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Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, November 2012

If the ability of a performance to raise the hair on your arms and the nape of your neck is one measure of its success, Alsop’s with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra succeeds brilliantly. But the rhythmic precision and motor drive achieved in the work’s two Allegro movements are also thrilling. This is a great Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, no doubt about it.

Commissioned by Serge Koussevitsky and premiered by him leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1944, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra has emerged as the composer’s single most popular work…The Concerto poses two challenges, one to the orchestra, the other to the conductor. The orchestra’s challenge is executional. This is a very difficult score to play, especially for the winds and brass, whose parts are tricky not just in themselves but in the way they have to fit together with the strings and a percussion section that’s almost as diverse as that in the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta . The conductor’s challenge is to resist tampering. In the hands of first-rate players, as those in the Baltimore Symphony surely are, the Concerto wants to play itself with as little conductorial interference as possible.

A fine, fine, effort, and strongly recommended. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

Roger Hecht
American Record Guide, September 2012

If you are seeking full, rich, and warm sounding Bartók, with glorious string tone, look no further than this beautifully played, Westernized performance of the Concerto for Orchestra. What hits you first is that string tone, which is rich, dark, and full-bodied. The interpretation is full-textured and mostly moderate (never really slow) in tempo…it has a point of view and is not just a sound bath. Right from the opening, which is slow, creepy, and smooth…everything flows richly, like a broad river, including the well-rounded brass fugue.

Listening to II, it was obvious that the Baltimore woodwinds were selected for, among other virtues, their clear warm sounds. Their duets are well balanced and clearly defined, with only the oboes injecting a touch of bite in their articulations…Even the muted trumpets keep things rounded. The brass chorale is gorgeous. The last section is extraordinarily graceful…

The opening to III is beautifully spooky, with excellent work from the winds.

The Finale starts slowly, with clear string tone. The trumpet canon, which can be too edgy, is finely delineated and not too aggressive, and the later fugal passages are brilliantly executed. Smooth as everything is, there is plenty of excitement, and one can only admire the strings, who are breathtakingly fleet, nimble, and tight (here and everywhere else). Playing like this makes us forget how difficult these passages really are. The recording is typical of what we have been getting from Baltimore recently—smooth, big, and full, with a lot of bass. If you are looking for a reading of this piece that is even lusher than Karajan’s, this certainly is a prime candidate.

Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta is another matter, mainly because it is a thornier and more aggressive piece, and it was recorded differently. The way it develops like a field of wildflowers opening in slow motion—time-lapse photography—is impressive. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online

Robert Cummings
Classical Net, August 2012

Alsop’s Bartók Concerto for Orchestra is epic in character, as it should be…Alsop makes a strong case for her way with this work, presenting the music in a fairly straightforward fashion, allowing the colorful Bartók instrumentation and varying moods to carry the listener along.

The first movement is mysterious and folkish, while the second is humorous but with a solemn middle section. The third movement is very dark, but followed by a brief light intermezzo that also parodies the Shostakovich Seventh, an enormously popular symphony during the war which Bartók very much disliked. The finale is epic and triumphant. All of these qualities emerge strongly in Alsop’s well played and well recorded effort here…

…Alsop… is very convincing in the Concerto, but her Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta is even better. Bartók’s “night music” moods come through most effectively: the first and third movements are especially grim and dark—eerie, really, while the more spirited music of the even-numbered panels is played with plenty of energy and color. This may well be one of the finest performances of the work on record…this new CD features superb sound reproduction and splendid playing.

Regarding the playing, in both works the Baltimore Symphony musicians turn in first-rate performances… © 2012 Classical Net Read complete review

Steve Arloff
MusicWeb International, July 2012

I’ve said before that at one time the very name of Bartók would have caused me to believe I wouldn’t like the music in the same way that some people believe that there are certain foodstuffs that they won’t like though they’ve never tried them. If there are any people who feel that way then the Concerto for Orchestra is without a doubt the best way to conquer that feeling. It is the most wonderfully musical piece with exciting melodies, especially the folk-inspired third movement in which Bartók exploits his unique facility with using folk tunes which he introduced into so many of his works. If there are people who also believe that he was not a composer that could ‘let his hair down’ then the fourth movement should dispel that idea with its witty parody of the most infamous section of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony. It is a work of contrasts from its severe opening to the joyful nature of the final two movements that showcases his brilliant writing for all sections of the orchestra. It is a hugely exciting work that repays frequent listening as there are always new aspects to discover within it. This muscular and thrilling recording amply demonstrates why Marin Alsop is such a sought after conductor and why the Baltimore Symphony is so highly thought of all over the world.

Once again with Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta we have another example of Bartók as a mould breaker—surely not even Vivaldi who wrote music for just about every conceivable instrument could have come up with that combination…Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta is a marvellously atmospheric work with a whole gallery of interesting instruments being marshalled with percussion comprising side drum, snare drum, cymbals, tam-tam, bass drum, timpani and xylophone with the celesta, harp and piano ranged in the middle of two sets of strings. Within the four movements of roughly equal lengths there is wonderful writing that fully exploits the individual characteristics of the various sections used and the whole work is a thrilling and exhilarating listen. Once again this orchestra throws itself wholeheartedly into the performance giving full vent to the possibilities the composition allows for. I can imagine that it is extremely taxing for everyone concerned, especially the conductor who must be quite exhausted by its close as there is no let-up from start to finish.

I thoroughly enjoyed these highly energetic performances and am eager to explore other recordings Marin Alsop has made with this fine orchestra, including her highly acclaimed Dvořák cycle. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, July 2012

What impresses you immediately about the Concerto for Orchestra is its imaginative orchestration and its great emotional range. The most memorable moment in the entire work, at least for yours truly, is the bucolic interlude that occurs, like a glorious sunset, clouds suffused with a golden glow, just before the strife and conflicting moods in the Interezzo. And the whirling perpetual-motion finale has lots of fireworks in this performance. Throughout, not just in the Giuoco movement, the music and Alsop’s solid interpretation draw strong soloistic and virtuosic responses from each family of the Baltimore SO…

Alsop’s love of Bartok, enhanced by her early study of the folk roots of his music, is revealed with even more surprising results in the companion work, Music for Strings, Percission and Celesta. In fact, this is the most eminently satisfying account I have ever heard of this difficult work. What Bartok does here with his square-shouldered folk material is impressive, affirming the paradox that if you want to build an elaborate structure you must use the simplest materials. Alsop’s interpretation stresses its absolutely pure lines and the mathematical symmetry of its design…It’s a marvel that music conceived with such intellectual precision should be so emotionally compelling. © 2012 Audio Video Club of Atlanta

John Miller
Classical Candor, June 2012

The disc begins with probably the most celebrated music of Hungarian Bela Bartok…the Concerto for Orchestra…The second-movement Allegretto moves along at a graceful, if fairly leisurely, pace. It lightens the mood considerably. In the third-movement Bartok turns to dark yet lyrical material…Alsop handles it in a kind of wispy, dreamlike way, building in mysterious, almost spooky intensity as it goes along…

Next, we find a brief Intermezzo borrowing…Shostakovich that sets up the dance rhythms of the Finale: Presto, where Bartok went all out to show the vibrancy of life. Alsop treats it gently, yet with much joy. It’s a worthy realization of the score.

Naxos recorded the performances at Meyerhoff Hall, Baltimore, in 2009–2010. In the tradition of so many Naxos recordings, the sound is slightly warm and soft. There is a nice room resonance that lends verisimilitude to the listening experience, so one does feel involved with the actual event. Reasonably good dynamics and frequency range help, too. Midrange clarity is adequate for the occasion, as is a strong mid bass and a moderately good sense of orchestral depth. © 2012 Classical Candor Read complete review, June 2012

…a very worthy recording…The very start of Concerto for Orchestra is particularly impressive here, building highly effectively from the depths of the orchestra to a main section…certainly well-played. Indeed, the orchestra’s playing is a major plus of this disc: the ensemble is sure in sound, very well balanced and as virtuosic as the music needs it to be. Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta is also very well played, paced rather slowly, ebbing and flowing through its sequence of mostly darker moods in a well-balanced reading that…has lovely flow in the slower ones. © 2012 Read complete review

David Hurwitz, June 2012

Marin Alsop leads a splendid performance of this oft-recorded work, full of character, whether in the jocular “games of pairs” second movement, the ensuing spooky elegy, or the finale that begins (seemingly) a touch reserved but takes off like a shot in the coda. It’s a memorable and wholly successful effort, excellently engineered to boot.

…this is very, very good, and wholly recommendable as a pairing of these two iconic works. © 2012 Read complete review

Jean-Yves Duperron
Classical Music Sentinel, June 2012

…the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra members do really well, from the trepidatious opening of the Concerto for Orchestra to the energetic final chord of the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta.

Conductor Marin Alsop certainly knows her way around Béla Bartók, having already recorded fine accounts of The Wooden Prince and The Miraculous Mandarin (mind you with a different orchestra). She certainly seems to capture the dark humour and tragic aspects of this music well…as far as newcomers are to these powerful works, she is certainly up there with the best, and the full-bodied Naxos sound recording doesn’t hurt one bit. © 2012 Classical Music Sentinel Read complete review

Misha Donat
BBC Music Magazine, June 2012

Two quintessential Bartók works in fine performances, and at an irresistible price. The Concerto for Orchestra, in particular, is a piece that suits Marin Alsop down to the ground, and one that allows her to put her Baltimore players through their paces…Alsop responds to all these facets of the piece with both intelligence and vitality, producing a vivid performance. © 2012 BBC Music Magazine

Brian Wilson Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, June 2012

I’m beginning to think that Marin Alsop is infallible. This was a strong contender for the Download of the Month slot—as fine a performance of these two works as any that I’ve heard, including both Solti versions (Decca), Reiner (Sony from RCA) and Iván Fischer (Philips) © 2012 MusicWeb International Continue reading

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2012

Continuing her Bartók cycle for Naxos, Marin Alsop moves from Bournemouth to Baltimore to take up the virtuoso challenge of the Concerto for Orchestra. It is a performance that inevitably comes face to face with a host of recordings featuring most of the world’s most famous ensembles. Her view comes not from the up-front brilliance of the likes of Solti and the Chicago Symphony, but from Bartók’s Hungarian roots, as she often draws us back to his national folk music. Of course she never misses out on those explosive climatic points, but they are here merged into the overall shape of the score, while we hear many subtle shifts of colour that fall from view in other recordings. As if witnessing the first light of morning, the Introduzione only just glimmers before the sun appears with a warming radiance. And it is warmth that so often characterises the performance, tempos developing at a natural pace, though the total time of each movement is little different to the high-pressure readings. Where the Chicago violins scream, the Baltimore strings have a luminous glow; where the Chicago woodwind have a steely sheen, Baltimore’s team fondle their solo passages with affection. The duets of the second movement flow beautifully without drawing attention to any one group; the changing moods of the Eligia are unexaggerated; the Intermezzo spiky, and the brass propel the finale with excitement. Rhythmically Alsop’s reading is tightly controlled and avoids the excesses that draw a cheap thrill elsewhere, the inner clarity a feature of the recorded sound. The more intimate quality of the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta fares very well, and again it is the details that Alsop points which make the performance rewarding. Good sound. © 2012 David’s Review Corner

My Classical Notes, May 2012

Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra…is not only a brilliant display piece for each instrumental section but a work of considerable structural ingenuity that unites classical forms with folk rhythms and harmonies.

Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta explores darker moods through a score of amazing symmetry.

This has long been a popular coupling of works by Béla Bartók, but Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra have a synergy which has made their Dvořák symphonic recordings sound ‘as fresh as when Dvořák put pen to paper.’

Of Dvořák’s New World Symphony BBC Music Magazine also wrote, ‘it is rare to be able to say that a performance forces one to listen to a work anew, but this is exactly what Alsop’s reading achieves.’ © 2012 My Classical Notes Read complete review, May 2012

Bartok called the piece a concerto rather than a symphony because of the way each section section of instruments is invited to reveal its virtousic skills. Each instrumental section is brilliantly displayed in a work of considerable structural ingenuity that unites classical forms and sonirities with the pungency of folk rhythms and harmonies. Also included here is Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, which explore darker moods through a score of marvellously poised symmetry. The acclaimed Martin Alsop…conducts the impressive Baltimore Symphony Orchestra… © 2012

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