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Brian Wigman
Classical Net, October 2014

These are outstanding performances, especially of the Symphonies #1 and #3…Both are excellent, both are in fine sound…

…this could be the only disc of this music you ever need. © 2014 Classical Net Read complete review

John Warrack
Gramophone, November 2011

Lively, colourful accounts of Borodin’s symphonies…

Schwarz and the Seattle players give a lively account…They also do well with the colourful elements in the First Symphony, which has another sparkling Scherzo with a Trio that flows so seamlessly that one can hardly tell that every bar is in a different time signature.

The Second Symphony remains the finest work of the three…It is freshly and brightly recorded to do justice to Borodin’s lucid orchestration, and Schwarz gives an enthusiastic performance of music that can be taken too solemnly for its own good. These are fresh and attractive performances.

Steven J Haller
American Record Guide, November 2011

this new Naxos gives you absolutely terrific performances of all three symphonies…Everything changed when I heard this fantastic job from the Seattle Symphony with great swaths of sound from Benaroya Hall…Schwarz displays a remarkable ear for color, and the Seattle players do themselves proud…this is incisive and intense music-making that fleshes out Borodin’s highly colored mosaic as few others I’ve been fortunate to hear, culminating in an immensely satisfying blare from the brass on reaching the climax of the final movement that rivals even Gergiev’s Rotterdam players. Here indeed is the Borodin E-flat as it should be played, and if by chance you have never heard this music, you will find this Naxos well worth the investment.

Here are all the splashes of color and soulful Slavic melody anyone could ask for at a price I know you can afford, and this is a treasurable introduction to the music of Borodin. I’m happy to set Schwarz…at the head of my Russian music shelf.

Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, September 2011

In January 2011 the Seattle Symphony and Gerard Schwarz began an improbable quest through the orchestral showpieces of the Russian romantics with a glorious Scheherazade. That’s still on my Recording of the Year shortlist; I called it “nothing short of spectacular”. The only edge it has over this disc of the Borodin symphonies is the element of surprise. That Scheherazade had delightful shock value; this Borodin album is terrific too—but this time I expected it!

The First Symphony receives a cogent, clear, very charming performance: the opening introduction is sufficiently solemn and Russian. In the main movement the outstanding Seattle winds help create a more distinctively Borodinian atmosphere than usual—often thought of as Mendelssohn-like but here, with such tangy woodwinds and blustery brass, the comparison makes next to no sense. The lively scherzo gives away a tiny whiff of Borodin’s Germanic predecessors, but not much. There’s brisk cheer, toe-tapping enthusiasm, and bassoons intruding with humorous insistence. The highest compliment I can pay here is to say that I can’t imagine the scherzo sounding more idiomatically Russian under Svetlanov. The strings get to shine in the slow movement, where again the critical impression is of the Seattle Symphony as a terrifically Russian-sounding ensemble: listen to that English horn solo (by Stefan Farkas), or the exquisite final seconds!

The first few chords of the classic Second Symphony suggest a slight lack of ferocity and firepower, but the worries don’t last long. Gerard Schwarz indulges throughout the symphony in extremely intelligent nudges to the tempo: a suddenly faster appearance of the first movement’s tune (as if it’s a pouncing cat), or a brisk transition in the slow movement, or the way that the final coda absolutely leaps out of the prior allegro. These slight deviations from the script—the script as interpreted by my old standby, Loris Tjeknavorian, that is—are almost all wonderful. I could have done with the slightest bit more luxuriance in the slow movement—it is plenty gorgeous already. The whole symphony is shot through with the same terrific ensemble sound, marvelous solos, and idiomatically fierce attack which characterized the First. The finale overflows with excitement; it’s a terrific performance.

The unfinished Third Symphony opens with an oboe solo for Ben Hausmann, whose work I praised on the Scheherazade album and who earns laurels again here. The movement combines elements of a sonata-form dance and a nocturne, and is rather shorter than the scherzo which follows. One does rather notice the difference in orchestration (it’s by Glazunov), but the performance is elegant and very sensitively done—those adjectives do sound more apt than they might in the aggressively lively Second.

The sound ideally captures the excellent Seattle Symphony. Engineer Dmitriy Lipay, also responsible for the orchestra’s ongoing Rimsky-Korsakov series, really puts the players in a flattering light. The ensemble truly fills the sonic space, but extraordinary riches of orchestral detail are audible. The strings are reasonably full from top to bottom and the brass ring out with gratifying presence. I’d love to hear these recordings in the Blu-Ray format for which Naxos prepares all its new orchestral releases these days.

In sum, this definitely stands alongside Tjeknavorian as a top recommendation for the Borodin symphonies. Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony have become a powerhouse in Russian romantic repertoire, and I’m aching to hear more of it. Is there any chance of a Mussorgsky album, or some tone poems by the Mighty Handful: Rimsky’s Sadko, Borodin’s Steppes of Central Asia, Balakirev’s Russia and Islamey? Top of my wishlist, though, are two ballets badly in need of new, complete recordings: Khachaturian’s Spartacus and Gayaneh. Please, Naxos? Still, one mustn’t get too greedy: this is as good as it gets.

BBC Music Magazine, September 2011

Borodin’s First Symphony has modernist touches and fluid melodies

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, August 2011

These are new recordings, made 2009–2011 in Seattle’s Benaroya Hall, rather than reissues from the SSO’s earlier period. As such, they reflect the current state of the orchestra, still in fine fettle as they honor Gerard Schwarz in his last season as music director before he assumes an emeritus role. The recordings are sufficiently clear and detailed to reveal telling points about three Borodin scores that are rich in color and detail.

Symphony No. 1 in E flat Major shows Borodin valiantly trying to reconcile received sonata allegro form with mighty native themes. Despite the sneers of his contemporaries that the form amounted to knock offs of Mendelssohn, Berlioz, and Schumann, the Scherzo, at least, creates a vivid impression, especially in its Trio section where the long, soulful melody for the cello bears kinship with the music Borodin was writing for his yet unfinished opera Prince Igor.

While the Borodin First is still in need of champions, the same cannot be said for his Second Symphony in B minor, which has enjoyed a secure place in the classical repertoire. With good reason, for it represents a more successful union of form and passion by a composer who had learned the rules well enough to know when to bend them, as he does in the opening movement, when the stirring fanfare and the surging melody in the brass, the changes in orchestration and tempo, turn the movement into a panoply of vivid contrasts rather than strict sonata form. Following a Scherzo in which quarter note figures glide through the orchestra in a dazzling kaleidoscope of sound, the Andante, with its poignant horn melody that seems to embody all the vast loneliness of the steppes, is a moment that will live long in the listener’s memory. The Finale is as jubilant and unrestrained as only Russian music can be.

Symphony No. 3 in A minor, left unfinished at Borodin’s death and completed in two movements by Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov, gives a tantalizing peek at what might have been. That is true especially of the Trio, where Borodin used exotic material originally intended for Prince Igor. It completes an intriguing program in which we encounter echoes and pre echoes of those well known Polovetsians at every turn.

Brian Wilson Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, August 2011

…an excellent follow-up to their recent Sheherazade. (8.572693: Bargain of the Month – see March 2011/2 Download Roundup and reviews here and here.)

Even Schwarz can’t make too much of the First Symphony but the other two are really tuneful and the new performances make the most of them. With good recording, well conveyed by the mp3 download, this is strongly recommended.

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, August 2011

Gerard Schwarz leaves the Seattle Symphony in great shape. In what is possibly his last recording with that orchestra, he conducts all three Borodin symphonies (8.572786). The First is a fine work, with marvelous ideas but a rather clumsy working out. The Second is justly famous. The Third is unfinished; only the first movement and a scherzo (in 5/8) exists. The orchestra plays beautifully. The performance of the Second is excellent, but in the slow movement, Schwarz does not bring out the triplet passage at rehearsal letter “K” that Debussy copied into his “Afternoon of a Faun.” It is a completely original concept, much used since Borodin’s time. The Third Symphony was never completed. There exist two movements, a first and a scherzo in 5/8 that was daring for the time. The first movement is lyrical, the scherzo fascinating.

David Hurwitz, July 2011

If you’re looking for a stellar disc containing all three Borodin symphonies in top-notch sound (the Third left incomplete, its two movements orchestrated by Glazunov), then look no further. Gerard Schwarz and his players seem to have developed a real affinity for Russian music, as their previous Rimsky-Korsakov disc suggests. The First Symphony sounds unusually cogent and masterly in their hands. Listen to the bite of the lower brass in the outer movements, and hear the plaintive songfulness of the woodwinds in the Andante. It’s a true Russian sound.

The same idiomatic characteristics enhance the Second Symphony’s gutsy opening string theme, while the finale simply explodes with color and energy. Borodin’s Second is one of those works that everyone takes for granted, but its compact 25 minutes or so comprises one of the very best Russian symphonies of any period. It has enjoyed many fine performances, but this one is every bit as good as the best of them, and as already noted, the sonics are splendid. Don’t hesitate for a minute.

Film Music: The Neglected Art, July 2011

Borodin was primarily a chemist and his composing was something he enjoyed doing in his spare time. As a result some of his material was not completed or in the case of his 1st Symphony it took five years to complete (1862–1867).

The work leaves no doubt as to its Russian heritage as the opening chords are a giveaway; dark and mysterious. The adagio leads the listener to an upbeat theme, backed by percussion. The development is slow and complete. Alexander was very detailed and the long period of time he spent is certainly evident. He was given help by Balakirev and while the initial offering was considered a failure upon revision it was given another premiere at the Russian Music Society and it was very well received. The scherzo is a lively one beginning with the strings offering the melody with the brass giving support. A second melody from the woodwinds, a delicate one, is developed before Borodin returns to the original theme. The third movement, his andante, is a beautiful romantic theme one to listen to when relaxing is the order of the moment. The finale is an allegro vivo filled with spirit and energy. The Borodin style of composition and orchestration is quite evident or I would say it could be German but his use of the brass and strings is a giveaway for this reviewer.

As far as 1st symphonies go this has to be considered an excellent effort better than most. The Seattle Symphony under the direction of Gerard Schwarz performs this to perfection. I’ve heard this work performed by many orchestras and this recording is at or near the top!

Craig Zeichner, July 2011

Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra make strong cases for the attractive two and a half symphonies (the third is unfinished) of Alexander Borodin on this new recording.

The opening of the Symphony No. 1 is large-scaled in the best extroverted Russian style. After a slightly vacuous opening what follows is likeable. The second movement Scherzo is bouncy and certainly owes much to Mendelssohn, but the Trio section is ruggedly Eastern European. The heart of the work, or at least the section that’s most memorable, is the languorous Andante that’s lushly romantic and has just that right bit of Russian melancholy. Schwarz lets the movement unfold beautifully allowing the build up to the climactic moment to surge nicely. The Symphony No. 2 is the best of the lot. Decidedly Russian in tone it’s a tightly constructed masterpiece with bustling outer movements, a dashing Scherzo and a melt-your-heart third movement Andante. Why doesn’t this symphony get more play in concert halls? Alexander Glazunov reconstructed the unfinished Symphony No. 3 from Borodin’s sketches. Glazunov kept the orchestration spare, but still built something that’s quite compelling, particularly the second movement Scherzo with its oddly lurching rhythms.

Schwarz leads very vibrant performances. He coaxes responsive playing from the Seattle band in the first symphony’s opening and precision musicianship in the second symphony’s Scherzo. The exotic color of the finale of the second symphony comes off brilliantly too. In all the symphonies the Seattle wind players, especially the cor anglais player in the first symphony’s Andante, acquit themselves nicely. Where things fall a bit short for me is in the string section. In romantic music I want more of a warmly burnished glow on the strings. I’m not wistfully pining for the occasionally syrupy textures of the Ormandy-led fabulous Philadelphians, but what is it with American string sections these days? They play note perfect but don’t deliver tonal beauty. Just cut to the magnificent Andante of the second symphony to hear what I’m grumbling about. It shouldn’t be a deal breaker though.

In sum, the energy of these excellent performances makes them worth acquiring.

Film Music: The Neglected Art, July 2011

Is this work a product of Borodin or is it mainly Glazunov? According to Gerald Abraham in “Russian Masters 1” it is Borodin and Glazunov merely put down on paper sketch material left from Borodin as well as from memory when he had first heard the material. Both movements are taken from what could have been string quartet material plus a discarded portion from Prince Igor that ended up being the trio in the second part of the second movement. There were also sketches of material for a slow movement; the basis being an Old Believer Chant but Glazunov chose not to pursue any of this material. Glazunov was solely responsible for the coda.

The first movement moderato assai is a lovely unforgettable melody that has stayed with this reviewer ever since I first heard it back in the late 50’s. It is allowed to become fully developed the theme being offered by woodwinds and strings with a small amount of brass in the background. The second movement is a Scherzo followed by a trio (taken from Igor). One can easily hear how this could have been written for quartet as well as the influence Glazunov had on this. One could very easily understand that the trio part could have come from one of the quieter moments of Igor. The clarinet is a thing of beauty. Simply orchestrated it is music for a time of reflection. The finale is a return to the original theme as the work ends on a positive upbeat note…The Seattle Symphony is right on the mark and is an improvement over the rather overly bright recording of 20+ years ago from Naxos (8.550238)…This new offering from Naxos would be a welcome addition to your collection. The CD also includes Borodin’s first two symphonies reviewed separately.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2011

Throughout his relatively short life music had to play a subordinate role to Borodin’s career as a distinguished scientist, yet he belonged to and was an important part of the golden age of Russian music. Restricted to composing in his leisure time, he was to leave many works incomplete, including his great masterpiece, the opera, Prince Igor. Progress was always painfully slow, his First Symphony taking five years to complete; his Second almost seven years, while his Third remained unfinished. If the First was never to find a place in the standard repertoire, that could, in some measure, be attributed to the undoubted success of the Second which overshadow it. That score was begun in 1869, just two years after the completion of the First, and here he was to find a rich seam of thematic material that was thoroughly Russian in mood, the boisterous finale bringing the work to an exciting conclusion. The very existence of a Third comes in the rather dubious creation of Glazunov, though it was conceived out of affection for Borodin. Only the scherzo existed, and even that had progressed no further than a short score for string quartet. The other movement, which opens the work, was always intended for string quartet, and it was Glazunov who added orchestral colours. In Gerard Schwarz we have a persuasive advocate who resists the temptation to exaggerate the dynamics, as has often been the case in recorded performances of the First, but moves quite briskly through the introductory Allergro to the Second where others bring bombast. He has the Seattle Symphony in fine form, their strings having that idiomatic warmth and rounded tone, while the leading horn’s solos are typically Russian. Good recorded sound and a welcome replacement for one of Naxos’s earliest releases.

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