Barber/Schuman: Agnus Dei; Twelfth Night; God’s Grandeur; Perceptions; Mail Order Madrigals

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Barber/Schuman
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: Agnus Dei; Twelfth Night; God’s Grandeur; Perceptions; Mail Order Madrigals
PERFORMER: Joyful Company of Singers/Peter BroadbentAnthony Saunders (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 939
Samuel Barber (1910-81) and William Schuman (1910-92) are major figures in American music, but their choral music is little known. Barber seems particularly at home in this repertoire, with a naturally lyrical expressive manner. The Agnus Dei will be familiar to anyone who has heard his best-known composition, the Adagio for Strings, as it reworks that score. Most successful it is too, beautifully capturing that tender nostalgia which is the music’s essential nature.

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Barber responds sensitively to a variety of texts and images; but, more important than that, among these choral works he also creates an original masterpiece. His setting of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s sonnet ‘God’s Grandeur’ has a radiant intensity, the eight-part texture generating music of rich imagination and resourcefulness. The result is visionary, and that is a tribute also to these fine singers.

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Schuman is an immensely talanted composer but, on this evidence, his choral style is more dry and rather less involving than Barber’s. He is never dull, however, and his control of part-writing ensures that listening to his music is always a rewarding experience, especially when the music is performed as well as it is here. Terry Barfoot