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John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, May 2010

The opening movement has verve and snap. In the following Largo I can’t remember hearing the cor anglais sounding more mournful. The Scherzo sparkles, and as its Molto vivace marking indicates, it has appropriate vivaciousness. Lastly, the Finale thunders to a close with great impact and high good spirits. All very nice. There are moments of transition that one might have hoped would be smoother, but overall it’s a most satisfying performance.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, November 2008

…Alsop/Baltimore performance is very good, even excellent, and the Naxos recording captures the orchestra in honest, upfront sound. But in this market, very good, even excellent cannot unseat the sovereigns of the realm. Recommended then primarily to the good citizens of Baltimore and Maryland, who can justly take pride in their fine orchestra and outstanding conductor. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

John Quinn
MusicWeb International, October 2008

Marin Alsop became Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the start of the 2007/08 season so this present recording—their first together, I believe—was made very shortly before her tenure began formally. Previously she’s made a cycle of the Brahms symphonies for Naxos [BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 / Tragic Overture / Academic Festival Overture 8.557428; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 / Hungarian Dances 8.557429; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 / Haydn Variations 8.557430; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 / Hungarian Dances Nos. 2, 4-9 (orch. Breiner) 8.570233], recordings which were generally well received, so a progression to Dvořák is in many ways a logical step. It might be wondered quite legitimately whether we need another New World on CD when the catalogue is not exactly short of alternatives. However, I guess Naxos were keen to have a version in their catalogue conducted by one of their star names and when the results are as fresh and enjoyable as is the case here then there’s always room for a new version of this much-loved symphony.

Even though Ms Alsop had not formally assumed the Music Directorship of this orchestra when these performances were given it seems clear that a rapport had already been established between her and the players. The playing is at all times alert and there’s no question of routine, even though most of the orchestra members have probably played the symphony countless time before—though they may have been a little less conversant with Symphonic Variations.

The reading of the symphony is a fine, direct one. In the first movement, after a caringly phrased introduction, the main allegro is urgent, with crisp rhythms. The second subject is warmly presented, though there’s no loss of momentum. The solemn chords at the start of the slow movement are well weighted and the following plangent cor anglais solo has just the right degree of expression. This movement is distinguished by some poetic playing and I enjoyed especially the oboe solo in the second subject.

The scherzo is very quick, though not too hectic. The playing has real verve. Ms Alsop doesn’t relax over much in the trio but the phrasing is engaging. The finale is similarly fast and taut—the reading is brisk and buoyant. I was momentarily disconcerted by a brief ritardando at 8:41. This took me by surprise and although the pace is soon picked up once again I thought that this little gesture rather impeded the momentum of the movement as a whole. Still, this is a very minor quibble indeed and in no way did it mar my enjoyment of the symphony as a whole.

The Symphonic Variations is a most engaging work. It consists of a good, malleable theme and twenty-seven variations, which are compact and inventive, and culminates in a fugue. The writing for orchestra is most accomplished. Ms Alsop leads a very persuasive performance, which is extremely well played. The Baltimore strings make a lovely sound for her and there’s also some sparkling woodwind playing to enjoy. Indeed, as in the symphony one feels that the orchestra is on its collective mettle.

These performances are captured in clear, pleasing sound and although these are live recordings there’s no audience noise whatsoever. On the evidence of this disc Ms Alsop’s partnership with her new orchestra promises much and has been launched auspiciously.

American Record Guide, September 2008

I find little to fault in Marin Alsop's take on the Ninth, but there is also little that distinguishes it from two dozen other New Worlds, It's a big, straightforward, quintessentially American performance of the piece painted with bold, broad strokes that remind me of the old, but bolder, Chicago Symphony/SoIti (Decca). The Baltimore Symphony plays with vigor and alertness in I, III, and IV and plenty of expressiveness in II. The more strenuous passages of I and IV tend toward a blowzy, somewhat uncontrolled quality, though I relished the muscular, slash-and-burn energy at the close of the first movement. And special kudos to the conductor for not dragging out II until it loses shape and direction; for once the English horn solo, beautifully expressive here, flows at a natural pace. But as a whole this performance is more competent and businesslike than a source of new revelations…

The realistic spatial location of the instruments across the stage is welcome, as is the front-to-rear depth. As one expects even on such a well-engineered standard-definition CD, the string sound is adequate but has a hard edge and a slight brittleness. The Symphonic Variations are a nice fillip…

Sam Buker, August 2008

My first thought was: What’s the least necessary “new” recording to add to classical stacks? Dvorak’s New World Symphony would be tops. But the Baltimore Symphony’s recent album just might prove a naysayer wrong…You [Marin Alsop] do have that Romantic soul that some have touted. My BSO- going in 2008 firmly convinced me that you are a rhythmic dynamo…The pacing is fantastic, lingering in all the right places. The Allegro con fuoco is as rip-roaring and triumphal as any you’ll encounter, sliding achingly into a lovely little bit of oboe and flute flitting in and out of the strings making a little airy plain of glowing sound about six minutes in. Then we kick up to brassy once again. Sun-soaked prairie religiosity turns over to Beethoven-like braggadocio. Ultimately, you get your tympani and melancholy minor too. There’s no reason to resist this recording – even if you have another Dvorak 9 on your shelf at home.

Phil Muse
Atlanta Audio Society, August 2008

Symphonic Variations, was Dvořák’s answer to the challenge he set for himself in matching Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn, and indeed follows the formal outlines of the Brahms very closely in its 27 highly inventive variations and fugue. Alsop’s pacing and her feeling for the formal design and articulation of ideas that she showed in the symphony is very much in evidence here. In sum, we haves one of the better “New World” Symphonies on record plus a taut, surprisingly stirring account of the Variations. Naxos’ budget price makes the package hard to resist.

John Puccio
Sensible Sound, August 2008

The opening movement has verve and snap; I can’t remember hearing the cor anglais in the Largo sounding more mournful; the Scherzo sparkles, and as its “Molto vivace” marking indicates, it has appropriate vivaciousness; and the Finale thunders to a close with great impact and high good spirits. Very nice. There were moments of transition that I thought might have been smoother, but overall it’s a most satisfying performance.

Ivan March
Gramophone, August 2008

New orchestra, New World, and a terrific reading of a firm favourite

Marin Alsop, having moved into main-line repertoire with a highly praised set of the four Brahms symphonies, now undertakes what for me is the greatest individual 19th-century Romantic symphony, Dvořák's New World – already recorded by almost everyone who matters! But she makes it very much her own, with her fine Baltimore orchestra responding with an account full of warmth, moments of high drama, and, above all, finely paced with a flowing, spontaneous feeling. One notes the delightful flute-playing, the bold, strong trombones in tuttis, and the luminous grace of the strings, immediately apparent at the affectionate opening of both first and second movements. The delicate close of the Largo, after the songful repeat of the beautifully simple and very lovely cor anglais melody, is memorable. The movement's central episodes are equally poetic, particularly the gentle clarinet theme over the murmuring bass pizzicnti.

The Scherzo bursts in, and the finale has all the impetus one could want. Yet overall, Alsop's is not a histrionic reading but one full of affectionate touches, the appealing little nudge at the end of the second subject of the first movement for instance, while the closing retrospective section of the finale is particularly satisfying, leaving me saying to myself yet again in pleasure: "What a lovely work this is."

What makes this disc doubly recommendable is the superb account of the Symphonic Variations, inspired but surprisingly neglected. It is a work which after the mysterious opening Lento e molto tranquillo, which is perfectly captured here, needs to move on flexibly but with plenty of impetus, capturing the continual changes of mood and colour. The extraordinary variety of invention and scoring captivates the ear, sometimes perky, sometimes gentle (like the enchanting little repeated-note flute solo, followed immediately by gruff trombones), until it reaches its genial fugal apotheosis and the performance sweeps to its folksy, grandiloquent close. The recording is outstanding in every way, well balanced and vivid in detail, heard within the naturally captured acoustic of Baltimore's fine Symphony Hall.

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, July 2008

This is a wonderful disk…Alsop directs a straight forward account, pointing the many felicitous details of orchestration, enjoying the humour of the waltz episode, building a marvelous climax in the middle, with the lugubrious trombones to the fore, and generally making the music smile. The fugal finale is especially well handled, the various strands entering clearly and precisely and no one voice is allowed to dominate. Overall, Alsop makes the work much more cohesive that it normally sounds, the variations flowing effortlessly from one to the next and the gradual development of the simple theme can easily be followed. This performance is a triumph!

The recording is very bright and clear, with a wide perspective on the full orchestra—it especially captures the brass beautifully. The balance is superb and the dynamic range huge…

All in all this is an essential addition to any collection…A real must have!

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, July 2008

This recording, the first fruits of Marin Alsop’s new post as Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and the first of three promised live versions of Dvořák symphonies, has already received widespread acclaim: not least, it’s been proclaimed Bargain of the Month by my colleague BB – see review – so, in a sense, I am merely gilding the lily in echoing his words of praise. If her sojourn in Baltimore is to be as productive as this, it may even eclipse her very successful period with the Bournemouth SO.

I thought the opening just a shade tentative – maybe those reviews had led me to expect perfection from the start – but what at first seemed a hesitant approach soon established itself as sensitivity on the part of conductor and orchestra alike, with some really hushed and reverential playing in places, yet with plenty of fire when called for. Passages which I had thought merely wistful emerge from this interpretation with a greater sense of their delicacy.

By the end of the first movement I was completely won over and nothing afterwards dispelled that feeling. Music which has become hackneyed through (ab)use in commercials, like the ‘far away and long ago’ theme in the second movement emerge fresh in this performance.

The Scherzo really scampers along and the Finale is equally fine. BB refers to the catharsis which Alsop finds in the close of the Finale. I know that this will not be to all tastes but it rings true. The storm clouds are there well before that conclusion for those who listen – and Alsop makes me hear them as I’ve never heard them before. This is no merely exultant Finale – there are thoughts here that lie too deep for tears.

I’ve seen one blog which characterises this performance as mediocre, comparing it adversely with Naxos’s earlier version by Stephen Gunzenhauser; it doesn’t mention the ending, but I suspect that was in the writer’s mind, together with the slight tentativeness which I noted at the beginning. This performance is, in fact, anything but mediocre. I haven’t heard Gunzenhauser’s ‘New World”, but his Naxos versions of the earlier symphonies, (very) serviceable as they are, are left standing by this Alsop Ninth.

I first got to know this symphony as a teenager in a performance by Charles Groves and the Liverpool Phil in my home town of Blackburn – free admission in return for programme selling and ushering – and that performance, which knocked my socks off at the time, has remained my benchmark ever since, even over and above the first LP version which I bought – a rather swishy Supraphon pressing of Karel Ančerl’s classic performance. (The other Groves performance which has remained with me ever since provided my introduction to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherezade.)  I don’t think that even Groves dug this deeply into the music.

Hitherto my version of choice, matching that Groves benchmark, has been that of Rafael Kubelík in its DG Privilege incarnation with the Scherzo Capriccioso; it’s currently available on Australian Eloquence (469 623 2) coupled with Smetana’s Vltava, or on DG Originals (447 412 2), more expensive but also more generously coupled with the Eighth Symphony. After that Supraphon LP, I owned both of Isvan Kertesz’s Decca recordings – he, too remains a strong contender: the complete symphonies on 430 046 2, nos. 8 and 9 on 475 7517, or nos. 5, 7, 8 & 9 on Eloquence 467 472 2.

My allegiance to Kubelík is not dented – his grasp of the music still seems to me intuitively correct and the ADD recording wears its age well – but henceforth this Alsop version will provide an excellent alternative. If push comes to shove – and I do have a rule not to keep two versions of any piece of music – I’m not sure which one would have to go. All I can say is that Alsop has shown me aspects of the music which I had never noticed before.

I’m pleased that Naxos have included the Symphonic Variations and that they have been placed first – fine as they are, I wouldn’t want to hear them, or anything else, straight after the New World Symphony. This is first-class music, too little known; the performance here should go some way to redressing that neglect.

The recording is first-rate throughout…The notes in the booklet are of Keith Anderson’s usual quality, though the English version stops one word short of completion before going on to describe the Baltimore SO – you need to read the German translation for the missing word ‘Stimmung’.

The cover is tastefully designed, as usual, though surely Naxos with their seemingly inexhaustible supply of 18th and 19th-century illustrations could have produced something contemporary with the New World Symphony.

…Even if you have a favourite account of the symphony, do try this one.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2008

The first of three Dvorak discs recorded in concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra with their newly appointed Music Director, Marin Alsop. It is one of many provincial American orchestras who are questioning the ranking based on the reputation of many famous named ensembles in the States. It was a major victory in their quest for international recognition to have tempted the American-born conductor to leave the magnificent Bournemouth Symphony with whom she was building an influential career in the UK, and Naxos have wasted no time in making this series of discs recorded last June. The Symphonic Variations are not difficult on paper, but they do prove a searching test of every department of an orchestra, making it a rather brave debut choice. Some of Alsop’s spacious tempos come as a surprise, bringing an almost nostalgic atmosphere to the score, at the same time removing some of the tension among the solo players. I enjoyed the ‘New World’ Symphony rather more, Alsop’s literal reading of the score - which includes the first movement repeat - avoiding most of those mannerism and exaggerations that are so oft used to tart-up an overplayed work. The engineers have equally resisted making this a sonic spectacular, the timpani coming from the back of the orchestra rather than having its own microphone, the frequently used gimmick in this work. Some spacious tempos are again introduced, though the slow movement - with an excellent cor anglais soloist - moves at a nice flowing pace. I am not sure of the sudden quickening at the conclusion of the finale, as also happens at the close of the Symphonic Variations. Where a Czech performance of the symphony would see longing for his homeland in the music, Alsop observes a composer looking at a brave new unsentimental world. Which view you share will influence your choice. The recording is a natural concert hall perspective that keeps clear of spotlighting instruments.

David Hurwitz, June 2008

These are very good performances, no doubt about it, but the competition in this repertoire is very, very strong. In the Variations, Marin Alsop’s flexibility of tempo finds larger spans within the sequence of individual, short vignettes, and this really does give the work the “symphonic” feel that Dvorák obviously intended. The orchestr a also plays very well…the final pages bring the piece to a satisfying conclusion.

The symphony also has many impressive moments. Alsop’s first movement is rhythmically tight and, in the development section and coda, genuinely exciting…the finale sounds very impressive…

David Patrick Stearns
The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 2008

It’s very good, full of excellent judgment and sensitive treatment of details…It’s good for the budget price…

James Leonard, June 2008

Marin Alsop’s powerful recording of Dvorák’s Ninth with the Baltimore Symphony is a surprise…Alsop’s Ninth is robust and energetic, with muscular rhythms and stalwart tempos. Her Molto vivace Scherzo has real heft and weight and her closing Allegro con fuoco has drive and strength. Better yet, Alsop coaxes warm, characterful playing from the Baltimore musicians. The ensemble is tight and direct in the fast movements, but the playing is colorful and soulful in the slow movements. The burnished lower strings in the opening Adagio and the solemn trombones at the start of the central Largo are deeply felt and quietly affecting. Preceded by a brilliant and bumptious account of the same composer’s Symphonic Variations, this disc will add luster to both Alsop and the Baltimore’s reputation.

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