9 AUGUST 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.

Englishman William Alwyn (1905-1985) was a man of many talents, which included writing poetry and painting as well as composing. He’s best remembered for his film scores (see the newsletter of 9 March 2006) and symphonic music (see the newsletter of 16 January 2007), but he also produced a distinguished body of smaller scale works like the ones found on this release. With almost an hour of chamber music and about ten minutes worth of songs, this disc features five recording premieres (*).

The concert opens with a Rhapsody for Piano Quartet (1938-39), which immediately grabs the listener's attention with its rhythmically driven, vigorous opening. The music then moderates, becoming rhapsodic and meditative before ending much as it began.

The next selection, Sonata Impromptu for Violin and Viola (1939-40), has fugal elements in its opening and closing movements that give it a neo-baroque feel. The central one is a cleverly written theme and variations without a wasted note. One variation contains an amusing, violin "heehaw motif" [track-3, beginning at 04:49], while another sounds like it's paying homage to Ralph Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending (1914, revised 1920) [track-3, beginning at 06:36].

A Ballade for Viola and Piano (1939)* follows and finds Alwyn in a lyrical, romantic frame of mind. A lush beginning and finale surround a rapturously introspective central section that demonstrates just how masterful the composer was at spinning out a melody. The Sonatina for violin and Piano (1933)* is an absolute delight. The opening movement is a sunlit, rustic water color with avian overtones, while the following adagio is lyrically pensive. The finale starts and concludes in folksy dance-like fashion with a slower, highly romantic midsection.

Three Winter Poems for String Quartet (1948) are next on the program. The first two, Winter Landscapes and Frozen Waters, are impressionistically frosty and reserved. The third, Snow Shower, is scherzo-like and light as a snowflake.

Chaconne for Tom for Treble Recorder and Piano (1982)* was the composer's next to last work, and shows he'd lost none of his creative abilities although he’d been seriously ill. It opens darkly somewhat like the scherzo from Ludwig van Beethoven's ninth symphony. Almost immediately the main theme is introduced, which gradually mutates into Happy Birthday to You, ending the piece on a humorously celebratory note.

The Two Songs for Voice, Violin and Piano (1931)*, Wood Magic and Lament of the Tall Tree, are settings of Alwyn's own poems. They are evocations of nature in the best English pastoral tradition, where the first is a gorgeous reverie and the second, an agitated lament.

The Three Songs to Words by Trevor Blakemore for Voice and Piano (1940)* -- Nocturne, Illumination and Harvest -- demonstrate Alwyn’s incredible ability to perfectly match his music to any given text, thereby heightening the emotional impact of these moving love poems.

Baritone Jeremy Huw Williams is in fine voice for all of these, and one cannot help but be reminded of other English songs sung by the inimitable Peter Pears. Violinist Madeleine Mitchell, violist Roger Chase, pianists Andrew Ball (chamber works) and Iain Burnside (songs), treble recorder soloist John Turner and the Bridge String Quartet deliver extremely sensitive, committed performances.

The recorded sound is very good ensuring you a most enjoyable listen! (P070809)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

Although Ernest Bloch (1880-1959) is probably best remembered for music with Jewish associations (Israel Symphony, Schelomo and Suite hebraique), he was a composer who wrote in a number of different styles.

The Four Episodes (1926), which is a suite scored for chamber orchestra consisting of string quintet, wind quintet and piano, shows his affinity for doing just that. There's a certain Hebraic grotesqueness about the opening, Humoresque macabre. But the next selection, Obsession, has both baroque and French affiliations, with a Maurice Ravel Bolero-like ostinato that chases its own tail. About a third of the way through, a theme appears [track-2, beginning at 00:52] that has a strange resemblance to the Dies Irae. The third episode, Calm, is an impressionistic pastoral miniature, while the fourth, Chinese, is predictably Sinitic and reflects Bloch's interest in Chinese Theater.

The Two Poems (1905) are the earliest works here and owe a great debt to the French impressionists. The first of them, Winter, is cold, sparse and despondent. The second, Printemps, is a spring awakening with bird calls and vernal melodies. It's also drop-dead gorgeous!

The concertino (1948), which was commissioned by the Juilliard School of Music, lasts only a little over nine minutes, but bears out the old adage, "good things come in small packages." Scored for flute, viola and strings, it harkens back to baroque times, like the composer's two renowned concerti grossi. In three contiguous movements, Bloch achieves a perfect balance between the soloists and orchestra. The opening theme is somewhat similar to the French carol used by Marcel Dupre as the subject for his organ Variations sur un vieux Noel (1922). The finale closes with a surprise polka, ending the piece in playful fashion.

The Suite modiale (1956) was one of the composer's last works. It's a brief, four-movement mini-masterpiece scored for flute and strings. As the name implies, the melodies are modal and, like the previous selection, there's a baroque feel to it. Hearing it, one can't help but think of Johann Sebastian Bach's second suite for flute and strings. The two opening movements are quite melancholy almost as if Bloch were musing about the past. The third follows a fast-slow-fast scheme where a joyful gigue dances around an austerely melodic central section. The last movement juxtaposes a meditative motif with a more upbeat JSB-like one, but the former prevails, concluding the suite with a sense of resigned reconciliation.

Flutist Noam Buchman and violist Yuri Gandelsman are outstanding, as are the soloists of the Israel Philharmonic, who appear in the Four Episodes. The Slovak Radio Symphony (Two Poems) and Atlas Camerata Orchestra (concertino and Suite modiale) under Dalia Atlas couldn't be more committed to this music. This is undoubtedly thanks to Ms. Atlas, who is an authority on Bloch, and an outstanding conductor, deserving much wider recognition!

The recorded sound is quite good making this release a must for modern music enthusiasts, particularly Bloch fans. (P070808)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

Friederich Ernst Fesca (1789-1826) was a promising German composer and, had he not died at the early age of thirty-seven, might have produced a highly distinguished body of works for which he'd be much better known today. As it stands he's generally classed with such composers as Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) (see the newsletters of 18 April 2006 and 30 June 2007), Georges Onslow (1784-1853), Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) (see the newsletter of 16 January 2006), Louis Spohr (1784-1859) and Johann Wilhelm Wilms (1772-1847), whose music was eclipsed by Ludwig van Beethoven's.

Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of CPO, Naxos and several other enterprising labels, modern day audiences are beginning to discover that many works by these lesser known composers are significantly above average and very much worth hearing. That's certainly the case with the selections on this new release.

Fesca's first symphony (1812) was written about the same time as Beethoven's seventh and eighth (1812), and constitutes a remarkable initial effort in this genre. It stands comparison with Beethoven's earlier symphonies and owes a debt to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In fact, as the informative album notes point out, there are similarities between the first movements of the Fesca and Wolfie's thirty-ninth. Both are not only in sonata form, but the rather esoteric key of E flat major. On the whole though, Fesca's symphony is more progressive with those engaging, anguished outbursts so typical of Beethoven, and an impressive fugato development section.

The following andante is notable for the clever way in which the winds and strings play catch with fragments of the lovely main melody. The minuet sports some key shifts that were quite unusual for the early 1800s. The finale is an infectious sonata-rondo with an absolutely charming recurring theme that scurries around more of those Beethoven tantrums. Fesca ends this wonderful symphony in grand fashion with a tiny coda that Ludwig would have loved.

The two overtures dating from 1825 are among Fesca's last works. Both were originally written as entractes for court theater productions, but there's documentation indicating they were also performed in concert. The first is a convivial, high-spirited romp that's quite reminiscent of Franz Josef Haydn.

The second begins reservedly, but is soon off and running in Beethovian fashion with some of those old familiar di-di-di-da rhythmic accents to boot. The concluding overture is from Fesca's fairy tale opera Omar and Leila (1822). Accordingly, it has an otherworldly sound highlighted by prominent trombone parts, string tremolandi and disembodied motifs reminiscent of Carl Maria von Weber's more chimerical overtures such as The Ruler of the Spirits (1811), Der Freischutz (1821) and Oberon (1826).

All of the performances by the NDR Radio Philharmonic under Frank Beermann are totally committed, making a strong case for this music, and the recorded sound is very good. This release is a valuable addition to the early romantic canon.

If you like this disc, you'll probably want to try Fesca's other two remaining symphonies also on CPO (999869). (P070807)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

Naxos has come up with two more firsts in the form of the complete scores (and then some) that Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) wrote for the movies The Sea Hawk (1940) and Deception (1946). Every note is included plus some bits that never made it into the final release of the first.

By his own admission, Korngold composed his film scores as if they were operas without words, and the swashbuckling Sea Hawk, staring Errol Flynn, is one of the best examples of this. Most consider it Korngold's crowning Hollywood achievement as well as one of the greatest romantic film scores ever written. His use of recurring leitmotifs, sophisticated thematic development devices and brilliant orchestration allow the music to stand on its own without the need for any visual cinematic support. Lasting one hour and forty-six minutes, you'll find that it comes off like a gigantic symphonic poem somewhat in the tradition of Richard Strauss' Don Juan. Incidentally, there are a number of borrowings from other Korngold works, including one in the jungle sequence that originally appeared as a "death motif" in his opera Die Tote Stadt (1920) [disc-1, track-14, beginning at 05:06]. As a bonus, the original theatrical trailer music he condensed from the full score is also included.

By the way, a suite from the film can be found on the Telarc Masters and Commanders release recommended below.

With a much darker feel, the music for Deception was the composer's last original score. The movie was a vehicle for the great Bette Davis, and had strong classical music associations as the story concerns a fatal love triangle involving a composer-conductor (Claude Rains), cellist (Paul Henreid) and pianist (Davis). Consequently Korngold wrote only about thirty minutes of original music for it, opting to include excerpts from works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Josef Haydn and Franz Schubert wherever possible. Harmonically speaking it's one of his most advanced creations, but his operatic approach to scoring is still very much in evidence, allowing it to exist on its own as a kind of tone poem. The movie ends with a seven-minute cello concerto that Korngold later reworked and published as his Opus 37 (1950). But it's the original film version that's recorded here with orchestration a bit richer than in the later work. The music for the theatrical trailer is also included, and with good reason, because the film’s main title and ending sequence are treated differently than in the movie.

Meticulously restored by John Morgan in what must have been a real labor of love (read the terrific album documentation), both scores sound totally authentic. The performances with William Stromberg conducting the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Chorus couldn't be better. These words from the sung version of The Sea Hawk main title, "...Over the sea, Hearty and free, Troubles will soon be over...," best express how you'll feel after hearing this rousing release!

While the sound may not be up to that on the Telarc disc already mentioned, it's certainly above average by today's standards, and infinitely better than what you’d hear in a movie theater. (P070806)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

While the name of Luis Urteaga (1882-1960) will undoubtedly be unknown to most, this extraordinary release featuring some of his organ works certainly qualifies him as a significant CLOFO discovery. Although he was born, educated and spent his entire life in Spain, for the most part the selections on this disc seem French influenced. More specifically, the names of Cesar Franck, Alexander Guilmant (see the newsletter of 1 June 2007), Charles-Marie Widor and Louis Vierne may come to mind when hearing this disc.

No specific dates are given for any of the selections here, but they were probably all written between 1914 and 1952. The first piece, just known as Allegro maestoso, begins in the grand manner with a pontifical theme played on the full organ. A stirring fugue follows, but then dissolves into a meditative central episode, only to return along with the opening motif as the work ends triumphantly. This virtuoso opus is definitely not for beginners!

The next ten selections, which constitute a cycle known as Ofrenda to Pope Pius X, are miniatures that have no pedal parts and can also be played on the harmonium. When performed on a magnificent church instrument like the one here though, they become dynamic, dramatically impressive interludes, covering a wide variety of moods. The first, fifth, ninth (a toccata) and tenth are absolutely thrilling; the second and fourth, very lyrical; and the remainder, piously meditative.

The Marche religiosa that follows is not your everyday church recessional, but an inspired, twelve-minute, free-form creation somewhat akin to Franck's chorales.

Two lovely pastorals, an impressionistic sounding response (dedicated to Claude Debussy) and a meditation, Tu Gloria Jerusalem, provide a respite before the rousing last selection on this disc.

Simply entitled Final, it’s the most harmonically advanced piece here and makes for a stunning conclusion to this outstanding recital. You’ll find it on a par with those exhilarating finales from Widor's organ symphonies.

Everything is beautifully registrated and played by Esteban Iriarte on an outstanding instrument located at the San Vicente Church in San Sebastian, Spain. Originally built by the great Aristide Cavaille-Coll, it was later enlarged, but still retains those unmistakable tonal characteristics typically associated with its original creator. It seems ideally suited to Urteaga’s organ music.

The recording is demonstration quality, and audiophile organ buffs should take note. Don't be surprised, though, if it sounds a mite bright on systems with a tendency to favor the upper midrange frequencies.

If you like this release, by all means try the Charles Tournemire disc we recommended not too long ago (see the newsletter of 7 February 2007). (Y070805)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

No, we haven't taken leave of our senses, but this new release from Telarc of excerpts from the film scores for fourteen seafaring movie classics is just plain summer fun! Not only that, but it's a hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), disc that will have your decks awash with sea-state-9 sound waves, if you’re an audiophile sailing through these waters!

It starts off in Hollywood epic fashion with the stirring march from the music Alfred Newman (1901-1970) wrote for Captain From Castile (1947). Technically speaking this film had little to do with the sea except at the very beginning, when the hero (Tyrone Power) escapes the Spanish Inquisition by sailing across the Atlantic to the New World.

The next selection is by Miklos Rozsa (1907-1995), whose movie music has been the subject of two recent CLOFO recommendations (see the newsletters of 30 June and 25 July 2007). It's the Mayflower theme from the score he did for Plymouth Adventure (1952), which is all about the Pilgrims' voyage to America and their early days in Massachusetts. Towards the end [track-2, beginning at 02:38] there's a partial reference to the Shaker melody Simple Gifts, which Aaron Copland used in his ballet Appalachian Spring (1944).

The next five excerpts are drawn from the music Klaus Badelt (b. 1968) and Hans Zimmer (b.1957) wrote for the first two Pirates of the Caribbean films, The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) and Dead Man's Chest (2006), respectively. This is industrial strength stuff that will really get your speaker cones pumping!

An album like this would be sadly lacking without something from Erich Wolfgang Korngold's (1897-1957) scores for Captain Blood (1935) and/or The Sea Hawk (1940), but fear not, both are here! With triumphant brass outbursts and pants-flapping whacks on that huge, Cincinnatti Pops bass drum, these Errol Flynn swashbucklers have never sounded better.

By the way, if you want the complete score for The Sea Hawk, be sure to read the recommendation above.

Next up, something that for many may be the high point of this disc, a fabulous arrangement by Richard Tognetti (b. 1965) of Los Manolos from Luigi Boccherini's (1743-1805) La Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid, for the film Master and Commander (2003). Staring Russell Crowe, it obviously inspired the Telarc folks with the idea for the name of this album.

Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004) is represented by two winsome selections from The Buccaneer (1958). Is that an allusion to the Battle Hymn of the Republic at the very end of the first [track-11, beginning at 03:01]?

The excitingly vibrant overture from Anne of the Indies (1951) follows, and is the first of two tidbits from scores by the great Franz Waxman (1906-1967). The second is a suite from his exemplary music for Captains Courageous (1937). It includes that wonderful folk tune the Portuguese fisherman, Manuel (Spencer Tracy), sings, as well as a highly animated central section that sounds like it might have been inspired by Bedrich Smetana's overture to The Bartered Bride [track-16, beginning at 02:48].

Henry Mancini (1924-1994) wrote the score for The White Dawn (1974), from which we hear the thrilling music that accompanied an Arctic whale hunting sequence.

Then there's the commanding main title Bronislau Kaper (1902-1983) composed for the 1962 remake of Mutiny on the Bounty, staring Marlon Brando.

With a score by Morton Gould (1913-1996), Windjammer (1958) was one of the few feature films to appear in the breathtaking, three-projector, Cinerama process. The pelagic, undulating main motif from it, complete with surf sounds and ship's bells, is recorded here.

What better way could there be to end this disc than with another act of piracy! So the last selection is the closing title from John Debney's (b. 1956) music for Cutthroat Island (1995). The composer dedicated his score to Messrs. Rozsa, Korngold, Steiner, Newman and all those other film composers who’ve sailed the high seas. While the movie may not have been that great, Debney’s music is vintage Hollywood and makes for a particularly effective roll-up for this Telarc cinematic seafaring extravaganza.

Tops pops performances from Captain Erich Kunzel and his jolly crew of Cincinnatians, plus demonstration quality sound assure everyone taking this cruise a sometimes calm sea, but always prosperous voyage of sonic discovery.

The stereo CD and SACD tracks produce an incredibly wide, but well-focused soundstage, with the strings a bit smoother in the Super Audio mode. The SACD multichannel surround track is so convincing you'll find yourself reaching for the Dramamine. So, bon voyage to all who decide to go down to the sea in this ship! Incidentally, this release is also available in conventional, CD(2) format. (Y070804)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (