Barber: Cello Concerto
Considering the dearth of good cello concertos, it’s surprising that Samuel Barber’s 1945 Concerto isn’t better known. It may lack the knockout melodies of his earlier Violin Concerto, but it’s an effective vehicle for virtuosity with a distinctive character of its own, rhythmically lithe and lively. Christian Poltéra meets its technical demands with almost complete ease, and projects the more lyrical moments with subtle inflections of line and beautifully centred tone. The slow middle movement – usually described as a siciliana, but actually in a Latin-American metre of 3+3+2/8 – is particularly effective. Conductor Andrew Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra are lively and responsive partners, helped by an excellent recording.
The main coupling is Barber’s early Sonata, which anticipates his later metrical ingenuity as well as his instinctive Romanticism. Poltéra and pianist Kathryn Stott bring out the work’s Brahmsian ardour and its contrasts between tranquillity and restlessness. The recording was made in a different acoustic with slightly congested sound, which comes as a shock after the end of the Concerto. The familiar Adagio for strings completes the disc, in a solemn performance which doesn’t escape the piece’s acquired association with funerals. Couldn’t we have had something else? There’s plenty more where that came from…