Marin Alsop / Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Barber: Complete Orchestral Works

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Naxos' six-disc collection of the complete orchestral works of Samuel Barber is a gold mine for fans of the composer. The individual discs date from between 2000 and 2004, and this set was released in 2010 to honor the 100th anniversary of the composer's birth. American conductor Marin Alsop is an ideal choice for surveying these quintessentially American pieces. She clearly has a deeply rooted affinity for Barber's music, with an assured and sensitive grasp of the breadth of its post-Romantic warmth as well as its clarity, drama, and tenderness. In the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Alsop has a first-rate ensemble, disciplined and responsive, with the capacity for a full, voluptuous tone and crisp precision, and she draws from them performances of consistently high standards. The performances may not displace a listener's favorite version of the Piano Concerto, or Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance, or Adagio for Strings, but taken as a whole, the collection is of such quality that it can be highly recommended to anyone who loves Barber's work. Among the very fine soloists, standouts include James Buswell in the Violin Concerto, Stéphane Rancourt in Canzonetta for oboe and strings (the composer's last work), and soprano Karina Gauvin in Knoxville: Summer of 1915. In addition to the complete orchestral music, there are several unexpected inclusions, such as the very rarely heard orchestral arrangement of Commando March for band, the brief chamber opera A Hand of Bridge, and Mutations from Bach, for brass and timpani. Absolute completists should note that while Knoxville is included, Andromache's Farewell for soprano and orchestra is not, and anyone looking for the obscure Horizon will have to search elsewhere. On almost all the tracks, Naxos' sound is clean, warm, and spacious.

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