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BERNSTEIN, L.: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 (Thibaudet, Baltimore Symphony, Alsop)

Naxos 8.559790

   WQXR (New York), August 2018
   Fanfare, November 2017
   Limelight, June 2017
   American Record Guide, May 2017
   Fanfare, May 2017
   Fanfare, May 2017
   Fanfare, May 2017
   Hi Fi Review (Hong Kong), April 2017
   Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, March 2017
   BBC Music Magazine, March 2017
   The Classical Reviewer, March 2017
   Gramophone, March 2017
   MusicWeb International, February 2017, February 2017
   Classical Ear, January 2017
   Musical Toronto, January 2017
   BBC Radio 3, January 2017
   The Buffalo News, January 2017, January 2017
   David's Review Corner, January 2017, January 2017

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Jenny Houser and George Grella
WQXR (New York), August 2018

Any recording that can be recommended against Bernstein’s own is an outstanding one, and Alsop—one of Bernstein’s protégés—and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet deliver forceful, expressive performances. © 2018 WQXR (New York)

Merlin Patterson
Fanfare, November 2017

The Baltimore/Alsop disc of Leonard Bernstein’s First and Second Symphonies completes her traversal of the cycle. Do they displace the composer’s own recordings? Of course not, nor were they meant to. But they do provide a fresh, exuberant, and thoroughly exhilarating alternative by one of the composer’s most devoted disciples. © 2017 Fanfare Read complete review

Philip Clark
Limelight, June 2017

Marin Alsop belongs to that same generation of American conductors and, like Slatkin and Litton, she beat the inevitable path to Bernstein’s door and has since chosen to embrace the legacy of being a ‘Bernstein pupil’: when interviewers have finished with those inevitable questions about her gender, Bernstein is invariably next on their list. But then you hear Alsop’s approach to the Jeremiah and Age of Anxiety symphonies and can only marvel at how far she moves the music, and the debate surrounding it, forward. This is Bernstein for our times.

The Age of Anxiety symphony might have been written for Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s brand of nimble-fingered yet harmonically decisive pianism. The opening section re-invents the idea of symphonic sonata form with a set of variations in which each variation illuminates an aspect of what went before, and Thibaudet remains tiptoe sensitive to Bernstein’s emerging web of melodic and rhythmic interconnections. But the dreamlike quality of the stylised jazz that Bernstein feeds into his symphony’s section movement—a section called The Masque—finds Thibaudet at his best. The Art Tatum-like delicateness of his fingers grounds the movement in pianistic reality while the mechanistic swing and chromatically ambiguous harmony suggest a jazz of pure make-believe—can life really be this good? © 2017 Limelight Read complete review

Roger Hecht
American Record Guide, May 2017

Marin Alsop’s performances of these works are excellent and brilliantly played and recorded. They dig in less than B1 and are more straightforward and lighter in attack and weight. Where the older recordings are imposing and vibrant, Alsop is decorous, precise, clean, and polite.

Alsop’s Age of Anxiety is disciplined, clean, neat, and straightforward. The jazz inflections are treated up-front without any particular attempt to overstate or put any kind of “coolness” or charge into them. Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s exceptional accuracy and clarity are on the same page as Alsop, and he seems even more at home with the jazz elements of the piece. It’s a very good performance… © 2017 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide

Phillip Scott
Fanfare, May 2017

Marin Alsop, who was a pupil of the composer at Tanglewood, conducts a taut performance. Rhythms are cleanly articulated and accents briskly stressed.

Under Alsop, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is strong and punchy in the early sections, with Thibaudet subtle and ingratiating. © 2017 Fanfare Read complete review

Huntley Dent
Fanfare, May 2017

This exciting new release from Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony gives us two key symphonic scores from the time of Bernstein’s brightest promise… © 2017 Fanfare Read complete review

James H. North
Fanfare, May 2017

Alsop has a total mastery of the score, and her orchestra plays beautifully.

There will never be a conductor to match Bernstein’s nervous, edgy, exciting way with the tricky, complex rhythms, cross-rhythms, and syncopations in his own music. Bernstein’s finales, in symphonic music as well as in Broadway shows, tend toward the pretentious, but his sincerity comes through in his performances, again to an extent that may never be equaled. To say that Marin Alsop almost matches Bernstein’s performances of his first two symphonies is high praise indeed. © 2017 Fanfare Read complete review

Hi Fi Review (Hong Kong), April 2017

Appropriate performance with Alsop, soft and gentle… © 2017 Hi Fi Review (Hong Kong)

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, March 2017

One thing seems sure to me this morning. The advent of Bernstein’s first (1942) and second (1949) symphonies marked the arrival of an American musical titan.

When we hear them again today in the hands of conductor Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony, they speak directly to us, they cut through the more overtly successful later Bernstein works and his subsequent status as a conductor and musical guide of the first rank. They remind us that Bernstein was on to something special even then.

With Marin Alsop’s faithful and passionate readings of the two symphonies we hear a contemporary freshness, a timeless depth of spirit. They come across as landmark milestones in American symphonic music, as well they should.

Ms. Alsop and her musical colleagues breathe fresh air into these scores and give us pause. There is everything here, in supremely balanced readings. © 2017 Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review Read complete review

Anthony Burton
BBC Music Magazine, March 2017

The performances are predictably excellent. In No. 1, the imposing first movement is presented with fervour, and the Copland-like central scherzo with lightness and precision; Jennifer Johnson Cano brings sustained intensity to the finale. In No. 2, the orchestra and Jean-Yves Thibaudet negotiate the two opening chains of variations with wide-ranging characterisation; Thibaudet plays the central ‘Dirge’ with powerful weight and Romantic expression, and the jazzy ‘Masque’ with immaculate technique and immense flair, before a convincingly rhetorical ‘Epilogue’. © 2017 BBC Music Magazine

Bruce Reader
The Classical Reviewer, March 2017

Marin Alsop, her players and Jennifer Johnson Cano give a performance that really convinces, highlighting a sense of cohesion and organic growth within this very fine [Symphony No. 1].

[Performers] pull this sprawling work together exceptionally well, revealing some quite wonderful moments.

With the finest of soloists and authoritative performances from Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra this new release is highly recommended. © 2017 The Classical Reviewer Read complete review

Edward Seckerson
Gramophone, March 2017

…it is in the work’s most reflective pages at the start and towards the finish that Thibaudet unlocks the loneliness in us all. Never be deceived by his flamboyance. He is the most soulful of players. His introverted solo just prior to the work’s apotheosis is just so beautiful.

The Age of Anxiety is a cracker of a piece and this excellent performance, splendidly engineered, amplifies that view in every way. Symphonic form, like musical theatre, is always hungry for a new direction. © 2017 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

John Quinn
MusicWeb International, February 2017

It’s great to have Marin Alsop’s fine interpretations, splendidly played by the Baltimore Symphony and with the benefit of Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s superb pianism in ‘The Age of Anxiety’.

The recorded sound is excellent. It’s punchy and immediate and with ample body, which is just what this music needs. © 2017 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Robert Benson, February 2017

Marin Alsop, a specialist in music of Leonard Bernstein, has several disks with the Bournemouth Symphony. With the Baltimore Symphony, of which she has been music director since 2007, she directed their acclaimed version of the Mass, and the following year, Symphony No. 3: Kaddish. Now we have this outstanding disk coupling the first two symphonies, Jeremiah and The Age of Anxiety. These are early works of the composer, fresh and original, devoid of the pretentious scope of his last symphony, and they are presented with style. Jennifer Johnson Cano is a rich mezzo for the final movement of Symphony No. 1, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet could not be bettered in the major piano part in Anxiety. …Audio is state-of-the-art. …Don’t miss this terrific issue! © 2017 Read complete review

Michael Quinn
Classical Ear, January 2017

With its layers of fiercely bubbling musical lava, the volatile Second Symphony (‘The Age of Anxiety’) boasts virtuosic flair from the Baltimore players, Alsop whipping things along with involving pace and a fine ear for detail and dynamics. © 2017 Classical Ear Read complete review

Norman Lebrecht
Musical Toronto, January 2017

What catches my ear about Marin Alsop’s new recording with the Baltimore Symphony is how strikingly it diverges from her master’s voice. In the Jeremiah symphony…the second movement is supposed to depict a barmitzvah boy reading a portion from Prophets. …Alsop, a sometime Bernstein student, ignores the synagogue context, blazing out a snappy rhythm that presages West Side Story’s catchy tunes. The finale, following the traditional trope of the Book of Lamentations, is given a similar, neutral rendition by the mezzo soloist, Jennifer Johnson Cano.

The Age of Anxiety, Bernstein’s second symphony, is an overblown piano concerto inspired by W H Auden’s eighty-page poem. Bernstein was piano soloist in the 1949 Boston world premiere, conducted by an uncomprehending Serge Koussevitzky. Many felt the piece worked better in its next guise, as a Jerome Robbins ballet. Alsop, to her credit, ignores these precedents and plays it straight. Jean-Yves Thibaudet might perhaps have made more of the big moments, but the Baltimore sound is agreeable and full of character and there are times when the work, in its 1965 revision, approaches the kind of coherence that Auden achieves in his masterwork. On balance, I find the first symphony has more to offer than the second, but Alsop gives both her best shot. © 2017 Musical Toronto Read complete review

Andrew McGregor
BBC Radio 3, January 2017

…the prominent piano part is performed enthusiastically by Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Bernstein disciple Marin Alsop with just the right combination of understanding, affection and pizazz. © 2017 BBC Radio 3 Read complete review

Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News, January 2017

It should surprise no one that Baltimore’s Marin Alsop is so perfect for conducing this music. © 2017 The Buffalo News Read complete review, January 2017

This Naxos CD certainly has some attractive elements, primarily in the playing of orchestra and the playing and singing of the solo performers… © 2017 Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2017

Marin Alsop here completes the symphony cycle by her conducting mentor, Leonard Bernstein, largely following in the footsteps of his recorded performances. She has the immediate advantage of far superior sound that can carry the pagan banality of Profanation, the high impact second movement of the First Symphony that here becomes a virtuoso showpiece for the Baltimore orchestra. The feeling of this impending brutality shows up in the hammer-like chords that punctuate the opening movement, here somewhat mollified by the following passage of tenderness scored for woodwind. His Jewish inclinations come to the fore in his setting of extracts from ‘The Lamentations of Jeremiah’, this final movement bemoaning the destruction of Jerusalem with words given to a mezzo-soprano. Some, and I would not differ, find it a strange ending that leaves one a mite disappointed. Though at the time—in 1942—it was hailed as a masterpiece, the Second Symphony, from seven years later, would be better qualified for such words. Unusual in construction, its first part cast as a prologue and fourteen variations, while the second part is in three contrasting sections, one of which can be viewed as a jazzy scherzo. The work has an important part for piano, here played with the necessary brilliance and agility by Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Neither work is overly represented in the catalogue and when linked with a previous Alsop performance of the Third Symphony, the pair make a most highly desirable part of American music in the CD catalogue. As I have already intimated the playing of the Baltimore Symphony is outstanding, and, when played at a high volume setting, the sound quality is stunning. © 2017 David’s Review Corner

David Hurwitz, January 2017

In the central Profanation movement, Alsop really does outdo Bernstein himself; the playing of the Baltimore Symphony here is sensational, and in the finale Jennifer Johnson Cano sings with great sensitivity and a beautiful tone. The tragic climaxes hit you right in the gut.

In the Second Symphony, Jean-Yves Thibaudet offers a first class account of his solo part. The Masque is especially outstanding—virtuosic but at the same time nicely “cool.” Again, I don’t think that Bernstein could have done better, and as suggested above the engineering is also rock solid and brilliant by turns. A marvelous release by any standard. © 2017 Read complete review

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