Classical CD of the month: Songs by Samuel Barber

Performances of this calibre emphasise Barber's stature in the mainstream of 20th century song composers, says Gramophone reviewer Peter Dickinson.

This CD is a pretty stunning achievement. At his most mellifluous, Gerald Finley has beauty of tone to spare. He is at his most expressive hollowing out the voice for the hopelessness of the song 'Bessie Bobtail', letting it splinter with anger at the climax of the furious 'Sea Snatch'.

Julius Drake proves a predictably accomplished, thoughtful partner. The pair move easily from the prettiness of the early songs through the complexities of the Hermit Songs and the pensive Melodies Passageres.

The overwhelming feeling here is of idealism tainted. Finley gains in power, attaining at points the kind of bitter life-force so well remembered from his performance in Turnage's anti-war opera The Silver Tassie.

The introduction of the string quartet to close the disc shifts the mood, sending us off in another direction. It comes as a hopeful reminder of the wonder of love, even with a sting in its tail. Entirely appropriate for a bittersweet, marvellous collection. This release certainly does credit to Barber in what will soon be a run-up to his centenary.

Composer: Samuel Barber
Artists: Gerald Finley, baritone, Julius Drake, pianoforte
Label: Hypericon

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