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BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 / Tragic Overture / Academic Festival Overture


Naxos 8.557428

   Fanfare, July 2005
   Chicago Sun-Times, May 2005
   Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 2005
   Seattle Post-Intellegencer, April 2005
   March 2005
   Classical Net, March 2005
   Fanfare, March 2005
   The New York Times, March 2005
   New Bern (North Carolina) Sun Journal, March 2005
   Amazon.com, March 2005
   Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 2005
   March 2005
   Seattle Times, March 2005
   International Record Review, March 2005
   Newark Star-Ledger, February 2005
   Courier-Post, February 2005
   Bay Area Reporter, February 2005
   All About Jazz, February 2005
   February 2005
   Barnes & Noble, February 2005
   MusicWeb International, January 2005
   ClassicsToday.com, January 2005
   Rocky Mountain News, January 2005

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Fanfare, July 2005

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Wynne Delacoma
Chicago Sun-Times, May 2005

American-born conductor Marin Alsop has been a rising star for some years now, and this recording of the Symphony No. 1 and two major overtures by Brahms will speed her trajectory. Alsop has recorded several discs with various orchestras for Naxos, most of them works by American composers. At a time when record labels are cutting back on new classical issues and retail bins are stuffed with dozens of recordings of standard repertoire, Naxos' plan to record all four Brahms symphonies with Alsop is a bold step. But the feisty little Naxos label has built its substantial reputation defying convention, and judging from this first disc in the Brahms series, their gamble with Alsop will pay off. There is a buoyancy and organic flow to the symphony and overtures on this disc that make Brahms' familiar music sound fresh and vibrant. Alsop doesn't push the tempos; she allows Brahms' full-bodied melodies ample breathing room. But she and the London Philharmonic bring a refreshing sense of spontaneity to music they doubtless could play blindfolded. The CDs' sound is clear and well balanced, with just the right degree of warmth.



Eric E. Harrison
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 2005

Marin Alsop, possibly the fastest-rising American conductor on the music scene today, takes on one of the titans of the symphonic literature, Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in c minor, op.68, with one of the world’s most recorded orchestras. Sir Charles Mackerras, in his ground-breaking 1997 Brahms symphony cycle with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on Telarc, judiciously juggled his tempos, including liberal use of rubato, for dramatic effect. Alsop does the same in this recording. It strengthens the reading of the first three movements, particularly the very dramatic first one. The slow first theme of the fourth movement, including the well-known alphorn solo (actually played in this recording on an alphorn, not a French horn), is powerful and evocative.



R.M Campbell
Seattle Post-Intellegencer, April 2005

Marin Alsop, one of a handful of women conductors with a viable career on the podium, makes her Seattle Symphony debut April 21, in a program of Tchaikovsky and Dvorak. However, Brahms is the subject on her newest recording for Naxos: Symphony No. 1 plus a brace of overtures -- "Tragic" and "Academic Festival." There is much to admire in her reading of Brahms' First. She is unafraid of slow tempos -- that gorgeous chorale in the final movement, for instance -- and she is not fearful of refusing to exhibit muscle at every turn of the road. There is a sense of organic growth, carefully judged dynamics and a handsome roundness to some of Brahms' familiar tunes. Alsop brings fresh ideas to overworked terrain.



Bill Brooks
March 2005

As is common with lesser-known conductors, Marin Alsop is mostly known for her interpretations of more modern fare, but her excellent readings of Brahms may be the breakout that earns her the recognition she deserves. Her interpretation of the Brahms Symphony No. 1 on Naxos is reminiscent of the Mackerras performance released on Telarc about eight years ago. Finesse is everything when conducting the masters, and Alsop has it. The tempos have a clean, natural flow that allow the drama of the piece to have real impact without caramelizing it. The orchestra plays skillfully, and there are some brilliant solos, including a gorgeous flute passage shortly into the fourth movement.



Classical Net, March 2005

This is an audio-only DVD that launches a cycle of Brahms symphonies by the American Marin Alsop, principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra since 2002. I hate to bring gender into any review, but I must say that this talented artist will likely become the first woman appointed music director of one of the big-five American orchestras. Either that, or she will take over the reins of a major European ensemble. Mark my words. She knows the three essential things a superior conductor must know: how to capture the spirit and essence of the work in her mind, how to draw fine playing from her musicians, and how to mold that playing to fit her vision of the work. slower renditions of the work, and though I prefer faster tempos in general (not only here but in most orchestral works), I find Alsop’s reading fully convincing, with its especially lovely account of the second movement. The opening panel is dark and less threatening than what most listeners are accustomed to, but it still comes across with plenty of power and a strong sense of urgency. The third movement has a playful serenity, while the range of emotions in the gigantic finale are captured in the proper spirit. In the end, Alsop makes a strong impression in this symphony, as she does in the two overtures that serve as fillers here. The Tragic is the better work in my opinion—I confess to finding the Academic Festival Overture far less compelling than I once did. The sound is slightly recessed on this DVD, but is clear and well-balanced. This is an impressive release and augurs fine things for the continued rise of Marin Alsop.



Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, March 2005

Alsop takes the first movement exposition repeat, more the exception in recordings of this symphony than you might think. She also understands that Brahms's symphonic argument is carried out, not just on the macro-level of sonata-allegro form (i.e., contrasting keys and themes), but on the micro-level of conflicting rhythms that reach an apocalyptic crisis in the recapitulation. Everything in her reading builds inexorably to that moment. I have the feeling in listening to this performance that I am hearing the piece architecturally; that Alsop has a vision of the work as a whole, focusing on the necessities of the structure, but without sacrificing the niceties of the measure-by-measure phrases. Stated another way, she sees the big picture. Nor can it go unnoticed that Alsop draws from the London Philharmonic some of the best playing I've heard from this ensemble in recent years. She definitely has their attention. Apart from some splendid solos from the first-chair oboe and flute players, the concertmaster's violin solo at the end of the second movement is delivered with a silvery-toned sweetness that is quite affecting. The whole orchestra, in fact, sounds alive and energized, and the recording captures them in luminous sound. To have both the Academic Festival and Tragic overtures as bonuses, and in such excellent performances, makes this disc an irresistible bargain. . . . Among recent recordings, you could do a lot worse, but you are not likely to do a lot better.



Bernard Holland
The New York Times, March 2005

To succeed on a grand scale in the United States, American conductors often need to pave their way in Europe. Marin Alsop is among the latest to find a good job abroad. Her career in America has been honorable, steady and various: anchored by a long tenure at the Colorado Symphony (not the most stable institution in recent years) and by visits to places like the Opera Theater of St. Louis, where she conducted John Adams's "Nixon in China" with great success last year. But it has been in Britain, during the last few years, that Ms. Alsop has attracted attention. The Bournemouth Symphony took her on as principal conductor in 2002, and British audiences and critics have taken notice ever since. Here she records the Brahms First Symphony with the London Philharmonic for Naxos. So ubiquitous is the piece that one more recording of it cannot really expect to say anything startling about Brahms that hundreds of others have not already said. So this is a recording, regardless of its original ambitions, that announces an emerging conductor's credentials in the standard German repertory. In the famous dirgelike opening, Ms. Alsop wants our ears to put Brahms's pounding drums front and center. Elsewhere, she is not afraid of slow tempos at the composer's more brooding moments, and even at his most songful ones. Otherwise, we hear the Brahms symphony we know and love treated with respect, an appropriate sense of drama and at times even a little impetuosity. Also here are the "Tragic Overture" and the "Academic Festival Overture." Both are well played by these excellent, hard-working musicians. With so many music-director jobs changing hands at American orchestras these days, Ms. Alsop will probably look westward out of the corner of her eye while enjoying her European success.



Sefton Wiggs
New Bern (North Carolina) Sun Journal, March 2005

Conductor Marin Alsop has begun her cycle of the four Brahms symphonies and other orchestral works with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in stirring fashion. I found myself intrigued with Alsop’s vision, beginning with the pounding timpani beneath the serious sounding strings that begin the work to the great finale and its tribute to Beethoven in form of a thinly disguised “Ode to Joy.” ... The massive first movement turns to a gentle “Andante sostenuto” for the second. Alsop handles this section – which under the direction of a lesser conductor could have gotten lost after the first – with sensitivity and care. The important oboe parts are striking, and the violin that closes the section is just beautiful. Brahms didn’t go for the usual scherzo (Italian for “joke”) in the third movement but instead wrote music that almost feels autumnal. The fourth movement matches the first in size and power. This is just wonderful music that Alsop and the London Philharmonic players take on without ever seeming to misstep. The horns sound powerful, and the overall orchestral sound simply takes flight. The aforementioned “Beethoven” tribute is Brahms’s own reworking of the “Ode to Joy” theme from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. “Any ass can hear that,” the acerbic Brahms would say when this resemblance was pointed out. ... I still fondly remember my old LP recordings of all the Brahms symphonies by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, but Alsop – a Bernstein student – and the London Philharmonic’s performance of the Symphony No. 1 make me very eager for the other three symphonies to be released.



Leslie Gerber
Amazon.com, March 2005

Naxos is obviously excited about this recording, publicizing it widely and issuing it in three different formats (this plain CD, as well as SACD and DVD Audio). You can understand the excitement immediately, as the Symphony opens with tremendous power, fortified by uncommon energy in the kettledrums, signifying that there's going to be no routine playing here. But Alsop is not all aggression; her Andante sostenuto is very tender and affecting. Detail work is just wonderful--listen, for example, to the gorgeous flute solo in the fourth movement introduction--and Brahms's syncopations, always a major aspect of his style, get their full due in this rhythmically alert performance. Both Overtures are vividly characterized, and the Academic Festival retains its humor more than usual. At this point there are so many Brahms recordings that no single one is going to satisfy all of our needs, but this recording is competitive with the best in artistic and sonic aspects. In price, it mops the floor with the competition.



Andrew Druckenbrod
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 2005

If you want another crack at listening to or deciphering the subtext of Brahms' Symphony No. 1 after the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's performance under Charles Dutoit last weekend (see my review, www.post-gazette.com/pg/05066/467392.stm), here's a worthy new addition. Conductor Marin Alsop and the London Phil offer a fresh, rounded and energetic reading of this monumental work. The opening introduction sounds the equivalent of looking into a cloudy crystal ball -- unclear yet definitely foreboding -- but Alsop marvelously caresses the second theme. In fact, the entire reading harbors less of an edge than we often hear, but is no less weighty. That's because the substance the architect Brahms' comes from, managing the tempos and the structural hypermeter of the piece, which Alsop does exceptionally, especially in the drawing out of the horn melody of the fourth movement and in the subtle acceleration of the end of its main theme. The disc also contains impressive interpretations of Brahms' "Tragic" and "Academic" overtures.



Andrew Baer
March 2005

With her debut Brahms CD, Marin Alsop offers a sumptuously lyrical rendition of the composer's First Symphony and two overtures. Principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony, lauded American music proponent and a famous Leonard Bernstein protégée, Alsop blends Romantic symphonic convention with the organic phrasing and transitions of a chamber musician. She summons a bright, singing sound from the London Philharmonic, and each gesture flows, yoga-like, into the next. Sturdy enough to serve as a Brahms primer, this rendition of the symphony can feel a little sensitive in slow spots for fans of Golden Age maestros. Relief exists in imposing accounts of the "Academic Festival" and "Tragic" overtures.



Melinda Bargreen
Seattle Times, March 2005

Cello fans will already have marked their calendars for the April 21-23 arrival of the gifted Truls Mørk in Benaroya Hall. But there is another reason to cheer. Conductor Marin Alsop, a woman who is making her mark in increasingly high places, will be there to lead the cellist and the Seattle Symphony in performances of Dvorak and Tchaikovsky. On this disc for the Naxos label, where she has been much featured, Alsop leads the excellent London Philharmonic Orchestra in a disc of Brahms: the magisterial Symphony No. 1, plus the "Tragic" Overture and the "Academic Festival" Overture. These are deft, spirited performances that bring out the grandeur of the music but also its complexities and inner voices. Brava.





Bradley Bambarger
Newark Star-Ledger, February 2005

Today's most successful female conductor, Marin Alsop completed a transformative decade at the head of the Colorado Symphony and has led the U.K.'s Bournemouth Symphony since 2002, with several Naxos discs to her credit. Recordings of Brahms led by women are exceedingly uncommon, so this first step in a complete symphonic cycle is a special opportunity. Alsop's approach to the First Symphony is suitably dramatic, with gutsy playing by the London Philharmonic -- in surround sound (with the title available in CD, hybrid Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio)... ...Alsop outscores such rivals as Bernard Haitink in the "Tragic" Overture by keeping the drama on an ultra-taut rein. Overall, this disc bodes well for her enterprise.



Robert Baxter
Courier-Post, February 2005

Marin Alsop has left her mark on a string of releases in Naxos’ American music series. Now, she has the chance to shine in the German repertory as Naxos launches a series of Brahms recordings with Symphony No. 1 (8.557428 ***) performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Alsop leads a lithe and gracefully pliant reading. She finds the musical pulse and clarifies the various instrumental strands in this well-recorded version of the familiar symphony. Alsop draws secure playing from the orchestra and propels the symphony to a suavely judged climax. Her lyrical approach lacks the granitic scale of Otto Klemperer's version or the epic sweep that characterizes Herbert von Karajan’s recording. Yet, it offers a lyrical alternative notable for its interpretive restraint. Alsop rounds out this fine recording with excellent accounts of the Tragic Overture and the Academic Festival Overture.



Stephanie von Buchau
Bay Area Reporter, February 2005

This is anenergetic, meticulously organized and generously expansive album, with the "Tragic" and "Academic" overtures added to the Symphony... ...well recorded; beautifully played; handsome new cover art. And still at a bargain price. The rest of the Brahms Symphonies with Alsop and the LPO follow shortly.



C. Michael Bailey
All About Jazz, February 2005

It must be with interest and anticipation that we hear the first installment of Marin Alsop’s Brahms Symphony Cycle . . . Impossible as it may seem, maestro Alsop delivers a Brahms First that is light on its feet. Her tempi are paced and never bog-down or become overbearing. She takes seriously the movement signatures, turning in a closing movement that breathes evenly while passing from adagio to allegro. This is a Brahms First with a sense of humor, one that will not disappoint the listener but one that will allow the listener to embrace Brahms’s reverence for the tradition of Beethoven while at the same time smiling at the serious German with a “horrible dignity.”



Randy Anderson
February 2005

This disc is the first in a projected series of Naxos releases that will feature the excellent Brahms interpreter Marin Alsop conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Beginning, appropriately enough, with Brahm's first symphony (along with a couple of nice makeweight pieces), Alsop makes her intentions clear: a robust but not overbearing interpretation that never sacrifices elegance for bombast.



Scott Paulin
Barnes & Noble, February 2005

Thanks to her busy recording schedule with Naxos, most music lovers would probably identify conductor Marin Alsop as an American specialist. Her valuable multi-disc survey of Samuel Barber's works is now almost complete, and her discography also includes excellent recordings of Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass, Michael Daughtery, and John Adams. But Alsop resists being pigeonholed—back in 2000, in an interview with Barnes & Noble.com, she asserted that she was "very anxious to be the first woman to record all the standard repertoire." Judging from this release, the first in a cycle of the Brahms symphonies, we'll all be the richer as she does so. Brahms's First is one of those repertory works that we tend to take for granted, a reliably satisfying symphonic meal. Alsop's approach is certainly no radical revision, but she animates the symphony with a refreshing spirit of discovery and a palpable sense of pleasure taken in the composer's creative invention. The overall sweep of the work is completely persuasive: Tempos, for example, invariably seem precisely right; her careful control of dynamics and transitions are masterful; and every melody seems molded with an astute sense of its place in the whole. The London Philharmonic plays beautifully for her, as they do also in the Tragic Overture and Academic Festival Overture. In sum, this is an auspicious beginning to what will likely be the first great Brahms cycle of the 21st century.



Patrick C. Waller
MusicWeb International, January 2005

This is the first release in a complete series of Brahms symphonies to be conducted by Marin Alsop. So far, her recordings seem to have mostly concentrated on music from her native America (for example, the excellent Barber series for Naxos) but here she tackles the mainstream central European tradition, and there is an awful lot of competition. I can hear some people yawning already and others saying that we don’t need more recordings of Brahms symphonies. Well, there’s no doubt that this is going to have to be "top-notch" to be competitive. Even the usual price advantage with Naxos is missing—Brahms from the greats of the past is available cheaply (as two or three disc sets) and Bernard Haitink’s highly recommendable series for LSO Live is about to be completed with individual discs that cost the same. Alsop’s approach to the first symphony is lyrical and passionate rather than stoic or grand. The effect is to place the work as a closer sibling of the 2nd symphony and perhaps to lessen the idea that it is Beethoven’s 10th. I think it works well and liked it a lot. She is saying something new (at least to me) about the music which is perfectly valid and takes no liberties with the score. Alsop plays the exposition repeat in the first movement and her control of transitions and structures here is excellent ... and indeed throughout. The E major slow movement is both sunny and passionate with beautiful woodwinds and a characterful violin solo. Alsop plays it as slowly as is compatible with the marked andante and this is a wonderful rendition. Plenty of character is also evident in the intermezzo-like third movement but it is in the finale that biggest challenges lie. The slow introduction is notable for wide dynamic contrasts – very soft pizzicatos and loud passionate flutes which echo the horn call (a striking effect which is marked in the score but often underplayed). The tempo for the big tune is on the slow side but Alsop justifies it well. At the very end she ratchets up the tension to achieve a satisfying conclusion. Both overtures are also very well played and I particularly enjoyed the Academic Festival Overture, in which there is an ever-present sense of fun. Although one can easily re-programme the order, placing these before the symphony would have seemed more logical - who wants to listen to an overture a few seconds after the end of Brahms’s 1st? The playing of the London Philharmonic on this disc is first-rate and they get recorded sound to match.Balance is nigh on perfect and perspectives natural, this is in the demonstration bracket. So, all round, the disc is a substantial success, my only qualification being that it is not for those who want a "massive" approach to this symphony. But how does it rate with the competition? There have been many great recordings of Brahms symphonies and those who love this music will probably want to hear (or already have) readings by the likes of Toscanini, Klemperer and Walter from the 1950s or, more recently, Sanderling, Boult, Karajan and Wand. I haven’t yet made any comparisons with such versions because, to my mind, the real competition is from Bernard Haitink’s cycle with the London Symphony Orchestra. His 1st was recorded at the Barbican in May 2003 (LSO Live 0045). Two London orchestras, one recorded live the other not. Bernard Haitink, a doyen conductor on his third recording versus Marin Alsop, the newcomer. Some may have allegiances to either orchestra or conductor which are akin to supporting a football team, or may prefer or dislike live recordings but, if it’s all down to interpretation, which do you go for? My view is that Alsop is fresher and says something about the work that will both interest those who know it well and yet still be a good starting point for those who don’t. . . . I would also favour Alsop’s recorded sound over Haitink (in part, probably a question of venue) and, whereas both play the Tragic Overture, she adds a second work—the Academic Festival Overture. This seems to be a less common coupling for the symphonies but I can’t understand why—it’s delightful. Endeavouring to adopt the position of unbiased referee (and preparing to be shot down by pundits with slow motion replays), I’d say it is 1-0 to Alsop at the moment but we’re only midway through the first half. We already know that Haitink has a couple of good goal attempts up his sleeve with versions of the 2nd and 3rd Symphonies that are both very fine and have excellent couplings (the Double Concerto and Second Serenade respectively). So, it’s not over yet but Marin Alsop’s Brahms series has got off to an excellent start. I shall await the next instalment will great anticipation. Newcomers to the work will do well to start here, old hands are advised to avoid any temptation to yawn and get listening – this is indeed "top-notch".




David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, January 2005

Okay, we all know that at this point no one needs a new Brahms cycle, but this first installment has one thing going for it: Marin Alsop appears to be an excellent Brahms conductor. She begins the First Symphony with an imposing introduction that would have made Klemperer sit up and take notice: it's that grand and imposing. Happily, she also launches the allegro (exposition repeat retained) with genuine thrust and energy, while her generous rubato as she relaxes into the second subject is effortlessly managed--and she builds to the recapitulation with plenty of excitement and rhythmic tension. This is the genuine article, make no mistake. The slow movement reveals the same beautifully controlled transitions, the tempo nicely flowing, marred only by an insensitive solo violin, too closely miked. ... The two overtures are no less impressive. Of course, the Academic Festival is practically unkillable, but Alsop's pointed rhythms help project the music's joyous humor while preventing the familiar tunes from sounding foursquare. Her Tragic Overture is one of the best, at a tempo remarkably close to Ancerl's benchmark interpretation--which is to say slowish and implacably serious. At this speed, the rich harmonies of the second subject and throughout the development really tell, and the climaxes have time to register with the necessary impact. I look forward very much to the next installments in this series.



Marc Shulgold
Rocky Mountain News, January 2005

As mentioned, Alsop has emerged as one of Naxos' marquee names—an obvious fact, considering that her face adorns the outer sleeve and the cover of the booklet in this first issue in her Brahms cycle. That's a major break from the label's fondness for pretty paintings of country scenes. But the music is what matters. And here Alsop and the brilliant LPO bring a grandness to Brahms (featuring, we should note, an alphorn solo from the Colorado Symphony's Michael Thornton). The disc also includes stirring renditions of the two Brahms overtures, all serving as a nice memento from Alsop's recent Brahms cycle here with the CSO.






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