuel Barber and a great addition for someone who knows these wonderful orchestral works. The selection of works is nicely representative with a particularly good performance of the Second Symphony (Andrew Schenk would be proud). Marin Alsop, a protégé of Leonard Bernstein, and a conductor who has gained a lot of attention conduct the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. It would be nice to see her as music director of the Ravinnia Festival.
Along with the Second Symphony, the School for Scandal Overture is well played with a good tempo. The recording by Thomas Schippers remains my favorite but Ms. Alsop turns in a good, spirited performance (it reminds me more of Schenk's recording). The First Symphony and First Essay are beautifully played with the brooding drama and quicksilver lyricism of these works emphasized to good effect. The recording is very good all the details of the orchestration are clear. It is a joy to have this disc even though I already have these works played by other orchestras.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92e66f18) out of 5 stars A New Case for Barber's Second 8 Feb. 2001
By Thomas F. Bertonneau - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
"Unashamed musical romanticism expressed in a kind of musical water-colour technique: clear, transparent shades... This is what one finds in the best of Barber." So said Colin Wilson in "Chords and Discords" (1963) about the music of Samuel Barber (1910-1981). The mid-1960s, when Wilson wrote, probably constituted the low-point of Barber's reputation; the atonalists had risen to their intolerant ascendancy and opinion-setters tended to worship at the altar of Elliot Carter. Bear in mind, however, that Wilson was defending Barber: "The early First Symphony is a singing, tunelful work that seems to express the vitality of young America more effectively than Harris... Barber is a genuine musical talent." Barber has triumphed (posthumously and in his minor way) over the post-war reaction against him for precisely those quality that Wilson admires. He wrote in an unabashedly romantic style, with roots in Tchaikovsky and Mahler, that established an immediate connection with listeners. Not for no reason did the Adagio from the First String Quartet become the unofficial funeral music for the passing of American presidents. The emotion is clear, it is obvious, and the articulation of it wastes nothing. Barber was oddly his own most severe critic. While serving in the Army Air Force in World War Two, he received the commission (1943) to compose a Second Symphony in honor of America's airmen. A few years after its premiere (1947), however, Barber withdrew it. He had established a reputation, he explained, as the composer of highly compressed works in a neo-romantic idiom, and the three-movement symphony struck him as formally out of character. (And yet he had already written the three-movement Violin Concerto.) After the composer's death, the score, thought to have been destroyed, turned up, and conductor Andrew Schenck decided to revive it with his New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. The CD became something of a phenomenon. Since then it has been recorded a number of times. Naxos now gives us a CD containing both of Barber's symphonies along with the "School for Scandal" (1933) Overture and the First Essay for Orchestra (1938). Marin Alsop leads the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The First Symphony (1936) is so familiar and so oft-recorded that one hardly needs to describe it. Alsop competes against a fairly large field. Slatkin, with the St. Louis Symphony, achieves a weightier effect in the opening Allegro Non Troppo, but Alsop's Allegro Molto (the scherzo of this one-movement work), has a scurrying tenseness to it that I like. In the concluding Andante Tranquillo (a passacaglia-cum-finale), I find Slatkin more convincing. Alsop's build-up could be more graduated than it is. But this is by no means to dismiss Alsop's interpretation. In the Second Symphony, Alsop faces fewer competitors - the composer himself in a long vanished performance that has never made it to CD, Schenck, and Neeme Järvi. The Second is definitely a more ambitious work than the First. It is more "modern" in sound and more combative in character. Where the First employs a passacaglia for the finale, the Second uses, not quite a fugue, but an extended fugato. In the Second, Alsop equals the competition. She makes as good a case for the work as has been made previously. The RSNO has a feel for brightly colored music (they have been recording the Bax symphonies under David Lloyd-Jones) and they know what to do with Barber's brass-dominated, percussively underlined, textures. The First Essay receives an appropriately dark interpretation. The ghost of Sibelius hovers in the background. Are there any bad performances of the "School for Scandal" Overture? If so, I haven't heard one. Whatever its failing, Barber's Second remains a considerable work. This is a painless way to get to know it. Take advantage of the budget price.
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