Samuel Barber’s Cello Concerto
My first encounter with the work…
When I was in high school, I had the good fortune to hear a young cellist play Barber’s Cello Concerto with the Orchestre du Conservatoire at a concert performed in Montreal’s Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church. She performed the second and third movements. The second’s melodic line stopped me in my tracks and Barber’s musical writing – tonal yet, to my young ears, harmonically innovative – turned me upside down. Today it remains one of the works I find most moving. You hear every facet of the cello: the instrument plays in both the low and high registers, the three movements present the cello as a melodist but also as an accompanist and, with all the pizzicatos, almost as a member of the percussion family. The cadenzas are especially virtuosic and put the performer’s agility and talent on display.
My favourite passage
Hard to say. I like all the movements for different reasons. I would say that I’m especially fond of the repeat of the theme after the harmonic and melodic build-up in the second movement. The orchestral accompaniment is both simple and dense. It’s so beautiful!
My favourite recording
My favourite version is with Ralph Kirshbaum playing the cello, accompanied by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Jukka-Pekka Saraste on the Warner Classics label.