Christian Poltéra / Andrew Litton / Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra / Kathryn Stott

Barber: Cello Concerto; Sonata; Adagio for Strings

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The growing popularity of Samuel Barber abroad is confirmed by this Swedish release with only one American musician, conductor Andrew Litton, in sight. It's an impressive set, with a very strong performance of the Cello Concerto, Op. 22, the most difficult of Barber's concertos for both performer and listener. The work was written for Georgian-born cellist Raya Garbousova, and it is unusual in that it was worked out in close collaboration with her; for other cellists (Yo-Yo Ma being a notable exception) its high double stops and the like have proven fiendishly challenging. The work is a bit harder in edge than usual with Barber, although the slow movement contains one of his great Romantic themes. Swiss cellist Christian Poltéra, who is emerging as a major talent, confidently slashes through the angular and intricate outer movements and delivers the more relaxed, Brahmsian melodies of the Cello Sonata, Op. 6, with equal confidence. This is a work from Barber's student years; it does not yet quite contain the full measure of Barber's slightly lonely Romanticism, but there are hints of it throughout. The much-recorded Adagio for strings, Op. 11, also receives an unusually good performance here from Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, of which he is principal conductor. The default tradition for this famous work is a sort of heated tragedy that was first shaped by Arturo Toscanini. But there are other ways to play it, and these may better respect the work's origins as a string quartet. Litton offers a sober version that begins in near-total calm and proceeds in large, deliberate waves. It's very lovely, and he is backed effectively by BIS' audiophile engineering team, working in Bergen's Grieg Hall. A superior Barber release.

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