30 JUNE 2007


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.

Hungarian composer Erno Dohnányi (1877-1960) was much more of a romantic than his contemporaries Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly. The three rarely heard, but outstanding works of his included on this fabulous-sounding hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0) release from Praga are no exception.

Many consider his serenade for string trio (1902) his finest chamber work. "Variety is the spice of life," as they say, and that's certainly the case here where all of its five movements are in different musical forms and alternate between fast and slow. There's something rather Mozartian about the perky opening march, which immediately grabs the listener's attention. The winsome romance that follows is spiced with hints of Magyar folk tunes. The centrally located scherzo proves to be a delightfully infectious number with a Tsigane touch. A theme and variations powered by one of the composer's most lovely melodies is next. It’s the melodic center of gravity for this romantic gem of an opus. The finale is a catchy romp that takes it's cue from the Hungarian rondo which concludes Franz Joseph Haydn's Gypsy Trio (No. 25, HobXV/25).

But there's more to come in the form of a string quartet, which was Dohnányi’s second and dates from 1906. While the influences of Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn and Johannes Brahms are evident, there's a chromaticism quite in keeping with the late-romantic style. It's in three movements and begins with a highly memorable melancholy melody that's subjected to some Mendelssohnian machinations throughout the introductory andante-allegro. An agitated presto, which starts off somewhat like the opening of Die Walkure, comes next and contains another beautiful Magyar-tinged theme. The finale opens dejectedly, but things become more optimistic as the movement progresses. Emotionally speaking, it's reminiscent of the Heiliger Dankgesang... section of Beethoven's fifteenth string quartet (Op. 132). The piece ends leaving the listener moved and with a sense of consolation.

The sextet was written in 1935 and is scored for piano, clarinet, horn and string trio. In four movements, the first one is forebodingly pensive with all of the instruments spending most of their time in the lower registers. There are occasional spots of sunlight, but the skies are totally overcast by the time the movement ends. The following intermezzo is if anything even more threatening with a martial sounding central section. The next movement is an absolute delight, and like the Dohnányi we know from his ever popular, Variations on a Nursery Song. It runs right into the finale that features a wonderfully angular, syncopated melody, which at times likes to waltz with itself. This is a "have-fun" movement where each of the soloists gets a chance to show their stuff. It ends this outstanding romantic ramble on a "feel-good" note.

The performances are spectacular and the recorded sound, superb -- audiophile's take note! The soundstage is perfect for all of the different ensembles represented, both in the CD and SACD stereo modes. The SACD multichannel one will put you right in the center of the concert hall. The Praga engineers have captured the piano and string sound to perfection, particularly on the SACD tracks. (Y070630)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

This release, containing all of the Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) orchestral works discovered to date, will be a CLOFO "Best Find" of the year. Anyone who can’t find something to like about it must be on their way to curmudgeondom! There are five -- count them -- five world premiere recordings here. These include Young Henry's Hunt, which was just unearthed in 2003, and the original versions of Grand Tarentelle, Cuban Country Scenes, A Montevideo Symphony and Concert Variations on the Portuguese National Anthem.

These pieces prove beyond a doubt that Louis Moreau was a fabulous melodist who drew heavily from the wealth of Creole as well as other North and South American folk material he encountered in his mind-boggling travels (see his fascinating book Notes of a Pianist). He was also a first-class orchestrator, which is not surprising when you consider he studied privately in Paris with the great Hector Berlioz.

This once in a lifetime concert opens with A Montevideo Symphony (No. 2, 1868-69), and from the very beginning anyone familiar with the old treasured Vox recording of it will find themselves in new territory. At only eleven minutes long, this lovable, disarmingly naive work must be the shortest romantic symphony ever written. It's full of aria-like as well as Camptown Races-sounding passages, and ends with a pastiche of beautifully interwoven patriotic airs from Uruguay and the United States. With references to Hail Columbia and Yankee Doodle, it anticipates what was to come from Charles Ives.

The Grand Tarentelle (1868) scored for piano and orchestra will be familiar to all Gottschalk fans, but the version here, like everything else on this disc, comes across with such clarity, lightness of touch and energy that many will find it preferable to all other recorded versions.

Cuban Country Scenes (1859-60) is for all intents and purposes a tiny zarzuela. It's absolutely terrific with infectious rhythms and vocal lines which would have turned Gaetano Donizetti green with envy! It'll make you hope and pray that some day those lost operas Gottschalk allegedly wrote will surface.

In Concert Variations on the Portuguese National Anthem (1869) the composer takes the theme in question, which is a run-of the mill rather Italianate sounding march tune, and turns it into a rousing romp for piano and orchestra. Just listen to all those intricate finger work embellishments -- Chico Marx sure would have had fun with this!

You probably never even knew Gottschalk wrote an Ave Maria (1864), but that's next in a lovely arrangement for voice and chamber orchestra.

Then comes a real treat, Young Henry's Hunt (1861), which is a stunning rearrangement Louis Moreau did of the overture to Etienne Mehul's opera La chasse de jeune Henri. Berlioz would have loved his student's creation, realized here with five pianists and an orchestra of 112, which includes what sounds like a chorus of French Horns. Hold on to your hairpiece when they all cut loose!

The concert closes with a Gottschalk great, A Night in the Tropics Symphony (No. 1, 1859). The original version as reconstructed from the autograph manuscript is presented here. It should also be pointed out that this particular recording first appeared on a Naxos disc released in 2000 (8.559036). You'll notice a big difference between it and the old Vox and Vanguard recordings. In fact the grand finale includes some exotic percussion that makes it the most colorful version to have ever hit the streets.

Conductor Richard Rosenberg was the guiding light behind all of the reconstructions and arrangements heard here. Along with his youthful Hot Springs Festival Orchestra he brings a delicate touch, crisp tempos and unbridled enthusiasm to all of these selections, making this release some of the best musical Americana to have appeared in a long time.

Overall the sound is superb and will certainly please audiophiles. It should be noted though, that A Night... was recorded in a drier (less reverberant) acoustic than that for the other selections.

A couple of thoughts for those thrifty newsletter readers who have the earlier CD and may be wondering whether it's worth getting the new one: first, A Night... represents only sixteen out of a total seventy-seven minutes of playing time; second, except for the redundant selection, all of the other Gottschalk goodies on both discs are mutually exclusive (all three versions of the Grand Tarentelle are different), and nowhere else to be found; and last, but not least, don't forget to take into consideration the low Naxos bill of fare. (Y070629)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

Leave it to Naxos to come up with some terrific chamber music by a composer most people in the Northern Hemisphere have never heard of. Except for the five years he was in Germany studying at the Leipzig Conservatory, Alfred Hill (1869-1960) spent all of his life in Australia (where he was born) and New Zealand. After you hear this release you'll probably have to agree that he was the most outstanding late romantic composer from down under. This initial volume in Naxos' new survey of his string quartets (he wrote seventeen) gives us the first three.

Number one contains ideas from his student days (1886-1891) and is in the traditional four movements. The middle two were replaced in 1896 with others incorporating some exotic sounding Maori folk melodies. The outer ones show the influences of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Antonin Dvorak. They contain some lovely themes that reveal Hill was a melodist of the first order.

The Maori influence becomes even more pronounced in the second quartet (1907-1911), which is entitled "A Maori Legend in Four Scenes." It's quite programmatic and the composer even provided a narrative for it (see the album notes). The opening movement owes a great debt to Dvorak. The following adagio is called "The Dream" and might best be described as Maori impressionism. The agitated scherzo is notable for some ethereal ear-catching tremolando effects. The finale is a tune-swept delight that ends this fetching musical folk tale on a real high.

The third quartet (1912) certainly lives up to its name of "The Carnival." As its number would imply, this is the most advanced work here, and very much in the Central as well as Eastern European romantic mold. Again in four movements, it begins with an optimistically bustling theme very much in keeping with the first movement’s caption of "In the Streets." The andantino takes the form of a heartfelt aria predominantly for the first violin and set to another of Hill's lovely melodies. The scherzo revolves around a tune that could well be based on some English country dance. The finale kicks off with an energetic Klezmer-like melody that alternates with some appealing, slower, Slavic-sounding themes. The quartet ends enthusiastically with an intense outburst of energetic bowing from all concerned. Incidentally, in 1955 the composer expanded this piece into what would be his fifth symphony, also known as "The Carnival" (Marco Polo-8.223538).

The Dominion Quartet of New Zealand plays up a storm in all three selections, making a strong case for Hill's music.

The recorded sound is quite good assuring you an outstanding disc of discovery from down under. (P070628)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

Most associate Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) with his outstanding piano concertos (see the newsletter of 18 April 2006), but the three premiere recordings on this enterprising Chandos release prove he was equally adept at writing dance music of considerable significance.

While the scenario for the Sappho von Mitilene Ballet Suite (1812) has not survived, we're indeed fortunate to have the music, as you'll undoubtedly agree when you hear it. Requiring an unusually large orchestra and lasting just over three-quarters of an hour, the suite opens with a very exciting overture that may remind you of the more animated moments in Franz Schubert's earlier symphonies. In fact Sappho... would seem to anticipate by ten years the incidental music Schubert would write for the play Rosamunde, Furstin von Zypern. Hummel’s frequent use of solo winds adds such variety and color to the score that many may find it leaves Ludwig von Beethoven's The Creatures of Prometheus Ballet (1801) in the dust. In short, it's a most engaging piece and we owe Chandos a real vote of thanks for unearthing it.

Almost nothing is known about Das Zauberschloss Ballet Suite, but listening to it one can certainly make a few educated guesses as to what's going on. There's an innocent folk tale quality about it that strongly suggest it may have been a fantasy ballet for children. What's more, there are trumpet calls and percussive outbursts that call to mind Leopold Mozart's Toy Symphony Cassation. Like the preceding work, it calls for a large orchestra, but it lasts only half as long. Courtly and rustic dance tunes as well as the well-known La Follia are intermixed to great effect. The suite ends energetically as if to say, "and everyone lived happily ever after."

Public dancing and dance-halls were very popular in Vienna during the early 1800s and provided a good source of income for composers willing to write for them. Consequently, Hummel produced pieces like the Twelve Waltzes and Coda (1817) that close out this disc. The fact that they've never appeared on CD before is quite surprising, because they're certainly as good as anything in this genre that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Beethoven came up with. By the way, don't let the term "waltzes" mislead you. There are marches and what sound like English country dances as well as German landler present, which make this collection all the more colorful and appealing. Like popular dance bands of the time, the orchestra called for here does not include violas. On the other hand, the percussion section is quite large by classical standards in order to accommodate a couple of "Turkish" numbers (the eighth dance and coda) that were all the rage at the time.

Conductor Howard Shelley and the indefatigable London Mozart Players have a ball, so to speak, with everything here, and the sound is very good. Those getting this release will find themselves cutting a rug or two for sure. (P070627)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

German born Hans Koessler (1853-1926) studied with Joseph Rheinberger and was best known as a teacher, but he also wrote a considerable amount of music. The two outstanding late romantic chamber works on this disc indicate he was a composer of some consequence.

The string quintet (c. 1915) is in four movements and gets off to a rather agitated Brahmsian start before a lovely dance-like thematic section reminiscent of Antonin Dvorak is introduced. A severe case of chromaticism then sets in as the previous themes are subjected to some inventive developmental transformations. The first movement ends on a forcefully optimistic note. The following adagio sounds like a hymn of thanksgiving that has all the sincerity of Ludwig von Beethoven's late quartets. The scherzo begins with a whirling motive that's strangely reminiscent of the first few measures of Richard Wagner's The Ride of the Walkyries. It then evolves into a discourse between two themes. The first is rather argumentative, while the second is characterized by a sense of fateful resignation. The former one has the last say as the movement ends. The finale is a gorgeous musical offering that's grounded in Johannes Brahms, but looks forward to the chamber music that would come from Hans Pfitzner and Max Reger, who curiously enough was Koessler's cousin. The work ends joyously, having provided its audience with a most rewarding listening experience.

The sextet (c.1902) is scored for an additional cello and, harmonically speaking, more straight-laced than the quintet. It's a highly lyrical, magnificently constructed work, which is not surprising considering Koessler was reputedly an outstanding technician and pedagogue. The beginning of the first movement may bring to mind that old familiar portrait of the aging, frowning Beethoven. But the mood soon turns more insistent and the playing intensely lush as the movement ends with a glorious coda that owes a debt to Felix Mendelssohn. The scherzo that follows shows Eastern European folk music influences. This is not that surprising when you consider Koessler taught in Budapest for a number of years and counted such greats as Erno Dohnanyi (see above), Zoltan Kodaly and Bela Bartok among his students. The adagio is another hymn of thanksgiving that one could easily imagine is based on some long lost chorale. The last movement is the highpoint of this extraordinary chamber music discovery. A jovially bounding motive with a Schumannesque angularity and a rather plaintive melody are alternated and varied as the movement progresses. Joy prevails in the end and the work concludes jubilantly.

The Frankfurt String Sextet is a class act and turns in loving performances of these two works. In fact one would be hard pressed to say how they could be any better, and the recorded sound is very good. Lovers of romantic chamber music are strongly encouraged to try this release. It's one of those discs you'll love more and more with repeated listening. (P070626)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the great Hungarian composer Miklos Rózsa's (1907-1995) birth, Intrada gives us his outstanding music for Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945). The film received numerous Academy Award nominations and won the Oscar for Best Original Score. This release features for the first time a complete recording of it based on the composer's original orchestrations.

Most people remember this music because it introduced a strange new, spooky-sounding instrument that had been invented back in 1920 by a Russian physicist. His name was Leo Theremin and the theremin, as it was called, was to become extremely popular with Hollywood composers for underscoring the bizarre and unearthly in films. An honest-to-goodness theremin is much in evidence here and adds considerably to the buildup of emotional tension and impact of this CD.

Usually Hollywood scores are a patchwork quilt of bits-and-pieces of music, but not Spellbound, which contains sweeping swaths of uninterrupted playing. In that regard, at one point there are five contiguous cues that last almost seventeen minutes. Just by themselves they’d make for a very convincing tone poem!

The opening title begins with the David O. Selznick Studio riff by Alfred Newman. This lasts only a few seconds and leads into the theremin haunted, psychological mystery motif followed by one of the greatest love themes ever to come out of Hollywood [track-1, beginning at 00:44]. The latter two act as idees fixes in everything that follows allowing the music to stand on its own without the need for any visual support. In fact, you'll get the impression you're listening to an extended symphonic suite. Of note are the legendary Salvador Dali dream sequences featuring instrumental exotica that include not only the theremin, but celeste, novachord, bells, harp and glockenspiel as well.

A couple of the most famous scenes in the film actually featured recycled music by Roy Webb, Franz Waxman and others, instead of what Rózsa had written for them. With this release you'll be able to hear for the very first time the absolutely thrilling cues Miklos originally intended. As a bonus, an alternate shorter ending for the movie also scored by Rósza is also included. Interestingly enough he used it as the conclusion to the very popular Spellbound Concerto for piano and orchestra he later fashioned from the score.

Spellbinding performances by thereminist Celia Sheen and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra under Allan Wilson breathe new life into some of the greatest music ever written for the silver screen.

The recording is quite good, but the soundstage is a bit narrow. (P070625)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (