Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Fanfare, March 2006

View PDF  

Scott Cantrell
The Dallas Morning News, January 2006

As un-Copland-like as these pieces at first seem, they embrace both the composer's "handing down the law" voice and his fondness for wide-open sonic spaces – not to mention episodes of real gentleness. All three are major 20th-century contributions to the piano repertory, and American Benjamin Pasternack plays them with authority and affection in splendid recorded sound.

Bernard Holland
The New York Times, November 2005

George Rochberg left this world in May without enough attention paid to his elegantly made and caring music. Naxos's American Classics series offers something of an epitaph, with a recording of the Second Symphony. Whether Mr. Rochberg deserves the status of prophet, the honor, for the moment, seems to be coming from other countries.

The Second Symphony, finished a decade or so after the end of World War II, was a delayed response to it. Mr. Rochberg the soldier was a man wounded in more ways than one. The first movement is close to violence, though violence managed with a discrimination and order that true combat knows only in theory. The Adagio floats and drifts, opaque and with a dreariness that becomes very beautiful. Much of the work speaks a 12-tone language of Mr. Rochberg's devising, but given the highly charged nature of the music, such matters do not need too much of the listener's attention.

Also on this CD is "Imago Mundi," from 1973. In this homage to Japanese culture, Mr. Rochberg seems to have found a measure of peace. You hear a moment of blaring band music, a nature scene replete with birds and distant thunder, and elegant eruptions of orchestral sound. But more pervasive are Mr. Rochberg's analogues for Japanese winds and drums, played against lingering, drawling held notes and featuring flattened tone and little swoops of portamento.

The horrors of his experiences in the Battle of the Bulge left Mr. Rochberg with a poor impression of humanity, perhaps one reason he kept to the relative tranquility of teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was chairman of the music department. The Saarbrücken Radio Symphony and Christopher Lyndon-Gee have done very well by an American composer too little thought of.

David Patrick Stearns
The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 2005

While many of these pieces aren't new to CD, their mode of performance is. Present-day Europe is full of super-virtuosic baroque specialists - the Venice Baroque Orchestra (directed by Andrea Marcon), Concerto Italiano (Rinaldo Alessandrini), and Europa Galante (Fabio Biondi) - that love crackling tempos and have singers who can meet their steepest demands, such as Vivica Genaux, David Daniels, and, most remarkable, 27-year-old French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky. . . .

Arie d'Opera (Naive). This disc is drawn from an anthology of 47 arias that Vivaldi kept on hand to implement during operatic emergencies. It's a great cross section of his operas sung by stars such as Sandrine Piau, Ann Hallenberg, Paul Agnew and Giullemette Laurens. The highlight is the marvelous wind and echo effects in "Zeffiretti che sussurrate."

La verita in cimento (Naive). Though some believe that Naive's all-star Orlando Furioso is the most imposing Vivaldi opera recording, my vote goes for this more thoughtful, varied 1720 opera, newly composed for the composer's comeback to Venice. The recording features Jaroussky, Sara Mingardo, and Anthony Rolfe Johnson.

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, September 2005

The Second Symphony is in a single continuous movement here sensibly tracked into five sections Declamando, Allegro scherzoso, Adagio, Quasi tempo primo ma capriccioso, Coda - Adagio sostenuto e calmo. It was the first twelve tone symphony composed by an American. At the end the work finds a sort of peace mingled with foreboding and discontent. Before that there is a lot of anger in this work as we can hear from the Declamando first movement. Where did this come from? The notes quote from Rochberg's biography mentioning his disillusion with America's tawdry commercialism and its self-serving artistic community. He also admitted that his war experiences had given a curvature to the work.

Twenty years later Rochberg was still at his Philadelphia Newtown Square address (where he died in April 2005) to respond to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's commission with Imago Mundi. This is an extended continuous work heavily influenced by the arcana of the Japanese royal court. Rochberg had studied the material during a sponsored visit to Japan. Superficially there are some ‘comfort points’ shared with the Gagaku-inspired works of Cowell and especially Hovhaness ... but Rochberg is different. Here the unusual tonal material is subtly swung and metamorphosed in a Daliesque way with the original style not lost but warped and melted into a fantastic landscape. Rochberg is noticeably the same composer who wrote the Violin Concerto. Dissonances are present but are not as extreme as they are in the Second Symphony.

The documentation is excellent. The recording has plenty of bite - a satisfying if challenging listen especially in the case of the Symphony.

Roger Dettmer, September 2005

It is the boldest work of its kind by an American composer, and gripping whether or not the musical vocabulary is to everyone’s taste. Five continuous movements lasting 31:28 are named Declamando, Allegro scherzoso, Adagio, Quasi tempo primo, and Coda (which ends as the work began, and dies slowly away without emotional resolution). Rochberg called the style of Symphony No. 2 “hard romanticism. Making the world a better place is not a project for the artist. His project is to express the fire in the mind....” – the abiding ugliness and horror of WW2, during which he served three years as a captain with Allied forces in Europe. . . . if you’ve the guts, give yourself the experience of Symphony No. 2. The recorded sound belies its origin in December 2000 (Imago followed a month later): it could blow out your speakers if you are not cautious about control settings.

David Hurwitz, September 2005

George Rochberg's angry Second Symphony, written in one highly contrasted movement divided into five sections, is a 12-tone piece that sounds very much of its 1950s vintage. It's also extremely well-written and not too difficult to follow, with a central Adagio that contains some beautiful woodwind solos. In other words, the music sounds more like Berg than Schoenberg, if that helps, and while listening is hardly "fun", Rochberg at least has the honesty to make it clear that it isn't meant to be. This is seriously anguished stuff. He described it as "hard romanticism", which is fair enough, but I can't help but observe at this late date just how much works written in this style have dated. Indeed, it's hard to believe that anyone found them fearsome at all: their violence and difficulty now come across more as petulance than anything else, an almost childish tantrum aimed first and foremost at getting attention.

Make no mistake, Rochberg was an immensely talented composer, and his music, even the early works written in a style he later renounced, deserves to be treated with respect. This symphony is an important piece in his maturation as an artist, and I can easily see myself returning to it more than once for its energy, expressive tension, and vivid use of the orchestra. But at the same time, the music also explains why he felt the need to abandon this method of composition later in his career in order to get back in touch with his own feelings, and to make contact with his audience. The principal difference between Rochberg and many of his colleagues (then and now) is his realization that dodecaphonic music really is only good at expressing anger and suffering, if it expresses anything at all. Taking it further involves either a tour-de-force of compositional skill that few possess, or at all events constitutes an effort hardly worth making when other expressive options are so readily available.

One of those options you can hear in Imago Mundi (1973), a response to the composer's first experience of traditional Japanese music. It's much more than one of those trendy, eclectic, "East meets West" amalgams that wend their way through 20th century classical music like Chinese Modern furniture in your grandmother's living room. What particularly fascinated Rochberg about Asian music was its different treatment of time: the static, non-developing quality, in which events succeed one another unpredictably and give the impression of unity by other than traditional means of symphonic development. Indeed, it's instructive to compare this magnificently colorful, evocative piece with the earlier Second Symphony and realize that its unconventional structure is more suspenseful and fulfilling (and easier to follow) than we might expect from a form rooted in the tried-and-true European tradition. And no sane person would accuse Rochberg of "selling out" here! The juxtaposition of the two pieces really does speak volumes, not just about Rochberg's own artistic evolution, but also about the 20th century musical "crisis" from which we finally seem to be emerging (with a few tired leftovers, such as Pierre Boulez, still hanging around).

As with previous issues in this series, Christopher Lyndon-Gee leads outstanding performances and gets some pretty impressive playing from the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra. It's ironic: on the one hand Germany is largely responsible for the horror that defines so much of modern music, but on the other hand we can only be grateful for the lavish funding that (for now at least) allows radio orchestras like this one to flourish and play the stuff. Sure, most of it will be garbage, and with a major birthday for Henze (80) coming up, we can only have pity for what's in store for the German music-loving public. Talk about depressing! But amid the arid atonal detritus, gems pop up now and then, and Rochberg's music, even the tough stuff, surely belongs in that category. And here we also get fabulous sonics--another specialty of German radio. Yes, the music may be challenging, but it's well worth your time and attention.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group