BARBER Violin Concerto. Cello Sonata. Essays for Orchestra: 1-3. Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance. Summer Music. Adagio for Strings. Overture to The School for Scandal .Excursions. Canzone for Flute and Piano. Nocturne. Souvenirs (excerpts) · Leonard Slatkin, cond; Saint Louis SO; Elmar Oliveira (vn); Israela Margalit (pn); Alan Stepansky (vc); Jeanne Baxtresser (fl); Joseph Robinson (ob); Stanley Drucker (cl); Judith LeClair (bn); Philip Myers (hn) · EMI CLASSICS 7243 5 74287 2 9 (2CDs: 75:44, 72:44)
This is a two-for-the-price-of-one compilation that reissues performances originally released between the mid 1980s and the mid 1990s. Most of them were reviewed at the time of their initial release (see 10:6, 11:6, and the feature article in 12:6), although I can’t locate previous critiques of the Cello Sonata, the solo piano pieces, or the woodwind pieces in Fanfare; I do assume that they have been available at some time in the past. (The liner material indicates a copyright date of 1995 for those recordings, but fails to inform as to prior availability.)
In the last issue I reviewed a new Chandos compilation of previously available Barber performances—including several of the pieces included on this new EMI set—featuring Neeme Järvi and the Detroit Symphony. I compared several of those performances unfavorably with corresponding Slatkin readings, thoroughly unaware that this new package was just around the corner.
While referring the reader to the reviews cited above for more details, I will simply say that this is the release to have, if you are looking for Barber’s most important shorter works in excellent performances. I can safely assert that each of these performances is as good as or better than any other versions currently available on recording. As regards the orchestral works, this is because Slatkin delineates the contrapuntal elements in the music’s texture—an aspect of Barber’s craftsmanship that is overlooked by conductors to a surprising extent. As an illustration, listen to the second movement of the Violin Concerto. Not to slight the smooth-as-velvet contribution made by soloist Elmar Oliveira, notice the way Slatkin highlights and balances inner voices that belong in clear conjunction with the more obvious “melody” lines.
As to the other performers, pianist Israela Margalit brings to the piano pieces the combination of technical strength, richness of tone, and pliancy of phrasing that highlights the best in this music. The ad hoc woodwind quintet assembled presumably for the recording of Summer Music exceeds in polish and precision any other performance known to me. My chief reservation involves the lovely early Cello Sonata—not that I have any quibble with Alan Stepansky. It’s just that I’ve heard others (e.g., Ralph Kirschbaum and Roger Vignoles) do just as well; and I retain a special fondness for a performance by Jeffrey Solow and Albert Dominguez that I don’t believe has ever made it to CD.