Barber: Songs (complete)

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COMPOSERS: Barber
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Songs (complete)
PERFORMER: Cheryl Studer (soprano), Thomas Hampson (baritone), John Browning (piano)Emerson String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 435 867-2 DDD
Anyone who loves the human voice and loves poetry will be thrilled to be able to listen at last to the complete songs of Samuel Barber, superbly performed and most sensitively recorded in this new two-disc set from DG. Not until earlier this year were all the songs by this great European American published: the first 10 tracks include early pieces from the Twenties and Thirties, previously stored away in the Library of Congress.

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Thomas Hampson and Cheryl Studer who, with John Browning as accompanist, share this wonderful extended recital, present the songs chronologically so that the listener hears the gradual maturing of Barber’s genius from the early ballads, many of them as sweet and sure as a Dowland lute song, through the passionately felt settings of James Joyce and Rainer Maria Rilke – and on to the quirky Celtic Hermit Songs of the early Fifties and the late settings of 1972.

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This last group distils Barber’s marvellously sentient response to the inner harmony and rhythm of word and image in pellucid melody and simple yet highly sophisticated piano writing. Two of my own favourites are Studer’s powerful performance of the Gerard Manley Hopkins setting, ‘A Nun Takes the Veil’, and Hampson’s perfectly judged ‘A Green Lowland of Pianos’. The Emerson Quartet join Hampson for one of the finest performances of Dover Beach in the catalogue. Hilary Finch