Paul Lansky: Imaginary Islands [SACD]

Alabama Symphony Orchestra
Quattro Mani, pianos; David Starobin, guitar
Justin Brown, conductor
Bridge Records, 2012

“Brown and the Alabamans provide the music with all of the luminosity, spaciousness, and zest that burst forth from Lansky’s fertile imagination.”

– Donald Rosenberg, Gramophone, July, 2012

Mahler Symphony No. 9

Badische Staatskapelle Karlsruhe
Justin Brown, conductor
Pan Classics, 2012

“Ever since the Ring Cycle recording under Günther Neuhold, it was well established that this orchestra, one of the oldest in the world (three hundred fifty years), was of a remarkable standard. But one did not expect to hear such an exemplary account of the intimidating Symphony No. 9. It’s true that Brown grew up with the Horenstein version on LP, well before studying the score with Bernstein as his assistant in 1986. Moreover, this is the work which made him want to become a conductor. That’s all well and good, but no guarantee of success. In fact, however, right from the opening rhythm of the first movement, the British conductor showed himself to be an accomplished architect, distributing tensions and relaxations with great maturity. The central movements are paced without haste but with character, the finale dares to take its time, expressive without being expressionist. The strings have depth… the winds have bravado and character, as one would expect from a seasoned Wagner orchestra. Gilbert in Stockholm, Saraste in Cologne, Brown in Karlsruhe: clearly the 9th is a challenge which inspires second-level orchestras to surpass themselves – which is worth a lot more than the routine efforts of star combos à la Gergiev/LSO.”

– Christian Merlin, Diapason, May, 2012

“How does one approach such a work today?… There’s only one thing for it: you have to interpret Mahler’s music, you have to forge it – and Justin Brown and the Badische Staatskapelle Karlsruhe do so magnificently. Mahler’s thinking was imbued from the outset with the idea of a merging of song and symphony. The instrumental writing is always eloquently lyrical, and the songlike elements are embedded in the instrumental texture. This intricate interplay succeeds very well here. That this interpretation is very meticulous, will be heard at the beginning of the first movement, where, in an allusion to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the tonality is at first vague, becoming tangible only after a few bars, with a cadence in D major. Brown skillfully captures this hesitation, allowing the idea of music coming into being to become the actual theme. …As a means of describing Mahler’s music, [the writer and philosopher Theodor] Adorno’s coinage of terms such as “breakthrough,” “fulfillment” or “collapse” seem right. It almost seems as if Brown has allowed himself to be inspired by these terms… The orchestra superbly masters the almost continual alternation between the monumental and the lyrical, between the songlike and the purely instrumental. This is particularly evident in the fourth movement: a theme and ten variations, in which material from both the “Das Lied von der Erde” and “Kindertotenlieder” is present: so beautifully played as to induce tears. …The Badische Staatskapelle Karlsruhe this year celebrates its 350th anniversary; with this fine and nuanced interpretation under Justin Brown they have given themselves a fine birthday present.”

– Susanne Westerholt, Online Musik Magazin

“Justin Brown and the Badische Staatskapelle Karlsruhe are not as well-known in Mahler interpretation as others… but they will be if this reading of the Symphony No. 9 is indicative of their abilities. This is a live recording… blessed with SACD sound that lets the conductor bring forward every nuance of the music. And Brown discovers and brings out a very substantial number of them. The horns are especially impressive in the first movement, where the sense of yearning is almost palpable from the start. The movement builds in intensity and emotion, the exceptionally clear sound being of particular value in measures where the percussion bursts through either strongly or – at least as impressively – with delicacy. The second movement’s sense of grotesquerie is particularly clear here, with Brown focusing on the angularity of Mahler’s rhythms and highlighting the music’s dissonances. And then comes the frantic, near-hysterical energy of the third movement, which constantly sounds as if it going to veer off-track but never does – not even when it comes that close to going out of control at the very end. Listeners will be so breathless at this point that the very broad opening of the gorgeous finale will be a genuinely startling contrast. Here the strings excel, but the winds are equally wonderful, especially in the chamber-music-like sections on which Brown dwells lovingly, balancing the substantiality of the music’s emotionalism with minimalist expressiveness that is amazingly forward-looking. This movement proceeds on ocean-like waves of inevitability, swelling and subsiding on its way toward a very gentle ending that proffers the peace, not of death (as in some other performances), but of transcendence and acceptance. This is a gorgeous and deeply meaningful conclusion that makes one hope for more Mahler from Brown and his orchestra… showing convincingly in these recordings that Mahler’s time to be understood, analyzed and emotionally explored has most certainly, even gloriously, arrived.”

– Mark Estren,, 4.12.12

“Justin Brown… certainly knows his way around the Ninth, in a performance that creates telling contrasts between the piece’s inner intricacies and its broad-stroke moments, etching sharp contours in this elegiac work. The orchestra is close to first-class, the SACD sound is superb.”

– David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer

“The rendering of Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, performed three times in July 2011 under the direction of Justin Brown, is among the most outstanding concerts of the Staatskapelle in recent years. Now the recording is available on a Super Audio CD, filled to capacity with a little over 80 minutes of music. Brown’s direction of Mahler’s final late work is as far-reaching in its exposition and penetration of the structure as it is profound in its expression. The accomplishment of the Badische Staatskapelle is also sensational on all levels. This CD is thus a superb reference for the orchestra in its anniversary year and an enhancement of the sizeable Mahler discography.”

– Die Rheinpfalz, January 21, 2012

Dvořák: Piano Concerto

Odense Symphony Orchestra, Vassily Primakov, piano
Justin Brown, conductor
Bridge Records, 2009

“The other thing that makes this performance special is the outstanding contribution of Justin Brown and the Odense orchestra. Certainly this must be the finest accompaniment this concerto has yet received, full of color, transparency, fire, and (in the slow movement especially) sensitivity.”

– David Hurwitz,

Gershwin: Complete Music for Piano and Orchestra

Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Anne-Marie McDermott, piano
Justin Brown, conductor
Bridge Records, 2008

“There are countless recordings available of Gershwin’s piano and orchestral music, particularly of Rhapsody in Blue; so for something to stand out it has to be really, very good. Bridge’s George Gershwin: Complete Music for Piano and Orchestra featuring pianist Anne-Marie McDermott with the Dallas Symphony under Justin Brown, is exactly that… there are all kinds of small details, both in the piano part and the orchestra — that come through in these pieces that you’ll swear you’ve never heard before. That’s not because some variant text is in use, although it appears that McDermott and Brown have reviewed all of the textual options before proceeding, rather than relying on the outdated, heavily edited versions of these scores published in the 1950s. …Bridge’s George Gershwin: Complete Music for Piano and Orchestra is outstanding in every respect.”

– Dave Lewis,, July, 2008

Elgar and Barber Cello Concertos

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Anne Gastinel, cello
Justin Brown, conductor
Naïve Classique, January 2004

“…Justin Brown, also making his recording début with the CBSO, displays his own chamber music sensibilities to fine effect, securing nicely pointed orchestral playing, particularly in the Allegro finale, which is robustly galumphing where it needs to be.”

– David Gutman, Gramophone, April, 2004

“The conductor this time is Justin Brown, a big talent whose handling of both works combines command of the orchestra with an appreciation of his collaborative role.”

– Rob Cowan, Independent, February 16, 2004

“The orchestra under the direction of Justin Brown supports the soloist so incisively, with dabs of color and orchestral shadings that accentuate the filigree playing, that the whole thing comes together like an impressionistic painting… One can say that the accompaniment for the cellist is more than appropriate in its interpretively multilayered, expressive performance. The solo instrument and orchestra create a true unity, without the soloist being drowned out by the tonal fullness of the accompaniment.”

– online – Tobias Pfleger, March 15, 2004


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