Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Penguin Guide, January 2009

Ned Rorem is already a celebrated composer of the newer generation in America; he writes tonally and without the need to shock his listeners into submission. On this well-planned Naxos disc we are transported into his refined, often elegiac sound-world by the opening Pilgrims for string orchestra, which evokes a quiet feeling of ‘remembrance’.

Each of the two Concertos is programmatic, the work for flute offering a series of vignettes with often virtuosic embroidery. It is superbly played by Jeffrey Khaner. The arresting opening drum-command introduces the haunting five-note motif on which the six movements all draw. So the work is almost a set of variations, ending with a catchy False Waltz and on to the refined mood of the closing Résumé and Prayer. The result is highly imaginative and full of variety, if perhaps a little over-extended.

The Violin Concerto opens dramatically and ardently and is a true interplay between soloist and accompaniment, its second movement an unlikely Toccata-Chaconne built over a jagged timpani rhythm. But the heart of the work is lyrically heart-warming in its gentle beauty, first a simple Romance without Words, followed by the serene Midnight, ‘a microsonic variation’. Philippe Quint is a deeply responsive soloist, playing with silvery timbre: the composer could not have asked for better, and throughout Serebrier directs the accompanying RLPO most sympathetically. First-class recording. A disc well worth exploring.

Edith Eisler
Strings Magazine, November 2008

In the two concertos recorded here, [Rorem] indulges his literary inclination by giving their six movements fancifully descriptive titles. The first two works are premiere recordings; all three are predominantly tonal, lyrical, and calm, punctuated by some restless, agitated sections. Their most arresting element is the skillful orchestration and the imaginative use of instrumental colors.

The orchestra revels in the contrasting sound effects and gives the soloists fine, empathetic support.

Karl Lozier
Positive Feedback Online, August 2008

This release is another in Naxos' superlative American Classics series.  …Grammy Award nominee, violinist Philippe Quint, turns in a particularly fine and rather understated performance. The overall audio quality is very good though not quite as full rich and prominent (in the presence range) as the best of Naxos' recent releases.

American Record Guide, October 2006

I am about to move to an old Ohio town with a population of less than 4000. My friends on the "dream coasts" are aghast: Where will I get good Eritrean (much less Italian or Indian) food? Where will I go when I want to hear a concert Tuesday night? Will I start engaging in strange rural rituals like cow tipping just to keep my sanity? But it is actually a college town with four independent bookstores, art galleries, and one well-known gourmet restaurant. I can drive to Cincinnati in about an hour, and I travel often for work.

What does this have to do with Ned Rorem? When I travel, it is often to large cities or university towns where I spend time with highly educated, sophisticated musicians and scholars. It is refreshing to kill countless hours talking about music, art, and life. A trip to New York, Chicago, of Durham often leaves me mentally and physically exhausted yet satisfied. In all those countless hours of conversation, I recall only one brief discussion about Rorem: I mentioned to a small group of musicians assembled for a "new music event" in another city that I regretted missing the chance to see Rorem's new opera in Indiana this spring. The response was tepid, and then we veered away into a lengthy discussoin of "the new complexity" movement. (Read: composers writing mostly unplayable music out of some misguided recycled 60s notion of elitism and identity.)

This new Rorem disc arrived less than a week later, so I racked my brain trying to think of when and how I had heard about Rorrem in the last couple of years. It seems to me he has always occupied a place in the world of "new" music - a massive presence, but dismissed for his stubborn refusal to jump on an "ism" bandwagon and not performed with the frequency he deseres- an avuncular, tolerated presence acknowledged but held at arms's length. For six decades, Rorem has maintained a singular niche while all sorts of new ideas came and went around him. To complicate matters further, his books and essays are also imbued with the same single-minded "this is what I am" attitude, which some find arrogant and distasteful. Unlike other American compsers who are a legend in their own mind, Rorem is actually a gifted, original composer whose music will probably outlast them all.

Other reviewers have already heaped praise on this disc (see, so I do not feel compelled to throw around words here. I like it, and I'm sure anyone who appreciates the lyrical beauty of Rorem's music will too. The performers are spectacular, especially Philippe Quint. Buy it, talk about it, and please, let us make sure it is played somewhere else than New York.

David Harbin
MusicWeb International, August 2006

Pilgrims (1958) is a short work for string orchestra receiving its world premiere recording here. The title refers to a book about the suicide of a schizoid adolescent and the music is described by Ned Rorem as "less programmatic than a mood of remembrance". In length and instrumentation Pilgrims could be compared with Samuel Barber's much-loved Adagio for Strings. However Barber sustains and culminates his concrete melody whilst Rorem's melody diffuses, shifting and sometimes interrupted. I kept thinking of an empty house with living memories, astringent chords indicating that not all are happy, drifting within its rooms. The work stops with a brief arching shiver.

A listener who did not know who wrote this flute concerto (2002) would quickly identify a twentieth/twenty-first century composer with a lyrical gift. A clue pointing to Ned Rorem is the flute’s steady winding theme opening the gorgeous second movement Leaving-Travelling-Hoping which mirrors the even falling and/or spiralling phrasing in many of his songs, such as Clouds, The Sowers, That Shadow My Likeness, Ferry Me Across the Water. Indeed the singing quality throughout is what distinguishes this warm, melodic concerto.

Rorem's flute concerto opens with a melody above blows from the timpani. Shades of the last movement of Mahler 10? The booklet informs us the ffffff seven-note clusters perhaps mean Fate. This 'leitmotif' recurs. Throughout I was aware of a 'settling', not only through the overarching structure from loud opening to final repose but from the downward floating of many phrases. All movements end quietly.

Jeffrey Khaner is the concerto's dedicatee and his playing is stunning, with wide dynamic range and colour. There's nothing outwardly flashy in Rorem's writing and I liked the way Khaner floats long lines so naturally. But sample the The Stone Tower or the brief False Waltz if you want to hear dazzling pyrotechnics. Wow!

Other highlights for the flute include rapidly rising runs in the first movement, like bubbles tearing to the surface, and the beautiful interplay with other woodwind, glancing light off each other. False waltz is instantly likable and reminiscent of Prokofiev’s waltz suites. The Resume and Prayer recalls themes from all previous movements, ending with repose.

The Naxos recording of the flute concerto is a world premiere but the violin concerto (1985) comes up against formidable competition from Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic on Deutsche Grammophon where the orchestra has more presence. For example, Kremer is better covered by the New York Philharmonic's dark grey storm clouds, which approach so inexorably in Toccata-Chaconne. Compare the added frisson Bernstein brings to this movement and the way he expresses the culminating violence at its centre as Kremer, responding savagely, tears into Rorem's solo writing.

As recorded, it's Kremer who is the more inward in the ravishing opening of Romance Without Words and I prefer the slight huskiness to Kremer's tone whilst Quint more openly warms the phrasing. Surely Bernstein was born to conduct such songful melodies and he does so here with a natural, plastic phrasing Serebrier can't quite match.

Gramophone, August 2006

View PDF  

Philippe Quint
August 2006

Ned Rorem has said,” Music does not evolve; it revolves like a great wheel.” Born in 1923, Rorem has been active through successive eras in American music, contributing tonal compositions in all forms with subtle French inclinations. He established a style imbued with wit and elegance and maintained it. By the closing decade of the last century, the ‘great wheel’ again caught up with this ever-youthful composer and his music is increasingly being recognized for its expressive depth and clarity of utterance. José Serebrier’s 2003 recording for Naxos (8559149) of Rorem’s three numbered symphonies was nominated for a Grammy Award and the label has followed up with an album of songs (he wrote hundreds) performed by Carole Farley. The present issue offers works composed between 1958 and 2002. Serebrier lavishes great care on the seven minutes of Pilgrims and its mood of solemn remembrance exquisitely sets the sound stage for the concertos, both of which are laid out in six sections. The Violin Concerto dates from 1985 while the Flute Concerto was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2002. Rorem gives both of the soloists much to do and little scope for showing off – violinist Quint and flautist Khaner (Canadian-born and Philadelphia’s Principal Flute since 1990) acquit themselves with distinction. The music is sinuous and graceful with its own sense of inner disquiet. The Flute Concerto is especially affecting; catastrophe interweaves with the memory of lost sensuality. No claims of this nature are implied but Rorem has composed what many of us felt after 2001. Hear it and weep. An outstanding production in every respect. WSH

Patrick C. Waller
MusicWeb International, August 2006

Anyone who has bought and enjoyed previous Rorem discs in this series (including symphonies, chamber music and songs) might as well just click on the “Buy Now” link right away. And anyone who is interested but hasn’t heard the previous discs should do the same for this would be an excellent place to start. Rorem’s soundworld is immediately accessible and he is surely among the most interesting and worthwhile of contemporary composers. These well-recorded discs with near-definitive performances are one of the glories of the Naxos American Classics series.

The centre-piece flute concerto here receives it first recording and hardly sounds like the work of a late-septuagenarian. It was written for Jeffrey Khaner who is principal flute of the Philadelphia Orchestra and apparently to address a hole in the repertoire (OK – how many modern flute concertos can you name?). The composer has written that he had difficulty finding a title for the work – Suite, Six Pieces and Odyssey were all eventually discarded in favour of ‘concerto’. Each of the six movements has a title – (i) The Stone Tower, (ii) Leaving-traveling-hoping, (iii) Sirens, (iv) Hymn, (v) False Waltz and (vi) Résumé and Prayer. Relatively large forces including a piano are needed but Rorem uses them sparingly, notably in Hymn which is effectively a quintet for piano and wind. Not obviously a vehicle for virtuosity, it nevertheless makes many demands of Khaner who meets them with aplomb and unfaltering tone. Long on atmosphere and short on angst, there is ultimately a coherent thread to this work which makes it compelling listening.

The Violin Concerto is also in six named movements and, again, the composer seems to have had some doubts about its concerto status. Jaime Laredo gave the first performance and it has been recorded before by Gidon Kremer . The generally darker nature of this work is reflected in the titles: (i) Twilight, (ii) Toccata-Chaconne, (iii) Romance without words, (iv) Midnight, (v) Toccata-Rondo, (vi) Dawn. Nevertheless the Romance is quite lovely and the day that finally dawns is probably going to work out well enough. Philippe Quint’s rendition has both verve and compassion.

The concertos are preceded by another first recording – Pilgrims, a prelude for string orchestra. In the booklet, José Serebrier tells us that the idea for this work came in 1949 but it was composed on a single day in September 1958. The title is not what it might seem to be – this is in commemoration of an adolescent schizoid who committed suicide. The music has great depth of feeling and humanity.

Some words of praise are in order for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Even if they presumably only got the job because of the well-publicised difficulties of recording U.S. orchestras, they certainly give this their collective all. Serebrier is obviously in his element and the result is invariably idiomatic. If you didn’t already click on the “Buy Now” link above, there should be another below.

Roderic Dunnett
The Strad, August 2006

A lucid new disc of Ned Rorem’s music is terrific news for those who appreciate Naxos’s spirited success in expanding the CD repertory. Rorem’s Violin Concerto (premiered by Jaime Laredo) is the eye-catcher, but all three of these works are scintillating.

The first on the disc, Pilgrims, is a serene meditation for string orchestra on not the Pilgrim Fathers but the suicide of a schizophrenic youth in a novel of 1956 by the American writer Julien Green. In the fascinating Flute Concerto (Philadelphia 2002), Jeffrey Khaner’s playing is delicious, and Rorem’s subtle orchestration (such as when doubling with another flute) makes for endless variety.

The Violin Concerto (1986), likewise in six movements, supplies not so much the icing as the cake. Three exquisitely reflective sections offset vital Stravinsky-like ostinatos, while Philippe Quint's harmonics in the calm ‘Midnight’ section are magnetic. Jose Serebrier provides inspired, articulate accompaniment, and Naxos’s recording certainly does the honours.

Raymond S. Tuttle
Classical Net, July 2006

It wouldn’t surprise me if more people ‘met’ Ned Rorem (b.l923) through one of his books than through his music. His letters, diaries and essays have been printed and reprinted, and they still have the power to amuse and anger readers. Separating his music from his literary efforts is not easy. Rorem’s fame as a composer should not be influenced by extra-musical matters, however. At its best, his music makes the quotidian world and it disagreements vanish.

Pilgrims (1958) and the Flute Concerto (2002) receive their first recording here. The former was inspired by a novel by Julien Greene. ‘The music is less programmatic than a mood of remembrance’, write Rorem. In other words, we should take the title as a metaphor. The Flute Concerto was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra Association for the orchestra’s principal flute, who plays it here. The concerto is in six movements, and — as Rorem himself admits — is more like a suite than a traditional concerto, (No harm in that, though.) Even when he writes in larger forms, Rorem can hardly help, but remind us that he first and foremost is a composer of songs. He says, ‘I conceive all non-sung pieces as though they were songs — like settings of words that aren’t there. And I stop, or try, when my idea is used up.’ José Serebrier’s affectionate booklet note implies that Rorem’s new concerto adds to the small repertoire of works for flute and large orchestra, but much of the concerto is of chamber-like proportions. The writing is poised and graceful, with an emotional restraint that seems more French than American. This is a new concerto that deserves a closer look. Jeffrey Khaner makes it shine like a new automobile.

At least superficially, the Violin Concerto (1984) is structurally similar to the Flute Concerto. (Rorem even describes the fifth movement as a ‘false waltz’, which is precisely the title he gives to the corresponding movement in the Flute Concerto.) Again, the scoring is frugal, hut the mood is dramatic, and the movements are more tightly interconnected. This work was first recorded by Gidon Kremer and has been reissued in DG’s 20/21 series. That performance held little appeal for me. Philippe Quint and Serebrier make a better case for this concerto. The playing is less aggressive, and agreeably humble and plain- spoken.

With excellent engineering to complement the music-making and the repertoire, Naxos American Classics series has done it again.

John van Rhein
Chicago Tribune, June 2006

"Concerto" seems a misnomer for the works that share this new Naxos disc. Actually Ned Rorem's concertos for flute (2002) and violin (1985) are more like suites for solo instrument and orchestra than concertos in any traditional sense. Both are cast in six brief movements that bear such titles as "The Stone Tower," "False Waltz," "Twilight," "Midnight" and "Dawn." The soloists typically engage in lyrical dialogues with various combinations of instruments.

Both concertos fall attractively on the ear and are beautifully played by their respective soloists, who are given fine support by the Royal Liverpool Orchestra under Jose Serebrier.

Rorem composed his Flute Concerto on commission from the Philadelphia Orchestra for its splendid principal flute, Jeffrey Khaner, who makes a persuasive case for this inventively quirky mosaic of instrumental songs without words.

The Violin Concerto also eschews overt virtuoso display in favor of a predominantly lyric impulse. The young Russian-American violinist Philippe Quint makes a poised, athletic soloist. The catalog once held a version of the concerto played by Gidon Kremer, with Leonard Bernstein conducting. But DG appears to have withdrawn that recording, so the excellent new Naxos performance has the field to itself.

A first recording of Rorem's luminous "Pilgrims" for string orchestra (1958) rounds out this enjoyable addition to Naxos' valuable American Classics series.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, June 2006

These concertos are atypical in that each is in 6 movements, but if you consider them "mood suites" highlighting one instrument, you'll have to agree this is contemporary music with something new to say! Rorem, who's primarily known as an outstanding songwriter, would normally do this with words, but here it's his imaginative melodic lines that speak to us. They run the emotional gamut from wistful to sinister with the timpani at times intoning a kind of "stalking bass" that's absolutely hypnotic. They render these works immediately accessible, but his music is brimming over with enough ideas to keep you returning to it again and again. A lovely brief poem, "Pilgrims," begins the program. Don't pass this one up!

Classical Lost and Found Newsletter

David Hurwitz, June 2006

This is a very easy call: marvellous music, exceptional performances, top-notch engineering--it all adds up to the strongest possible recommendation. Pilgrims is a lovely, lyrical work for string orchestra that makes an attractive disc-opener, but the two concertos are the standout items. Both are written as suites of brief movements, avoiding traditional forms. They actually resemble song-cycles more than anything else, and given Rorem's acknowledged mastery of that medium, not to mention the relationship between the concerto idea and vocal music generally, it's obvious that he is in his element.

The Flute Concerto is a world premiere. It was composed in 2002 for Jeffrey Khaner, and it's an exceptionally fine piece, beautiful to listen to and (evidently) quite grateful to play. We seem to be enjoying a bonanza of fine modern flute concertos, what with this work and the numerous pieces written for Sharon Bezaly as well. At about 30 minutes, it's a substantial piece, and Rorem's orchestration is beautifully calculated to give the soloist maximum opporunity for display, without the orchestra ever sounding excessively inhibited. Best of all, the thematic material really is memorable.

The same virtues characterize the Violin Concerto (1985), which was recorded previously by Bernstein and Gidon Kremer. Frankly, Philippe Quint plays better, with more attractive tone, and Serebrier offers a very fine account of the accompaniment. Rorem's orchestral music doesn't get the same amount of attention as his songs, but like the French music that he so admires, it allies expressive directness to a keen sense of instrumental color and superior craftsmanship. As a supplement to Serebrier's superb recording of the composer's three symphonies for Naxos, this disc is a must for collectors."

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, June 2006

The Naxos American Classics series has transformed the accessibility of American music worldwide. A remarkable range and quantity of works have been recorded and reissued. Look at the Hanson, Schuman and Piston series. Living composers such as Bolcom and Rorem have also benefited from multiple CD issues covering a staggering breadth of genres. Rorem has had recordings of songs, all three numbered symphonies and much else. Here now are two concertos from the last two decades and a potently atmospheric mood-piece from the late 1950s.

Pilgrims is for string orchestra. It is one of a series of full orchestral works with single word titles: Lions and Eagles. These receive little attention and usually appear on recordings as adjuncts to more ‘substantial' works such as the concertos and symphonies. In this respect they are similar to another neglected sequence by the Welsh composer William Mathias: Helios, Vistas, Laudi and Requiescat. Rorem’s writing in Pilgrims owes something to Schuman - less gritty perhaps - and to Roy Harris (2.23; 4:55) with undercurrents that British music enthusiasts will recognise from Finzi and Tippett. The music is warm, elegiac and poignant - a companion to the Barber Adagio and Finzi's Romance. The piece has nothing to do with the Pilgrim Fathers but relates to Hebrews 11:13: These also died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off ... and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth ... Now when is someone going to give us a modern recording of the voluptuously warm and fantastic Lions?

The Flute Concerto is a work of piercing and fantastic beauty: a faery flight in sound. Just listen to the False Waltz movement which links back to Barber's Souvenirs. The Concerto is in six movements and was written for Jeffrey Khaner, principal flutist of the Philadelphia. The composer makes no claims to any form of cyclical structure and readily concedes that the six movements are loosely related and might easily have been called a 'suite'. Although this work has its climactic dramas its territory is largely derived from Debussy and Ravel - especially Debussy. It is as if the Faune has been permitted to meander again through some realm of sorrow and contentment and meditate amid a classical landscape of cypress trees, peaceful groves and lakes. The titles of the six movements are The Stone Tower, Leaving-Traveling-Hoping; Sirens; Hymn; False Waltz; Resume and Prayer. The flute is apt to this paradise world. Jeffrey Khaner's command of technique leaves him free to colour and stylise the moods and vistas in what is a reference recording of the work. This is a gloriously ecstatic and dreamily pagan work.

The 1985 Violin Concerto was been recorded by DG in the 1980s and that version by Gidon Kremer is still available from DG on a very generously packed mid-price disc with the violin concerto by Glass and Bernstein’s Serenade on Deutsche Grammophon 445 185-2. Like the Flute Concerto this work is for soloist and full orchestra and is in six movements. While the composer again modestly lays claims to the concerto’s nature as a suite it has a more tautly knit and concise feel than the Flute Concerto. It's a more dramatic work too. While it has its dreamily melodic moments as in the Romance Without Words and at the start of Dawn,it embraces a more oxygenated vitality as in Toccata-Rondo. While these triangulation points may be widely spaced you may well like this work if you respond to the violin concertos by Barber and Adams and the concertos by Tchaikovsky and Delius. It ends in what seems to be gaze at the benevolent sun of morning. Philip Quint is an outstanding soloist and lends a greater emotional warmth to the Rorem than that mustered by Gidon Kremer on the DG version. Quint impressed with his Naxos recording of the Schuman concerto, again with Serebrier conducting review. I hope that he might be engaged by Naxos to record the two Paul Creston violin concertos and from an earlier era, the Edward Burlinghame Hill concerto..

All of these works are melodic and tonal. There is some mild dissonance and including some sensationally spicy harmonic 'crunches' in Pilgrims. The language is clearly Rorem's own but has its roots in impressionistic French voices, Barber and even Delius.

The recording quality throughout is sensational. It stands Rorem and the performers in good stead for the intimate flute solos as at the start of a far from puritanical Hymn and the explosive moments such as those in The Stone Tower.

The notes are by José Serebrier who writes extremely well in the business of describing music through the unpromising medium of words.

A classic album. Satisfying and beautiful music that has about it a rippling current of vitality.

David Patrick Stearns
The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2006

" Those who have forever cast composer Ned Rorem as a congenial lightweight composer of French-influenced song will be surprised, even aghast, by his arresting Flute Concerto, written for the Philadelphia Orchestra's Jeffrey Khaner and premiered here in 2003. Rorem has been veering toward a tougher, more inward manner for a while - a direction consolidated by this dark, searching six-movement piece. Closer inspection reveals that all the wit found in earlier works is here, but put to more serious purpose. It has none of the rigor typical of the concerto form. Each movement has its own title and sound envelope, mostly showing Rorem, in his 80th year, exploring new territory with more invention than ever before. Flutist Khaner plays with the authority of one who both knows the territory well and is happy to maintain elements of mystery, especially with the piece's inconclusive ending. Though Rorem's 1985 Violin Concerto is more conventional and has already been recorded by Gidon Kremer, violinist Philippe Quint is someone to hear under any circumstances. An added treat: The cover has Jean Cocteau's spare, not-true-to-life portrait of Rorem. This disc will be released Tuesday."

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group