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.

Here are two albums that will appeal to chamber music fans and audiophiles alike. You may not be familiar with the Fry Street Quartet (FSQ), but after you hear these releases, you'll certainly never forget this outstanding group of musicians. The album to the left includes two string quartets of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) along with ones by Ned Rorem and J. Mark Scearce (b. 1960), as well as the three pieces for string quartet by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). The one to the right includes two quartets of Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809).

Haydn has been called "the father of the string quartet," and although some may quibble with that, there's no denying that he certainly established it as one of the mainstays of chamber music. He completed sixty-seven of them and the two here show him at his best during his early Sturm und Drang years (circa 1770) and towards the end of his career (1799) respectively. In fact the later one was his final completed work in this genre. Both are in four movements that are marked similarly to those usually found in his symphonies.

The earlier quartet (Op. 9, No. 4), which was the first he wrote in a minor key, begins in almost manic-depressive fashion with contrasting somber and jubilant passages. A pleading minuet and lovely adagio follow, and the work ends in a perky presto, which the FSQ execute with immaculate precision. The later one (Op. 77, No. 2) represents Haydn at his most playful and these musicians have an absolute ball with it.

It's interesting to compare it with the earlier of the Beethoven quartets on the other album. Written in 1800, this was his fifth (Op. 18, No. 5) and it starts off in rather Haydnesque fashion. But not for long, because "Ludwig the Lion's" claws soon show through in brief anguished passages. The cheery finale is again reminiscent of Franz Joseph, but occasional passages of a more weighty nature foreshadow what's to come in his later quartets, such as the other one offered here.

Many of us think the fifteenth (Op. 132) is Beethoven's greatest quartet, and the FSQ deliver a performance which may well cause those, who up until now have disagreed with us, to reconsider. This five-movement work's center of gravity is the central adagio, which Beethoven called a "Heiliger Dankgesang" or "Holy Song of Thanksgiving." It was inspired by the composer's recovery from a serious illness, and it's one of the most moving creations in all of classical music, particularly when played with as much veneration as the FSQ have for it. But enough said, because when it comes to music of this caliber, hearing is better than reading, so just get the album and experience it firsthand.

In addition to the Beethoven, this album also features these same marvelous musicians performing 20th century works. Rorem's quartet (his fourth dating from 1923) is in ten movements, each of which takes its name from one of Pablo Picasso's paintings. These tiny impressionistic pictures are Latin in temperament and evoke a variety of moods.

The Scearce quartet was written in 2000 and is subtitled "Y2K," which was the popular sometimes fatalistic moniker that became associated with that year. It's in four movements and the slow one is hauntingly beautiful. Is that a veiled reference to the Dies Irae in the third? Scearce acknowledges his love for Bela Bartok's quartets, and not surprisingly their influence is quite evident. However, there's an individualism that gives this thought-provoking music a sound all of its own.

The album is filled out with Stravinsky's three tiny pieces for string quartet dating from 1914. These tidbits are neoclassical in spirit and presage L'Histoire du soldat, which came five years later.

Both of these albums are presented in exceptional sound thanks to Ray Kimber of Kimber Kable, and his phenomenal, newly developed microphone technology known as IsoMike. But, rather than trying to explain it on this page, please click here to read about it firsthand on the Kimber Web site.

Suffice to say that from the audiophile standpoint many recordings are compromised from the very beginning. That's because more often than not the typical array of microphones used fails to give a properly focused, phase-correct electrical representation of the sound field impinging on it. Utilizing some proprietary baffling techniques, IsoMike assures the electrical image generated is as close to theoretically perfect as possible.

This along with some analogue-to-digital wizardry from Ed Meitner of EMM Labs results in the amazingly natural sounding performances captured on these two hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/4.0) albums. You'll find the CD and SACD stereo tracks deliver an exquisitely detailed soundstage. If your listening room is not too reverberant, the SACD multi-channel track will have you believing you're right in the concert hall. Please note that in this mode you'll hear only four channels (left-front, right-front, left-back and right-back). There are no center or subwoofer ones, because these would be redundant with IsoMike, and only degrade the sonic image. It would appear that a new day has dawned for audiophiles. (Y070207, Y070206)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

Danish composer Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) was a real iconoclast as any of you who got his opera Antikrist (see the newsletter of 20 September 2006) must know. In fact, he was such an individualist that the old expression, "after they made him, they broke the mold," certainly applies. While the majority of his contemporaries were doing their best to shun romanticism and come up with modern creations, some of which were so extreme as to be just plain listener-hostile, he persisted in writing late romantic music. The three symphonies included here, which were composed between 1946 and 1948, are a good case in point.

The twelfth, subtitled "Helsingeborg," is a real oddity and in one seven-minute movement. It's apparently a purposeful distortion of the composer's idealistic first symphony, and meant to signify his disillusionment with mankind. It opens expansively in most agreeable fashion, and has a lovely Wagnerian sounding central section. But then it turns rather pensive and ends with a musical slap in the face.

Like its predecessor, the thirteenth, subtitled "Belief in Wonders", is also in one movement, and borrows from earlier works. It's straightforward, almost pops-like music with immediate appeal. One might think of it as an extended orchestral "ramble," to use one of Percy Grainger's more colorful sobriquets. It requires the services of a pianist as well as an organist. The ending is most festive and may well remind you of those thrilling symphonies for organ and orchestra by the likes of Alexandre Guilmant, Camille Saint-Saens and Charles-Marie Widor.

The fourteenth, subtitled "The Morning," is really a seven-movement suite for orchestra with some brief choral support provided at the beginning and end. It opens sounding like something from one of those massive Elgar oratorios, but the second movement, which is only for strings, is quite subdued. It must rank as one of the loveliest pieces ever written for that group of instruments. The full orchestra returns in the third with a drop-dead gorgeous theme, which sounds quite similar to one from a very well-known work by another composer. Can you name it [see answer]? Three more delightful, almost dance-like movements follow, and then the chorus returns in the last providing a wonderful feel-good ending.

Interestingly enough, there was a time when the fourteenth and thirteenth were played in that order as a single symphony entitled "All that is Beautiful." A sixteen-bar epilogue was tacked on at the very end, but other than that you can easily recreate this alternate version with a little clever programming of your CD player.

The performances are definitive and based on new critical editions of all three works.

The sound on this hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0) disc is superb and audiophiles will find these symphonies not only light up their systems, but hearts as well. (Y070205)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

The three delightful works for strings appearing here come from a trio of modern day Italian composers.

Salvatore Messina (1876-1930) died before he could orchestrate his final opera La beffa a Don Chisciotte, but our conductor here, Paolo Pessina (b. 1969), arranged a suite for strings from it, and that's what opens this interesting CD. It's in seven sections and cannot help but appeal to those who love the music of Umberto Giordano and Pietro Mascagni. The adagio, which is derived from an aria in the opera, is absolutely lovely.

Next there’s a concerto for strings by the great Nino Rota (1911-1979). Well known for his film scores, he also composed a large body of outstanding music for the concert hall, and this piece is no exception. The wistful first movement is followed by a robust scherzo and heartfelt adagio, which pays hommage to Johann Sebastian Bach's Air on the G String. It concludes frenetically and in cyclical fashion with references to previous thematic material.

Conductor Pessina (see above) is also a composer in his own right and represented here by his Concertango. This is an ingenious contemporary version of an eighteenth-century concerto grosso spiked with rhythms typical of the legendary Argentinian dance referred to in the title. This is particularly true of the second movement where Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi meet Astor Piazzolla. Then, as if to throw you totally off balance, there's an intermezzo that begins just like Anton Karas' Third Man Theme. The finale is a kind of satanic tango into the abyss that's based on the Dies Irae, which would appear to be the Idee fixe for this newsletter (see the recommendation for Emil Tabakov's piano concerto below). The Pessina then ends with a whistle from the archfiend himself.

The performances are so energetic and committed that it's easy to overlook some occasional intonational anomalies, and the sound is quite good. (P070204)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

You'll find this music by contemporary Bulgarian composer Emil Tabakov (b. 1947) somewhat challenging, but with repeated listening, quite rewarding.

The concerto for two flutes was written in 2000 at the request of Patrick Gallois, who is its dedicatee as well as one of the soloists here. In two movements, it opens quietly with the flutes making themselves known in a mysteriously interrogatory way. The orchestral accompaniment gradually increases in intensity and then suddenly stops leaving the flutes to resume their questioning. It then builds to another shattering climax, but the soloists win the day as the orchestra slowly evaporates leaving them floating in space. The concluding movement is possessed by a demonic, highly rhythmic fifteen-note motif that becomes so totally overpowering that it literally scares the flutes away. It's really quite infectious, because days later you'll suddenly find it running through your head for no apparent reason.

This type of motif would seem to be a Tabakov trademark, because the piano concerto starts off with another very similar to it that the soloist must do battle with throughout the entire first movement. In fact there's a very militaristic aspect to these proceedings and one can almost picture newsreels of goose-stepping Nazis. Maybe this is explained by the fact that this piece was written in 2003 to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Army. The second movement is very restrained with the soloist playing pianissimo over a mysterious orchestral background. The total effect is quite hypnotic and a welcome respite from what's come before.

The finale is highly energetic and diabolically driven. It's somewhat reminiscent of Dmitri Shostakovich's concerto for piano, trumpet and strings and even has several passages featuring a solo trumpet. Like in composer-conductor Paolo Pessina's Concertango (see the recommendation above), Tabakov uses the Dies Irae, which lurks sinisterly in the background throughout the finale. It surfaces with great intensity just before the movement ends explosively just as it began.

Pianist Jean-Philippe Collard is magnificent and flutists Patrick Gallois and Philippe Bernold are in top form. The composer conducts the Turkish based Bilkent Symphony Orchestra in what must be definitive performances of these concertos.

The recording is quite good except for a couple of low frequency thumps, which sound like Tabakov must have been doing the "Bernstein Bounce" on the podium. (P070203)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

These early works by French composer Charles Tournemire (1870-1939) should be of great interest to all romantic organ enthusiasts. The music, written between 1894 and 1902, is not the mystical fare so typical of his later output, but more like what was coming from Charles-Marie Widor and Louis Vierne.

The recital opens with a wonderfully upbeat sortie, or march, which any about to tie the knot might want to consider instead of the all too familiar Mendelssohn.

Tournemire’s seven pieces for grand organ follow. They are organized into two suites (Op. 19 and 24), and each is dedicated to one of his musical associates. They are definitely not for beginners, and in a variety of forms ranging from those typically found in symphonic music to others of a liturgical nature. Highlights include a magnificent toccata and five tiny interludes. The later are grouped as one piece and contain modal melodies that presage what would come in Tournemire' s magnum opus known as L'Orgue Mystique. Another sortie ends the second suite on a celebratory note.

The concert continues with five selections (Nos. 1, 3, 4, 6 and 7, but not played in that order) from his Ten Pieces in Free Style, Op. 21 (not to be confused with Louis Vierne's 24 Pieces in Free Style, Op. 31). These also have dedicatees, and oddly enough number 1 begins somewhat like the 1954 popular song Three Coins in the Fountain. Do you suppose one of its writers (Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn) had heard the Tournemire? Number 7 starts off almost like the finale of Vierne's first organ symphony, which was written a couple of years earlier. One might expect Vierne to be the dedicatee, but that's not the case. He's honored instead by number 3, which is played last providing an exuberant conclusion to this portion of the recital.

Next comes a Symphonic Piece for Grand Organ, Op. 16, that's very much like the music of Cesar Franck, with whom Tournemire studied. It's only about nine minutes long, but in that short space of time the composer manages to shape a dynamically rising and falling sonic mountain.

The concert ends with a couple of real rarities. Tournemire was noted for his organ improvisations and even recorded some back in 1930-1931. Then in 1956 another of his students, Maurice Durufle, reconstructed them from those transcriptions. Two entitled Petite Rhapsodie and Catilene are included here. When you experience them, you'll only regret you weren't around to hear all those other one-shot, spur-of-the-moment inspirations that Tournemire must have tossed off at St. Clotilde in Paris, where he was titular organist.

They're beautifully played, as are all the other selections on this disc, by Michelle Leclerc on a fabulous organ located at the San Vicente Church in San Sebastian, Spain. This instrument was originally built by the great Aristide Cavaille-Coll and later enlarged. But it still retains those unmistakable tonal qualities so typical of its originator. It's perfectly suited for the selections on this disc, particularly when you consider that the organ at St. Clotilde was also a Cavaille-Coll.

The recording might come off sounding a mite bright on some systems, but other than that it’s quite good. (P070202)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (