25 JULY 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.

Following Dutton's very well received release of British composer Richard Arnell's (1917-2009) third symphony (see the newsletter of 23 June 2006), they now give us the second along with his piano concerto. Both works were written while the composer was resident in the United States from the outbreak of World War II in 1939 until 1947, when he returned to England.

Curiously enough, the symphony began life in 1942, and was actually his first effort in the genre. Then he revised it in 1944 after completing another, so it became known as his second. The subtitle "Rufus" was a pseudonym the composer used when he entered it in a composition competition. Arnell says he was influenced by Paul Hindemith when he originally wrote it, but the revised version performed here brings the music of his compatriot Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) more to mind. The workmanship is immaculate and there's an amazing sense of organic growth about each of its three movements. It begins energetically as a choral-like theme materializes and proceeds to dominate the rest of the movement propelling the listener along very much in Rubbra fashion. The allegretto that follows is the symphony's emotional center of gravity. It starts off hesitantly, but a brief dotted rhythmic figure is soon introduced which will infect the entire movement. The music then becomes more lyrically intense as a lovely swaying melody appears [track-5, beginning at 05:07] and is expanded into a highly affecting climax that gradually fades away as the movement ends. The finale begins in an animated manner and, while this is not meant in a pejorative sense, might well have accompanied one of those U.S. WWII documentary films exhorting American workers to do their part. It's very engaging with the feel of a scherzo and ends the symphony on a ray of hope for the future.

Incidentally, speaking of film scores, Arnell received requests for a couple of them while he was in the United States thanks to the auspices of Virgil Thomson (see the newsletter of 16 January 2007).

The piano concerto dating from 1945-46 was written in response to a commission from the CBS Symphony Orchestra, which was then under Arnell’s close friend Bernard Herrmann. It's a big-boned, late-romantic work that starts off in a grand manner. Two appealing melodies are quickly introduced and developed in most articulate fashion with some passages reminiscent of Dmitri Shostakovich's two piano concertos, which came before (1933) and after (1957) Arnell’s. Is that a partial reference to The Star Spangled Banner towards the very end of the first movement [Track-1, beginning at 13:59]? The andante that comes next is much more introspective. It begins with the solo piano soon answered by the orchestra as the two engage in a dialogue, which alternates between being lyrically relaxed and anguished. The closing movement is high energy music that starts with three themes presented in rapid succession and then developed with classical simplicity. The piano is given a melodically pensive cadenza before the movement ends in much the same spirit as it began.

Immaculately committed playing by pianist David Owen Norris and superb performances by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Martin Yates make a strong case for this music, which would be pretty hard not to like.

The sound is quite good except for some occasional edginess in the highs. (P070725)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

Here are a couple of symphonic blockbusters from two little-known British composers. Edgar Bainton was born in 1880, studied with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and spent the first fifty-four years of his life in England, except for four years (1914-1918) in a German prison camp during World War I. In 1934 he moved to Australia where he died in 1956.

His third symphony, begun in 1952, was completed just before his death and it's a valedictory masterpiece. In four movements lasting almost three-quarters of an hour, the symphony’s opening might best be described as tormented and chameleon-like as the mood shifts from threatening to peacefully impressionistic and even pastoral. The scherzo that follows immediately is quite arresting, because of its atypically slow pace and rather tongue-in-cheek attitude. It prepares the way for the adagio, which is the emotional crux of the piece and absolutely gorgeous. As a matter of fact, it was while he was writing this movement that Bainton's wife became ill and died, leaving him grief stricken and unable to continue work on the symphony for two years. The perky finale is quite optimistic with joyful outbursts from the brass. Towards the end a couple of appealing melodies are introduced and form the basis for the exultant conclusion.

Like Bainton, Rutland Boughton (1878-1960) was a student of Stanford, but spent his entire life in England. He's best known for his mythic mystery The Immortal Hour (1914), which at one point held the world's record for the greatest number of consecutive performances of any serious opera.

His first symphony (1905) subtitled "Oliver Cromwell" is a musical portrait of that famous British political figure. Those who are students of English history will probably find the subtitles for each of its four movements explain to some degree their musical content. But for the rest of us, while it's quite programmatic, it's also an engaging late-romantic work that stands on its own. The opening movement is in sonata form and begins with a "Cromwell motif," if you will, that appears throughout the entire work. A second more serene theme is then introduced, after which there's a skillfully executed development section followed by a triumphant recapitulation and final coda. The slow second section is lyrical and has some lovely wind, violin and cello solos before closing with muted references to the Cromwell motif. The martial sounding third movement is in keeping with its subtitle "March of the Puritans." Except for a brief, rather sinister episode halfway through, it's reminiscent of those ceremonial marches by Sirs Edward Elgar, Arthur Bliss and William Walton.

The fourth and final movement begins anxiously with alternating fast and slow passages leading into a fateful fugue. A lovely theme of consolation introduced by the clarinet [track-8, beginning at 01:57] follows and prefaces the high point of the finale. This is Cromwell's last prayer sung by a baritone with the orchestra alluding to the Cromwell motif and consolatory theme. The composer is at his best here and there are parts that may remind you of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius (1900). As the prayer draws to a close the Cromwell motif once again wells up in the orchestra only to fade away as the symphony ends leaving the listener in a state of spiritual serenity.

Dutton is to be complemented for this enterprising release of two undiscovered British symphonic jewels. Baritone Roderick Williams is magnificent in the Boughton, and the BBC Concert Orchestra under the great Vernon Handley outdoes itself in both works.

The recording is superb with a wide, detailed soundstage and dynamic range that will impress audiophiles. A word of caution though -- watch your playback level! If you get it too high the upper frequencies may become a little on the nippy side, depending on your system.

By the way, having heard the Bainton, you might also want to investigate his string quartets (see the newsletter of 6 June 2006). (Y070724)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

Coming right on the heels of Miklos Rózsa's (1907-1995) complete music for Spellbound (see the newsletter of 30 June 2007), here are suites from the scores he wrote for Ben-Hur (1959) and Quo Vadis (1951). Some jaded critics may denigrate this film music as exploitive or just plain corny, but for those of us who saw the movies as wide-eyed, impressionable youngsters, these suites bring back fond, emotionally packed memories of those extraordinary big-screen, Biblical epics. The composer himself conducts both suites in what most would agree are definitive performances.

The recordings, which were originally analogue-stereo and appeared on LP back in 1977-78, are among the finest Decca ever did. They made it to CD in the mid-1980s, but for some strange reason they were available only for a very limited time. Some of us remember customers at Tower Records who would have killed for them!

Well, here they are once again in a beautifully remastered, two-CD album from Dutton-Vocalion. With an enormous, detailed and perfectly focused soundstage (there’s none of that original "London Phase-4" mixing hocus-pocus), incredibly smooth frequency response and impressive dynamic range, audiophiles will be in seventh heaven.

Rozsa spent considerable effort researching ancient music in an attempt to give these scores a sense of historical accuracy. He succeeded admirably, because they have a sound all of their own and would become the standard by which music for future films in this genre would be measured.

Recorded in Walthamstow Town Hall, the suite from Ben-Hur is performed by the National Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra. All the highlights of the complete score are here including that incredible galley slave sequence, where you'll find yourself rowing alongside Ben-Hur in that ill-fated trireme. The Parade of the Charioteers lives up in every way to the staggering spectacle it accompanies on the big screen, while the Leper Colony scene and Procession to Calvery, with Rózsa's transcendent theme for Christ, will leave your hair standing on end.

The suite from Quo Vadis is performed by the Royal Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra and was recorded in Kingsway Hall. This is a case where most would probably agree that the music is much more memorable than the film, despite a performance by Peter Ustinov as Nero which is an absolute classic. The prelude is probably one of the most rousing pieces to have ever come out of Hollywood. No one really knows what Roman music sounded like, but it's easy to imagine that the Ave Caesar scene contains a close approximation of it. Immaculately scored and beautifully orchestrated, the finale and epilogue would have turned Ottorino Respighi green with envy.

Some of the best music to come out of Hollywood in stunning performances, exceptional sound and a bargain price make this release a Roman holiday you'll not want to miss! (Y070723)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

Hyperion scores again with this enterprising disc of some rarely recorded music of French composer Florent Schmitt (1870-1958).

Dating from 1904 Psalm 47 (Psalm 46 in Catholic countries) is one of his best known works and receives a volcanic performance here. Scored for soprano, chorus, organ and orchestra, it's a powerful, massive piece that has more in common with the music of Richard Strauss than Schmitt’s French contemporaries. In four continuous parts, it opens like one of those Hollywood Biblical epics scored by Miklos Rozsa (see above) as the chorus sings the praises of God with trumpet fanfares, drum rolls and stunning reinforcement from the organ and orchestra.

The second and third parts are much more subdued and include a lovely soprano solo. Both exude an oriental sensuousness that calls to mind Maurice Ravel's Eastern-sounding song cycle Sheherazade, which was written about the same time. The final part builds gradually in Wagnerian fashion to an overwhelming climax for full chorus, organ and orchestra. A dense harmonic structure accented by trumpet calls and driving rhythms makes this a unique sounding Schmitt creation, and brings the work to a thrilling conclusion.

The Suite sans esprit de suite for orchestra (1937), which began life as a collection of piano pieces, comes next and is the polar opposite of what we just heard. These five light, fanciful pieces are beautifully orchestrated and typically French. The first bears a resemblance to the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks from Maurice Ravel’s version of Modeste Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. The second is a reverie that Gabriel Faure would have been proud to have written. There's a cheekiness about the third which smacks of Jean Françaix (1912-1997) at his sauciest. The modal-sounding fourth conjures up images of Classical Greece and jazz elements make their way into the boisterous fifth and final piece.

Then it's back to some more heavy-duty Schmitt for another of his better known works, the suite from his ballet La tragedie de Salome (1909). It’s scored for a large orchestra with an assist from a solo soprano and women's chorus. Lasting half as long (about thirty minutes) as the complete ballet (1907), which was for a chamber orchestra, those who know the old Marco Polo recording of the original (no longer available) will probably find the suite a more compelling work. Incidentally, the scenario is not based on the Oscar Wilde story that Richard Strauss and his librettist Hedwig Lachmann used for their opera Salome (1905). Instead it follows a less controversial one by French writer Robert d'Humieres, where Salome does not desire John the Baptist's execution, and is actually horrified when he's beheaded.

The Schmitt ballet suite is a late-romantic French masterpiece, which owes a debt to Claude Debussy as well as Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in its brilliant orchestration. But it's also a groundbreaking opus that points the way to what would soon come from Ravel and that group of other French composers who would become known as Les Six. By the way, Igor Stravinsky thought very highly of it, at least until Schmitt edged him out for a position at the Institut de France, left vacant by the death of Paul Dukas.

With this release, sopranos Christine Buffle and Jennifer Walker, along with the BBC National Chorus and Orchestra of Wales under Thierry Fischer, deliver what must now rank as definitive performances of all three works.

With a wide frequency response and incredible dynamic range, Schmitt's flamboyant, Technicolor music presents quite a recording challenge, but Hyperion's sound engineers have met it head-on. Audiophiles will be delighted to find how well they've captured the profoundly low organ pedal points, seismic bass drum vibes and effulgent highs in passages calling for massed female voices, strings, brass and tintinnabular percussion. Go for it! (Y070722)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) is best known for his concert works, but like Miklos Rozsa (see above) he also wrote movie music. The suites recorded here, which were arranged by conductor Frank Strobel from two of his film scores, are totally captivating. You'll find they stand completely on their own without the need for any celluloid imagery. Both find Schnittke at his most innovative, yet in a listener friendly frame of mind. His polystylistic approach to composing and innovative, colorful orchestration complemented by the spectacular sound on this hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), release from Capriccio, guarantee you a most entertaining earful -- audiophiles please take note!

The disc opens with a ten-part suite from The Fairy Tale of the Wanderings (1982-83). This is a story about the trials and tribulations of a young girl searching for her brother who's been kidnapped by robbers because of his supernatural ability to find gold. The suite opens with a "tictoc" motif reminiscent of the one in Sergei Prokofiev's Cinderella, followed by a gorgeously simple, but distinctive theme, which will wend its way through the entire piece. It reappears in a variety of coruscating instrumental guises in what must rank as some of the most original scoring ever conceived for film. Schnittke uses a mammoth orchestra with a prodigious percussion section as well as a number of exotic instruments, including the slide whistle, bird call, musical saw, electric guitar, harpsichord, organ and at one point what sounds like a theremin (see the Rozsa recommendation in the newsletter of 30 June 2007) and/or Moog synthesizer. The diversity of musical styles is remarkable as evidenced by the presence of a classical minuet, impressionistic sea scene, pop music inspired May Day dance, jazzed up waltz and a bedazzling, early Stravinsky-like closing sequence.

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (1976) is a children's film about that heroic little mongoose immortalized in Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Books. The six-part suite Strobel derives from the complete score is a mini-masterpiece! It opens forebodingly, but soon a lovely lyrical theme is introduced. Then, with a stroke of sheer genius, Schnittke suddenly transforms it into something one could imagine Johann Sebastian Bach might have written (had he been born 200 years later) for a vaudeville juggling act. There are more of those off-the-wall instruments in the second part, which is a menacingly late-romantic orchestral tour de force that would put most of today's Hollywood composers to shame. Incidentally, audiophiles will find this [track-11] a real test of their system’s ability to differentiate and properly place a bewildering number of instruments. A tender night scene comes next featuring the celesta and musical saw to great effect. Then a brief jocose passage, which may remind you of Uranus from Gustav Holst's The Planets, serves as an introduction to the exciting percussion driven penultimate part. The final epilogue, which is based on that terrific baroque vaudeville tune from before, brings this spectacular, but all too brief creation to a close.

Recorded in the Jesus-Christus-Kirche in Berlin, the CD and SACD tracks produce a soundstage of unbelievable clarity and proportions. The multichannel SACD track will surround you with some of the most intriguingly different orchestral sounds you’ve ever heard.

If you enjoy this disc, you may also want to investigate more of Schnittke's film music on two previous releases from Capriccio (71041 and 71061). (Y070721)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

Over the past few years there have been a number of "British Light Music" releases which might euphemistically be referred to as “Disposable Discs.” But that's not the case with this new one from Lyrita! While all of the selections here are little known, they are quite exemplary.

The concert opens with London Fields (1958) by Phyllis Tate (1911-1985). This four-part suite begins with a lovely melodic impression of Springtime at Kew that's worthy of Eric Coates. Next there's The Maze at Hampton Court, which one could assume has apian and ossiferous associations since the music sounds like a combination of The Flight of the Bumblebee from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tale of the Tsar Sultan and Fossils from Camille Saint-Saens The Carnival of the Animals. Ending the suite, there's an endearingly folksy reverie invoking the lake in St. James' Park, and a brilliantly orchestrated, rondo, sounding like Maurice Ravel’s La Valse, that characterizes Hampstead Heath.

Now come three waltzes by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) (see the newsletter of 20 June 2007). The first, which is the third of his Four Characteristic Waltzes (1899), is absolutely gorgeous. The next two are the second and fifth from his Three-fours, Valse Suite (1909), and guaranteed charmers. By the way, both of the latter were piano pieces later orchestrated by Norman O'Neill. All three will remind you of Sir Edward Elgar's orchestral miniatures.

Next up, we have a real rarity from the pen of Sir Granville Bantock (1868-1946). Most have probably never heard his five-part suite, Russian Scenes (1899), which is a romantic popsicle. The opening section begins with a brief, weighty introduction followed by a highly animated, psuedo Slavic sounding dance in keeping with its name At the Fair. The Mazurka, Polka and Valse that follow are much as advertised, with the first two characterized by colorful instrumentation as well as invigorating rhythms, and the third cleverly derived from what we heard at the very beginning of the suite. There's never a sullen second in the concluding Cossack Dance that'll have you cutting a rug in your listening room.

A student of Vaughan Williams, Cecil Armstrong Gibbs (1889-1960) wrote his four-part dance suite Fancy Dress in 1935. The opening movement entitled Hurly-Burly is mercurial with a lovely lyrical central section. The following Dance of the Murmurs is an English pastoral pastel that smacks of Frederick Delius' Brigg Fair (1907). A melancholy waltz, Dusk, and a plucky Waltonian sounding processional, Pageantry, fill out this suave opus.

Lyrita’s traversal of BLM repertoire concludes with a real discovery, Elisabeth Lutyens' four-part suite En Voyage (1944), which is a musical depiction of a trip from London to Paris. The opening, Overture (En Voyage), is full of melodically optimistic excitement over the upcoming journey. The next movement, Channel Crossing (La Traversee), is a bit anxiety ridden, maybe over some storm clouds on the horizon. Then comes Yvette (La Dieppeoise), who must have been rather coquettish, if the flirtatious ditties characterizing this number are any indication. The finale, Paris-Soir (City Lights), alternates a rather sad nocturnal theme with an upbeat luminous waltz and ends in a radiant burst of joy.

Committed performances from Barry Wordsworth conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra (Tate, Coleridge-Taylor and Bantock) and Simon Joy with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Gibbs and Lutyens), plus good recorded sound should make this release appealing to all lovers of light classics. (P070720)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (


The later symphonies of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) are among the most often performed and recorded works ever written. Consequently there are widely varying interpretations of this music ranging the considered conservatism of Otto Klemperer to the high-spirited enthusiasm of Neville Mariner (see the newsletter of 2 March 2006). Josef Krips' renditions fall somewhere in between, and for many of us he strikes just the right balance. Consequently this new release of him conducting Wolfie's last twenty symphonies (there is no thirty-seventh, which is by Michael Haydn with only a fleeting introduction by Mozart) is of particular interest.

The Concertgebouw Orchestra (now known as the Royal Concertgebouw) has never sounded better than on these excellent recordings made by Decca between 1972 and 1974 in the orchestra's own hall, which is one of the greatest sounding venues in the world.

This is some of the most elegant music ever composed, and Krips' approach to it is exceptionally refined with a sense of dynamics and detail second to none. Just listen to his perfect pacing in the first movement of the twenty-fifth (G minor, 1773), which many will remember as the music accompanying Antonio Salieri's attempted suicide at the beginning of the film Amadeus. Strangely enough Mozart wouldn't write another symphony in a minor key until fifteen years later (No. 40 in G minor, 1788). Krips’ handling of those moments of Mozartian exultation in the first movement of the “Paris” (No. 31 in D major, 1778) [disc-4, track-1, beginning at 02:37] is exceptional. And the immaculate highlighting of them that he gets from the inimitable Concertgebouw brass is breathtaking. His tempos and dynamic shadings in the bouncing finales of the thirty-fourth (C major, 1780) and thirty-ninth (E flat major, 1788) are right-on. The sensitive, highly articulate treatment of the andantes in the “Prague” (No. 38 in D major, 1786) and fortieth (G minor, 1788) is most affecting. And one cannot help but be impressed by the clarity and incredible detail he brings to the contrapuntally complex last movement of the “Jupiter” (No. 41 in C major, 1788).

By the way, did you know the theme Mozart opens the finale of the "Jupiter" with is the same as one Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) had used twenty-five years earlier in the last movement of his thirteenth symphony?

Classical period enthusiasts who don't already own these Krips' readings should definitely consider getting this bargain, boxed set of six discs from Decca. If you do the math, all twenty symphonies come out costing less than two bucks each, and in performances and recorded sound this good, that's a real steal. (P070719)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (