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Larry Kart

Samuel Barber's Symphony No. 1

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Can someone tell me what it is about the opening of this work  -- it's primarily a rhythmic issue I think, but also perhaps a matter of scoring -- that makes it so hard to get right? The first recording from 1973,  which I heard way back when, cond. by David Measham with the LSO (Unicorn) comes pretty close, but the others I know (cond. by David Zinman, Leonard Slatkin, Marin Alsop) are an unholy mess. And then there's one on YouTube from the '50s that's just perfect, Howard Hanson with the Eastman-Rochester orchestra (Mercury). But aside from being able to hear the differences, for the life of me I can't tell just what the musical-interpretive problem there is, other than that Measham comes close to solving it, Hanson does so superbly, and the other three baton wielders (all of them supposedly Barber specialists) are completely clueless. (Disregard second clip below, see next post for correct one).

 

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2 hours ago, rostasi said:

Yes, I can hear the difference - clarity versus mud.

Here’s an analysis of the work if that helps:

https://ttu-ir.tdl.org/bitstream/handle/2346/18536/31295001126993.pdf;sequence=1

Thanks, but it doesn't zero in on what seems to be the musical-interpretive problem at the very beginning of movement 1 in most recordings, Hanson's and Measham's excepted.

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Well, I wasn't expecting it to exactly reference the differences,
but just a cursory glance at the info provided, it appears that
maybe it could be a combination of negotiating the 6/4 / 4/4
signatures that begins the work with orchestral balance.

...or maybe not...

BTW: there's a specific mention of the Hanson version
and a graphic of the temporal length of each section on
pages 18 and 19.

Anyway, it could be like any other poor performance:
attention to details or misinterpretations. 

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6 hours ago, rostasi said:

Well, I wasn't expecting it to exactly reference the differences,
but just a cursory glance at the info provided, it appears that
maybe it could be a combination of negotiating the 6/4 / 4/4
signatures that begins the work with orchestral balance.

...or maybe not...

BTW: there's a specific mention of the Hanson version
and a graphic of the temporal length of each section on
pages 18 and 19.

Anyway, it could be like any other poor performance:
attention to details or misinterpretations. 

 

"...maybe it could be a combination of negotiating the 6/4 / 4/4
signatures that begins the work with orchestral balance."

I'll bet that's it, and I'd add that there's something in those opening measures that tends to make a conductor and an orchestra want to more or less "hurtle" ahead, and then, if they do, it sounds like they almost immediately run into figures/phrases that need to be reined in, under fairly tight control rhythmically, which is where Hanson's recording is so good. The initial forward momentum is all there, and the reining in is unanimous -- no sense, as in some other performances, that the band is teetering on its toes and about to collapse into the following measures.

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Posted (edited)

Well, off the top of my head, I'd say that this wasn't only a shave and a haircut, but two bits as well!

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Edited by rostasi

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Someone else who gets the beginning and indeed the whole symphony just right -- Bruno Walter in the work's very first recording back in 1945, with the New York Philharmonic. I'd forgotten I had that performance on CD, with some works by Richard Strauss.

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