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Classical review: These double albums are unmissable 

rating showbiz 5

The full songs Resonus (2CD)

Evaluation: rating showbiz 5

The complete rags Hyperion

Evaluation: rating showbiz 5

This pair of double albums, one devoted to the songs of Samuel Barbier and the other in the rags of Guillaume Bolcomilluminate two fascinating pieces of 20th century American classical music.

Barber (1910-1981) kept the melody alive as the American musical establishment obsessed over the impasse of atonalism.

Barber’s Violin Concerto, Piano Concerto, and Adagio for Strings, among others, remain popular today. Just like some of his vocal pieces like Knoxville: Summer Of 1915 by James Agee, magnificently performed here by tenor Nicky Spence, associated with the curator of this project, the American pianist Dylan Perez.

It sounds exceptionally good here, where Barber’s original piano accompaniment is recorded as a world premiere.

Agee clearly inspired Barber, as the best song here is the totally memorable Sure On This Shining Night. Barber was an accomplished singer himself, and so a student piece, Dover Beach, to poetry by Matthew Arnold, was written by Barber for himself. It is known a little.

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But as with the rest of these nearly 70 songs, few are ever heard, though many are worth hearing.

CD1 contains songs released during Barber’s lifetime. CD2 is dedicated to songs released posthumously, and there are 19 world premiere recordings here.

All this music is very well dispatched by a group of ten young British singers, or based in Great Britain, with the accompaniments of Perez. I wish I had more space to discuss the individual singers, but I have to find space to say that young bass William Thomas really stands out and has a great future.

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William Bolcom (b. 1938) wrote dozens of rags in the 1960s and 1970s when the rediscovery of Scott Joplin, precipitated by the film The Sting (1973) brought the rag back to center stage.

Sadly, that popularity didn’t really last, but the 27 rags here are mostly very entertaining, both melodically and in terms of the piano writing itself. Especially since they are brilliantly interpreted by one of the virtuosos of the time, Marc-André Hamelin. Unavoidable.

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