The albums below are "Classical Releases Of Current Key Significance," or "CROCKS," if you will. Click any album picture or title to see where we suggest getting it.

There's never a dull moment in these lively symphonies by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach (1714-1788) dating from 1775. Unlike the four-movement ones being written back then by Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, these are in three, and adhere to the fast-slow-fast structure that was so popular with Italian composers like Antonio Vivaldi.

Mozart reportedly thought very highly of C.P.E. and when you hear these elegant, well written works you'll understand why. They're full of kinky angular melodies, surprising key changes and bouncy rhythms that impart a youthful quality which belies the fact that the composer was in his sixties when he wrote them. Ludwig van Beethoven apparently considered himself a disciple of C.P.E. and in that regard these works can be regarded as bridging the baroque era of daddy J.S. Bach with the late classical/early romantic one of Beethoven.

The program also includes a cello concerto, which may at first appear to be right out of Vivaldi. However, the slow movement has a gravitas and emotional density atypical of that great Italian composer's works in this genre.

The performances by all concerned are highly enthusiastic and spirited.

The recorded sound on this hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0) disc is audiophile quality, particularly when played in the SACD mode, making this a most desirable release. By the way, it's also available in conventional, CD(2) format. (Y061206)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

At long last here's a modern-day recording of Sir Arthur Bliss' (1891-1975) rarely done violin concerto. This piece is well worth getting to know and you’ll only wonder why it hasn't been performed and recorded more often. Violinists will find it's a perfect showcase for their art, because the composer worked closely with its dedicatee, British/Italian virtuoso Alfredo Campoli, while writing it.

In three movements, the first must be one of Bliss' most lyrical creations. It's followed by a brilliantly orchestrated scherzo, which is apparently done in full without a cut that was later authorized by the composer. The album notes tell us, and quite believably so, that it was inspired by Berlioz' Queen Mab scherzo. The last movement opens slowly with a rhapsodic passage that introduces a highly animated, gypsy-like middle section, which allowed Campoli to show off his incredible spiccato. A gorgeously searching cadenza follows and leads to a very moving coda based on some of the best preceding thematic material.

One of Bliss' most popular works, A Colour Symphony, begins this concert. Many probably already have at least one recording of this piece, but when you hear Hickox's take on it, with a little help from his friends the Chandos engineers, you may well find yourselves on the way to the used CD store with those older versions. The Red scherzo is a ball of fire while the Green finale has a ceremonial majesty and thrilling conclusion involving six timpani.

Absolutely committed performances and great sound will leave you in a state of contentment and bliss when you spin this disc. (P061205)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

American music lovers as well as audiophiles are going to want this spectacular hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0) disc. These two symphonies are at the opposite ends of Charles Ives' (1874-1954) musical spectrum.

The first was written while the composer was a student of Horatio Parker at Yale University. It's very much an eclectic late-romantic frolic with passages that recall such greats as Johannes Brahms, Antonin Dvorak, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Richard Wagner. Yet, the lion's claws still show through in the form of daring modulations and other musical idiosyncrasies that drove his teacher crazy, and would become the mainstay of Ives' mature style. The finale is a real piece of work where all of the previous themes go Marching through Georgia, so to speak. Talk about cyclic form, this would have turned Cesar Franck green with envy!

The fourth is another story and represents the composer at his most visionary. All the Ivesian touches are here including a multitude of folk and hymn tune references, as well as complex melodic and rhythmic superimpositions that for most performances require the services of at least one sub-conductor. In some ways it's an expansion of his better known Unanswered Question in that the opening prelude questions the purpose and meaning of life which the next three movements attempt to answer. Most would have to agree that this symphony is an American masterpiece. The variety of moods and emotions expressed in this brilliant score are mind-boggling. It can be raucously grating one minute and meltingly gorgeous the next. For many of us the ending is one of the most mystically beautiful collections of notes ever put on paper.

The concert concludes with an old favorite, Central Park in the Dark. It's America's answer to the impressionists Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, but from the pen of the most creative insurance salesmen who ever lived!

The Dallas Symphony Chorus and Orchestra give superlative performances under conductor Andrew Litton, who brings out every nuance of this multifaceted music. The emphasis here is on elegance and clarity unlike some of the more hyped-up renditions that have appeared in the past.

Although derived from live performances, the recording is superb and the audience is as quiet as a mouse. Ives' complicated music is tailor-made for multi-channel, as those with theater systems will discover. However, both the conventional and SACD stereo tracks couldn't be better and far surpass the competition. Audiophiles will find a new choral/orchestral demonstration standard with this release. This is also available in conventional, CD(2) format.

By the way, you'll also want to hear Hyperion's companion release to this featuring Charlie's second and third symphonies. (Y061204)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

The word succinct best describes the music of Alan Rawsthorne (1905-1971) on this release. There isn't a wasted note in these no-nonsense pieces and they bear repeated listening to decipher all their intricacies.

The first quartet is atypical because it consists of a single, theme and variations movement that lasts only about ten minutes. It begins with a wistfully tentative motif, which is subjected to six transformations. They are of contrasting mood with the first quite agitated and the rest ranging from pensive to mercurial at the very end. The construction like in all of Rawsthorne’s compositions is tightly-knit.

The second quartet is in the standard four movements and more austere than its predecessor. It begins insistently with an agitated melody that is developed most effectively. An impassioned allegro and misty allegretto follow and the work concludes with another outstanding theme and variations.

The third quartet is the most rigorous of all and shows what a master musical craftsman this composer was. It's in three movements and the central one, which is a chaconne, is a tiny masterpiece unto itself.

In addition to these works, the program opens with a theme and variations for two violins. An early opus, this is some of the most incisively inventive music you could ever hope to hear for two fiddlers, and hints at what would follow in the quartets.

Once more the members of the Maggini Quartet demonstrate that when it comes to late romantic/early modern English chamber music of this type they have few peers.

he recorded sound may be a bit dry, but if anything that helps to elucidate these rigorous scores. (P061203)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

It's amazing how well the chamber music of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) lends itself to arrangements for larger ensembles. While the symphonic versions of the quartets come immediately to mind, when you hear this outstanding disc you'll find that's equally true for pieces originally written for only two instruments. In fact many listeners may find that the renditions of the violin and viola sonatas (opus 134 and 147) recorded here are the most successful expansions to date, because they take on a new and highly convincing concerto-like character. The violin/viola solo part is retained while the piano accompaniment is reworked for strings and percussion. These arrangements are expertly done and if anything come across with even more emotional impact than the originals. Shostakovich's music doesn't get any more profound than this and it'll require your fullest attention for maximum appreciation.

The violin sonata was written for David Oistrakh and it's a real virtuoso piece that starts off with an anxiety-ridden andante movement. This is followed by a savagely driving allegretto and a finale that begins with one of the composer's most imaginative passacaglias. This builds to a frenzied climax followed by a cadenza that's definitely not for amateurs, and a conclusion reprising the opening movement. If you thought this music was intense, well you ain't heard nothin' yet!

The viola sonata was the composer's last piece and like his fifteenth and final symphony there are some very personal quotations from other works (read the excellent album notes) including Ludwig van Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. The latter (track-6 beginning at 02:33) forms the underlying basis for a mysteriously meditative conclusion to what must be one of Shostakovich's most emotionally moving works. The "celestial" touches at the very end are pure magic and bound to bring a tear to your eye when you consider these passages were some of the last ever written by this great composer.

The performances featuring Gidon Kremer violin and Yuri Bashmet viola are stunning and the instrumental support from Kremerata Baltica, completely heartrending.

The recording is demonstration quality and audiophiles should look no further for a disc with some of the most natural sounding string tone yet captured on conventional CD. (Y061202)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

Albany has done a great service for all American music lovers with this enterprising release. Except for the ever popular The Plow That Broke the Plains and The River, recordings of Virgil Thomson's (1896-1989) orchestral works are pretty far and few between.

Well, here's his cello concerto and what a magnificent discovery it turns out to be. It’s typical Thomson and the three movements are subtitled Rider on the Plains, Variations on a Southern Hymn and Children's Games. The first opens with a lovely theme that conjures up the vast vistas of the American West. The second is a very inventive set of heartfelt variations on a modal shape-note hymn tune. The finale is a childlike frolic with those endearing Thomson references to folk ditties and hymns. He learned his trade well at Harvard University, because he was a past master when it came to highly imaginative harmonization and crystal clear orchestration. He was an absolute genius at writing music that was straightforward and simple, but at the same time totally engaging. Just listen to those playful touches with the xylophone in the opening and closing sections.

Five of his highly colorful portraits for cello and piano follow.

This outstanding disc also serves to introduce us to American composer Charles Fussell (b. 1938), who was close to Thomson and even studied with him. His theme and variations for cello and string orchestra entitled Right River is highly dramatic and most appealing. The album notes tell us Fussell was inspired by images of a solitary adventurer drifting down a river winding through a lush and dangerous wilderness.

The concert ends with Fussell's Two Ballades for Cello and Piano. These are highly expressive pieces that are a virtuosic tour de force and at times quite impressionistic.

The performances are committed and make a strong case for everything here despite a couple of intonational anomolies.

The sound on this hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0) disc is superb, particularly in the SACD modes. The realism with which the cello and piano are captured will delight all audiophiles! (Y061201)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (