BARBER: Sonata for Cello and Piano. Concerto for Cello and Orchestra KODALY: Sonata for Cello and Piano. DELLO JOIO: Duo Concertato. BRITTEN: Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings.

by Walter Simmons



BARBER: Sonata for Cello and Piano. KODALY: Sonata for Cello and Piano. DELLO JOIO: Duo ConcertatoJeffray Solow, cello; Albert Dominguez, piano. PELICAN LP2010, produced by Stephen Jabloner, $7.98. (Available from: Pelican Records, P. O. Box 34732, Los Angeles, CA 90034.)

BARBER: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra. BRITTEN: Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings. Raya Garbousova, cello (in Barber); Charles Bressler, tenor; Ralph Froelich, French horn (in Britten); Musica Aeterna Symphony Orchestra conducted by Frederic Waldman. VARESE SARABANDE VC-81057, produced by Israel Horowitz, $8.98.

Samuel Barber, who has recently celebrated his 70th birthday, is justly regarded as one of America’s greatest composers, and the continuing expansion of his discography is most welcome. Although his list of works numbers fewer than 50, most of his output has found its way into the repertoire with relative ease. Barber’s Cello Sonata is an early work, his Op. 6, and dates from his 22nd year. The essential features of his style — the long, memorable, highly affecting melodic lines that become the primary compositional focus; the moody, impetuous romanticism, expressed in a language that is always refined, never coarse-appeared early, and are found in their pure form in this lovely sonata. Like most of Barber’s early works, it makes no concession at all to “modernism”; its formal progression is quite episodic; and technical matters, such as the balance between the two instruments, are sometimes handled awkwardly. But the Cello Sonata is a spontaneous and genuinely motivated piece of music, and has rightfully become one of the most widely performed 20th-century works for cello.

Jeffrey Solow’s new release is the fifth stereo recording of this piece to appear. I have not been able to hear Croxford’s (Saga 5272); Gordon Epperson’s (Golden Crest RE7026) is a perceptive reading, and Lucille Greco’s (Onion ORS-7297) is acceptable, but both are unattractive sonically; Harry Clark’s Musical Heritage MHS-3 378) is an interpretive disaster. Solow’s is far superior to these. While his intonation is not perfect, and his tone quality is somewhat lacking in depth, it is even and otherwise pleasant. Moreover, his technique is agile enough for him to project the expressive content of the music with appropriate abandon, yet without losing control. In pianist Albert Dominguez, Solow has a brilliant partner, whose contribution is striking and impressive. Dominguez is pursuing a solo career as well, and I look forward to following his achievements. Both Solow and Dominguez have demonstrated an adventurous attitude toward repertoire that sets them apart from most young instrumentalists, and this record is a flattering showcase for their talents.

The Kodály and Dello Joio make attractive companion pieces for the Barber. While not nearly as ambitious or demanding as the famous solo sonata composed five years later, Kodály’s Sonata for Cello and Piano is quite rewarding in its rhapsodic, overtly folkloristic manner. Solow and Dominguez perform it beautifully.

The Dello Joio is a lovely short piece, of much greater interest than the pedestrian stuff one usually associates with him. Solow is a bit sluggish in the lively central section, but the solemn outer portions are handled nicely.

Pelican, another of the many interesting companies, along with Varèse Sarabande, to appear in California over the last couple of years, has produced this record impeccably. The sound quality is equal to the best of today’s conventional recordings, with vivid, lifelike ambience, and a full, well-balanced tonal range. The surfaces are immaculate as well.

Barber composed his Cello Concerto 13 years after the Sonata, during a transitional period when he attempted to infuse his hitherto unbridled romanticism with a bit of the bracing acerbity of his neo-classical colleagues. In some works from this period, like the ballet scoreMedea, he succeeded in integrating these more virile, angular elements into his own idiom, paving the way for the major achievements of his late period. However, several other compositions from the 40’s, e.g., the Capricorn Concerto and the Piano Sonata, while not without their positive qualities, suffer from a rather obvious derivative-ness, as well as from an incompatibility between the inherently lyrical thematic genesis and the neo-classical treatment. I have always felt that the Cello Concerto falls into this latter category. However, the portions of the work that spring from the composer’s melodic predisposition, the second movement especially, are quite lovely, and the work as a whole is a fair enough concerto. But it clearly lacks the intense lyrical conviction of the earlier Violin Concerto or the formal strength and stylistic balance of the later Piano Concerto. 

This new Varèse Sarabande release is a reissue of a recording that originated on Decca in 1966. Raya Garbousova’s performance is adequate and shows a good deal of sincere effort, but her pitch goes awry at times, and her tone is not always evenly controlled. But hers is the only current rendition of this concerto, and it is not a bad one. The Musica Aeterna Orchestra, a New York pick-up ensemble, plays a superb supporting role.

The presence on this disc of a performance of Britten’s hauntingly beautiful Serenade may appear superfluous to those who look upon the old Pears/Brain/Goossens version and more recent Pears/Tuckwell/Britten one as definitive, which they are.  But this new reissue owes no apology, as it offers much fine, insightful musicianship. Bressler’s light tenor has an open, smooth quality that serves him well throughout the work (aside from some understandable difficulty with the roulades of the “Hymn”). The Serenade is quintessential Britten, with its icy delicacy, reflective, reserved lyricism, and the penetrating intelligence of its literary interpretations, and Bressler communicates all this superbly. Froelich’s contribution on the horn is strong, effective, and unflawed. The orchestral performance is equally fine, making this a valuable reissue. The sound quality is extremely good — barely below today’s expectations. The surface of the Barber side was silent, although the Britten was marred by a few bad patches.