Back in the '70s, almost the only recording of the orchestral music of Samuel Barber was a single Columbia budget-priced disc. There wasn't all that much music on it -- just four pieces -- and it didn't last too long -- less than 40 minutes altogether -- but it was all anyone needed to prove that Barber was one of the greatest American composers of the middle years of the twentieth century. Because on that old Columbia LP were the greatest recordings of Barber's orchestral music ever made, the most joyous Overture to the School for Scandal, the most demonic Medea's Dance of Vengeance, the most dramatic Second Essay for Orchestra, and far and away the most heart-rending Adagio for strings. If there had to be only one Barber record available, thank heavens it was that one.
Now it's back and better than ever. These are the same superb and soulful performances with the extraordinary Thomas Schippers leading the exceptional New York Philharmonic with the same exemplary Thomas Shephard production marvelously remastered for compact disc. But on compact disc, the four works are augmented by five more Schippers' recordings: two of Barber's deeply moving Andromache's Farewell with the lovely Martina Arroyo and Barber's elegiac Intermezzo from his opera Vanessa, plus Menotti's rip-roaring Overture to Amelia al ballo, Berg's gut-wrenching Interlude from the last act of Wozzeck and d'Indy's sumptuously decadent Introduction to Fervaal. If you can have only one Barber disc, this is the one to have.