Monday, November 27, 2006

The wonderful music of Samuel Barber

I have certainly mentioned in this blog before my fondness for the music of Samuel Barber, who I would argue was one of the finest American composers of the last century. Today, I received the latest CD in the Naxos collection of his works - Choral Music - in the American Classics series. This was a bargain purchase from - just over £3 for a 60-minute CD of pure bliss.

One piece is particularly familiar, Agnus Dei, which is Barber's own vocal arrangement of his famous and popular Adagio for Strings. I've already got this piece a couple of times on other recordings of Barber's work but I enjoy listening to new versions or recordings of the same piece, especially when they are as good as this. Agnus Dei takes the words of the Latin Mass and sets them to the Adagio for Strings, which itself was originally written as a movement of a much larger work. It is extraordinarily powerful and moving.

A much simpler but equally haunting work on the same CD is A Stopwatch and a Ordnance Map, which combines my favourite orchestral instrument - three timpani - with a male chorus to chilling effect. This is a dark and unsettling arrangement, completely at odds with the more romantic and bright compositions that mainly feature on this collection.

I was also interested to see that one of the pieces The Monk and his Cat, features a text arranged by WH Auden, whose poem Night Mail was set to music to memorable effect by Benjamin Britten, featuring in the GPO film of the same name. I have Auden's Night Mail pinned to my noticeboard in the kitchen; its one of my favourite poems.

I don't really know a great deal about Samuel Barber and the liner notes for this CD do little to illuminate the man. I would dearly love to find a good biography of Barber as I am fascinated by what inspired and drove him as a composer.

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