Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, December 2010

Schuman’s music has its more angular moments, but if you can warm to, say, the Berg Violin Concerto, you won’t be daunted by Schuman’s concerto for the same instrument. The New England Triptych, perhaps his best-known work, is even more approachable and thoroughly enjoyable: it was hearing a performance of this piece on BBC Radio 3 that reminded me what beautiful music it contains, comparable with Copland at his best. Schuman’s orchestration of Ives’ Variations on ‘America’ (the same tune as ‘God save the Queen’) brings the house down at the end. With excellent performances and recording, well transferred in good mp3 sound, this is a thoroughly recommendable introduction to Schuman’s music.

Penguin Guide, January 2009

Ives’s Variations on America is an apt coupling for two outstanding works of William Schuman, who proves an infinitely imaginative colourist in orchestrating the former’s brilliant and sometimes whimsical variations on the national melody, which has quite different works and implications in the USA and Britain. Serebrier’s performance with the excellent Bournemouth Orchestra has subtlety of detail as well as gusto, and the recording is first class.

Penguin Guide, January 2009

Schumann’s powerfully expressive Violin Concerto (1959) underwent more than one transformation in its gestation, with the original three movements becoming two. After a strong, rhythmically angular opening (with the soloist immediately introducing the work’s dominating motif) the first movement soon slips into a magically lyrical molto tranquillo. Later there is a sparkling scherzando section and an extended cadenza before the brilliant conclusion. Lyrical feeling also seeps through the finale, although there is a plenty of vigour and spectacle too, and a fugue, before the bravura moto perpetuo display of the closing section. Altogether a splendidly rewarding work, given a first-rate performance here by Philip Quint and the strongly involved Bournemouth players under Serebrier.

They are no less persuasive in the New England Triptych, a folksy, immediately communicative work. First-class recording in an attractively spacious acoustic. The coupling which Schumann orchestrated, could not be more apt.

Tim Smith
The Baltimore Sun, January 2009

The Naxos label, which has earned the gratitude of music lovers for its combination of solid repertoire, highly respectable performances and rock-bottom prices, is in the midst of what is arguably its most praise-worthy venture to date the ‘American Classics’ series…The assured, penetrating performance of his Violin Concerto by young Russian-born American fiddler Philip Quint demonstrates how deserving Schuman is of attention. The score exudes imagination, sophistication, urgency and beauty…Quint takes to the material with evident fluency and a strong communicative streak…Serebrier again proves to be a winning interpreter, underlining the rhythmic energy in each work and generating an articulate, vibrant performance by the ensemble.

R.D., December 2002

William Schuman’s Violin Concerto, which Samuel Dushkin commissioned in 1947, was premiered instead by Isaac Stern in 1950, with the Boston Symphony conducted by Charles Munch. During a 1956 revision, Schuman decided on its final two-movement form, introduced at Aspen three years after that by Roman Totenberg. Paul Zukovsky recorded it in 1970 for DGG with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the Boston Symphony; Robert McDuffie did likewise for EMI in the 1980s with Leonard Slatkin and the Saint Louis Orchestra. Both, however, are currently (perhaps terminally) out-of-print. To the rescue, courtesy of Naxos, comes a brilliant young Russian-American, Philip Quint, superbly partnered by Jose Serebrier and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Between them they explore every nuance with a combination of loving care and nervy virtuosity, listened to several times before I dared to risk writing what still may read like a press-release.

The music has muscle and thrust and lyricism and imagination that make it one of the best of concertos galore for violin and orchestra by American composers since World War 2 (if you wonder, by the way, where Leonard Bernstein collected a whole portfolio of ideas, lend an ear). The molto tranquillo section five minutes into the opening movement is extraordinarily poetic, with the soloist playing con sordino. But then the music heats up again, and by the end of the second movement, you­Ýve been on a trip that included everything from turbulence to haute cuisine with champagne to a drop in cabin pressure to sudden changes in altitude…besides, there are two bonuses: the best reading I know of Schuman’s 1963 orchestration of Charles Ives’ cheeky Variations on “America,” organ for organ. Neither Slatkin nor Gerard Schwarz in their versions come close to Serebrier’s tongue-in-cheek, and the latter’s reading of the New England Triptych clearly leads the pack. Slatkin’s brass in the Saint Louis recording that RCA/BMG has deep-sixed may have sounded weightier than the Bournemouth section, but not more virtuosic, although Schwarz’s reading on Delos has a keener ear for detail than his stateside counterpart. But neither bring the temperamental zest or podium panache of Serebrier, whose only blemish is recessive timpani at the start—though that could have been the option of his otherwise admirable co-producer and engineer, Phil Rowlands.

I haven’t singled out five year-end Favorites since the last exercise in frustration for Fanfare (try January-February 1986). But I can’t imagine this disc not being on a final short-list for 2001. Get it if you’re not afraid of adrenalin rushes.

Raymond Tuttle
Fanfare, November 2002

Naxos’s “American Classics” series produced quite a surprise with its release of one of William Schuman’s thorniest works along with one of his most popular pieces. The surprise is that violinist Philip Quint and conductor Jose Serebrier offer readings with a level of precision and concentration that leaves all previous recorded performances far behind.

Geoffrey Norris
The Daily Telegraph (Australia), April 2002

ECHOES of Stravinsky in William Schuman’s Violin Concerto, composed in 1947 and progressively revised until it reached its final form in 1959, perhaps suggest a common source of inspiration in the lean lines and rhythms of the Baroque rather than direct influence from Stravinsky himself. There is certainly much in this powerfully dramatic piece that speak with a determined, personal voice.

Philip Quint’s performance underlines both its searingly poetic lyricism and its lithe vigour; Jose Serebrier’s conducting gives a forceful kick to the music’s momentum, and at the same time draws the instrumental timbres into a taut symphonic discourse and a radiant synthesis of colour. It is a gripping work, potentially championed here in Naxos’s budget “American Classics” series.

Schuman’s gift for orchestration, with abroad palette discriminatingly used , is no less ear-catching in his evocative New England Triptych and in his witty scoring of Charles Ives’s Variations on America.

Walter Simmons
Fanfare, February 2002

Schuman’s concerto is exceptionally well played by Philippe Quint. Jose Serebrier leads the Bournemouth Symphony in crisply effective performances.

Jose Serebrier has been active as a conductor for many years, turning out dozens of recordings. His accomplishments here, aided by the superb playing of the Bournemouth Symphony, are extraordinary. Not only does his interpretive conception of the Concerto reveal a masterful grasp of this challenging work, but he lends to the Triptych and the Variations a rhythmic elasticity and other nuances of style that add richness and flair to music that is often simply driven hard and fast. In conclusion, therefore, I assure those who might be moved to invest in this CD that these performances real surpass the competition. Perhaps this factor, along with the budget price, will persuade listeners to make an exception here.

Daniel Felsenfeld, January 2002

José Serebrier and the Bournemouth Symphony give a marvelously lucid performance of three works by a 20th-century American too often overlooked.

From the beginning of William Schuman’s Violin Concerto, Jose Serebrier and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra have this difficult piece under remarkable control. Serebrier himself writes—in the very literate jacket notes (would that more conductors could discuss this clearly the music they are performing)—that ‘the first movement starts bluntly, as if the theatre curtain had gone up and the stage lights went on all at once. It grabs the attention.’ It certainly does, thanks in no small part to this detailed, high-tension performance. Quickly, the opening dissolves into the off-kilter Americana that is William Schuman’s signature, yet Serebrier keeps things firmly in hand.

The first movement’s elegiac, smoky molto tranquilllo section is where Serebrier’s impressive sense of orchestral balance becomes most apparent: he achieves a lush, forthright sound even when the scoring is thinner and the musical action more subdued. He makes the low, sustained brass chords resonate, and when the orchestra returns at the end of the first cadenza, the spiky pizzicato chords that accompany the soloist are rhythmically precise, their harmonies fully audible. The clarity of the huge brass chords that open the Introduzione demonstrates Serebrier’s fantastic ear for color…the rest of this disc is full of quirky little masterpieces exceedingly well played. Schuman’s orchestration of Ives’ organ piece Variations on ‘America’ captures the older composer’s manic spirit and brings it to a new level of musical fruition. (The deployment of percussion is at times laugh-out-loud funny). The odd, unmenacing plod of ‘Be glad then, America’ from New England Triptych (Schuman’s tribute to American composer William Billings) is smartly brought to life; the plain beauty of the same work’s ‘When Jesus Wept’ is allowed to breathe a full breath without slipping into kitsch; ‘Chester’ is charming in both its jaunty, sea-chantey-like charm and its stately hymn-like beauty.

Robert Moon
Strings Magazine, November 2001

Russian-born Phillip Quint’s vibrant and piercing tone mirrors the violin’s anxious collaboration with the orchestra, yet he’s lyrically compelling in moments of repose. His technique is secure, his intonation spot on, and he’s virtuosic without calling attention to virtuosity. Serebrier accompanies effectively. Schuman’s Violin Concerto is an impressive work—it deserves to be played in the concert hall. The delightful New England Triptych and Schuman’s witty and ingenious orchestration of Ives’ Variations on “America” fill out a welcome tribute to a major contributor to American classical music. © 2001 Strings Magazine Read complete review

Bernard Jacobson
Fanfare, November 2001

for slightly more daring (or eccentric) repertoire choices, I offer you…José Serebrier’s revelatory Naxos disc of William Schuman’s Violin Concerto (with Philip Quint and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra) New England Triptych, and Variations on America. © 2001 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare

Diapason, October 2001

Bernard Jacobson
Fanfare, October 2001

This, the first release in Naxos’ ‘American Classics’ series that I have encountered, is a spectacular achievement in every respect. William Schuman was not merely, as Jose Serebrier remarks, ‘one of the greatest American Symphonists,’ but in my opinion the greatest of them all. When David Zinman programmed a trio of third symphonies in Philadelphia two years ago, it seemed to me that the Copland and Harris works, with all their virtues, were clearly outshone by Schuman’s.

So we start with the prospect of excellent music. Then, working hand in glove, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Jose Serebrier and producers Nick Parker and Philip Rowlands have created a fresco of stunningly vivid sound. With the resources of a symphony orchestra at his disposal, Schuman is certainly no shrinking violet. He makes wonderfully inventive use of the full spectrum of instrumental groups, not least prominently the percussion section. In this realization the whole splendid panoply of sound emerges from the speakers with stunning realism-listen in particular to the triple forte sonoro molto of the brasses and the huge uninhibited thwacks on the timpani at the start of the concerto’s second movement. Nor has the sheer scale of the sound picture prevented the engineers from balancing solo violin and orchestra with ideal clarity.

As to that violin, I should perhaps explain why I have listed conductor and orchestra first in the heading. It is not because the soloist, the young Russian born American Philip Quint, is anything less than spectacular in his own right. Alluring in tone, commanding in technique, and comprehensive in expressive response, his playing is on a different level of freedom and daring from that of Robert McDuffie, a thoroughly adroit violinist who nevertheless, in the direct comparison, sounds a trifle square in his EMI recording of the work with Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony. The purposeful opening theme, for example, which surges and soars under Quint’s hands sounds like relatively inconsequential passagework with McDuffie.

But it is just as much Serebrier’s masterly handling of the score that establishes beyond cavil the stature of this imposing work. Laid out on a two-movement plan somewhat reminiscent of the composer’s Third Symphony, the Violin Concerto embraces so many shifts of mood and—like Schuman’s symphonies—so many modifications of tempo within each movement that it runs the risk, in a less than secure performance, of seeming amorphous. No weaknesses are perceptible here, either in the short run-Serebrier’s treatment of the Presto Leggiero string fugato in the second movement is tauter by far than Slatkin’s, and he draws awesome power from the brass/timpani passage already referred to-or across the broad span of the work, which is projected with complete cogency,

And then there is the rest of the disc, which offer’s Schuman’s imaginative re-creations of Billings in the New England Triptich and of Ives in the Variations on America. I have always enjoyed the Triptich (which I first heard when the director of a New York youth orchestra invited the then barely 20-year-old Leonard Slatkin to conduct it around 1964), but I confess that until now I have thought of it as light music. Serebrier’s totally committed conducting, abetted by remarkably idiomatic playing from the English orchestra, has convinced me that this is much more than that-a work of authentic emotional power, and of a brilliance that is far from superficial.

The Ives-Schuman variation set is light music, and in this uproarious rendering it provides a suitably high-spirited conclusion for a program that is a triumph for Serebrier, for Quint, for Naxos, and above all for William Schuman-may his amiable shade rejoice.

Anthony Burton
BBC Music Magazine, August 2001

The experienced Serebrier and the talented young Quint are persuasive advocates. And Serebrier clearly revels in Schuman’s more familiar reworkings of Billings and Ives.

Gramophone, July 2001

Hugely appealing music from the all too rarely encountered William Schuman. Philip Quint is a fine soloist in the Violin Concerto.

Lawson Taitte
The Dallas Morning News, June 2001

Hats off again, then, to Naxos’ American Classics series…The Violin Concerto is the disc’s major offering…it’s stark and dramatic without being too forbidding…this concerto uses the opposition of lone instrumentalist against the huge orchestra for tragic grandeur. Philip Quint sounds like a first-class violinist here. He is especially eloquent in those passages where the violinist enters in a still, small voice after an orchestral cataclysm.

Mark Stryker
Detroit Free Press, May 2001

The main attraction, with no other versions in print, is Schuman’s Violin Concerto-an intense work in which the composer’s muscularity keeps the yearning romanticism in ideal balance and the orchestra’s prominent role suggests a full-scale symphony. Philip Quint’s high-powered reading would be easy to recommend even if there were competition…Schuman’s orchestration of Ives’ Variations on ‘America’ is a delightful treat and one more reason to explore this disc.

Ron Barnett
MusicWeb International, May 2001

Schuman, rather like Mennin and Piston, has been dogged by the image of the ‘corporate suit’. He was successful as an academic and an administrator—nothing amiss with that. His music however is not touched with any deadening conventionality or orthodoxy. As anyone who has heard the Third Symphony…will attest Schuman’s violent sweetness, sentimental acidity and a scorching dynamism that bursts hackneyed bonds. Leonard Bernstein identified ‘energetic drive, vigour of propulsion’ and motor energy certainly galvanises many of Schuman’s scores. It is not the only facet to Schuman’s creative glossary. His melodic material is usually extremely fine and memorable. He can be complex but not drenched or fusty.

He was born in New York City and his earliest musical education was rudimentary in the extreme. He wrote arrangements and songs for night club performers (a good apprenticeship) and one of these, In Love With You (written with Frank Loesser), did well. He studied composition for two years with Roy Harris and the first two symphonies secured premieres in glittering company. However he ruthlessly withdrew both. Only with the American Festival Overture, the Third Quartet and the Third Symphony of 1938, 1939 and 1941 respectively did Schumann reach a maturity that he was prepared to accept. In 1945, after a few months at Schirmers, he became president of the Juilliard where he remained for many years.

Charles Ives, another iconoclast, wrote his Variations on the Hymn ‘America’ in 1891. In its original form this was for organ. Schuman’s orchestration magnifies the unruly element in the original work. It bubbles in Brahmsian bonhomie, cackles and shouts, shakes the rafters with skills paralleling his transatlantic contemporary, Malcolm Arnold. Pomp, punctured pride and a Hispanic Jota are memorable vistas along the way. The New England Triptych is best thought of as a Sinfonietta. The work makes a salty contrast to Moeran’s Sinfonietta. I find the usual references to Billings’ hymn tunes a distraction so just sit back and let the impressions register. Drums, in one form or another, play a lead part in each movement and usually a subtle and recessed role. In the central panel the timps, reverently Whitmanesque, orate some Civil War elegy (Tallis meets Saving Private Ryan?). The flanking movements are bold with splashes of Hanson, Shostakovich, Arnold and Holst (Moorside Suite). The knockabout finale ends familiarly—familiar, that is, if you already know how the Schuman violin concerto ends with those high howling French horns and trumpets. In the Triptych Serebrier rivals Schwarz and Slatkin (Delos and BMG-RCA) but is more confident than Sedares on Koch.

While Schuman wrote concertos for piano and for viola and even A Song of Orpheus (taking Schuman’s as its embarkation point his own song setting of the typically English text Orpheus with his Lute) for cello and orchestra it is the Violin Concerto that has won the laurels. The Concerto was introduced by Isaac Stern in three movement (rather than the final two movement) form with the Boston SO under Charles Munch in 1950. The composer was unhappy and it only settled in 1958 after several revisions. The final shape is of two serious dramatic episodes each of symphonic weight. Some have suggested that this is a symphony ‘with violin’. The violin however has a prominent and commanding role and the dramatic struggle is most naturally that of a concerto…Quint…has all the necessary pugnacious delicacy and can weave steely filigree with the best. The Bournemouth Orchestra who must have been playing the concerto for the first time at the recording sessions in Poole are in really good form. Serebrier, a conductor for whom I have very high regard, takes no prisoners and gives the music both the drive and the caressing tenderness it needs. He also wrote the useful booklet note. Quint is to be preferred over the 1989 EMI CD (Robert McDuffie / St Louis SO / Leonard Slatkin). Although the Angel orchestral sound is very good and McDuffie is the equal of the work’s technical and emotional hurdles he uses a vibrato which, while not as disfiguring as, say, Boris Belkin or Eugene Sarbu, is, for this listener, a distraction. Duffie’s vibrato is closer to Zino Francescatti. In any event the EMI is not currently available.

This is a wonderful disc and only in ‘reviewer-land’ would one be tempted to look this gift-horse in the teeth and ponder what a disc this would have been if Serebrier had added the Third Symphony and the Triptych. At bargain price it is anyway an essential addition to your collection and listening pleasure. Schuman’s is one of the great twentieth century violin concertos. Now, please tell me that Naxos will be doing a complete cycle of the ten symphonies alongside the Roy Harris 13 and the Piston 9.

Michael Jameson, April 2001

Quint makes a generally admirable job of this taxing yet highly approachable concerto…As conductor Jose Serebrier writes in his enthusiastic and readable booklet notes (more conductors should try writing about the music they record, particularly if they’re as knowledgeable and articulate as Serebrier), the concerto is “one of Schuman’s most powerful works. Emotionally packed, it could almost be considered a symphony for violin and orchestra.” High praise, though, for Serebrier and the Bournemouth Symphony, who do a superb job with the angular and rhythmically complex accompaniment, particularly in the difficult closing section of the concerto. The fillers, Schuman’s New England Triptych, and his orchestration of Ives’ “America” variations, are impressively done, too, and Serebrier’s snappy rhythms and attentive ear assures eventful performances of each…diligent and powerfully committed readings, decently recorded, and a real steal at the Naxos price.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group