Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Walter Simmons
Fanfare, November 2013

…the Double Concerto is a serious, passionate work in four movements. The solo performances, featuring violinist Charles Wetherbee…and violist Roberto Díaz, are truly masterly, while the orchestra, under the direction of its founder, Michael Stern, provides the solid, confident support one might expect of a far more seasoned ensemble. The IRIS Orchestra…is extraordinarily fine, and Stern appears to be a committed advocate of Leshnoff’s music.

Leshnoff’s Symphony No. 1…is a satisfying work with potentially broad appeal, demonstrating that there is still plenty meaningful to say within the symphonic genre.

Rush…is quite successful in generating the kind of excited exuberance for which such pieces seem to strive, although Rush offers quieter moments as well.

…the performances presented here are superb, and the music provides just less than an hour of fully enjoyable listening. © 2013 Fanfare Read complete review

Walter Simmons
Fanfare, November 2013

The pieces I have heard…display a soulfulness and sincerity that make a strong impression. The work that left me with the deepest impact of all his works that I’ve heard is the Double Concerto (violin and viola with orchestra). All the performances on this CD are excellent. I recommend it highly. © 2013 Fanfare

Robert R. Reilly, January 2011

Leshnoff’s works especially feature the yearning, nostalgia, and striving in American music, exquisitely expressed with gorgeous melodic lines. In his new CD (8.559670), he intertwines two such lines in the Double Concerto for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra. The viola and violin partner and play off of each other in this shimmering, radiant music. I have remarked before on the laudable influence of Steve Albert’s works on Leshnoff (which Leshnoff was delighted to discuss with me), and I detect it here, along with an almost Bernard Herrmann-like emotional undertow. It is the undertow effect that adds such poignancy to the upward striving of the soloists. Like his superb Violin Concerto, the Double Concerto should become a repertory item.

It is joined by Symphony No. 1, “Forgotten Chants and Refrains,” which enticingly explores the past using some quotes from a 17th-century Jewish composer, Salomon Rossi, excerpts from a Guillaume DuFay Mass, and Gregorian chant. As you might imagine from these sources, the symphony at times has a liturgical feel to it. It also has what sounds like a variation from the Requiem theme. In all, it is a reflective, though at times lively piece. The themes the trombones play may be from Gregorian chant, but they sound like something out of the exotic world of Alan Hovhaness. The IRIS Orchestra, under Michael Stern, is outstanding, as it was in Leshnoff's first release. Soloists Charles Wetherbee (violin) and Roberto Díaz (viola) play sublimely.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, January 2011

Not too long ago we told you about up-and-coming American composer Jonathan Leshnoff (b. 1973), and here are three more symphonic pieces on this second volume from Naxos devoted to him. An associate professor of music at Towson University in Maryland and composer-in-residence with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, he’s a contemporary composer who writes intellectually stimulating music with immediate appeal.

Dating from 2007, his Double Concerto for Violin, Viola and Orchestra is set in four movements. The slow opening one begins with a dark anguished theme (DA) that we’ll be hearing from again. A last minute sprinkling of notes on the piano adds a glitter of hope, but not for long as the movement ends in gloom.

The mood turns manic in the following scherzo, where fragments of DA writhe around each other in a neoclassical tarantella sometimes reminiscent of Stravinsky (1882–1971). Marked “Mysterious,” a sense of nocturnal calm prevails in the penultimate movement as the soloists powered by DA, glide through star-studded celestial space.

In contrast, the finale is a virtuosic tour de force with additional neoclassical associations as well as intimations of Shostakovich’s (1906–1975) more frenetic moments. Leshnoff instills it with an amazing sense of Brownian motion, to borrow a concept from physics. The closing measures see the return of DA to conclude the concerto in subdued cyclicity.

Subtitled “Forgotten Chants and Refrains,” his first symphony was written in 2004. He tells us it’s an attempt to state in symphonic terms that despite race and religion all human beings are related by the emotions of joy and grief. He includes thematic quotes from a number of early liturgical works of varying creeds, including ones by Guillaume Dufay (c. 1397–1474) and Salomone Rossi (c. 1570–1630). These are meant to signify all mankind should work together for a world full of consideration and respect.

In five conjoined movements, the first two are successively reverential and spiky with six-tone-pealing tubular chimes imitating church bells. Both have a predominance of modal themes, one of which is announced by a solo trombone, bringing to mind the music of Alan Hovhaness (1911–2000) [track-5, beginning at 00:40].

Based on plainsong melodies punctuated by what sounds like an actual church bell, the introspective middle section is the symphony’s center or gravity. The work then closes with an “allegro” and “resolution,” which are thematically as well as structurally mirror images of the opening movements. The penultimate one is characterized by percussively accented scurrying modal motifs, while more chimes and Hovhanessian trombone solos highlight the restrained finale.

The disc is filled out with an eight-minute orchestral essay titled Rush. Written in 2008, it’s based on themes from some of the composer’s solo piano pieces. A thoroughly engaging work, it begins and ends “in a rush” with a couple of mesmerizing moonlit respites for solo winds and strings.

One couldn’t ask for better soloists than violinist Charles Wetherbee and violist Roberto Díaz in the concerto. They are afforded inspired support by acclaimed American conductor Michael Stern and the Tennessee-based IRIS Orchestra, who also max out the other selections. Recorded live, there’s a fervor about these performances that make Leshnoff’s vivacious music all the more exciting. By the way, does anyone know what “IRIS” stands for?

Made in the same venue on different occasions, these recordings project convincing soundstages. The concerto seems a bit more confined, which may relate to soloist-orchestra balance issues under live circumstances. The presence of an audience is only noticeable at one pertussal point in the symphony [track-6 at 02:06–08], so it would seem the Naxos engineers deserve a pat on the back for some clever miking and editing.

The instrumental timbre is excellent across the entire frequency spectrum, which is notable for crystalline highs and well defined bass. Leshnoff’s brilliant scoring with its many imaginative percussive effects will delight audiophiles and contemporary music fans alike., December 2010

the three pieces on a new Naxos CD of the music of Jonathan Leshnoff (born 1973) are not only classical in structure but also Romantic in temperament. They are tonal, expressive and range from the virtuosic Double Concerto to the attractively speedy Rush to the strongly felt, well-constructed Symphony No. 1. Unlike some modern composers, Leshnoff seems unafraid to embrace Romanticism while still using post-Romantic techniques and harmonies. As a result, his music may be easier than that of some other modern Americans for listeners to hear and enjoy.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group