Samuel Barber was America's most prominent neo-Romantic composer, and most listeners are aware of at least one of his passionately expressive works, the famous Adagio for strings. This beloved movement was adapted from his String Quartet in B major and arranged several times by Barber, notably as the Agnus Dei for a cappella choir, which appears on this collection, Samuel Barber: An American Romantic. The Agnus Dei is the standout of this 2012 Harmonia Mundi release by Conspirare, led by Craig Hella Johnson, though it is but one of Barber's exquisite choral settings, which favored soaring melodic lines, lush harmonies, and fluid settings with the natural rhythms of speech. Characteristic of Barber's moods is a melancholy tone that pervades not only the Agnus Dei, but also Twelfth Night, To Be Sung on the Water, The Virgin Martyrs, and Let Down the Bars, among several other tracks that have Barber's introspective attitude. The album is significant for two world-premiere recordings that provide some contrasts in tone and color, Robert Kyr's arrangement of The Lovers for choir and chamber orchestra on poems of Pablo Neruda, and his arrangement of Easter Chorale, both prepared especially for Conspirare. This is a well-rounded program of Barber's choral music, and while it is limited to this genre, it also serves as an excellent introduction to his lyrical style.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Reincarnations, Op. 16|
|The Lovers, Op. 43|