Various Artists

Samuel Barber: Adagio (100th Anniversary)

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In celebration of Samuel Barber's centennial year in 2010, EMI released a two-disc compilation of recordings from its archive of some of his most familiar works. The performances, with one exception, are very fine, and while none may be the very best recorded accounts of these works, they offer a good starting point for a newcomer to Barber's music. With over two and half hours of music, and including 12 complete works, the selection is generous. The slant of the collection is heavily toward Barber's orchestral and instrumental early works, but the selection is obviously dictated by the available recordings in EMI's catalog. Many of Barber's most famous works are here -- Overture to The School for Scandal; the Violin Concerto; Knoxville: Summer of 1915; Medea's Dance of Vengeance; the Piano Sonata; Dover Beach; Three Songs, Op. 2; Summer Music; and, of course, Adagio for Strings -- as well as the First Essay for Orchestra, Excursions for Piano, and the String Quartet. The only real quibble with the selection is the lack of more vocal music, which was a significant part of the composer's output, but which represents less than a quarter of the music included. The only truly bad performance is Barbara Hendricks' slack version of Knoxville: Summer of 1915, although the accompaniment by Michael Tilson Thomas leading the London Symphony Orchestra is quite good. Hendricks mispronounces words, her tone is lackluster, her intonation droopy, and she sounds like she has given no thought to the interpretation. This set would make a good introduction for the Barber novice, if paired with one of the many fine collections of his vocal works.

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