Barber: Violin Concerto; Piano Concerto; Adagio for Strings

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COMPOSERS: Barber
LABELS: ASV Platinum
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Piano Concerto; Adagio for Strings
PERFORMER: Ittai Shapira (violin), Tedd Joselson (piano); Russian PO/Thomas Sanderling, LSO/Andrew Schenck, Joyful Company of Singers/Peter Broadbent
CATALOGUE NO: PLT 8501 Reissue (1985, 1996)
One of the brand new recordings in ASV’s 21st-anniversary Platinum series (see Reissues) is of Samuel Barber’s 1939 Violin Concerto. The young, Juilliard-educated violinist Ittai Shapira gives a conventionally expansive account of the opening movement, spinning a fine line in the upper register but not quite riding the full orchestra. In the slow movement, after an expressive opening oboe melody, he breaks the smooth first solo entry into separate phrases. And the perpetual-motion finale, even at a less breakneck speed than in many rival versions, seems to take him to the limits of his technique – as well as stretching the previously impressive orchestra.

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The disc also contains reissues of assured performances by the Joyful Company of Singers of four partsongs on religious subjects, and of Andrew Schenck’s mid-Eighties recordings with the LSO of the famous Adagio, restrained and eloquent, and the 1962 Piano Concerto. In the latter, Tedd Joselson is a brilliant soloist, but the orchestra seems still to be getting to know the conductor and the rhythmically tricky score – whereas the celebrated premiere recording by John Browning, the Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell is of astonishing tightness.

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The Sony coupling of that recording with the affectionate account of the Violin Concerto by Isaac Stern and Leonard Bernstein, as well as the Cello Concerto with Yo-Yo Ma, makes an eminently recommendable mid-price Barber collection. And my first choice in the Violin Concerto (see last month’s Building a Library) remains the inspired high-Romantic reading by Joshua Bell. Anthony Burton