Barber Historic Performances 1938-53
Leontyne Price was on the threshold of her international career when she and Samuel Barber gave this, their first recital together, in Washington in October 1953. The main item was the world première of Barber’s Hermit Songs, based on Celtic texts from the 8th-12th centuries. The cycle, and the four other Barber songs, have been issued before (RCA, 8/94), but the other tracks are new to the catalogue.
The audience are obviously uncertain about the nature of song-cycles, and applaud after each item. This is distracting, but Price’s pristine voice (she was 26), combined with Barber’s sensitive accompaniment, make the songs flow with the mystery and humour that the poems demand. They made a studio recording of the cycle the following year (CBS, nla), but there is an added excitement about hearing this first performance.
Price recorded all but one of the Poulenc mélodies later with David Garvey (RCA, 5/93), but Sauguet’s cycle La Voyante is an addition to her discography. The verses about reading the cards and astral predictions, are by Nostradamus and Mme Lenormand, the Empress Josephine’s favourite fortune-teller. The original version was for soloist and chamber orchestra, which Price had already performed in New York, and the songs suit her soaring soprano. Although the voice sometimes overwhelms the microphone, the sound is excellent for a 51-year-old live event.
The 12 songs recorded by Barber, accompanying himself, in 1938 are quite a surprise. He had a beautiful voice, a sort of American Pierre Bernac. The sound here is variable, but there is more than just curiosity value.The two Tuscan folk songs are especially charming.