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Records to Die For
Stereophile Magazine's Sam Telig Reveals His 2004 Favourites
Originally appeared in Stereophile, February 2004, Vol. 27, No. 2

BARBER: Violin ConcertoBARBER: Violin Concerto, Orchestral Music
Souvenirs (Ballet Suite), Serenade for Strings, Music for a Scene from Shelley
James Boswell, violin; Marin Alsop, Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Naxos 8.559004 (CD). 2001. Andrew Walton, prod.; Tony Faulkner, eng. DDD. TT: 64:20

Again, I'll take two from the Naxos American Classics series. Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto, which premiered in 1941, has long been one of the composer's most popular works, perhaps because Barber had to make it more glitzy -- at the request of the premiere's intended soloist, Barber composed a strikingly brilliant finale. Nor did that version please the intended soloist, who found it "unplayably difficult." American violinist James Boswell here plays the unplayable on the Leveque Stradivarius of 1720. (Might as well give the instrument maker credit, too.) The chamber-like work is scored for just eight woodwinds, two horns, two trumpets, percussion, piano, and strings. The second movement opens with a magnificent oboe solo that's reminiscent of Brahms. A delightful surprise (for me) on this disc was Souvenirs, a ballet suite consisting of six short movements in different dance genres. Pas de Deux has some hauntingly beautiful instrumental solos, and wait till you hear Hesitation Tango, in which the full orchestral forces suddenly blaze forth in all their glory. Ah, that horn section of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra! A magnificent disc all around, with superb engineering by Tony Faulkner. And at a Naxos price!

ROREM: Three SymphoniesROREM: Symphonies 1-3
Jose Serebrier, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Naxos 8.559149 (CD). 2003. Phil Rowlands, prod., eng.; Nick Parker, prod. DDD. TT: 69:22

Think of composer Ned Rorem and you think of songs. But Rorem has always composed orchestral music, too, including these three symphonies, composed between 1950 and 1958. Symphonies 1 and 2 receive their first recordings here, which is surprising considering the quality of the works. Or is it? Rorem was out of favor among conductors and critics because he avoided the atonal and the experimental. His music is melodic and songlike, sometimes haunting, sometimes playful. So much for giving concert audiences access to what they might find accessible. The strongest work here is Symphony 3. I especially admire the fourth movement, Andante, which starts off with a dreamy, pastoral English horn solo. Hats off to Naxos for yet another superb disc in their American Classics series. If I were a music critic, I'd call this disc "indispensable," the recording "unimpeachable."


MusicWeb Lauds DVD-A, Historical, and others

PUCCINI: Tosca (Maria Callas)
8.110256-57 (Naxos Historical)
"This re-mastering by Mark Obert-Thorn, derived from no fewer than ten LP sets, is the first time I have listened to this performance with pleasure. And this is after fifty years of trying and having owned various of the previous efforts.  Now all lovers of opera can confidently add this re-mastered version of a truly great, iconic recording to their collections."
- Robert J. Farr,

LEONCAVALLO:  Pagliacci (Bjorling)
8.110258 (Naxos Historical)
"The Naxos booklet essay and artist profiles, rather than EMI's brief mentions, are far superior.  Likewise the 'track-related synopsis' where the EMI author attributes the concluding 'La commedia e finita!' (The play is over) to Canio.  Didn't he or she listen to the performance?  The words, like the 'Prologue', and as the composer intended, are sung by Tonio, the correct fact being given in the superior Naxos track synopsis."
- Robert J. Farr,

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7

5.110020 (DVD-A)
"On the DVD-Audio discrete surround tracks the orchestra is focused upfront with hall ambience from the rear channels.  The DVD Audio sound is magnificent, utterly overwhelming, with the opening burst of optimistic song, then the tiny, distant snare drum building steadily but inexorably . . . At the climaxes with full orchestra, snare drum, bass drum, timpani, glockenspiel, and cymbals, everything is perfectly clear and differentiated, present with overwhelming impact but no fatigue . . . I had to play it a second time because, in truth, I had never really heard it before."
- Paul Shoemaker

BEETHOVEN: Missa Solemnis
8.557060 (Nashville Symphony)
"On this Naxos release, the performance from the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and Chorus is electrifying with a magnificent blend of white-hot intensity combined with a genuine serenity so rarely achieved in the recording studio.  I found the incandescent choral singing to be superb with an abundance of dramatic flair which drew me from one section of the score to the next . . .Schermerhorn's direction has real presence and authority, allowing the pace to flow freely and displaying the necessary emotional intensity."
- Michael Cookson


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