IT IS ODD that American cellists who lament the paucity of concertos for their instrument continue to overlook some astonishingly attractive ones composed in our own country, which might be said to be an outstanding source of such material since Dvorak wrote most of his towering Cello Concerto here. Dvorak acknowledged that he was stimulated to create that work, at least in part, by the Second Concerto of Victor Herbert, and one might think a work capable of producing such a stimulus would be worth presenting in our concert halls now and then. Herbert's Second Concerto was recorded twice some years ago, but never turns up "live"; his First was played by Mihaly Virizlay at Wolf Trap a few years back, but otherwise has been more neglected than the Second. It is time both began to make the rounds, and time, too, for the beautiful Cello Concerto of Samuel Barber to be "discovered" -- as it can be, once again, in the form of a first-rate recording.
The Cello Concerto was one of the few works Barber himself recorded as a conductor, about 30 years ago, for London/Decca; his soloist, on that long deleted disc, was Zarz Nelsova. The work was written for-or, at least, first performed by -- another female cellist of Russian background, Raya Garbousova, who introduced it in Boston in 1946 and recorded it 20 years later with Frederic Waldman and the Musica Aeterna Orchestra in New York for American Decca. That recording has been reissued now on the Varese Sarabande label (VC 81057), with its original coupling, the Britten Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, in which Charles Bressler and Ralph Froelich are the respective soloists.
Barber's songful quality is at its most appealing in this work, in the material for both soloist and orchestra, and the expressive lyricism is enhanced by a most imaginative harmonic treatment. That this splendid concerto is not prominent on the concert circuit continues to be one of the more inexplicable lapses in programming; the resourceful Los Angeles-based firm is to be congratulated in making Garbousova's elowquent performance available again, and it is a second chance no one should fail to act upon. Charles Bressler is not Peter Pears, but he is Charles Bressler, and his account of the Britten Serenade is in every way extremely satisfying. The sound is possibly a little better in the new remastering than in the original Decca release.
From the same source, the old Decca catalogue, Varese Sarabande has also resurrected that late Leopold Stokowski's recording, with the American Symphony Orchestra, of William Dawson's Negro Folk Symphony , with similiar improvements over the original sound (VC 81056). Dawson's symphony is a more expansive and elaborate work than the slightly more familiar Afro-American Symphony of William Grant Still, and a little more derivative, too (frequent echoes of Dvorak's New World ). It is, in its own right, an absorbing piece, worthy of the fine treatment it received in Stokowski's hands.
A third Decca-derived reissue on the same label goes back to prestereo, and in fact 78-r.p.m., sources for a pair of "historical" items: Leonard Bernstein's 1944 recording, with the Ballet Theatre Orchestra, of his then brand-new score for Fancy Free , and the late Carlos Chavez conducting the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional de Mexico in his ballet suite La Hija de Colquide (VC 81055, mono). The novelty in the Bernstein material is the appearance of Billie Holliday and a small jazz combo in the prologue, "Big Stuff." I'm happier with Bernstein's stunning stereo performance with the New York Philharmonic on Columbia, without Billie Holiday, and the sound of the Chavez side, crude to begin with, is not much of a boost -- but there is no other recording of the Mexican work.