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Cello Concerto, Op. 22
Medea - Ballet Suite, Op. 23, (1947)
Adagio for Strings, Op. 11.

Wendy Warner (cello), Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Marin Alsop
recorded 3-4/5/99 and 11-12/5/00, in the Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow. DDD
NAXOS 8.559088 [65.58]
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This is the second disc in the American Series currently being recorded by Naxos, using Scottish forces under the leadership of the highly talented Marin Alsop. Naxos is also giving the young cellist Wendy Warner her recording debut (as far as I can ascertain). I can thoroughly recommend this issue to collectors.

Barber's Cello Concerto does not enjoy the same popularity as his Violin Concerto, and there are no big romantic tunes in it unlike the Violin Concerto. This is not a criticism of the work, as, all the way through, there are examples of passages which might have been developed into the same character should the composer have felt like it.

It is written in three movements and has a somewhat gentle atmosphere which I find very appealing, supported as it is by the romantic sound of the cello. The soloist, Wendy Warner revels in the sonorities, and her technique is very secure. She does not lose out against competition such as Steven Isserlis, Ralph Kirshbaum and Raphael Wallfisch, and indeed at Naxos's very competitive price, I can see absolutely no reason for paying extra.

The concerns I had with the first disc in the series about the Royal Scottish Orchestra sounding a little inhibited have now evaporated, and it may be that more exposure to this kind of music will pay further dividends in this respect.

The Medea Ballet Suite is even less well known than the Cello Concerto and we have here the usual selection of seven movements from the ballet, not the extended continuous movement, known as Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance which is sometimes recorded.

Here, the main competition is from Howard Hanson on Mercury, and that recording is typical of the company, having very much an "in your face" balance which allows you to hear even the blood flowing through the conductor's arms, so to speak. Whilst very exciting, the Naxos recording is much more natural, and I think that any loss in adrenaline due to slightly slower speeds and more rounded contours is more than adequately compensated for by the warmth and clarity of the new issue.

When we arrive at the Adagio for Strings which concludes the disc, we find that the performance is rather swifter than normal. The wonder is that whilst it is short in terms of time, it doesn't sound it. Marin Alsop manages to get such smoothly phrased and attentive playing from the orchestra that it does not seem in the least bit rushed. Again, beautifully recorded.

I will repeat my plea to Naxos to use this American Series to record modern performances of the classic symphonic works of Piston, Schuman, Harris and the like. The majors seem to have given up issuing lesser known works such as these and there is a large hole in the market waiting to be filled.

John Phillips


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