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Gramophone, July 2010

Alsop has a special sympathy for Barber and—thanks to her—all his orchestral music now available at Naxos prices. If I had to choose only one of her discs it might be the last of the set containing the Capricorn Concerto, the sparklingly witty nine-minute mini-opera A Hand of Bridge and the Canzonetta for oboe and strings (1/05). This was Barber’s last work, planned as part of an oboe concerto, but it never got beyond a single movement. Even this had to be scored by Barber’s friend and only pupil Charles Turner. It’s shot through with the composer’s unique brand of melancholy—a link with the funereal uses of the Adagio—and again reveals his special kinship with the oboe. Odd that’s it’s not heard regularly. That CD also includes the Fadograph of a Yestern Scene, the rarely heard late orchestral piece with a title taken out of James Joyce’s avant-garden novel Finnegans Wake. James Jolly, in Tune Surfing (3/10), provides a choice of Barber downloads but he also rightly says: “After a period when admiration for Barber’s music was something at best noted with a sneer, it’s now—thankfully—OK to come out as a Barberphile.

Jason Serinus
The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), January 2009

This is a delicious pairing of the great Violin Concerto, Op. 14 with the student Serenade for Strings, Op.1; early Music for a scene from Shelley, Op.7; and mature Souvenirs (Ballet Suite), Op. 28…[T]his low-price issue of this marvelous romantic masterpiece, initially considered unplayable by the man who commissioned it, is a definite thumbs up.

Lloyd Dykk
The Vancouver Sun, January 2009

…a bargain, as anything good on Naxos is. The latest in the company’s laudable survey of American classics, this is very, very good. Samuel Barber was and still is cursed by the popularity of his Adagio for Strings. People kept wondering why he couldn’t write another one, overlooking the fact that he had, several times—this ravishingly romantic violin concerto, Knoxville, Summer of 1915 and his Symphony No. 1. Violinist James Buswell’s performance is in no way inferior to Gil Shaham’s celebrated one on Deutsche Grammophon and, I think, in some ways even better—more intimate, with more whispery confidences at the heights of the E-string, and with touches of heartfelt glissando. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, one of the world’s finest orchestras, conducted by Marin Alsop, brings out all of its lyricism and drama. The bonuses aae rareties, and beautiful: Barber’s Souvenirs ballet suite and the early Serenade for Strings and the Debussy-quoting Music for a Scene from Shelley.

Penguin Guide, January 2009

Marin Alsop with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra backs up the masterly Violin Concerto with the witty and delightfully parodic ballet, Souvenirs, and two early works, the evocative Scene from Shelley and a long-neglected three-movement Serenade, which is based on a string quartet written when Barber was nineteen and which anticipates the Adagio for Strings. James Buswell is a refined, sensitive soloist, warm without being soupy…

Andrew Druckenbrod
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 2003

This isn’t the definitive version of the concerto, but violinist James Buswell and conductor Marin Alsop evoke the tender moments of this great work skillfully.

Lawrence Budmen
Coral Gables Gazette, July 2003

In its own unique way, Barber’s music is definitely American. His beautiful ‘Violin Concerto,’ Opus 14 (1941) is one of his greatest works. By turns haunting and virtuosic, this score demands great violin playing. On the new Naxos release, James Buswell provides that and more…his performance of Barber’s masterpiece captures the searing, bittersweet quality of the music. Buswell’s bright, singing tone fits this score perfectly. He gives a dazzling reading of the Presto in moto perpetuoso finale, tossing off the double stops with verve. He is given gorgeous support by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Marin Alsop…the lush playing of the string section is striking. This is a great performance, easily the equal of the classic recorded versions by Isaac Stern-Leonard Bernstein and Robert Gerle-Robert Zeller. Ms. Alsop also leads her Scottish forces in lovely performances of Barber’s charming 1951 ballet score “Souvenirs” and his early, intense “Serenade for Strings” (1928). An outstanding disc!

American Record Guide, June 2002

This is the best of the Naxos Barber orchestral series. This time Alsop’s structure is secure, she maintains intensity and attention, and the orchestra sound at home. There is plenty of expression, and climaxes are well judged. I especially like the interplay in the orchestra and between orchestra soloist.

Jason Serinus
Southern Voice, May 2002

For those who have never heard Barber’s marvelous romantic masterpiece, this low-price issue is a definite thumbs up.

Mark Lehman
The Absolute Sound, May 2002

The recording has plenty of punch, though it’s not the last word in refinement.

Robert Moon
Audiophile Audition, May 2002

Alsop’s performance is magnificent, exquisitely capturing the intended mood. The Serenade for Strings, Op. 1, is Barber’s arrangement of his Serenade for String Quartet, an enchanting but slight work. Music For a Scene from Shelley, Op. 7, rounds out this enjoyable disc. Special kudos to the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Marin Alsop for vibrant, idiomatic interpretations of these scores, recorded in sound just short of audiophile quality.

Daniel Cariaga
Los Angeles Times, March 2002

Composed between 1928 and 1952, these works, with the exception of the concerto, are undeservedly forgotten. Hearing them again restores one’s admiration for Barber’s unflagging creativity, abundant gifts and well-honed craft. All of this music, not just the inspired Violin Concerto, played here with easy authority and sensitive detailing by the virtuosic American violinist Buswell, touches the listener with its melodic flow and emotional confidence. As ever, Barber’s characteristic lyricism dominates, yet his dramatic peaks as in the Shelley scene, can be striking, shattering, and completely convincing. American conductor Alsop coaxes a full range of dynamics and orchestra colors from the accomplished Scottish ensemble.

Richard Dyer
The Boston Globe, January 2002

When Naxos decided to record the complete orchestral music of Samuel Barber in its American Classics series, it turned to conductor Marin Alsop, the last protege of Leonard Bernstein. The series has now reached its third installment, and Alsop has kept it on the high level she and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra established at the beginning. The most famous work here is the Violin Concerto, although ‘Music from a Scene from Shelley’ occasionally turns up on programs. The ‘Serenade for Strings’ is Barber’s adaptation of his Op. 1 String Quartet; the ballet suit ‘Souvenirs’ is an orchestration of a set of pieces originally written for piano, four-hands. Soloist in the concerto is the New England Conservatory’s James Buswell, who plays it with conviction and soaring tone; it is a piece that Alsop has known all her life—one of her first big gigs was conducting her violinist father in the work—and she knows how to convey its strengths and minimize its weaknesses. In Alsop’s capable hands, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra sounds pretty terrific throughout the disc. Of the other pieces, ‘Souvenirs’ is a real charmer—the composer calls it a look ‘with amused tenderness’ at Palm Court music in New York’s Plaza Hotel, c. 1914—there’s a waltz, schottische, a two-step, a gallop, and an example of the latest rage, the tango.

David Hurwitz, January 2002

What’s a critic to say? There are so many really excellent recordings of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto that any newcomer has to be little short of amazing to challenge the status quo. James Buswell plays a mean fiddle, offering a nicely singing opening Allegro, a rapt Andante, and an impressively brilliant finale. Conductor Marin Alsop stays with him all the way, fashioning an appealingly fresh and rhythmically spirited accompaniment. Still…there ought to be a good reason to acquire this disc aside from the Violin Concerto, however good it may be (and make no mistake, it is very good). Happily, Alsop and the Scottish National Orchestra furnish just such a reason in the form of an energetic rendition of Souvenirs and a sensitive reading of Barber’s very rarely heard Serenade for Strings (his Op. 1)…Naxos’ recording team captures all of it in clear, well-balanced sound with excellent depth and a wide (but not irrational) dynamic range. Taken as a whole, this disc makes a worthy addition to Naxos’ ongoing Barber series.

Geoffrey Norris
The Daily Telegraph (Australia), December 2001

The rich seam of lyricism running through Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto is displayed in all its lustre by this performance. It comes in Naxos’s continuing and continuously revelatory series devoted to Barber’s music, with the conductor Marin Alsop articulating the composer’s distinctive voice through the expressive medium of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and with the soloist James Buswell interpreting the music’s wistfulness, romantic yearning and virtuoso flourish with winning sensitivity and panache.

This is a performance with a genuine heart, superbly played, with a marked care for detail, instrumental colour and melodic inflection, and with a deeply communicative warmth and affection.

The other works all convey the refinement of Barber’s craftsmanship coupled with a clear characterisation of the music’s spirit, be it in the early, elegant Serenade for Strings or the more lushly impressionistic Music for a Scene from Shelley. The ballet suite Souvenirs is a delightful divertissement of dances, with many an intriguing rhythmic and harmonic twist.

Brian McMillan
The WholeNote, May 2000

Naxos has released a third recording in their ongoing series dedicated to the orchestral music of Samuel Barber. This time the headliner is Barber’s Violin Concerto; like the three other, lesser-known works on the disc, it makes for a welcome revisit to one of America’s best composers. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, under the leadership of young American conductor Marin Alsop, again proves the Old World can effectively conjure up the New. Their silvery leanness suits the modern Romanticism of Barber’s works. This quality matches the solo violin of James Buswell. He avoids the pitfalls that lurk in Barber’s concerto by balancing overt emotional lyricism with New England reserve. His playing is extremely clean, but never brittle, even in the finale’s furious molto perpetuoso. The most infectious piece on the disc is Souvenirs, a saucy ballet suite that recalls the Palm Court orchestras of the past. The RSNO winds and brass, in particular, shine in these vignettes. The strings have their moment, too, in Barber’s first opus, a diverting piece of juvenilia entitled Serenade for Strings. But it is another early work, Music for a Scene from Shelley, which provides the most potent reminder of Barber’s best qualities. Its classical form, unabashed voluptuousness of tone, and dramatic pulse all foreshadow the creator of Vanessa. Her as elsewhere on the disc, Alsop adeptly leads the RSNO forces, coaxing forth Barber’s kaleidoscopic colours and building patiently to those inevitable, glorious climaxes.

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