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December 8, 2010

For the classical music lover on your holiday gift list, Part I

If you've got a classical music lover on your gift list this year, I've got some suggestions that might earn you an appreciative response. I'll be posting them over the next few days.

To start, how about something nice and local? There's a just-released recording by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Marin Alsop.

This one completes a Dvorak series for the Naxos label with a very appealing performance of the composer's Symphony No. 6.

Right from the start, it's a winner, as Alsop and the ensemble pull you gently, but firmly, into one of Dvorak's sunniest worlds.

This work doesn't get nearly the attention of the 7th, 8th and 9th symphonies, but it should. (Those pieces are on the BSO's first two Dvorak CDs.) The Sixth offers a feast of ingratiating melody and prismatic orchestration, qualities that Alsop brings out effectively.

Hallmarks of the music director's BSO tenure --

more disciplined articulation and keener rhythmic precision in the ensemble -- shine through here. The strings sound rich and lithe, the woodwinds beguiling, the brass rich and powerful.

In addition to the Sixth, the album includes a beautifully shaded account of the Nocturne in B major and a vibrantly delivered Scherzo Capriccioso.

The BSO/Alsop Dvorak cycle has been quite successful, with many a plaudit in the musical press. I'd call this release the best of the set, with an extra glow in the orchestra's sound and an extra degree of spontaneity in the playing.

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:45 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: BSO, Classical, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop


So the first four symphonies will not be recorded?

From what I've been told, that's the end of the series. Perhaps the Prokofiev cycle will be complete. TS

Dvorak's 6th is my favorite symphony of the 9. I can't wait to hear Alsop's performance. While "sunny" is a term that can be used for several of his works, I think it only partially describes what this symphony is about. For proof, listen to a now deleted performance with Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony from the 60's. I think his performance proves that this work, is not only sunny, but has grandeur and heroism as well. It will literally knock your socks off and make you listen to this symphony in a new way.

Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm. I was remiss to use only the one adjective. This work sure has some fabulous clouds as well. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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