- Orchestra: Royal Scottish National Orchestra
- Conductor: Marin Alsop
- Composer: Samuel Barber
- Audio CD (June 13, 2000)
- SPARS Code: DDD
- Number of Discs: 1
- Format: CD
- Label: Naxos American Classics
- Run Time: 70 minutes
- ASIN: B00004T6KQ
- Average Customer Review: 31 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #126,847 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
Barber: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1: Overture, The School for Scandal, Op. 5 / Symphony No. 1, Op,. 9 / First Essay for Orchestra, Op. 12 / Symphony No. 2, Op;. 19
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Samuel Barber - Symphonies Nos 1 And 2 - Cd
As composers go, Samuel Barber's output was rather small, and of that output only a few pieces have any kind of currency. But those few are major orchestral gems. Barber's music does require an adept and sympathetic orchestra (and conductor) to get them just right, however. On this release, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, with Marin Alsop conducting, handily accomplishes that task. Their rendering of The School for Scandal Overture rivals the famous Schippers version, and Alsop's take on Symphony No. 1 easily demolishes the Järvi (on Chandos) and the Slatkin (on BMG). The underexposed and rarely performed First Essay for Orchestra has no rivals here at all. Of particular merit is Alsop's handling of the mercurial Symphony No. 2, which so troubled Barber that he later disavowed it. Barber completists will relish this sympathetic reading. --Paul Cook
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"Orchestral Works, Vol. 1" contains some of Barber's most beloved compositions outside of the "Violin Concerto" and "Adagio for Strings." Alsop's conducting of "School for Scandal" is one of the best I've heard. My number one favorite is Schipper's legendary recording with the NY Philharmonic, but she manages to play it fine here and with great authority. Both symphonies, which I was very unfamiliar until I heard Jarvi's recording of them on Chandos, are rendered beautifully. The "Essay for Orchestra" is also given a great reading.
In terms of orchestral playing, a person would be hard pressed to find better performances than these played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. They are a fully committed orchestra and have proved themselves (not that they had much to prove in the first place) in this series. If you're a Barber fan than this entire series should be a self-recommending set, but if you're completely new to Barber, then start with this first volume, and then make your way through the series if you like what you hear.
Alsop's other Barber recordings:
Samuel Barber: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2
Barber: Violin Concerto, Op. 14; Souvenirs (Ballet Suite), Op. 28; Serenade for Strings, Op. 1; Music for a Scene from Shelley, Op. 7
Barber: Knoxville, Summer of 1915
Samuel Barber: Piano Concerto; Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance
Samuel Barber: Capricorn Concerto; A Hand of Bridge; Intermezzo from Vanessa
Along with the Second Symphony, the School for Scandal Overture is well played with a good tempo. The recording by Thomas Schippers remains my favorite but Ms. Alsop turns in a good, spirited performance (it reminds me more of Schenk's recording). The First Symphony and First Essay are beautifully played with the brooding drama and quicksilver lyricism of these works emphasized to good effect. The recording is very good all the details of the orchestration are clear. It is a joy to have this disc even though I already have these works played by other orchestras.
This is the first time that I've heard the symphonies, and they seem to be good readings. Still, though, in slow passages, Alsop sounds like he's slogging through mud. This particularly applies to the First Essay for Orchestra, which sounds repressed rather than delicate.
I bought this recording to get acquainted with the symphonies, though, and in that respect it was great, and very cheap. The symphonies aren't amazing pieces, but they do have the unique sound of an American trying to make something 'modern' with a romantic palette.