The beauty of this 1995 CD is that it forms a satisfying concert that can be listened to from beginning to end. The two instrumental works, Copland's 'Quiet City' and Barber's evergreen Adagio for Strings, are sensitively performed by the LSO and Tilson Thomas -- both are straightforward readings, lacking Bernstein's authority and magic but fine nonetheless. I get bored during Copland's Emily Dickinson song cycle, which strikes me as being very little about what the poems say and more about the composer's patented plains-and-Shakers style. The performance, however, is evocative and lyrical.
Soprano Barbara Hendricks hits her stride with the two Barber songs, and everything sails beautifully after that. She was in her mid-forties at the time, but the voice sounds untouched by age; you do have to like her steady fast vibrato, similar to Leontyne Price's but more pronounced. I also wish Hendricks hadn't been placed so far from the microphone. Hers is by no means a sizable voice, and if she had stood closer, we could appreciate her diction, which is very clear in the concluding 'Knoxville: Summer of 1915.' Hearing the text of James Agee's prose poem, the introduction to his shattering novel, 'A Death in the Family,' is half the joy, but many sopranos swallow the words -- not Hendricks, especailly in the opening half before the vocal line flies too high for good enunciation.
In any event, these small details apply only to those of us who own multiple versions of Barber's vocal masterpiece. Overall, this is a beautiful CD -- a sleeper, as one early reviewer said of the full-priced version.