BARBER Cello Concerto & Sonata
There are three hits here on one CD. The Cello Sonata dates from 1932, when Barber was a student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia; he wrote it in collaboration with his fellow student William Cole and they gave the premiere. Cole’s 1973 recording is included in the eight-CD set of ‘Historical Recordings 1935-60’ (West Hill Radio Archives, 10/11). Soon after Cole launched it, the Sonata began its career and, although it’s more Brahmsian than later Barber, its place, following the two Brahms examples, remains secure, as this fine performance confirms.
Barber’s own recording of the Cello Concerto, with Zara Nelsova, is also on the eight-CD set but it can be had on its own (Naxos, 4/11). There are not as many recordings as there are of the Violin Concerto but the more sombre Cello Concerto shows Barber’s lyrical approach, with finely crafted themes and consistently polished orchestral accompaniment.
In the past I’ve admired Yo-Yo Ma but Christian Poltéra, the Swiss cellist who plays a superb Strad, is outstanding and invariably well-supported by the Bergen players under Litton. His high positions are effortless, as are the nasty double thirds (which, according to Cole, Piatigorsky called ‘turds’), and he delivers a fine cadenza. Poltéra’s duet with the oboe in the slow movement is magical. This is actually a siciliano, reflecting Barber’s Italian links, and the mood in this performance is immaculately sustained throughout.
A feature of Litton’s Adagio is the way it creeps in at the start from nothing. Then it’s all beautifully paced, spacious and warm. Recorded quality throughout is top-drawer in a truly winning CD.