Various Artists

Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings; Violin Concerto; Knoxville - Summer 1915

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Listeners who know the music of American composer Samuel Barber well may already have their favorite recordings of many of the works on this EMI disc. Who can forget Isaac Stern and Leonard Bernstein's inspired 1964 account of the Violin Concerto or Thomas Schippers and the New York Philharmonic's blazing 1965 readings of the Adagio for Strings and Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance? But as a single-disc introduction for those unfamiliar with Barber, this collection will do just fine. Essentially, it is Leonard Slatkin and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra's 1988 disc of Barber's six best-known single-movement orchestral works with two of the Essays for Orchestra dropped to make room for Slatkin and the Saint Louis' 1986 recording of the Violin Concerto with Elmar Oliveira, and Barbara Hendricks and Michael Tilson Thomas' 1994 recording of Knoxville: Summer 1915. Slatkin is an energetic Barber conductor emphasizing color and lyricism over form and drama. The Saint Louis is an enthusiastic Barber orchestra that gives the Adagio plenty of juice and the Overture to The School for Scandal considerable verve. Oliveira's graceful technique and warm, focused tone suit the concerto and Hendricks' sumptuous tone and sentimental delivery likewise fit Knoxville. Except for the later Knoxville, EMI's early digital recordings sound is clear but slightly distant. Knoxville, however, is clean, lush, and close.

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