Barber: Violin Concerto; Cello Concerto; Piano Concerto [MP3] [RCA] [Direct link]

  • Performer: Steven Isserlis, John Browning, Kyoko Takezawa
  • Orchestra: Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Leonard Slatkin
  • Composer: Samuel Barber

Review in Amazon:
For those who want to one-stop-shop for Barber's three solo concerti, it doesn't get much better than this disc.

Conductor Leonard Slatkin has a firm sense of the overall pulse in Barber's music; he rivals Marin Alsop in not allowing drama to overshadow lyricism. With Slatkin we take time to smell the flowers but know we're not going to be abandoned in the meadow to find our own way home, as I occasionally feel about Marin Alsop's performances on Naxos (as fine as those traversals are otherwise).

Pianist John Browning practically owned the Piano Concerto throughout his career. Barber wrote it for him, and no one has yet come close to his authority or understood it as fully. Even if he is competing against his much younger self, what this performance lacks in sheer adrenaline compared to the première recording with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra is more than made up for in a nourishing chiaroscuro of intrigue and sultry seduction.

Like Browning in the Piano Concerto, Kyoko Takezawa understates the overall thrust of the Violin Concerto with a sighing, sweetly smiling beguilement and some surprises at the more explosive moments. Everything feels totally intuitive, improvisatory and rapt, with Slatkin following his soloist with the utmost flexibility and sensitivity. Move over, Stern and Bernstein - you have some serious competition!

No less impressive are Slatkin and Steven Isserlis in a persuasive and impassioned Cello Concerto - the least known of Barber's three concertos and, while a piece that never fully came together for the composer, one not deserving its relative neglect. Wendy Warner, Marin Alsop and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra gamely hold their own on Naxos, with the spaciousness and allowance for drama to unfold on its own terms even while highlighting. Isserlis and Slatkin are no less mindful of this work's (and Barber's overall) inherent songfulness, but with a more overtly outgoing attitude and tighter rein on Barber's occasional tendency to wander, their performance is at least as approachable and perhaps more engaging.

If you have no other Barber in your collection -- except perhaps for the Adagio for Strings, which turns up everywhere -- make sure that you have this disc.
Review in Answers:

Barber: Concertos in RCA Red Seal's "Classics Library" series is a combination of selections drawn from two full-price discs taken from RCA's 1990s back catalog of St. Louis Symphony Orchestra recordings. Leonard Slatkin is an ace commander of the orchestra when it comes to the specialized business of supporting soloists. Although he has since moved on, Slatkin's relationship with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra was his happiest, and certainly the most productive in terms of recordings.

The disc opens with Kyoko Takezawa's delicate traversal of Barber's Violin Concerto, Op. 14. As good as it is, it is hard to imagine how this recording could outdistance the incredible popularity of Gil Shaham's Deutsche Grammophon recording of the same work. Takezawa's finely balanced, seamless combination of Romantic warmth with no-nonsense Classicality is preferred to Shaham's more emotionally overwrought reading. However, from an engineering standpoint it is obvious that the soloist could stand to be a little louder in relation to the orchestra, a situation that remains much the same in Steven Isserlis' radiant reading of Barber's Cello Concerto, Op. 22.

The Barber Piano Concerto, Op. 38, performance here won the Grammy award for best concerto performance in 1991, and it is easy to see why. This was pianist John Browning's second go-round in this work on record, the first being with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra in 1964, an explosive and angry performance that has never appeared on CD. As with many "second chance" recordings of great soloists in works that are still new at the first juncture, Browning has grown into the piece. Though he retains the force and frustration that make this work Barber's most atypical concerto, Browning mines its lyric vein even more effectively than in his first recording. Although remastered in the 24-bit realm, this new disc does not seem to have the same punch and presence that the old 16-bit version did. Notwithstanding this minor caveat, at mid-price Barber: Concertos is an incredible bargain, and if one would like to have these works grouped together on a single disc, it is an ideal option.
~ Uncle Dave Lewis, All Music Guide
1. Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14/Allegro
2. Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14/Andante
3. Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14/Presto in moto perpetuo
4. Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 22/Allegro moderato
5. Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 22/Andante sostenuto
6. Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 22/Molto allegro e appassionato
7. Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 38/Allegro appassionato
8. Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 38/Canzone: Moderato
9. Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 38/Allegro molto