Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

With this recording of Mozart’s 1771 opera, Il sogno di Scipione (Sicpio’s Dream), Classical Opera continue their progress through the adolescent composer’s precocious achievements and take another step towards the fulfilment of their complete Mozart opera series for Signum Classics.

Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

The stories surrounding Mozart’s Requiem are well-known. Dominated by the work in the final days of his life, Mozart claimed that he composed the Requiem for himself (Landon, 153), rather than for the wealthy Count Walsegg’s wife, the man who had commissioned it in July 1791.

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

Schumann and Mahler Lieder with Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, now out from Linn Records, following their recent Schubert Winterreise on Hyperion. From Boesch and Martineau, excellence is the norm. But their Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen takes excellence to even greater levels

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

26 Jun 2005

BARBER: Orchestral Works

EMI has re-released a 2-disc set of some of Samuel Barber’s most compelling orchestral and chambers works on the Gemini — The EMI Treasures label. An album of the same recordings was released in 2001, itself a remastering of original recordings dating from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s. Disc 1 from both these sets contains music recorded in 1986 and 1988 with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin and released in 1990 as a single disc. The second disc of the set contains chamber music of Barber, recorded in 1995. Each time this music has been released it has received positive reviews. See for example, Jon Yungkans’s review on the The Flying Inkpot; the reviews on Amazon.com; or Victor Carr’s review on Classics Today.

Samuel Barber: Orchestral Works
Elmar Oliveira (violin) and others
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin (cond.)
EMI Classics 7243 5 86561 2 1 [2CDs]

EMI has re-released a 2-disc set of some of Samuel Barber's most compelling orchestral and chambers works on the Gemini — The EMI Treasures label. An album of the same recordings was released in 2001, itself a remastering of original recordings dating from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s. Disc 1 from both these sets contains music recorded in 1986 and 1988 with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin and released in 1990 as a single disc. The second disc of the set contains chamber music of Barber, recorded in 1995. Each time this music has been released it has received positive reviews. See for example, Jon Yungkans's review on the The Flying Inkpot; the reviews on Amazon.com; or Victor Carr's review on Classics Today.

On one hand, EMI's decision to recycle recordings is frustrating — it would be nice to hear some new performers and different interpretations, or to have access to some of Barber's less frequently performed works. On the other hand, Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra do such a lovely job with this music that the availability of so many affordable options is not to be scorned.

The cover of this most recent release features a small, tattered American flag attached to what can be imagined to be a Midwestern mailbox, rusted and tilted to one side, with tall grass sprouting up from the ground below. The rustic scenery and the American symbolism poses the question, how American is Barber's music? Or rather, has Barber's music been perceived as American by critics and listeners?

Barber has long been received as a neo-Romantic, and his sound associated with a more European, post-Straussian sound. Rarely is Barber's name included in the inventory of American composers that is comprised of such seekers of an American-sounding music as Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Roy Harris, and Leonard Bernstein, among others. Barber's exclusion from this catalogue has more to do with the way his music sounds than with his birthplace or national allegiances.

Barber was born in West Chester, PA, educated at the Curtis Institute in Philly, and he lived and worked for much of his life in Mount Kisco, NY. Barber sought some of his musical education abroad, spending several years in Italy on a Rome Prize. Barber's traveling and studying in Europe was not unusual; Copland, Thomson, Harris, and Bernstein also spent time studying with Europeans as they developed a distinctive American music.

In a 1939 article — "Modern American Composers" — David Ewen wrote about the then twenty-nine-year-old Barber that "[Barber] now promises to become the most important discovery in American music since Roy Harris1." It is interesting to note that at that early stage in Barber's career, Ewen compared him to a composer who actively and aggressively cultivated his "American-ness," and whose music was regarded as the epitome of American-sounding music. Furthermore, Ewen goes on to suggest that in the future Barber, because of his talent and skills, will contribute to further developing an American musical tradition.

A mere nine years later, in 1948, another article on Barber's music appeared — this one by Nathan Broder titled "The Music of Samuel Barber." Broder gives a summary of Barber's works up to that point, and he is careful to defend Barber against the label, "neo-Romantic." Broder claims that the use of tonality in Barber's more recent works is a "return" to an earlier style and a technique employed to evoke a particular mood, rather than a consistent part of Barber's musical vocabulary2.

While it is true that in his works from the 1940s Barber did use more dissonance, syncopation, and serial techniques than in his earliest works, history has proven that Barber really is more of a neo-Romantic than not. His later large works such as his operas, Vanessa (1957) and Anthony and Cleopatra (1966, rev. 1975), are predominantly tonal and feature Barber's well-known lyrical melodies, as well as a dose of post-Straussian chromaticism.

When compared to his contemporaries, Barber's music simply sounds less "American." Barber rarely uses American folk or popular song quotations, nor does he often employ jazz or popular styles in his music. One of the few pieces in which Barber does refer to American musical idioms is included in this CD set — Excursions (1941 - 2); however, Barber's "most American" piece — Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (1947) is not.

I suspect that EMI's decision to evoke American imagery on re-release of an already re-released album says more about the political climate and marketing strategies in the United States right now than it does about Barber's music or his position as an American composer. The choice of a tattered American flag — waving bravely and persistently despite the weathering it has endured — reads as an attempt to capitalize on the surge of post-9/11 patriotism.

Although Barber is an American composer, the rural imagery on the CD cover does not speak to the America that Barber knew — the east coast cities or the upstate-NY village of Mt. Kisco. One would hope that the high quality of the performances and the popularity of the works on the recording would sell themselves.

Megan Jenkins
CUNY The Graduate Center


1 David Ewen, "Modern American Composers," in The Musical Times 80/1156 (June 1939): 415.

2 Nathan Broder, "The Music of Samuel Barber," in The Musical Quarterly 34/3 (July 1948): 325 - 335.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):