Symphonies of Samuel Barber

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Rach3
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Symphonies of Samuel Barber

Post by Rach3 » Tue Apr 27, 2021 3:19 pm

Despite having recordings of much of Barber’s music ( and fortunate enough to have been present for live performances by Cliburn of the Piano Sonata and Browning of the Piano Concerto ), I must confess to having never heard his Symphonies Nos.1 (1936) and 2 (1942). Heard both today, and have acquired a download of No.1,Zinman’s 1991 recording here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVFSQUOpAGQ ( No.1, Baltimore Symphony under David Zinman )

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8haCn5IvFg ( No.2, Detroit Sym. under Neeme Jarvi,Chandos cd )

Listening at the moment to Barber's wonderful Cello Concerto, Paul Tobias, cellist, JoAnn Falletta conducting Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5JCk3YpcMI

Modernistfan
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Re: Symphonies of Samuel Barber

Post by Modernistfan » Tue Apr 27, 2021 5:01 pm

Barber withdrew the Second Symphony for some reason but it has been disinterred and several recordings are available, including Marin Alsop, who has recorded most of Barber's orchestral music including his concertos, for Naxos, and Neeme Järvi on Chandos.

maestrob
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Re: Symphonies of Samuel Barber

Post by maestrob » Wed Apr 28, 2021 8:14 am

Thanks for those links, Rach3.

I've long been a fan of nearly everything Sam Barber wrote: I even have sung "Dover Beach." I've heard that Barber himself recorded that brief, sad work in the days of 78's, but have never found a recording to hear it.

Toscanini started Barber's rise to fame by programming the Adagio from his string quartet arranged for string orchestra.

I have a 2LP box of the opening concert at Philharmonic Hall with Szell and Browning playing Barber's superb Piano Concerto, as well as an LP from Columbia Records' "Audition" series that has an interview with Barber describing how he came upon the theme for the second movement of that concerto while walking in the woods.

Barber was one of the last great melodists in America, and the concerto, written in 1961 for that opening concert in the then brand-new Lincoln Center, is probably the last great composition in that style in the XXth century. I don't feel that his opera, Anthony & Cleopatra, that premiered at the opening of the MET's new house, also at Lincoln Center, in the fall of 1966, has any great tunes in it. Given the circumstances of its composition, with innumerable last-minute revisions to accommodate the unwieldy stage machinery, that work is probably Barber's greatest failure.

His two symphonies are, IMHO, also a mixed bag. I enjoy them both, though. Barber destroyed his score of the second and all of the orchestral parts as well, so after his death, the music had to be reconstructed by dictation from a recording that survived in spite of Barber's explicit instructions that every trace of the work should be erased, or so I've heard.

Personally, I think that Barber was at his best in shorter works. His three Essays for Orchestra are well worth exploring, for instance, as is the School for scandal Overture. Besides Dover Beach, Knoxville, Summer of 1915 is a great work as well, especially in its first recording with Eleanor Steber, and later with Leontyne Price. The three concertos we all know are great, but I can't recommend Browning's limp and lackluster second recording of the Piano Concerto with Leonard Slatkin on RCA.

While his great Violin Concerto with Isaac Stern & Bernstein is the one I grew up with, I'm now recommending this one with Gil Shaham, recorded live in NY. It can be streamed on Amazon and perhaps elsewhere, a simply stunning performance that ends with a roar of approval from the audience.

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diegobueno
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Re: Symphonies of Samuel Barber

Post by diegobueno » Wed Apr 28, 2021 5:42 pm

maestrob wrote:
Wed Apr 28, 2021 8:14 am
THis two symphonies are, IMHO, also a mixed bag. I enjoy them both, though. Barber destroyed his score of the second and all of the orchestral parts as well, so after his death, the music had to be reconstructed by dictation from a recording that survived in spite of Barber's explicit instructions that every trace of the work should be erased, or so I've heard.
He may have destroyed everything he could find in the G. Schirmer warehouse, but by then copies had been sold to libraries across the country. I remember during my grad student years finding a copy in Cornell's music library and thinking "I guess Barber didn't get ahold of this one". Since the orchestra parts were most likely rental only, they were probably all at Schirmer headquarters for him to destroy. But the copyists would have had access to printed scores when they redid the work.

When I lived in Ithaca I used to sub on 2nd clarinet fairly often with the Binghamton Philharmonic. On one of these occasions the orchestra played the Barber Piano Concerto with John Browning as soloist. Browning was the most gracious of soloists. Instead of retreating to his dressing room during intermission, he would sit in the common area backstage and chat with the orchestral players. He even brought a giant 12-inch chocolate chip cookie with icing that read "Thank you Binghamton Phil". He came to all rehearsals with a little dog that he brought onstage with him and who sat at his feet the whole time.

(I've probably told this story before, sorry)
Black lives matter.

Rach3
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Re: Symphonies of Samuel Barber

Post by Rach3 » Wed Apr 28, 2021 5:53 pm

Agreed, “Knoxville” is extraordinary. As is the Piano Sonata dedicated to, premiered ( in Havana !) by , Horowitz. Story has it the Sonata was originally without the Fugue.On a visit by the Horowitzes to Barber’s Long Island residence where he was living with composer Gian Carlo Menotti, Wanda complained the Sonata ended without sufficient display. Angered, after they left, Barber added the current last mov. to challenge even Horowitz. True ?
.

Lance
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Re: Symphonies of Samuel Barber

Post by Lance » Wed Apr 28, 2021 6:56 pm

Mark, I remember that performance with Browning. I prepared his piano for him, but the night before, conductor Covelli and wife, Browning, and yours truly, all went to dinner together. He brought a little bag with him containing that tiny dog who never made one peep, keeping the bag underneath his chair. We had a great evening. Browning was cordial and a lot of fun. Even at the rehearsal, as you mentioned, Browning's little dog was with him. This is a fond memory for me!
diegobueno wrote:
Wed Apr 28, 2021 5:42 pm
[... ... ...]
When I lived in Ithaca I used to sub on 2nd clarinet fairly often with the Binghamton Philharmonic. On one of these occasions the orchestra played the Barber Piano Concerto with John Browning as soloist. Browning was the most gracious of soloists. Instead of retreating to his dressing room during intermission, he would sit in the common area backstage and chat with the orchestral players. He even brought a giant 12-inch chocolate chip cookie with icing that read "Thank you Binghamton Phil". He came to all rehearsals with a little dog that he brought onstage with him and who sat at his feet the whole time.

(I've probably told this story before, sorry)
Lance G. Hill
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rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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maestrob
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Re: Symphonies of Samuel Barber

Post by maestrob » Thu Apr 29, 2021 7:48 am

Great memories, both diegobueno and Lance!

Thanks for sharing.

I still think that Browning's premiere recording of the Piano Concerto with Szell is the best one available. This is the CD to get of Barber's three great concertos:

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Browning also recorded very fine set of Prokofiev's Piano Concertos with Leinsdorf that were released on Testament quite a few years ago at the same time Testament reissued Leinsdorf's accounts of Prokofiev's Symphonies 1-6. Why he never recorded VII is a mystery to me, especially as in those days the only version available was Rozhdestvesky on Angel/Melodiya (Ormandy's mono 1953 recording had long been deleted.).

Nowadays, of course, Browning's Prokofiev is available in this Sony box:

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Here's what one very perceptive amazon reviewer had to say about Browning's Prokofiev:
With the Prokofiev Concertos, we reach the peak of the set (along with the Barber). I’ve long since given up on the notion that any given recording of a classical work is “definitive” – particularly in oft recorded works. But Browning’s “rock ‘em, sock’em” rendition of the Second Concerto, which makes Ashkenazy sound tame and Bronfman sound tepid, is now my “go to” rendition of this work. The First Concerto likewise moves with gusto and flair, and plenty of poetry in the work's dreamy sections. By Browning's own admission, the Third was the only of Prokofiev’s Concertos that he knew well before he’d recorded the work. As with the Second Concerto, Browning employs a wide dynamic range and lavish colors, without overusing the sustaining pedal. His performance of the outer sections of the finale is among the most exciting I’ve ever heard. The main snag in this recording is an unnatural sound balance between piano and orchestra. Further, there appears to be quite a bit of dynamic alteration on the part of the engineers – with the opening clarinet solo glaringly loud, followed by a dynamic reduction which nullifies the orchestral crescendo. With so many Prokofiev Thirds on record, the sound issues prevent this from being a first choice. The Fourth Concerto (for the Left Hand alone) is another matter, with Browning’s clear, steely articulation putting Serkin’s to shame. The Fifth Concerto is a in a relatively lighter vein compared to its predecessors and Browning’s playing is a joy throughout. Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony prove to be superb collaborators throughout.
Another treasure in my collection is a rare Denon CD issued in 1992 that includes the Liszt B Minor Sonata and other Liszt works. Copies can be found on amazon, but the picture has been hacked, so I can't post it.

I'll close with this portrait of the pianist posted on amazon by a pianist who studied with Browning:

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Incidentally, there is also this enthusiastically received live performance of the Barber Concerto (1984) coupled with a Bartok III by Keith Jarrett that I also recommend:

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THEHORN
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Re: Symphonies of Samuel Barber

Post by THEHORN » Thu Apr 29, 2021 12:46 pm

I have Marin Alsop's excellent recordings of the two Barber symphonies plus a shorter orchestral work with Royal Scottish orchestra on Naxos, and recommend it if you haven't heard it .

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