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Five essential works by Samuel Barber

We choose some of the finest works by the last great American Romantic, Samuel Barber

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Adagio

This is Barber’s single most popular work – originally a movement from his String Quartet, which the conductor Toscanini with remarkable perception suggested should be rescored for full strings.

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Recommended recording:
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
Chandos CHAN 9169

Dover Beach

Barber’s genius for setting words to music showed itself early with this setting of Matthew Arnold’s melancholy poem.

Recommended recording:
Gerald Finley (baritone); Aronowitz Ensemble
Hyperion CDA 67528

Knoxville: Summer of 1915

Though essentially a setting of a prose passage, Barber captures both its musicality and its idyll of a summer’s afternoon spent on a porch in Tennessee.

Recommended recording:
Dawn Upshaw (soprano); St Luke’s Orchestra/David Zinman
Nonesuch 7559 79187 2

Violin Concerto

Sharing something of the spirit of Knoxville, Barber’s Violin Concerto starts with two dreamily lyrical movements, then finishes with a hurtling finale.

Recommended recording:
Isaac Stern; New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein
Sony SMK 89751

Vanessa

Barber’s first opera is lusciously Romantic in style and enjoyed a first-rate cast at its premiere including Eleanor Steber and Nicolai Gedda, who went on to make a studio recording.

Recommended recording:
Eleanor Steber, Nicolai Gedda; Metropolitan Opera/Dimitri Mitropoulos
RCA 88697446172

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Read our reviews of the latest Barber recordings here