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Penguin Guide, January 2009

In its glowing warmth Marin Alsop’s Brahms Second makes a strong contrast with her account of the First. She conveys her obvious affection for the work in the way she lyricizes the lower strings, with the central movements particularly mellow. The oboe tune in the Allegretto grazioso is delicate (Beecham used to do it that way). But the finale brings a satisfying conclusion. The Hungarian Dances (in varied orchestrations) offer an attractive bonus.

Fanfare, March 2006

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Gramophone, January 2006

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Classic FM, January 2006

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John Pitcher
Nashville Scene, December 2005

Alsop's Brahms has a great sense of pacing and a clear conception of musical architecture. And she gets the London Philharmonic to play with remarkable warmth and feeling.

John Terauds
Toronto Star, November 2005

. . . Marin Alsop's Brahms is big, meaty, robust. . . . Alsop, who got much attention from her recent appointment to lead the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, here guides the players in solid performances of Brahms' dense, late-Romantic orchestrations. . . . this is an excellent choice for a budding classical record library, thanks to Naxos's bargain prices.

Julie Amacher
Minnesota Public Radio, November 2005

The second installment in this Naxos series features the Symphony No. 2 in D major. It's a joyous symphony, but it also has its moments of melancholy. The gentle, serene opening of the first movement leads to sad, reflective low brass chords. Brahms does love his brass instruments. He even wrote to a friend that he had tried to get through the first movement "without trombones, "but he just couldn't do it. Listen for more low brass instruments in the slow movement. It really does add a sense of reflective calm to the sound of the sumptuous orchestra. When it comes to conducting a Brahms symphony, Alsop says the challenge is one of balance and proportion. She strives for the right blend of tradition and innovation. I think Alsop has managed to create that balance with the help of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. They have great chemistry. According to Alsop, her experiences with the LPO are "always filled with joy." I can really hear that in the fearsome finale. Right in the middle of the movement, Brahms pauses, giving the woodwinds and strings a chance to slow things down. It sounds like the calm before the storm, because you know this is the finale; when will it pounce on us? I can just see the orchestra members eyeing the listener with raised eyebrow s as they lightly pick up the pace. Then, the beautiful melody pours in, setting the stage for the horns to take it home with a blaze of glory. The London Philharmonic is an orchestra with tremendous artistic integrity and a great sense of humor. Marin Alsop says that's the perfect combination for her. Alsop and the LPO will complete their cycle of the four Brahms symphonies in 2006. Alsop is also performing music by Brahms throughout this season in appearances with various orchestras. This new release finishes up with more Brahms: several of the Hungarian Dances. If someone on your holiday shopping list is just starting to dip a toe in classical waters, the Hungarian Dances will inspire total immersion. They're filled with catchy melodies, and many different moods. I can't help but smile when I listen to them. Something tells me you'll be smiling too, right along with Marin Alsop and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Rick Anderson
Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist, October 2005

It is absolutely true that we need more women conductors, and there are those who would tell you that that's reason enough to buy the latest from Marin Alsop with the London Phil. What I'll tell you is that you should buy it because the orchestra plays with creamy perfection and Alsop leads them with a firm but supple hand. The sound is great and the disc is cheap. Why are you still reading this? (RA)

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

Soon after I wrote about her performance of Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 just a few months ago, conductor Marin Alsop gained quite a bit of notoriety when she was named music director of the Baltimore Symphony. That made her the first woman director of a “major” symphony orchestra in the United States. The big question should have been: “What took so long?” Alsop has directed major orchestras around the world, and Joann Faletta has been at the helm of the Buffalo Philharmonic – just a step below “major” status – for about six years. Well, congratulations to Alsop – but the big focus at this writing is how she handled the second Brahms symphony with London Philharmonic, with whom she turned in a wonderful performance of the first symphony. Brahms (1833-97) finished his Symphony No. 2 in 1877, only a year after he debuted the first symphony. The earlier work had bedeviled the great German composer, having taken him 13 years or more to finish. The second is often described as “sunny” after the great storm clouds of the first. I’ve never thought of this music as “sunny” although it certainly finds Brahms in a more relaxed state than the earlier work. The big first movement – a little more than 20 minutes in length – has moments of beauty combined with the strength I admire in Brahms. The gentle opening leads to some almost pastoral surroundings. The very careful listener can even hear the slightest hint of variations on Brahms’s famous lullaby. The second movement is a lovely adagio that Alsop seems to take particular pride in presenting here. Brahms, however, seldom went long without a cloud passing through even the sunniest of music. There are conflicts in this section, but everything is resolved satisfactorily in the end. Brahms never really adhered to Beethoven’s tradition of making the third movement of a symphony into a scherzo – which is a musical joke. Instead, the feeling is one of contentment. Here is a composer who is happy with what he is doing although Brahms was much too serious a man to inject outright jollity in this brief part. The liveliest music in this symphony is saved for the final movement. The orchestra is allowed to play with seeming abandon; but, of course, Brahms never lets things get completely beyond his control. Alsop has also kept a tight rein on her forces throughout this wonderful performance of a great symphony. Although Brahms was born in Hamburg, he made Vienna his adopted home city; and it was there that this work was first heard on December 30, 1877. For the remainder of this disc, Alsop and the Naxos label have decided on eight of Brahms’s 21 “Hungarian Dances.” These works were written for piano duet in the 1860s. Alsop has given us the three – Nos. 1, 3, and 10 – that Brahms himself orchestrated along with Nos. 17 through 21 that Antonin Dvorak set for orchestra. Brahms greatly admired his younger colleague, and Alsop did the right thing in selecting these works to make a perfectly judged package. This disc appeared only a few months after Alsop’s commercially successful First Brahms symphony. The other two are probably not far behind, and I’ll be waiting to hear them.

Robert Levine, October 2005

Here, Marin Alsop follows up her successful recording of Brahms's First Symphony with an equally fine Second. The first movement has great warmth but moves ahead with conviction; the second is devoid of any unwanted density of tone; the third has real class, and the final movement is exciting, with dazzling brass. The selection of Hungarian Dances is varied and handsomely performed. At this price, this is a front-runner.

Steve Smith
September 2005

Until recently, recorded evidence refuting the patronizing trope that conductor Marin Alsop does her best work at some remove from the core classical repertoire was frustratingly hard to come by . . . But Alsop’s take on Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 with the London Philharmonic, issued earlier this year as the beginning of a complete cycle, finally derailed that spurious contention once and for all. Her lyrical conception works better still in the composer’s quintessentially songful Second Symphony, a gorgeous efflorescence that blossoms from the tiny melodic kernel with which the cellos and basses introduce the first movement. Alsop manages the work’s balances and transitions with a firm but gentle hand; the orchestra responds with disciplined ardor and burnished tone. The results to conductor and ensemble proud.

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