Barber/Schuman Split

Barber/Schuman Split – 4/5

At this point I am writing my 207th post and we are hitting the 367th post (probably closer to the 400th review if we include those with multiple reviews within them), and we have yet to provide a single review of a classical piece. We’ve had rap, pop, jazz, blues and country, but nothing of those a bit further back in time, and it is this that I am set to amend. Consisting of four pieces; two by Samuel Barber (likely best known for his ‘Adagio for Strings’) and two by Robert Schuman, these are two of Leonard Bernstein’s (New York Philharmonic) most celebrated classical offerings in his conduction.

Samuel Barber – Adagio for Strings/Violin Concerto – 4.5/5

Once dubbed by critics as ‘the powerfully moving song ever written,’ from its opening harmony it isn’t difficult to see why, but whilst it strikes a powerful initial emotional impact, its diversity is comparatively narrow, eventually tiring, resulting in feeling like a mere warm-up for violin concerto to follow. A torrent of pace, shrill excited violins above deep and bombastic bass lines, yielding to a more serene and atmospheric quiet, all the time in turmoil struggling back and forth between the two styles, joyous and proud in its delivery. It is however, the shorter finalé to this concerto that, whilst a little out of place amongst the first two movements, shows Barber responding to comments that his style was too simplistic. At first considered impossible to play, it took nearly a year for him to prove people wrong; this is a violin piece that puts Paganinni (renowned for his violin virtuosity) to shame.

But the end result isn’t quite there, it doesn’t quite work as well is it perhaps could. Whether through a misinterpretation of the music from Bernstein, whether the orchestra failed to perform as aptly as they should or even that the music itself is lacking a special quality, the piece comes off a little dissonant at times. It’s an elegant tapestry that occasionally becomes detached, as though the purpose of the section was not uniform knowledge amongst all members of the orchestra. Despite this somewhat pedantic criticism, this is still amongst my favourite pieces of classical music.

SchumanTo Thee Olde Cause/In Praise of Shahn – 3.5/5

This piece begins deceptively, with ‘To Thee Old Cause’ opening slowly and solemnly, almost disturbing with its ‘horror’ like feel as you await for the big finish; that cacophony of what you’ve spent so long dreading, but whilst it does eventually comes, disappears all too soon. Some could call this a reflection of how we can overcome our fears, but personally I call it a bit of a disappointment. It is ‘In Praise of Shahn’ that scores the most points from me, being rather different from a lot of other classical music I’ve listened to, almost reminiscent of the classic Star Trek fight music, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.

With a tribal drumming interspersed with the slower sections, this feels rather like an experimental piece well ahead of its time. Almost jazz-like interweaving rhythm lines, swirling in and out of one another as it slowly builds up in tension before releasing, each time reaching a higher peak than the last. Whilst it takes a fair while for the build-ups to occur, it is particularly in the second movement that we are presented with a bold, brash defiance of convention that proves far more enjoyable than when the composer tries to do melancholy.