WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Adagio for Strings; Symphony in F sharp minor
PERFORMER: Detroit SO/Neeme Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9169 DDD
In the Sixties Samuel Barber withdrew his Second Symphony, commissioned by the US Air Force and first performed under Koussevitzky in 1944, offering as his reason that ‘times of cataclysm are rarely conducive to the creation of good music’.
In fact the symphony – excellently performed here by the Detroit orchestra under its music director, who displays a sure sense of purpose – proves to be skilfully put together, effectively scored and far too good to suppress. A wartime conscript, Barber seems to have intended it to relate in some way to the experience of flying. Its tense, well-argued opening movement is succeeded by a sombre nocturne which Barber subsequently revamped as Night Flight. Only the less cogent finale lets it down.
Barber is a composer whose professionalism often compensates for a lack of distinction in his musical material – though that doesn’t apply to the deservedly famous Adagio for Strings, also heard here.
An American composer of a much earlier generation, George Frederick Bristow (1825-98) had less technical assurance but, even so, his F sharp minor Symphony (1858) has its amiable aspects, notably a Mendelssohnian scherzo engagingly entitled ‘The Butterfly’s Frolic’. Bristow might, though, have thought better of his rather amateurish fugal excursions. The sound is clean and unfussy. George Hall