Every time I listen to something by Barber, I wonder why I don't listen to him more often. His violin concerto is one of the finest written this century or any other. Of course "his" adagio for strings has been manhandled by damn near everyone and still sounds good. This symphony is as good as any American symphony I know of even if it doesn't approach Shostakovich in intensity. (What does?)
I have been awaiting a recording of Maestra Falletta since she was the first recipient of the Leopold Stokowski Conducting Award. My anticipation has been rewarded. This is, quite frankly, the best performance of the Barber Symphony that I know. More than Järvi or Zinman, my other recordings, Maestra Falletta captures the many mysterious moods of the symphony. It may well be that my not listening to it is because the other recordings are not as good. At times Falletta's performance has an almost concerto for orchestra aspect to it. In fact, I am often reminded of Bartók's "Concerto for Orchestra" which was written some 9 years later. The symphony has an otherworldly atmosphere, at turns it is playful and then thundering down on you. Other pieces that come to mind are Korngold's and Hermann's efforts in the genre. I am not sure who inspired who, but Barber's work was the first of the three mentioned. This recording is the first to open my ears to the music and I am sure I will return to it whenever I want to listen to Barber's First Symphony.
The Elgar, at this point I must confess a weakness of mine. I do not really appreciate Elgar's music. Only the cello concerto holds my attention for very long. I am not sure why this is the case, but it is. So, I am not the best person in the world to discuss this recording. My only other recording is with Sir John Barbirolli. I find Falletta's interpretation just fine, thank you. While I prefer Sir John, I am sure the reader will understand that. It may be that the somewhat distant recording level affects my reaction to the Elgar, but, as I said, I am not an Elgarian by a long shot. On the other hand, the very same recording level seems to enhance the mystery and atmosphere of the Barber.
This odd coupling is strongly recommended. Neither Järvi nor Zinman are better in the Barber, neither of them captures the eerie moodiness of the symphony the way Falletta does. The Virginia Symphony, on the evidence heard here, is a first rate orchestra. Maestra Joann Falletta, on evidence here, is one of the finest conductors around. I wonder if the Columbus Symphony is interested? I understand that Philadelphia is seeking new blood, and I'd suggest they would be remiss if they didn't audition Maestra Falletta.
Copyright © 1998, Robert Stumpf II