Barber: Piano Concerto; Die natali; Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance; Commando March

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Piano Concerto; Die natali; Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance; Commando March
PERFORMER: Stephen Prutsman (piano); Royal Scottish NO/Marin Alsop
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559133
Marin Alsop’s continuing Samuel Barber series for Naxos is exceptionally well planned. On this disc, the Piano Concerto of 1962 completes the sequence begun by the Cello and Violin Concertos on previous discs; Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance complements rather than duplicates the earlier recording of the 1947 Medea ballet suite, being a thorough reworking of some of the material, made in 1955; Die natali, a 1960 sequence of variations on Christmas carols, and the orchestral version of the 1943 Commando March are rarities in the catalogue.


The standards of performance here are at least as high as on previous issues. The RSNO seems unfazed by the technical demands of the Concerto, even in its breakneck five-time finale, and the American Stephen Prutsman is a strong, characterful soloist. Marin Alsop captures the dark, brooding atmosphere of the Medea scene well, though she is hard put to it to find more than ingenuity in the tinselly Die natali. The recording of the orchestra is exceptionally vivid, but some detail is lost behind the solo piano in the Concerto.


Of rival performances of the Piano Concerto, that by Jon Kimura Parker on Telarc is very well balanced, though the slow movement is excessively languorous. At a bargain price, the reissued Tedd Joselson performance on ASV has orchestral drawbacks. My prime recommendation remains the uniquely crisp, urgent recording by the work’s original soloist, John Browning, with the Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell. But collectors of the Naxos series can add this volume with confidence. Anthony Burton