Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, February 2010

The Octet for eight wind instruments, premiered in 1923, slots neatly into the composer’s neo-classical period. Cast in three movements the work has a pleasing restraint and overall sense of proportion, an impression reinforced by Stravinsky economical deployment of each instrument and his focus on their distinctive timbres. The bright recording is well balanced, so the opening Sinfonia…The playing is crisp and alert, with a Roaring Twenties feel to the Theme and Variations...So, a good start to this disc and proof, if it were needed, that music of the head can so easily engage the heart as well. As for the Dumbarton Oaks Concerto—the last work Stravinsky wrote in Europe—it also takes its cue from earlier music, in this case that of J.S. Bach. Indeed, the first movement has a distinctive, pared down baroque feel to its orchestration but with some lovely, plangent wind melodies thrown in for good measure. Stravinsky’s predilection for strong rhythmic pulses is also in evidence throughout. The recording is on the bright side... But it’s the central Allegretto that deserves special praise for its mix of delicacy and wit, qualities that Craft really brings to the fore. Even in the edgy urban music of the concluding Con moto he finds an element of suave sophistication that can so easily be missed in all this hustle and bustle.

The Symphony in C was written after Stravinsky’s wife and daughter died of TB, a disease that kept him confined for a time as well. The opening bars might draw comparison with the turbulent opening of Beethoven’s Fifth, but thereafter there is a surprising lightness of touch to the orchestration. Craft is certainly very good at clarifying textures and laying bare the music’s inner workings…

Scott Cantrell
The Dallas Morning News, June 2009

You can hardly get through a symphony season without at least two of Stravinsky’s early ballet scores: The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. But the neglect of the suave, often tuneful and toe-tapping music from the composer’s neoclassical period, 1920 to 1954 or so, is scandalous.

Here are four of Stravinsky’s finest works in the style, conducted by Robert Craft, the composer’s right-hand man and often surrogate conductor, after the 1940 move to America. The perky, playful Octet should put a smile on the dourest face, and Dumbarton Oaks is an elegant homage to the baroque concerto grosso. The two symphonies have their muscles, but also terpsichorean grace.

Craft is one of the most authoritative Stravinsky interpreters, and this reissue of superb recordings is most welcome.

James H. North
Fanfare, May 2009

This disc opens with the Octet and “Dumbarton Oaks,” both superior performances, and both recorded in the Recital Hall at the State University of N.Y. (SUNY), Purchase, an acoustic gem if ever there was one. The Octet is especially glorious, the winds ringing out with astonishing clarity and panache. This replaces the 1947 Bernstein/BSO recording as the most thrilling performance I have ever heard. Worth the price of the disc… “Dumbarton Oaks” is as fine as it gets…The Symphony in C is played with greater weight than on the composer’s own recordings, and with more emphasis on the winds…The recorded sound, from Abbey Road Studio No. 1, is fine…Craft lights into the Symphony of Three Movements with abandon, at a terrific pace.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, May 2009

Since the early 1990s, Craft has been revisiting Stravinsky’s legacy, re-recording the complete works with various orchestras and ensembles, and this time without the composer looking over his shoulder. Most of the major works by which the Stravinsky is best known—The Rite of Spring, The Firebird, Pétrouchka, Symphony of Psalms, Oedipus Rex, Les noces, Jeu de cartes, and so on—have already been released by Naxos on 11 CDs [See Robert Craft’s Page], a number of which have already been reviewed in these pages. This latest in the series adds to the growing collection yet another four of Stravinsky’s more frequently heard works: the Octet for Wind Instruments, recorded in 1992; the “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto, recorded in 1991; the Symphony in C, recorded in 1999; and the Symphony in Three Movements, recorded in 1999.

Craft is undoubtedly more knowledgeable about Stravinsky and his music than anyone else alive; and while this does not necessarily vouchsafe perspicacity on the conductor’s podium, it almost certainly does guarantee authenticity with respect to the score and the composer’s intent. In this, Craft resets the compass to true north, and guides us reliably to our destination, which is a fuller understanding and appreciation of Stravinsky’s art.

Are there recordings of the Symphony in C and the Symphony in Three Movements that perhaps make a bit more of the driving motor rhythms and acerbic harmonies, or that feature somewhat more up-to-date sound? Probably. I was quite impressed, for example, by Simon Rattle’s recent EMI release with the Berlin Philharmonic. And an older recording—not old, but older than this one—of the “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto on Decca with Charles Dutoit leading the Montreal Sinfonietta has long been one of my favorites for its punchy and pungent wind playing. Not that the Orchestra of St Luke’s under Craft isn’t equally accomplished technically, but I miss some of the vim and vigor that Dutoit and his Montreal forces bring out in their reading. The wind playing here in Stravinsky’s 1923 Octet, however, is peerless. The Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble captures perfectly the cocky, strutting, self-aggrandizing majordomo-like character of the score that echoes some of the passages in the composer’s 1918 L’histoire du soldat.

For anyone collecting Craft’s Stravinsky cycle on Naxos, this new disc is indispensible. For those who may already have these works in other, preferred versions, I’d still highly recommend this release for the special authority Craft brings to the table in this repertoire.

Robert Cummings
Classical Net, April 2009

I like Robert Craft’s Stravinsky: it’s richly detailed, spirited, free of eccentricity—in short, it’s exciting. This new release is part of the ongoing Naxos series devoted to the Craft/Stravinsky recordings, most of which were previously issued on Koch International and MusicMasters, which is the case with the four works offered here. The sound on all is excellent, and since Craft always seems a stickler for clarity, the listener hears much detail—meaningful detail—often buried in other recordings. In fact, if I had to characterize Craft’s approach to Stravinsky, I would note his attention to detail and precision as his foremost qualities.

In the Symphony in Three Movements the piano is in the foreground of the sonic spectrum, as it should be but often isn’t in other recordings, like the Boulez (DGG 457616-2), which is otherwise a fine effort. In Craft’s hands the first movement is filled with tension and rhythmic drive, but also exudes an epic character in its darker and thunderous undercurrents. The ensuing Andante is not as relaxed as in other recordings: it has an edginess, a sense the humorous and sometimes ethereal character is on the brink of something sinister. The finale is powerful with its thumping percussion, rambunctious winds and seething strings. There’s not a hint of emotion here, as one heard in the old Klemperer recording on EMI. This Craft recording would now be my first choice in this work over the likes of Sir Colin Davis, Karajan, Solti and others.

The Symphony in C is just as convincing: the slashing first movement is filled with energy and spirit, and is bold and rich in detail. The ensuing panel is dreamy and ethereal, with a blend of fine playing by winds and strings. The Allegretto third movement is deliciously playful here, while the finale deftly shifts from the sinister and frenetic to the humorous, before gently recalling the first movement’s main theme. In both symphonies the Philharmonia Orchestra plays splendidly for Craft.

The performances of the Octet and Dumbarton Oaks Concerto show that Craft is just as adept in leading chamber music. The Octet is scored for flute, clarinet, two bassoons, two trumpets and two trombones, while the Concerto is for ten string players and flute, clarinet, bassoon and two horns. Both are engaging lighter Stravinsky works, and Craft captures their colorful souls in these fine performances by the Orchestra of St Luke’s. As with the several earlier performances in this series I reviewed here, I can give this CD an enthusiastic recommendation.

David Hurwitz, March 2009

No one plays Stravinsky’s neo-classical works better than Robert Craft. In the Symphony in C he captures the flow of the piece perfectly, understanding that the music’s wistful innocence and rhythmic freshness depends far more on precision of execution than on interpretive point-making. The Symphony in Three Movements packs a nice, hefty punch in its outer movements, and the important harp part is very well balanced in the central Andante.

Neither Dumbarton Oaks nor the Octet strikes me as top-notch Stravinsky, though judging from his notes Craft would disagree. In any case, these are wholly winning performances, totally free of artifice. Dumbarton Oaks in particular does not sound like bad Bach, but comes across as energetic and vital, the rhythmic drive of its outer movements never turning mechanical. The fine sonics remain remarkably consistent despite the various recording locations and dates. Highly recommended.

Rob Cowan
Gramophone, March 2009

Skilful Stravinsky from a conductor who knows exactly what the music is about

Robert Craft’s best rostrum work involves relatively small forces and transparent textures, such as the Octet, which is here given a crisp, dapper performance, biting where needs be and bursting with life. Musical line and clear projection are invariable Craft priorities and both in the Octet and in the post-Baroque Dumbarton Oaks Concerto the pulse is kept moving and the musical journey is always clearly directed with generally superb execution from the New York players…I especially liked the finale on the new version with the incisive snap of woodwinds against eerily winding strings at around 1’24”…The tighter, more astringent language of the Symphony in C suits Craft better…Craft’s approach is all animation and nervous energy. As ever with him, there’s the feeling that the mind in charge knows exactly what this music is about, and with generally excellent sound makes for a thoroughly reliable programme, while in the case of the two chamber works the effect is decidedly Impressive. Needless to say, Craft’s own programme-notes are a mine of relevant information.

Ballet Review, March 2009

Three Stravinsky works written on American commission between 1938 an1945 just before and after he moved to the United State—are gathered by Naxos along with the earlier Octet, in performances conducted by Robert Craft. The two symphonies for orchestra are major examples of his late neoclassicism, rhythmically complex, acerbic harmonically, and with often-fragmented melodies that still lodge in the mind.

The powerful Symphony in Three Movements, so memorably set by Balanchine in 1972, is especially striking, but the Symphony in C is also a strong work, combining delicate moments with perky and grand ones, leading to a surprising quiet close. It’s not heard as often, although in 1968 John Clifford used it for his first big ballet.

The two chamber works reflect in different ways Stravinsky’s “back to Bach” style, the Octet in its quickly moving line and rhythms, and the better-known Dumbarton Oaks Concerto in its intricate weaving of voices. (In NYCB’s 1972 Stravinsky Festival, Richard Tanner set the octet and Robbins the concerto.)

These are reissues of recordings Craft led between 1991 and 1999 for other labels, but all prove well recorded in strong performances and he also wrote the informative notes.

The Big City, February 2009

Naxos has been putting out a Robert Craft series focusing on Schoenberg and especially Stravinsky—the records are a mix a new productions and repackages of the older recordings he made for Music Masters and Koch. The new one out this week is just that, a collection of the Octet, Dumbarton Oaks Concerto, the Symphony in C and the Symphony in Three Movements [Stravinsky Vol 10, Naxos 8.557507]. The chamber works are two of the composers most attractive Neo-Classical pieces. They are concise, colorfully orchestrated, energetic and completely transparent; you can hear what they do and how they do it simultaneously.

Symphony in C is in the regarded catalogues of Stravinsky masterpieces, but I have a personal soft spot for the Symphony in Three Movements. It is forceful and direct, exciting and covers a broad range of territory in a quick 20 minutes or so. Stravinsky has mentioned that some of the music comes from his experience of watching newsreel footage of World War II, and the first movement also has conveys the attractive side of American industrial might, with the sonic equivalent of lights flowing and bouncing off a curved, polished sedan as it motors down a Los Angeles boulevard at night. Stravinsky himself has recorded a definitive version, and I’ve experienced the work performed magnificently under Michael Tilson Thomas and David Robertson. The Craft recording, leading the Philharmonia, is also excellent. Symphony in C on this CD is also superb—this is a work that seems difficult to perform consistently well. It is Stravinsky’s most Classical exploration of Neo-Classicism, and frequently I find there is too much focus on the Classical gestures and not enough sense of the long line, the forward motion that always seems to be leading logically to cadences and climaxes. It is these qualities that Craft captures, he has great understanding of this music. This is an excellent set of music, an excellent way to explore this facet of the composers long career and also an excellent way to get started with Stravinsky and Robert Craft in general. All the recordings in this edition are worth hearing, and since the publisher is Naxos they are all at a bargain price.

James Leonard, February 2009

One of the greater successes in Robert Craft’s series of Naxos re-releases of his Music Master and Koch Stravinsky recordings is this 2009 disc joining the Symphony in C and the Symphony in Three Movements, with his frisky recording of the Octet for Wind Instruments with the Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble and his propulsive recording of the “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto. Both symphonies are brilliantly played, masterfully conducted, and wholly convincing as essays in the grand tradition with an assured swagger that suits their compositional virtuosity. The “Dumbarton Oaks” is bright and bouncy with a sly wit and a driving beat. But best of all is the performance of the Octet. It’s smart, it’s sassy, and the way Craft and his eight players dance with the rhythm, it’s just about jazzy. Anyone who enjoys these works who isn’t already familiar with these performances owes it to themselves to try this disc. Amazingly, the sound on this Naxos disc somehow seems smoother and cooler, but no less vivid than the sound on the Music Master and Koch discs.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2009

Much has been written of Stravinsky’s own recordings where interpretations drastically changed with the passing of time, so that any advertising tag of ‘definitive’ became meaningless. Yet in Robert Craft I feel we have an ideal distillation of those changing moods, with tempos that seem to fit the music perfectly, while retaining the attention to detail that are an intrinsic part of Stravinsky’s neo-classical period. Of course Craft had the benefit of working with Stravinsky for more than twenty years, and he remains our only authoritative living guide to the music. The two symphonies were recorded with the in London with the Philharmonia in 1999, and you don’t need to go very far into the C major to hear the exactness of dynamics that Craft demands. There are more rhythmically aggressive accounts of both in the catalogue, though I would recommend these self-effacing readings. Tempos are never hurried to inject orchestral virtuosity, and by-and-large the Philharmonia’s playing is immaculate. In both instances the recordings are reasonably set back with a good sense of depth. That contrasts with the very up-front 1990s American sound that completes the disc with the Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble produce a whole range of subtle hues in the Octet  There is more space around the Concerto in E flat, ‘Dumbarton Oaks’, from the Orchestra of St. Lukes, which removes the extreme pungency we find in many recorded performances. All tracks have been previously issued, but this coupling is new.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group