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Brian Wigman
Classical Net, April 2013

This is another triumph, two spectacular American choral premieres that sandwich an evergreen classic. The theme works, the program convinces, and the music shines.

The Schuman is a marvelous two-section choral work…Kalmar orchestra and Bell’s exceptional chorus make this somewhat thorny work accessible and exciting.

Carlos Kalmar is a very talented young conductor, and the Grant Park Orchestra has done some equally good things. The strings play warmly throughout, and winds also deserve honorable mention.

The Sowerby is just outstanding. Cedille adds to the attraction—and you can say the same for the whole disc—with stunning sonic quality…the Grant Park Chorus…work wonders, from the loudest outbursts down to some ravishing pianissimos. The orchestra navigates this “new” music with expert precision and intelligence.

Cedille deserves all credit for this marvelous production…the music-making speaks for itself. Pick this one up with total confidence. © 2013 Classical Net Read complete review

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, February 2012

The Sowerby and Schuman pieces are, amazingly, first recordings, and the wide soundstage and spectacular depth and presence of the orchestra are fitting compliments to two deserving pieces. If Appalachian Spring doesn’t quite live up to expectations it in no way diminishes the importance of this release. Let’s pray that Cedille continues the efforts. © 2012 Audiophile Audition Read complete review

Walter Simmons
Fanfare, January 2012

this is a warm, sympathetic, and polished rendition of the score, worthy of consideration alongside the best of the many other recorded performances. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare

Michael Quinn
The Classical Review, December 2011

The surprise of this enormously rewarding disc from Chicago’s Cedille Records was that it hadn’t been done before. The pleasure of it was that it was carried off with such aplomb. …Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus under Carlos Kalmar proved ardent and eloquent advocates of all three works. Cedille’s live recording perfectly framed the obvious adrenalin of the performances to memorable effect. © 2011 The Classical Review See complete list

Merlin Patterson
Fanfare, November 2011

…two important premiere recordings, A Free Song by William Schuman and Leo Sowerby’s The Canticle of the Sun, highlight the collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning works performed by Carlos Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus.

Paul A. Snook
Fanfare, November 2011

The Schuman-Sowerby Pulitzer Prize-winning cantatas on Cedille is a no-brainer because this is a pairing I have been fantasizing about for decades.

Paul A. Snook
Fanfare, November 2011

With performances of total involvement and commitment, magnificently recorded in concert at the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus’s new Frank Gehry-designed home in Chicago’s Millenium Park…this release is monumental in every sense. My first Want List selection is hereby spoken for.

…making this disc indispensable are the first recordings of the Schuman and the Sowerby.

Laurence Vittes
Gramophone, November 2011

Chicago’s Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus make an eloquent case for music by William Schuman and Leo Sowerby that strives to capture American enthusiasm and energy…The performance of Appalachian Spring is more vital…

…the sound is brilliant throughout.

David Hurwitz, September 2011

…the playing is excellent and as lively as one could wish.

…Canticle is…a wonderfully varied, textually aware piece of writing, sensitively scored, harmonically pungent and sophisticated, atmospheric and evocative. It does not sound easy to sing, and Christopher Bell’s Grant Park Chorus does a really impressive job bringing the piece to life.

Cedille’s sonics are uniformly excellent, warm and very well balanced, particularly in the choral works. An impressive and important release.

Frank J. Oteri
NewMusicBox, August 2011

On Freedom’s Ground…reveals a remarkably consistent compositional voice throughout and begs the question of why this music has still not entered the repertoire of orchestras in this country.

The Canticle of the Sun…is another total revelation….powerful work, a half-hour long setting of Malcolm Arnold’s translation of the “Prayer of St Francis of Assisi” for chorus and orchestra…

A Free Song…reveals…a deeply moving and sensitive interpreter of important American poetry…A Free Song is a stirring and powerful celebration of liberty that Americans should listen to with pride and appreciation.

…round up a chorus and orchestra and head down to Washington, D.C. to perform it live outside of the nation’s Capitol; those folks should listen to it, too!

Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News, July 2011

A fascinating idea and unintentionally a revealing one. There are three works here that all won Pulitzer Prizes for musical composition in the ’40s—Schuman’s “A Free Song” for chorus and orchestra, a 1943 winner based on Whitman texts but very much redolent of war; Aaron Copland’s original 13-instrument version of his “Appalachian Spring,” which won the Pulitzer in 1945; and Leo Sowerby’s 1946 winner “The Canticle of the Sun” for orchestra and chorus. Except for Copland’s living masterpiece—one of the greatest and most enduring pieces of American music from the 20th century—this is interesting music of its time, occasionally haunting in the case of Schuman but more an effective exhibit in a sonic museum than a vital recording of living music.

John von Rhein
Chicago Tribune, July 2011

This first-ever recording to include the Grant Park Chorus gathers three significant American orchestral works from the 1940s that won the first Pulitzer Prizes ever awarded in music.

Neither William Schuman’s Second Secular Cantata, “A Free Song” (the first recipient of the music Pulitzer, in 1943), nor Chicago composer Leo Sowerby’s “The Canticle of the Sun” (the 1946 winner) has been previously recorded. The centerpiece, the suite from Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” (which took the 1944 Pulitzer), has, of course, been recorded many times.

Even so, the attractive and unusual couplings and the committed performances by the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus, make this disc, taken from concerts at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park in June 2010, well worth investigating.

“A Free Song” infuses Walt Whitman verses from the Civil War era with the composer’s own troubled misgivings and, finally, heroic optimism, in the face of another brutal conflict in 1943. At nearly 14 minutes, this is Schuman at his pithy, sinewy best.

Marvin J. Ward
Classical Voice of North Carolina (, July 2011

This project was the conductor’s concept and these performances are superb. The orchestra exhibits excellent ensemble and precision.
© Marvin J. Ward & CVNC. Reproduced with permission. Read complete review

Michael Quinn
The Classical Review, July 2011

Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded to outstanding new American compositions since 1943. But while individual works have found their way onto disc, albeit often woefully long after the event, it comes as something of a surprise to realize that no label, homegrown or otherwise, has ever committed to a series of recordings capturing the best of the best, let alone the entire roll call of honor.

Last June, Cedille Records set its microphones up in the Harris Theater at Chicago’s Grant Park Festival on the occasion of its The Pulitzer Project concert—an enterprising initiative by the only remaining free, outdoor classical music series in the US—which showcased three prize-winning works from the 1940s. The result is a compelling coupling of a core-repertoire work—Copland’s Appalachian Spring—with two relative rarities: William Schuman’s A Free Song and Leo Sowerby’s The Canticle of the Sun.

Schuman’s Second Secular Cantata was the first recipient of the Pulitzer music prize in 1943, the year of its instigation. Written in the midst of World War II, it sets two contrasted passages from Walt Whitman’s Drum Taps, a sequence prompted by his experiences as a hospital volunteer during the American Civil War.

It opens with a cri de coeur bathed in Requiem-like anguish—“Long, too long, America”—that gives way to a violent orchestral breast-beating which, in turn, is overtaken by a powerful fugue that culminates in a call, no less vital than the dour opening, to heroic optimism. At just under 14 minutes, it’s a compact work that conflates Whitman’s expansive verse into a concentrated, granite-like steadfastness and elegiacally-tinged composure, but the Grant Park forces pull it off with discernible aplomb and a compelling sense of due gravity.

The centerpiece work, Copland’s Appalachian Spring, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1945. Presented here is the Suite drawn from the original ballet score. It’s a work stamped through with the rousing romance of America’s pioneering spirit, a nostalgic paean to the frontier adventure, aspiration and ambition, and shot through with beauty and grandeur, poetry and patriotism. Kalmar may linger a little too indulgently in the score’s moments of warming, reflective sentiment, but he’s absolutely on top of its astonishing emotional energy and invigorating technical dexterity, by turns driving on and reigning in the orchestra to dramatically involving effect.

Why Leo Sowerby’s The Canticle of the Sun (and Schuman’s A Free Song, for that matter) hasn’t been recorded before is a mystery. Picking up the Pulitzer in 1946—when Copland along with the award’s 1944 winner, Howard Hanson, were on the judging committee—it sets St. Francis of Assisi’s 13th-century hymn praising God and his creations with enormous grandeur and gravity.

Copland would surely have approved of Sowerby’s characterful use of strings and woodwind throughout. But Sowerby’s writing for choir and orchestra has a power and passion all of its own, as Lawrence Johnson noted in his review of the concert for our sister site, Chicago Classical Review, “the Canticle opens with impassioned sweep in the orchestra and shows Sowerby’s confident handling of orchestra and voices, often drawing a striking organ-like sonority from the instrumental choirs.”

I was less concerned about his worry that the work “misses that last bit of individuality.” With Sowerby setting Matthew Arnold’s English translation of the original Italian text, imbued as it is with late-19th-century Protestantism, how, arguably, could it be otherwise? Even allowing for the red-blooded robustness of Sowerby’s music throughout—marshalled to both mellifluous and muscular effect, and often simultaneously so—there’s something of the now dour, now damning Anglican pulpit underpinning and infusing the piece.

Kalmar’s insistent pushing of the orchestra has irresistible dramatic intensity, but it also has a tendency to leave the chorus sounding as if it is being pulled along in its wake. Even so, under their northern Irish director, Christopher Bell, the Grant Park Chorus throughout move between hypnotic luminosity, passionate intensity and anthemic ebullience with an easy but precisely pitched eloquence. Heard here in its live context, in the Harris Theater in Chicago’s Millennium Park, the tremendous thrust and weight of both instrumental and vocal forces justifies itself by lending the work an emphatic impulse and immediacy that captures and compels the ear.

James Ginsburg’s full-bodied production—with adroit patching courtesy of Christopher Bell, and superb engineering by Eric Arunas and Bill Maylone—accommodates the obvious adrenalin of live performances to engaging effect.

There is no indication that this might be the first volume in a Pulitzer Prize series, but if any future recordings could match the riveting performances encountered here, such a project could well develop into an altogether invaluable historical and musical document.

Cinemusical, June 2011

Recorded in concert last summer, this disc from the Grant Park (Chicago) Orchestra and Chorus brings together three of the first four classical works which received the Pulitzer Prize in Music (Howard Hanson’s powerful, Neo-Romantic Fourth Symphony was awarded the Pulitzer in 1944). Of the three only one has managed to stay consistently in the orchestral repertoire, albeit in its larger orchestral form. All three of the composers represented here, William Schuman, Aaron Copland, and Leo Sowerby, are important artists who contributed much to our musical landscape. What is fascinating is that both the Schuman and Sowerby receive their world premiere recordings here—which in the latter case is enough to warrant acquiring this disc for any student serious about American Music.

William Schuman was the first composer to receive the Pulitzer for Music in 1943. It was for his choral-orchestral settings of texts from Walt Whitman’s Drum Taps, A Free Song (1942). The music’s power spoke loudly to a nation at war. The opening movement, “Look Down, Fair Moon,” opens contemplatively enough with beautiful lyrical lines and a fine baritone solo (sung well here by Ryan J. Cox). Where the piece shines, though, is in its concluding second movement, “Song of the Banner.” Here are those massive blocks of harmonic writing which are hallmarks of Schuman’s sound. The music is forceful, not as angular as one would expect, but opens powered with a fascinating fugue. It is also in this movement where Schuman’s brilliant orchestration comes to the foreground growing into a quiet patriotic and rousing full orchestra and choral conclusion. The powerful performance by The Grant Park chorus and orchestra is simply earth shattering, especially in its final bars. The chorus feels at times a bit recessed (a common problem in any large choral production) but texts are mostly clear. Carlos Kalmar proves to be a perfect match for shaping this music and the fugue comes off perfectly with just the right dramatic emphasis.

Appalachian Spring (1944) is probably the most famous American ballet ever composed. In it we see much of Aaron Copland’s Americana style in full blossom. In contrast to the Schuman before it, one could not find a better contrast in style. Simple lines and rich harmonic writing that shifts between an open sound and those that pull together into major seventh chords, make for music that has a growing power. Perhaps known more for its inclusion of the Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts,” the ballet for Martha Graham is part of a sound that was gracing her ballets not just by Copland, but by others she commissioned. There is no denying the power of this score however and the Pulitzer was awarded for its chamber orchestra version. In 1945, Copland’s suite (performed on this release) brought together 8 of the movements for fuller orchestra and is the version heard most today. It is unfortunate that the performance here is not of the version which actually received the Pulitzer in 1945. Still the Grant Park musicians are more than capable of handling the music that is everyone’s hope to perform at some point. Some of the dance segments feel just slightly under tempo at times, but no less convincing and when it takes off it does so with fabulously clean articulation and crystal clear orchestral textures. Though many will have their favorite performance of this work, this one deserves to be in that mix.

For no real good reason, Leo Sowerby (1895–1968) has all but faded from musical notice. Organists may be most familiar with his many masterful pieces for that instrument and other church works. Sowerby was the composer-in-residence for over 30 years for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra whose conductor, Frederick Stock, was a champion of his works. Stock’s death occurred 2 months before the commission for what is perhaps Sowerby’s masterpiece, The Canticle of the Sun (1945). Though winning the Pulitzer for this piece in 1946, his publisher joked that his music would be harder to sell than ever. At any rate, this work has seen about a dozen performances over the past 65 years which is simply tragic. Sowerby’s texts for the piece are by St. Francis of Assisi. Though theoretically religious texts, Sowerby felt the work was more a secular concert work in line with his symphonies, concerti, and other formal pieces. It might be safe to say that Sowerby’s textual choice was a bit bold at a time when most composer’s were exploring American poets of the 19th century, especially the Transcendentalists. But given the composition of the work in the concluding years of WWII, one finds that it is a work of cosmic hope that wants to get at deeper meanings and universal truths. Critics at the time had a hard time placing the musical style finding in the work Delian qualities (listen especially to some of the final cadential moments in the score, and in the quieter choral passages) to Liszt and Wagnerian orchestral writing. The intense dramatic quality of the work is nonetheless captured in a Neo-Romantic like orchestral style of expanded harmonic proportions. The orchestral writing is as brilliant as one is likely to find and the choral writing is a reminder that Sowerby was a master at composing for voices. The moving work receives a stellar performance here and is filled with proper nuance and well-shaped lines and orchestral balance. There were many large-scale choral and orchestral works that came out of the 1940s and the neglect of this one continues to be unfathomable. This performance alone is enough to recommend the present release.

For those unfamiliar with the Grant Park Orchestra, they essentially perform outdoor concerts in Chicago’s Millennium Park. It is where this program was recorded last June (2010) and this may have something to do with a bit more bass balance at times and the choral projection. But the sound is still quite amazing with a fabulously-captured dynamic range. The booklet includes all the texts and as well as excellent program notes. If ever an ensemble could be encouraged to continue exploring other Pulitzer works, one can only hope that it would be the Grant Park ensemble under their conductor Carlos Kalmar. The entire production is simply wonderful and a testament to the quality of America’s many lesser known regional orchestras. This disc would have been recommendable for the repertoire alone, but fortunately, one can highly recommend this disc from its excellent performances alone.

Stephen Eddins, June 2011

The Pulitzer Project is an intriguing concept for an album, especially because it fills in gaps with two prize-winning works that are receiving their first recording. The release brings down to eight the number of works that have not been recorded from among the 65 prizes that have been awarded from its inception in 1943 to 2011. Only a handful, though (most prominently Copland’s Appalachian Spring), have entered the standard repertoire, and the majority have received only a single recording, so the prize, in spite of its prestige, has proven to be a poor predictor of a work’s longevity and standing in history. These three works come from early in the music Pulitzer’s history: William Schuman’s A Free Song (the first piece to receive the award, in 1943), Appalachian Spring (1945) and Leo Sowerby’s The Canticle of the Sun (1946). The Schuman and Sowerby are choral works, the first very brief at 13 minutes, and the second a more substantial 32 minutes. The two movements of the Schuman use texts from Whitman’s Drum Taps, the first movement lyrically melancholy and the second with the kind of aggressive energy for which the composer is better known. The Sowerby, which sets Matthew Arnold’s translation of the familiar prayer by St. Francis, engages the mind more than the heart. It’s skillfully put together, but the composer’s overuse of imitative counterpoint wears thin, and the overall tone feels too angst-y for such an exuberant, cheerful text. The inclusion of the orchestral suite from Appalachian Spring is something of a stretch in the context of the album’s theme, since it was the complete ballet in its original version for chamber ensemble that actually won the prize. It’s such a terrific performance, though, that there’s no point in quibbling. Carlos Kalmar is a conductor of exceptional energy and insight and the top-notch, responsive playing he draws from the Grant Park Orchestra should put to rest any notion that regional orchestras cannot deliver thrilling performances. The Grant Park Chorus, directed by Christopher Bell, is likewise superlative, singing with precision and lovely tone. Cedille’s sound is spacious and well-balanced; occasional murkiness is probably due more to the denseness of Sowerby’s choral writing than to the engineering.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group