Barber: Cello Concerto; Medea; Adagio for Strings

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Barber
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Cello Concerto; Medea; Adagio for Strings
PERFORMER: Wendy Warner (cello); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Marin Alsop
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559088
Barber’s Cello Concerto of 1945 hasn’t won as prominent a position in the repertoire as his Violin Concerto, but anyone who relishes the cogency and expressive power of the latter will appreciate the former, too. Admittedly it is not a piece that wears its heart on its sleeve, but its busy opening movement and spiky finale surround a delicately vulnerable Andante whose emotional content is eloquently direct. Soloist Wendy Warner could do with a more lavish tone in places, but her playing is technically spotless and finely attuned to the work’s elusive character.

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The 1946-7 ballet score Medea (written for Martha Graham’s Cave of the Heart) is more extrovert, though its post-Stravinskian language helps maintain an objectivity towards its violent subject that prevents any lapses into melodrama. Its wayward lyricism and obsessive patterns are finely realised by the RSNO, while conductor Marin Alsop shows a keen sensitivity to both scores and balances their rhetoric with the clean-edged clarity of their textures. In addition, her performance of the now-ubiquitous Adagio for Strings is a model of restraint, proving the saying that less equals more. Attractive sound, with a wide range and plenty of definition. George Hall