Thursday, June 9, 2016

John Browning Plays Samuel Barber

Samuel Barber — as can be heard in the song accompaniments and few demos he recorded — was an excellent pianist. Though his catalog of piano music is not as extensive as his output for voice and piano, it is significant and is found in all parts of Barber's career. Late pianist John Browning was often described as Barber's "favorite" pianist ; he was the dedicatee and first performer of Barber's Piano Concerto (1963), the work that won Barber his second Pulitzer Prize. Browning recorded Barber's concerto twice and also recorded the Piano Sonata (1949) separately for Desto in 1971 before recording what Browning regarded as the whole, legitimate piano solo cycle for MusicMasters in 1993, here reissued on Nimbus. No two recorded collections of Barber's piano music, even those designated as "complete," have the same contents ; in this case, Browning decided to forgo the piano solo incarnation of the four-hand Souvenirs, Op. 28 (1952), though he added, for the first time, the first of Barber's two early Interludes, "Adagio for Jeanne" (1932).
"Favorite" or not, it is clear that Browning's interpretations are authoritative. Barber was an American with an aristocratic bent ; though he did not seek out social interaction as a rule and lived at Mount Kisco because he didn't want to be swept up in the social whirl in New York City, Barber subscribed to European values of culture and easily ingratiated himself in higher levels of society. Browning's interpretations reflect the man; they are cool, controlled, and proportional and never project unbridled passion. Overall, this approach is highly successful. It adds fire and steel to the fast movements of the Sonata ; a gentle, flowing quality to the Nocturne, and reveals the protracted anger and heartache lurking beneath the Ballade. Likewise, Browning is aware of the extreme concision of Barber's utterances and the dictates of his formal sensibility : Chopin has 21 nocturnes and Barber has one. Chopin has four ballades and Barber has one. Each statement that Barber made in a given genre has to count as absolute, otherwise the piece will not elude the wastebasket at Mount Kisco ; that is partly why so little additional material has trickled out from Barber's cabinet even though three decades have passed since he laid down his pen.
The odd man out here, however, is Excursions ; often derided as a half-hearted attempt to kowtow to populism, these bright, relaxed, and virtuosic miniatures might be seen as among the most forward-looking piano music Barber ever wrote, with his rich, romantic vocabulary enveloping relatively simple, diatonic ideas. Browning doesn't deliver a lot of warmth here and might be a little out of sympathy with the pieces, and that's kind of a shame because these are among Barber's most popular and frequently recorded creations, uncharacteristic as they may be. So, while authoritative, Browning's "complete" cycle of Barber's piano music is not quite the absolute litmus test that perhaps some would make of it. However, MusicMasters' Samuel Barber : The Complete Solo Piano Music is a superlative effort overall and is a milestone recording of a cycle now considered central to twentieth century American piano literature. This entry is for the original 1993 issue from MusicMasters ; it was re-released in 2009 by Nimbus.
Uncle Dave Lewis

Source :

John Browning
Samuel Barber

The Complete Solo Piano Music


Sonata for Piano, Op. 26
1 Allegro energico  7:20
2 Allegro vivace e leggero  2:15
3 Adagio mesto  6:25
4 Fuga. Alegro con spirito  5:09

Interlude n° 1 ("Adagio For Jeanne")
5 Adagio, ma non  troppo  6:40

6 Nocturne, Op. 33  4:35

7 Ballade, Op. 46  7:37

Excursions, Op. 20
8 Un poco allegro  3:13
9 In Slow Blues Tempo  4:28
10 Alegretto  3:27
11 Allegro molto  2:31


John Browning - p

Recorded 1993 ?


Melanchthon said...

Pedro del Castillo Alonso said...

Thanks Mel

jm said...

A brilliant rarity. I can't wait to hear this. As always, you astound me, and teach me a lot.

marty123 said...

Thanks a lot.
Looks very interesting.