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

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

The Tallis Scholars: Josquin's Missa Di dadi

‘Can great music be inspired by the throw of the dice?’ asks Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, in his liner notes to the ensemble’s new recording of Josquin’s Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass). The fifteenth-century artist certainly had an abundant supply of devotional imagery. As one scholar has put it, during this age there was neither ‘an object nor an action, however trivial, that [was] not constantly correlated with Christ or salvation’.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Lalo: Complete Songs

Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.

New from Opera Rara : Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe

Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara - Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.

Félicien David: Herculanum

It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.

A Prize-Winning Rediscovery from 1840s Paris (and 1830s Egypt)

Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

Review: You Promised Me Everything

Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.

Donizetti: Les Martyrs

As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.

Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

A worthy tribute for a vocal seductress of the ancient régime

Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

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):