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Barber: Piano Concerto / Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance

4.0 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Audio CD, October 22, 2002
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  • Barber: Piano Concerto / Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance
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  • Samuel Barber: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2 - Cello Concerto / Medea Suite / Adagio for Strings
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Product Details

  • Performer: Stephen Prutsman
  • Orchestra: Royal Scottish National
  • Conductor: Marin Alsop
  • Composer: Samuel Barber
  • Audio CD (October 22, 2002)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Naxos American Classics
  • Run Time: 61 minutes
  • ASIN: B00006GO4C
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #304,814 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David A. Wend on December 6, 2002
Format: Audio CD
This disc is another installment in the Naxos Barber series, conducted by Marin Alsop. It has some interesting, little-heard music: Die Natalie, variations on Christmas carols, and the Commando March. Both show Barber's versatility and Die Natalie contains some deft counterpoint as Barber creates some remarkable music on those themes.
The Piano concerto is well played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the soloist, Stephan Prutsman. Mr. Prutsman is a very gifted pianist and has an interesting, more aggressive approach to the concerto. This recording is comparable to those by John Browning, the dedicatee of the concerto, but this recording is not quite as lyrical as Browning and has a harder edge to the playing.
Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance, part of a longer ballet written for Martha Graham, is well played but cannot match the recording by Thomas Schippers for its intensity and atmosphere of fear. So although these are not among the best recording they are of interest and are appealing. The reasonable price for this disc and the overall quality recommend it highly.
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To be perfectly honest, Barber's piano concerto is by some distance the weakest of Samuel Barber's three major concertos (for violin, cello, and piano, respectively), but it is still a very fine work. Technically the solo part is one of the less challenging concertos in the repertoire; nevertheless, it still sounds (at least intermittently) dazzlingly brilliant. It also contains several very good ideas, and even though they sometimes overstay their welcome, Barber does in general deploy them skillfully and effectively. It receives a powerful and very compelling performance here by Stephen Prutsman - darker and more intense than some other versions, but the approach is well-judged and it is played with brilliance and a light touch where required. He is excellently accompanied by the superb contributions of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Alsop.

The performances are also generally good in the remaining work, though the musical rewards are a little variable. Die Natali (on Christmas themes) is dangerously empty of content - it is probably the weakest Barber work I have heard and I cannot imagine that it would appeal to anyone but the most hardcore Barber fan. The Meditation and Dance of Vengeance from the ballet Médea is a different matter; a grimly intense set it may not in the end be truly memorable, but it is certainly worth hearing, although the performance at hand is stronger on grimness than momentum (it could really need some more ferocity, although the orchestral playing is very good). The Commando March is a patriotic, lightweight work, but enjoyable enough and brilliantly dispatched. The sound is very good, and this is all in all a recommendable release - certainly a worthy addition to this important series.
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Format: Audio CD
Marin Alsop and the Royal National Scottish Orchestra appear to be continuing their complete traversal of Samuel Barber's orchestral works with the fourth volume of the set. There have been some quibbles about tempi in the earlier volumes, particularly of the School for Scandal overture, but there is no such problem here.
The centerpiece of this CD is the Piano Concerto. This concerto was written for John Browning and he has played it literally hundreds of times over the past four decades; he has recorded it several times. I listened to his most recent recording with Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony in order to compare it with the present recording, and I have to say that Stephen Prutsman, the pianist on this disc, has nothing to apologize for. Whereas Browning's treatment seems a bit more settled, a bit more sedate, Prutsman's playing is more brilliant, somewhat more percussive, and equally satisfying. The piano is recorded rather more forward on this Naxos disc. I would have to give Browning the edge in the poetic second movement, but in the more vigorous sections Prutsman seems more energized.
The Die Natali is a Christmas piece, written at about the same time as the Piano Concerto. It treats such familiar Christmas carols as O come, O come, Emmanuel; Lo, how a rose e'er blooming; God rest ye merry, Gentlemen; We three kings; Good King Wenceslas. There is even a section where O come, O come, Emmanuel is played over an ostinato taken from Adeste fideles. The biggest climax is based on Joy to the world, and then Silent Night closes the piece quietly. Do not mistakenly believe that this is simply a medley of Christmas tunes--far from it; it is an extremely skillful piece that utilizes all manner of contrapuntal and harmonic devices to create a satisfying symphonic whole.
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Format: Audio CD
The forthright attack of pianist Stephan Prutsman announces from the first bar that this installment in Marin Alsop's Bcomplete arber survey will be wide awake. Generally that hasn't held true elsewhere; Alsop's conducting tends to be soft-grained and not very rhythmic. Here the soloist inspires her to put some guts into Barber's orchestral part. The finale is suitably brash and propulsive. The second movement Canzone is a protracted song, almost romantic movie music, and Prutsman's touch is lovely. In general he doesn't try to sound commanding in the mode of John Browning, for whom the work was written, but chooses a lean, alert style that I like very much.

Die Natali is a 17 min. Christmas suite based on familiar carols like O Come, Emmanuel and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, gently but slyly arranged in ways that tickle the imagination. It lights up with belly-dancing Orientalism when we get to We Three Kings. Alsop's reading is suitably jolly, and the serene solo for French horn in Silent Night casts a spell.

Medea's Meditation and Dance of Death wasn't included in the suite from the ballet in Alsop's Vol. 2. It's the best part of the whole work, and Alsop does justice to its meditative side. One could ask for more mystery and ferocity in the vengeful parts, though. As another reviewer points out, Schippers' classic recording on Sony finds more depth in this music. The final piece here, entitled Commando March, sounds a bit like macho drag from this unmilitaristic gay composer--or is this a pardoy? I chuckled.

In sum, this CD would be a good place for any listener to start collecting Alsop's Barber since it contains such a variety of styles and shows off her condcuting at its best.
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