Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

David Jacobsen
American Record Guide, September 2011

…I am very impressed. I feel refreshed that such exceptional music is still composed in these times of artistic apathy.

The incredible Wolfgang David takes the stage with the Violin Concerto. This Austrian violinist is extraordinary. His playing is exceptionally rich and opulent and can also be frighteningly delicate and distant when necessary.

What an absolute delight!

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Carson Cooman
Fanfare, August 2011

…this release is the first of what I hope will be many full discs devoted entirely to his music. Gompper is a superb composer, and these four excellent works are presented in first-rate, composer-supervised performances. Gompper has related that the inspiration of the work comes from hearing echoes in the mountains (with shapes both predictable and unpredictable). The opening movement is very dramatic, the second movement beautifully lyrically, and the third joyous. This is an exhilarating and deeply expressive piece.

The performances by the Royal Philharmonic are excellent. Violinist Wolfgang David has performed more of Gompper’s music than probably any other single performer, and he plays it with conviction and deep understanding. Strongly recommended.

MusicWeb International, July 2011

Though his name may not be known to many, American composer, pianist and conductor David Gompper has a sizeable discography to his credit. This has gathered considerable momentum over the last three or four years but this is the first CD anywhere to be entirely devoted to his music.

…the Concerto itself began life as a work for violin and piano, Echoes, with which it now co-exists, both pieces written for Wolfgang David. In effect an intriguing mixture of Romanticism and discreet atonality, the musical ideas of the Concerto are based on the growth of non-straight trees, of all things, although the original ‘echoing’ motif is still apparent throughout. The Concerto is a fine work: there is more than enough invention, excitement, variety and breadth of appeal here for both violinists and audiences for this work to find a place in the orchestral repertoire.

The second work, Ikon, also exists in a version for violin and piano, and is also a kind of violin concerto, in three movement-like sections. It is a musical portrayal of a nineteenth-century Russian religious icon, at least in terms of proportions, shapes and positionings, though presumably Gompper did not at any point make use of the old iconographers’ bits of string and compasses. Ikon is particularly imaginatively scored, with contributions from piano, vibraphone, wooden blocks and gong. Like Flip and Spirals, it has a rigorous intellectual, almost mathematical rationale, but an appealing feature of Gompper’s writing is that its abstract underpinnings do not need to be understood in the least for the music itself to be enjoyed, so ample is the emotional content and so aesthetically agreeable the purely musical detail.

Spirals, for two violins and strings, has three movement-like sections, medium-slow-fastish. Amazingly, given the immediate attractiveness of the piece, the musical Spirals of the title are based on the mathematical Fibonacci sequence, which according to Gompper was applied to all musical parameters. That this work really is based on scientific concepts is hard to credit, so limpid is its cantabile musicality. Towards the end—or the outer arm of a spiral—the orchestral strings start to quieten down, finally leaving just the two violins—Peter Zazofsky here providing the reinforcements—chirruping beautifully to each other.

Flip is the odd-man-out, written for small string orchestra only. The ‘flipping’ of the title is multifarious, ranging from the binary—loud/soft, high-pitched/low-pitched, harmonic/melodic, bowed/plucked—to the puff pastry kind, where themes are turned under and over one another in various ways; and to altogether fishier kinds, such as using the theme tune of the 1970s TV show Flipper, or the musical equivalent of “a dancer doing back-flips,” in Gompper’s enigmatic words. All of this lends the work a rhythmic and dynamic twitchiness that keeps the orchestra on its toes and, for a while, the listener from getting comfortable perhaps—this is certainly the most modernistic work of the four.

David’s intonation, tone and technique are magnificent, as demonstrated in particular in the delicate second movement cadenza and the segue into the violinistic fireworks of the concise Presto finale. The Royal Philharmonic are historically undaunted by anything they are asked to play, which in truth has not always left the Orchestra with its dignity intact; but here they are thankfully a long way from cheapening their reputation for commercial benefit and turn in another of their countless fine performances, under Emmanuel Siffert’s reliable guidance.

Sound quality is very good in the tried and tested, and indeed handsome, acoustic of the Henry Wood Hall. The two soloists are well balanced against the orchestra. The only minor complaint is that David’s microphone seems to be strapped to his face, so audible is his breathing in the quieter violin passages. Gompper has supplied his own interesting notes for the booklet, which also features a cover photo by Eric Gompper, who might just be a relative.

James Manheim, June 2011

The rising level of interest in the music of American composer David Gompper was demonstrated by this recording of a group of his works by the venerable Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 2009. The violin soloist, Austria’s Wolfgang David, was also of international renown. Gompper is one of a group of American composers to have successfully negotiated the divide between the academic and public spheres of concert music in a way that few Europeans have done. His language has atonal aspects, but also draws on late Romanticism. Each of the four works exploits an abstract structural cell in some way, but the underlying mood is lyrical and accessible. Clear extramusical associations appear in the shorter pieces, and Flip (track 5) even incorporates quotations from or allusions to the soundtrack of the television show Flipper and also that of the film Brazil. Ikon (2008) involves the dimensions of a Russian Orthodox icon acquired by the composer in Estonia. The work is closely based on the icon’s proportions, but also vividly places the violin in the role of the viewer of the icon, beholding and perhaps supplicating it. Spirals (2007), the only non-soloistic orchestral work, is more purely abstract, drawing on the Fibonacci series for various musical parameters; more attractive is the Violin Concerto, developed from a series of echo effects that coalesce over the course of three movements into musical layers that feel like layers of memory. The performers obviously rehearsed what is often fairly complex music with interest and commitment. Recommended for those with an interest in contemporary American orchestral music.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, May 2011

A welcome newcomer to these pages, American composer David Gompper (b. 1954) is represented on this recent release from Naxos by four works which are significant additions to contemporary symphonic repertoire. Three of them highlight the violin, one being a full-fledged concerto for that instrument. All reveal a composer who writes music with considerable intellectual as well as emotional appeal (see his album notes).

Back in 2005 Gompper began a piece for violin and piano entitled Echoes, which became the foundation for the concerto included here. Finally completed in 2009, he spent a great deal of time and effort orchestrating it, which seems reflected in the intricate attention to detail so evident in this three-movement work.

The opening free-form vivace begins with a three-note motif for solo violin followed by a momentary percussive cannonade from the orchestra. The movement is in constant flux with soloist and tutti echoing one another in an extended developmental dialogue. Captivating passagework for the violin, lean but brilliant instrumentation, and a mystical ending make it mesmerizing.

The haunting andante is a chromatic fantasia that occasionally flirts with atonality. It includes a cadenza of considerable difficulty magnificently executed by violinist Wolfgang David, who originally encouraged the composer to write the concerto.

Brevity and bravura characterize the concluding hyperactive presto, in which soloist and orchestra banter about old as well as new motifs. An upward glissando on the violin followed by laughing brass and percussion end the concerto impishly.

Ikon (2008) for violin and orchestra is a musical representation of a nineteenth-century Russian one belonging to the composer. Having made a study of methods used by iconographers to proportion and place objects in these sacred works of art, Gompper attempted to apply similar principles to his twenty-minute, single movement picture-concerto (see the album notes for more details).

Generally speaking the piece is cabalistically impressionistic, and may bring the more sublime moments in Szymanowski’s (1882–1937) two violin concertos (1916 and 1933) to mind. Exquisitely scored, there are insistent pronouncements from the violin answered by a variety of other colorful instruments, including vibraphone, piano and woodblock.

In three contiguous spans separated by brief pauses, the outer parts [track-4, beginning at 00:00 and 15:59] are for the most part stream-of-consciousness reveries. The middle one [track-4, beginning at 12:10] is the most acive, building to a shimmering halo-like crescendo for strings, tam-tam and piano that gently fades away. The overall effect is quite hypnotic, particularly with repeated hearing.

The idea behind the next selection, Flip (1993), is best explained by the composer in his album notes. Suffice it to say, it’s a set of orchestral acrobatics where three basic thematic ideas “flip” over and under one another in a variety of musical ways. Except for a lithe central episode, it’s highly energetic music with never a lax moment.

The CD closes with another conceptual piece, Spirals for two violins and string orchestra written in 2007. In one movement with three distinct sections, it’s based on the Fibonacci sequence of numbers (see the album notes) from which spirals can be derived (see how), and thus the title. For most listeners the work’s appeal will not be because of its mathematical associations, which are explained in the album notes, but rather through its emotional makeup.

The rhapsodic opening finds the soloists gracefully spiraling around one another over an engaging pizzicato-riddled accompaniment. An introspective section followings [track-6, beginning at 08:55], where one can imagine them tracing out separate thematic spirals, which join and collapse into a single point. The finale [track-6, beginning at 11:23] begins in animated spiky fashion, but the melodic line slowly smoothes out. In the process, the orchestra gradually evaporates, leaving the two violins floating heavenwards. The piece ends as they disappear from view.

Austrian violinist Wolfgang David is exceptional in the three concertante works, to the point where we can only hope to hear more from him again soon. And Peter Zazofsky plays a mean second fiddle in the last selection, giving Wolfgang an equally commendable assist. Swiss conductor Emmanuel Siffert and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra provide them with ideal support, and deliver a luminous performance of Ikon. Gompper couldn’t have better advocates!

Done in Henry Wood Hall, London, the recordings are very good. They present these delicately scored works in crystalline detail across a convincing soundstage in an ideally reverberant space. Herr David’s ravishing violin tone is accurately captured and balanced against the orchestra. The instrumental timbre is for the most part musical with only an occasional hot spot. Audiophiles who are contemporary music enthusiasts will definitely want this disc.

Cinemusical, April 2011

For some reason, the violin continues to garner a growing repertoire of concerti. Many derive from the contact of their composers with fine soloists who provide the inspiration and immediate feedback that shapes the music. When these collaborations work well, the result is an often engaging piece, often highly expressive, regardless of the language of its composer. David Gompper’s new concerto may just find a way to enter the repertoire over time with its accessible language and dramatic writing reminiscent of Dutilleux and Rihm, and even a little Penderecki at times, though these are mere reference points to help encourage pursuit of this latest disc featuring four of his works, three of them featuring violin. Gompper’s music is featured on a number of recordings and continues to find performances internationally. This new Naxos disc will provide some wider exposure to his work opening with the strongest, and most accessible of the four pieces presented here.

The Violin Concerto has had a long gestation period and grew out of the composer’s work with its dedicatee, Wolfgang David, who performs it here. Beginning as a piano and violin work, performed and adjusted over a few years, the piece was finally orchestrated. The musical ideas grew out of Gomper’s thinking about echoes heard in the mountains though that inspiration may be set aside to enter into the work in a more abstract way. The opening “Vivace, Fuoco” begins with a rather intense, and at times vicious sense that is met with interesting orchestral accents. The violin solo floats well over the orchestral textures. Gomper’s music floats well between more atonal and angular lines and music that flirts with romanticism. The latter comes into play in a brief quieter section, a possible hint at the second movement’s quieter reflection. Calls and answers of motives are tossed throughout the texture as well while the solo wanders about through the interesting colors. The central movement is cast in those long lyrical reflections that work to provide contrast. There are some quite colorful climaxes that are quite beautiful cast against the expressive solo line. A cadenza revisits some of the motivic development of the piece providing some solo displays before the brief final “Presto.” David’s performance is committed and this concerto displays his technique in faster passages but highlights his expressive playing quite well. There are some sections of angular passages that he manages with great ease, or at least makes it sound as such!

The work Ikon (2008) takes its name, and inspiration from a 19th-century Russian house icon viewed by the composer while in Estonia. Gompper’s compositional challenge was to find a way to depict musically the concept of proportional placement of sound the way images are presented in iconographic art. Pitch areas and rhythmic patterns are what helps to create the aural sensation of shapes within the texture here and while the concept of the music may be a bit too cerebral to catch in a first hearing, the language is accessible enough to enjoy the different colors Gompper draws from the orchestra. The solo instrument tends to present the rhythmic motifs that are then commented on by the orchestra in unusual ways. Ikon might work better on its own, it pales a bit after the stronger concerto, but can be hard as an earlier approach to writing for violin and orchestra that would flower more extensively in the opening work on this disc. The concluding work on the disc, Spirals, applies the Fibonacci series to all parameters of the music, discussed briefly in the composer’s accompanying program note. This work has appeared on disc before, though no doubt is receiving a definitive recorded performance here. Cast for two violins and orchestra, Spirals tends to focus more on rhythmic presentation of its soloists maintaining what sounds like a far more active harmonic backdrop than actually is in existence. The music has the sort of longer lyric violin lines in conversation with a variety of pointillistic support from the orchestra.

Of interest to film music fans, Flip (1993), is a string piece that plays with the ideas of “flipping” musical material throughout the orchestra. It also includes “borrowed” music quotations from the TV series Flipper and the samba from Brazil. The music plays with the interpretation of “flipping” from innocuous dance flips to the more slang finger-inducing production and its immediate, unknown response. The music moves then in fits and starts with a lot of denser textures. In lieu of the other works included on the disc, this one is a good reminder of other non-minimalist musical directions that were occurring in music some 20 years ago as composers explored ways to create dramatic works in more harsh, atonal, soundscapes paralleled in works by Ligeti. The shift between pizzicato and bowing in the strings is also a great dramatic tool that makes the music interesting. The music is engaging from this perspective and must be interesting to watch as the orchestra responds to the various ideas tossed about.

The concerto is a great introduction to Gompper’s music with the rest of the pieces merely allowing more exposure to his atonal and lyrical writing. The focus on violin works alone may limit its appeal only slightly, but the pieces that accompany the concerto are all fascinating works taken on their own. It is perhaps preferable to have a disc devoted to a single composer’s works than what can happen if more than one “new” concerto appears as ones preferences may lead to appreciation of one over the other. Here, there is no competition in being able to access Gompper’s style and the more mathematically-inspired pieces still work well. The Royal Philharmonic is in top form for these pieces that feel as if they have been explored well in preparation for this recording. The sound of the recording is simply marvelous capturing the ambience of Henry Wood Hall quite well., April 2011

Naxos’ new David Gompper CD is also in the orchestral realm, but Gompper is a more constrained composer: there is a single basic technique that he employs in all the works heard here. Fortunately, it is a technique that makes much of the music quite interesting—a sort of free flow within careful organization. The main piece here, the Violin Concerto, dates to 2009 and is in the traditional three movements, with a cadenza in the second, moderately slow one (marked Andante) and a very quick conclusion. Ikon (2008) was written out of Gompper’s interest in old Russian icons, while Flip (1993) and Spirals (2007, with two violin soloists) are supposed to be reflective of Gompper’s interest in popular culture. Whether that is how the music sounds will depend on the listener, but certainly the echo effects, the modified classical forms and the attempts to portray or comment on a wide variety of experiences make these works interesting to hear, at least once in a while.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group