Recorded in 2016 and just released by Reference Recordings, ONE MOVEMENT SYMPHONIES includes three rarities by Barber, Sibelius and Scriabin, with Michael Stern leading the Kansas City Symphony

Structured as a uninterrupted work, at times spiced with dissonance, yet steadily tonal through its twenty-one minute running time, Barber’s opus 9 is an early work that quickly established his reputation as a gifted composer.

By holding on throughout to a brief theme, Barber either contracts the value of the notes that make it up to create a lively tempo for a Scherzo-like section, or else expands the note values to create an extended Adagio.

By layering melody on melody, inexhaustibly varying the instrumentation, and putting to work all manner of rhythmic devices, Barber creates a sonic world in which there is not one moment in which the composition overstays its welcome.

Hefty in its use of the brass, Barber builds towards the end a dramatic crescendo that leads to a massive sequence of chords that unequivocally announces the end of this extraordinary composition. It is amazing how Samuel Barber could straddle the modern and the Romantic in this 1936 Symphony in One Movement.

Leading the peerless musicians of the Kansas City Symphony, Michael Stern delivers an extraordinary reading of Barber’s work.

Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 7 in C major was at first titled Fantasia Sinfonica No. 1. Once published in 1925 it became Symphony No. 7. Sibelius had complied with the requirements of a classical musical education by writing six prior symphonies, traditionally structured and conservative in form and spirit.

But it is in the music anchored in the rugged history and landscape of this, the most beautiful of the northernmost European countries, culturally rich and firm in its people’s determination to walk to the beat of their own hearts that the Finish composer excels in originality and inspiration.

En Saga, the Karelia Suite, Finlandia, and the early Kullervo are all tone poems unfettered by any academic expectations created with a cool brain and an impassioned warm heart. And thus it is with this mysterious work born out of the brain of one of Europe’s most intriguing 20th century composers.

The work is brief and unflagging in its tensile intensity, ever underpinned by inspired, disciplined playing from the members of the Kansas City Symphony, with Michael Stern at its helm.

Alexander Scriabin’s Symphony no. 4 is better known as The Poem of Ecstasy. Densely orchestrated, harmonically capricious, rhythmically free-wheeling, melodically unpredictable, Scriabin’s tone poem surprises at every musical turn. Labeled by some as mystical, experimental by others, Scriabin concocted a brand of Russian Modernism that sounds much closer to Ravel in its unapologetic earthiness than to the Russian masters with whom he studied.

Again, the Kansas City Symphony members turn on a musical dime with some gorgeous woodwind playing. As is the case throughout this wonderful album, Michael Stern leads with a firm hand and a perfect command on the Scriabin style.

Kudos to the production/recording team: led by Producer David Frost and Recording Engineer Keith O. Johnson for the interestingly annotated booklet and the crystal clear engineering.