Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Orchestral Works Volume 1
The School for Scandal Overture. Op.5.
Symphony No. 1, Op.9
First Essay for Orchestra, Op.12
Symphony No. 2, Op.19
Royal Scottish National Orchestra - Marin Alsop
Playing Time 69.47, Digital Recording, Recorded 8-9 / 12 / 98.At Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow
Naxos 8.559024
 Amazon UK  Amazon USA

This is another disc in the wonderful American Series currently being recorded by Naxos. Some of the discs contain otherwise unavailable works. This is a boon to collectors with a love of out of the way works. The Naxos operation (I include here, of course, Marco Polo) has been covering these byways for many years, but the budget label has slowly been developed to include all sorts of unusual repertoire. I hope that not too soon we shall see discs of Piston (we have already had the violin concertos), Schuman, Harris and the like. Certainly if they are played and recorded as they are here, they should do well. This is particularly so, now that the market has developed a healthy appetite for such unusual repertoire and the discs are being offered at a price that doesn't matter if you don't like the music.

Samuel Barber has always been at the core of middle of the road traditional American musical life. He was not over-prolific. According to the sleeve, this disc is the first in a series of the complete symphonic works of Barber - I can hardly wait for the others.

What we have here are superb recordings of tuneful and well structured symphonies with purple patches (for example - the oboe solo in the slow passage of the first symphony is one to die for). The recording is immediate, and clear, allowing us to hear all the cross-rhythms and complex orchestration without strain, and there is plenty of enthusiasm from all parts of the orchestra. It is good to see that our many regional British orchestras are being given the chance to shine, now that the major companies are retrenching with dramatic reductions in their classical output.

The only niggle I have, and it is a small one, is that the orchestra occasionally gives the impression of being slightly uncomfortable in certain passages, a fault common with most non-American orchestras playing this repertoire. Where there is no competition, this slight reservation would be of no consequence, but with these two symphonies, Naxos have a number of competitive recordings to see off. Jarvi, hardly an idiomatic American conductor, nevertheless has the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under his baton, and they feel the pulse as one. Still, this disc is at full price, and you get the Adagio for Strings instead of the First Essay.

The First Essay is a gem of a work, as is the Second Essay (not issued here). I am sure the essays would have a much larger following if they were called something else. The First Essay was commissioned by Toscanini after he had heard a performance of the First Symphony in Salzburg in 1937. It was first performed in New York in 1938. Marin Alsop, herself an American, brings great emotion to bear on this and the other works on this disc and I can recommend it unreservedly.

I look forward not only to the next disc in the Barber Series, but to others in this American Series. I am sure that we are in for an extremely interesting and enriching experience.


John Phillips


John Phillips

Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers : - The UK's Biggest Video Store

Concert and Show tickets


Musicians accessories

Click here to visit

Return to Index