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Barber: Samuel Barber's Collected Choral Works

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Customer Reviews


Samuel Barber understood the voice and its capabilities and composed works unrivaled in mid-century American music. The scores are complete. They are perfect. It is easy to romanticize the choral works of Barber; it is easy to let the subject of the poetry or the lyric melodies wash over and dictate the performance. It takes restraint to perform the works as written. It takes courage to not follow the performance precedent of these well beloved choral works.

Seattle-based choral ensemble The Esoterics, under the direction of Eric Banks, provides a refreshing alternative to those norms in their new album, Barber: Samuel Barber’s Collected Choral Works, a centennial tribute to the composer. It features all the expected works (Agnus Dei, Reincarnations, Sure on this shining night) and the unexpected and unknown (Motetto, Easter chorale), giving the listener a full spectrum of Barber’s style as a choral composer.

The album opens with Motetto on Words from the Book of Job and God’s Grandeur, composed by Barber at age 20. The four-movement work has a certain neo-baroque flair, with a brisk double-chorus polyphonic texture. The Esoterics takes this work and introduce it to the world, with ethereal tone, crisp and concise cut-offs, and excitement which matches the youthful urgency of the composition. Particularly impressive is the third movement, God’s Grandeur. With text by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Barber’s early inclination towards provocative text is evident.

The greatest moments on the album are the lively rendition of Reincarnations and the vocal arrangement of Barber’s best-loved work, Adagio for Strings, his Agnus Dei (Op. 11). Each of the three movements of Reincarnations has a distinct flavor. Mary Hynes is flirty and fanciful, but Banks manages to keep the ensemble together on a piece that is notorious for falling apart. Anthony O Daly is intense and driven, almost uncomfortable, obsessively repeating “Anthony” until the final conceding moment: “After you there is nothing to do, there is nothing but grief.” And yet, it is the third in this cycle, The Coolin, which solidifies this CD as a definitive recording of Barber’s choral works. This track dances; it lilts. So often performed so slowly and oozing with over-romanticism, this movement often loses that all-too-important lilt. The Esoterics’ CD is proof that romanticism is present, even if you eschew rubato and maintain the tempo as written. It is, in fact, more present. Finally, there is The Esoterics’ rendition of Barber’s masterpiece Agnus Dei, a work so perfect and so simple that it needs little to make it spectacular. However, The Esoterics take it further, singing with such a precise tone. The counterpoint at the climax is so intense, that its release into consonance is a superlative musical experience. Simply put, this recoding shimmers.

Banks and The Esoterics have managed to take a composer’s entire oeuvre, and make each piece new and interesting. This ensemble has breathed life into Barber’s work in this loving tribute to this treasured American composer. Happy Birthday, Samuel Barber, indeed!


This is the ultimate Barber choral collection including ALL his a Capella choral works plus some innovative vocal accompaniments on Sure on this Shining Night and Stopwatch tracks.
Fantastic group....will listen again and again to all their albums!


I especially love the Agnus Dei.

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