Somewhere around my first year of college, I discovered that the local library, Adriance Memorial on Market Street, lent out records. Much of my serious early classical listening was done via this route. It was a fairly small selection, I think, probably no more than a couple hundred albums, but it included other-than-warhorses and I just took things out willy nilly. They also had a bit of a jazz section as well, providing me with my first exposure to, among others, Dolphy and Bud Powell.
In any case, I'm pretty sure my first encounter with the music of Samuel Barber came about here too. It wasn't the "Adagio for Strings" either; that I didn't hear until a bit later. But there was a recording with, iirc, the first Symphony, the Overture to the School for Scandal and one or two others, maybe one of the Essays for Orchestra or the Violin Concerto. I fell in love with his music and, with my meager monies, bought a few albums in the next years.
One that's probably something of a rarity is a 1959 recording (though issued sometime after 1968, I think) on RCA Victrola by the Boston Symphony under the direction of Charles Munch. The bulk of the disc is actually given over to Debussy's 'Images for Orchestra' but I've always filed it under 'B' due to the presence of Barber's magnificent "Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengence". Still sounds great. There has probably been writing on the phenomenon of the first version of a piece you hear remaining, for oneself, the "true" one--I bet it's the case more often than not--but I've heard numerous renditions of this piece (a portion of a longer suite) and none has ever hit me as hard. btw, I've no idea what Barber's current rep is. I imagine it fluctuates depending on what amount, if any, of Romanticism is allowable in a given week but for my ears, he has at his best a gift for melody comparable to Prokofiev (though not as deliciously sour); they're linked somewhat in my mind, again likely due simply to my having "discovered" them around the same time. Looks like this performance might be available on disc...
I likely picked up the next one, a Unicorn release featuring the 1st Symphony, Essays for Orchestra #s 1 & 2 and Night Flight due to the conductor being David Measham. He'd conducted Ornette's "Skies of America" you'll recall. I think I remember shortly thereafter getting the notion that Measham was something of a schlockmeister--conducting Rick Wakeman's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" probably didn't help in this regard. Dunno, but these pieces sound pretty damn OK; maybe he could pull things together when he desired. I see he died in 2005. The Unicorn album has the Thomas Moran painting here on the cover--very nice indeed.
There's one with Thomas Schippers conducting the NY Phil that's pretty OK, but my pet favorite here is a 1972 CRI recording featuring pianist Zola Shaulis performing Barber's "Excursions" (as well as Louis Gruenberg's "Polychromatics" and Ernest Bloch's "Sonata"). "Excursions" are four totally lovely variations on American folk and blues themes, sumptuously played here. I need to check out other versions, something I've never gotten around to. I guess Shaulis never attained pianistic stardom. I see this piece was included in a later CRI release, "Gay American Composers". I wonder how many people who swooned to "Adagio for Strings", which was also played over the radio in memoriam of FDR's passing, knew that its creator was gay.
As always, I welcome anyone's suggestions for great Barber recordings.