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Paul E. Robinson
La Scena Musicale, June 2013

Homebase for Alsop is the Baltimore Symphony, with whom she has already made many recordings, but by all accounts she will be commuting to Brazil on a regular basis. [Alsop] leads an exciting and powerful performance of Prokofiev’s familiar Fifth Symphony. The brass and percussion will lift you out of your seat—watch out for that tam-tam—but the winds and strings make stylish and expressive contributions too. © 2013 La Scena Musicle Read complete review

Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, November 2012

Alsop’s recording of the Fifth Symphony…is up against stiff competition. Her interpretation is decidedly in the noble/melancholy camp…In fact, much is quiet—even tender—here, more so than in any performance I know. There is a danger in emphasizing the lyrical aspects of the score, with less stress on volume and rhythmic edge, and expectations are challenged. Yet she and her orchestra always command interest and consistently achieve richly satisfying results. The gentleness of the statement of the first theme tells much about what to expect from the opening movement, and the tension is built and maintained more by steady forward pressure than driving force. The opening of the Scherzo shows its balletic origins in its lightness and rhythmic lift, while the trio is slower and more foreboding than usual and leads to a frenzied return of the opening material. The Adagio becomes almost Shostakovich-like, perfectly melding soaring line with funereal heaviness, and the finale’s Allegro giocoso is decidedly tinged with melancholy. In all, it is a marvelous rethinking of the work.

This release offers two scores produced during World War II. The other work is a symphonic suite, The Year 1941…Alsop addresses the technical criticism, and to a greater extent than I would have imagined possible, creates the silk purse. She finds subtleties within the bombast of the first movement, “The Struggle,” shapes a lovely…nocturne out of “In the Night,” and finds real nobility in “For the Brotherhood of Man” by emphasizing the soaring themes and underplaying the brass and percussion bravado. I’m so impressed that I’d now like to hear some of the other Soviet patriotic works performed under her baton.

Naxos presents this in a good mid-distance representation of the warm and resonant Sala São Paulo. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

John Quinn
MusicWeb International, September 2012

In a note in the booklet for the Koussevitzky recording Prokofiev is quoted as saying the following about the Fifth. “I wished to glorify man as free and happy, his mighty strength, his noble spirit. I would not say that I searched for this theme. It was born in me and required expression.” So, the symphony clearly was intended to express lofty ideals. I’d say that Marin Alsop’s performance pretty much measures up to the expectations that such a statement arouses.

In the first movement she brings out the power and the lyricism in Prokofiev’s writing. The playing she gets from the OSESP is very good; in particular the bass end of the orchestra is powerful, as it needs to be, without overpowering the textures. The extended climax near the end (11:07–12:47) is imposing; here, as elsewhere, the percussion section is well reported by the recording. The pithy, mobile scherzo is played with bite. The malevolent, sneering return to the scherzo material is taken deliberately, as it should be, but once Alsop and her players get back to the scherzo it’s taken at a real lick.

In his notes Keith Anderson says that the slow movement is “a movement of sustained lyricism, with a fiercely dramatic middle section”. Yes, it is lyrical but I think there’s also a darkness, even a feeling of tragedy, which harks back to the closing moments of Romeo and Juliet. In the central section (from 5:00 onwards) Alsop imparts the necessary gravitas as well as drama to the slow march, building it to a potent climax (7:20–7:50). After Prokofiev has returned to the material of the opening Alsop and her players deliver the gently luminous closing pages expertly. The generally high spirited finale, with its often brittle orchestration, is done with spirit and élan. There are plenty of good recordings of this important symphony in the catalogue but this newcomer ranks among the best I’ve heard.

Marin Alsop’s Prokofiev cycle has been launched auspiciously and I look forward to future issues. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Donald R Vroon
American Record Guide, September 2012

The Fifth Symphony is the point here…The orchestra is very, very good; and the music makes that abundantly clear. The brass are powerful, and the strings are lush in the Adagio. (That has to be some of the most beautiful music ever written.) The sound is glorious.

So it is only fair to say that this is a terrific recording that orchestra, conductor, engineers, and record label should be very proud of. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online

Blair Sanderson, August 2012

The first volume of a complete cycle of Sergey Prokofiev’s symphonies on Naxos, this 2012 release by Marin Alsop and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra is an auspicious beginning. The Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, Op. 100, is one of Prokofiev’s most admired works, and its monumental style is immediately identifiable and accessible to listeners. The heroic sweep of the themes and the drama of the development give the music a resolute quality, typical of Prokofiev’s wartime works. Yet the music also holds a strong intellectual appeal in its coherent symphonic form and the powerful use of constant tonal movement, albeit in Prokofiev’s manner of abruptly shifting, rather than smoothly modulating, to different keys. To fill out the disc, Alsop and the orchestra perform The Year 1941, Op. 90, a symphonic suite that depicts the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in three volatile and epic movements. The São Paulo Symphony Orchestra plays with considerable energy and force, and the performances are quite muscular and propulsive, giving both the suite and the symphony visceral expressions and great physical presence. Alsop is evidently a sympathetic interpreter of Prokofiev, because the tempo and pacing always feel spot-on, and the character of the music rings true. Naxos offers exceptional reproduction of the vivid instrumental colors with appropriately resonant acoustics, so this series starts off brilliantly, with worthy performances that sound terrific. © 2012

Robert Cummings
Classical Net, August 2012

…I have to admire Naxos for going into competition with itself, often a questionable venture for any label. Still, I’m not sure there’s much of a risk here because Marin Alsop, conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, is a hot property right now and the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra…is obviously a major ensemble whose work many American and European listeners may not be familiar with.

They will be rewarded by this effort, as this fine orchestra turns in performances of world-class caliber here. And Alsop shows once again that she has entered that rare class of conductors who are consistently compelling and insightful.

The Year 1941, which leads off the disc, has had two other recordings that I know of, the…Kuchar and the Alexander Titov…Alsop offers a frenetic first movement (In the Struggle), a brisk and somewhat restrained middle panel (In the Night), and a lyrical, lush finale (For the Brotherhood of Man). Hers, to me, is clearly the best performance of the three, mainly because of the epic character, lyrical beauty and wealth of detail in the finale.

Alsop’s Fifth is a solid and impressive effort: the first movement is heroic and powerful with well-chosen tempos, while the ensuing Scherzo is spirited and quite thrilling; the Adagio is dark and tragic as it should be, and the finale is humorous and ultimately triumphant…Alsop must be given high marks for this Prokofiev 5th, which is very possibly the finest on record in the last decade or so.

Moreover, because of Naxos’s excellent sound, along with the splendid performance of the underrated but masterly The Year 1941, this disc is a must for fans of Prokofiev and 20th century music in general. © 2012 Classical Net Read complete review

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, August 2012

Under the inspired leadership of the American Marin Alsop, its recently appointed Principal Conductor, the Saõ Paolo Symphony Orchestra of Brazil gives further evidence of why it is consdered one of the world’s fastest rising orchestras. The program is all-Prokofiev, and the OSESP, to give its Brasilian initials, does full justice to all the elements in the music of a composer of impressively wide range.

The major work here is…Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony in B-flat, Op. 100, that wonderful summing-up of the composer’s life and career. From the opening Melody, given to the flutes and bassoons with a well-supported foundation in the strings…The scherzo movement, Allegro marcato, plays like a take-out from Romeo and Juliet…with its brilliant writing for the clarinet and its headlong helter-skelter rapidity.

The Adagio is dreamy and full of nostalgia…The finale, Allegro giocoso, is far-ranging, ebullient, and ultimately triumphant. It seems to touch all the bases, engaging every family and every chair in a very diverse, imaginatively scored work for a large orchestra with a particularly sensational array of percussion instruments that includes the piano. All of which gives the members of the Saõ Paolo SO plenty of opportunty to show their stuff! © 2012 Audio Video Club of Atlanta

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, July 2012

Sergei Prokofiev…wrote the fifth of his seven symphonies in 1944, near the end of World War II. Next to his First Symphony, the Fifth Symphony is probably the most well liked of the bunch. The composer called the work “a symphony about the spirit of man,” his response to the turmoil of the War. As such it opens with the pain of that nightmare, a kind of prelude to the peace to come…a relatively restrained opening Andante builds slowly, seriously and grandly, Ms. Alsop developing it with a gentle yet firm hand.

A Scherzo follows, which lightens the climate considerably. Ms. Alsop handles it particularly well, especially the surging, constantly shifting rhythms.

Ms. Alsop’s high point, however, is the long, brooding third-movement Adagio, with its purely lyrical elements. Here, she brings out the delicate ballet-like qualities of the music. It easily sustains one’s interest at a high level.

The finale should bring the symphony to a joyful close, and Ms. Alsop accomplishes this end in good measure. Her interpretation is passionate, melodious, and triumphant, carrying the piece to a fitting conclusion that I found quite satisfying.

Coupled with the Fifth Symphony, Prokofiev’s symphonic suite The Year 1941 makes an apt companion. I’ve always rather liked its various blustery war moods, and I particularly like the vigorous way Ms. Alsop responds to them. © 2012 Classical Candor

Jean-Yves Duperron
Classical Music Sentinel, July 2012

It takes but only 25 seconds for the main theme of Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, Op. 100, to establish its stature as one of the best symphonic works of the 20th century…this work’s first movement alone is a masterpiece of the genre. Marin Alsop establishes a measured and ponderous tempo that serves the music very well. The way she handles and shapes slight tempo shifts at critical moments…is to be noted. Each and every member of the orchestra does a fantastic job at pushing their part to the top layer when it’s called for, whilst remaining a key factor within the big picture. The whole movement is a perfectly judged build-up of forces that rise to epic proportions, and the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra takes second billing to no one during its few final monumental moments.

The second movement’s quick-witted buffoonery aspects are well projected here under Alsop’s sprightly tempo, and the whole thing sounds convincingly like a huge parody of the war machine. A touching Adagio movement follows in which the string sections of this orchestra get a chance to display their full colors, be they dark or bright, and that compared to the previous movement’s pointed wit, they can muster up dramatic effects just as well. The way in which the string players reiterate the symphony’s opening motif at the start of the final movement is exemplary, and the generally upbeat mood (allegro giocoso) of this movement is well conveyed by Alsop’s light touch and forward momentum, and all the mischief and shenanigans that make up the final two minutes of this symphony are played to the hilt by every musician of the orchestra.

…this new Naxos recording shouldn’t be missed. © 2012 Classical Music Sentinel Read complete review

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, July 2012

It is a symphony of unforgettable melodic brilliance, harrowing and triumphant, powerful and tender, transcendent.

Ms. Alsop conducts the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra with great elan. The broad sweep of singular themes, great drama, melancholy regret, stirring action, all are rendered with the attention to affect so necessary to do justice to this symphony’s great power to move listeners.

At any rate this is a version to turn to again and again with delight. It’s very spirited and triumphant. And the inclusion of Prokofiev’s moving Symphonic Suite “The Year 1941” makes this a great choice, especially at the Naxos price. This is a symphony that grows in stature the more one hears it. Do not hesitate to grab this disk—even if you already have a recording of the work. © 2012 Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review Read complete review, July 2012

…the first disc of a planned Prokofiev cycle conducted by Marin Alsop is quite a good one. Prokofiev’s World War II symphonies, Nos. 5 and 6, are his best, and Alsop displays a sure hand and considerable attentiveness to inner voices and instrumental balance in her work with the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra…This is a strong, nicely balanced orchestra, all its sections playing well, its strings particularly adept with Prokofiev’s often-biting rhythms, its brass perhaps a touch strident in sound but precise in attack. Alsop’s interpretation of the symphony is generally first-rate and even incisive…this is a fine start to Alsop’s Prokofiev cycle—and the other work here, The Year 1941, makes for an intriguing contrast with the symphony. Here the orchestra’s brass sound fits the music’s theme quite well, and if the work is scarcely major Prokofiev, it is interesting for showing another side of a composer generally thought of as a symphonist. © 2012 Read complete review

Daniel Jaffé
BBC Music Magazine, July 2012

This album, promised as the first in a new symphonic cycle, certainly starts with a bang, though unexpectedly with The Year 1941… The Fifth Symphony comes up trumps in a dramatic yet highly polished performance… Altogether, this first volume of Prokofiev is an outstanding achievement. © 2012 BBC Music Magazine

Raymond S. Tuttle
International Record Review, June 2012

Alsop, now in her mid-fifties, is riding the crest of a wave. This new release should lift her even higher, as well as win new friends for the São Paulo orchestra, a first-class ensemble, if this new CD is anything to go by. Even if you already have several Prokofiev Fifths, you need to make room for this one. © 2012 International Record Review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2012

I shall be greatly surprised if this disc, the first in a complete Prokofiev symphony cycle, doesn’t win a crop of awards around the world. Let us start with a sound quality that, even in a world where we have become accustomed to detailed, thrilling and perfectly balanced engineering, is very special in its reality, impact and clarity. Then turn to the Sao Paulo Symphony, an orchestra that now is looking to be in the same league as the famous names from Chicago, Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam and London, and on this evidence it is as exciting as any. In every department they are exemplary—listen to the neatness of the violins in the finale of the symphony—every technical hurdle pushed aside as if it does not exist. The woodwind are a delight, the many solos played by musicians that in any other context would be soloists. The brass possess ample cutting power, but it is the mellow sounds that characterise their playing, while the percussion, with the help of ideal engineering, are so rhythmically alive. And at the helm is the orchestra’s new principal conductor, Marin Alsop. Her interpretation of the symphony sends it rocketing to the top of my recommended list, and, yes, I have heard every studio recording from the LP era onwards. I know that the handling of the accelerando in the second movement is always a bone of contention, but here it is as good a compromise as any. The Symphonic Suite, The Year 1941, relating the German invasion of Russia,was badly received at its Moscow premiere in 1943, and it has never really recovered. Yet given this ‘no holds barred’ approach, it can still raise the temperature in the concert hall, its three short movements certainly never outstaying their welcome. I now await the rest of the cycle with eager anticipation. © 2012 David’s Review Corner

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