30 OCTOBER 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.

This stunning release features some little known but outstanding romantic chamber music in demonstration quality sound. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was born in London the child of a white English mother and a black father, who was a doctor from Sierra Leone. He displayed prodigious musical talent at a very early age and studied with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, who considered him one of his most brilliant students. When you hear the selections on this release you'll understand why. Coleridge-Taylor acknowledged that his favorite composer was Antonin Dvorak, and like him, Samuel had an enormous gift for melody.

This is very evident in the piano quintet (1893), which is a surprisingly mature work considering it was written when he was only eighteen. In four movements, it opens forcefully with a thematic idea whose second half is reminiscent of Dvorak. A very attractive counter melody is then introduced and alternated with the opening motif in a series of masterfully developed episodes. The beginning and ending of the following larghetto feature an attractive, gently rocking theme. They surround a couple of impassioned passages that give this movement an element of drama.

In the scherzo, an energetic, folksy motif prances around a graceful, aristocratic sounding melody. The latter would later appear in a somewhat varied form as the Valse de la Reine, which was the third of the composer's Four Characteristic Waltzes (1899) (see the newsletter of 25 July 2007). The finale starts off in a highly agitated state, and proves to be more ominous than anything we've heard so far. But soon there are melodic flashes of a benign nature followed by an optimistic fugato section, and the work ends in high spirits.

The Ballade in C minor is a dark-hued, exceptionally lovely rhapsody for violin and piano. Composed in 1907 for a Russian violinist, who was a favorite of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, there's a brooding Slavic air about it that will appeal to all Rachmaninov fans.

The clarinet quintet was written in 1895, and most would have to agree it's a masterpiece in that genre. While much of the chamber music for clarinet by his teacher Stanford shows a marked Brahmsian influence (see the newsletter of 30 August 2007), Coleridge-Taylor's quintet owes a great debt to Dvorak. It's in four movements and begins pluckily with a delightfully folk-like ditty on the clarinet. It becomes obvious from the outset that this work is not just a showpiece for the featured soloist, but a communal chamber effort where every instrument is of equal importance.

The opening movement is beautifully constructed with a confident ending that sets the tone for the rest of the piece. The larghetto that comes next is absolutely gorgeous, and will move all but the brain-dead! It sounds like it might have been inspired by the slow movement of Dvorak's New World Symphony (No. 9, 1893). The rhythmically electric outer parts of the scherzo surround a lovely central passage, which one could imagine as based on some Czech folk song.

The closing allegro introduces a lively skittish motif and a subdued imploring melody, which are skillfully developed during the course of the movement. There's one last reference to that beautiful larghetto theme just before the work ends on a joyously uplifting note. Having heard this piece it's not hard to believe that Antonin's American Quartet (No. 12, 1893) might have served as a model for it.

The Nash Ensemble outdoes itself with this repertoire, and sweeps away what little competition there is for any of this music. Pianist Malin Broman and clarinetist Benjamin Nabarro deserve special praise for their outstanding work in the two quintets.

The recording is magnificent and the piano sound, completely natural sans any nasty digital artifacts. Romantic chamber music lovers as well as audiophiles will treasure this disc.

One last note, Coleridge-Taylor was always deeply aware of his African heritage and this was reflected more and more in his later music. That's certainly true of his Twenty-four Negro Melodies (1905) for solo piano, which you may want to investigate. (Y071030)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

Following their enterprising release of last month (see the newsletter of 10 October 2007), Trio Hochelaga with a little help from some friends now give us another revelatory disc of some more unknown French romantic chamber music. This time the featured composer is Theodore Dubois (1837-1924). He was best known for his religious affiliations, first as choir director under Cesar Franck at Sainte-Clotilde, and then as organist at the Madeleine succeeding Saint-Saens, whom he considered the greatest living composer of his time. So it's not surprising that the harmonic structure and sense of balance present in the two chamber works included here are Franckian, while the piano writing shows the influence of Saint-Saens.

The program begins with his four movement piano quartet dating from 1907. The opening thematic ideas consist of an impassioned motif linked with a restless countermelody. They serve to introduce a lovely, more lyrical theme, which is masterfully developed along with them before the movement ends in a state of great excitement. In the following andante, a comely rhapsodic motif is presented and then interrupted with dramatic outbursts, only to eventually triumph as the movement draws to a gorgeous conclusion. The allegro that comes next is mercurial and functions as a scherzo. It will remind you of Saint-Saens, as will the captivating finale, which is equally light on its feet and full of Gallic charm right up through the final coda.

The quintet for piano, oboe and string trio is not only an original as far as its imaginative instrumentation is concerned, but an undiscovered masterpiece! In four movements like the quartet, it was completed in 1905. The piece commences with a melody that becomes totally addictive with repeated listening! During the course of the first movement it's developed along with other motifs, but surfaces frequently, finally appearing much to the listener's delight as the basis for a glorious perorative concluding coda. The canzonetta that follows is melodic magic with a lachrymal ending.

An adagio is next, and Dubois proves here that opposites attract -- the listenerís attention that is -- as he juxtaposes an amorous Tchaikovsky-like tune with a more aggressive motif. As might be expected, love wins in the end. The finale is notable for its energetically engaging themes as well as its Franckian harmonic and cyclic structure. All those wonderful melodies from previous movements make a last appearance before Dubois masterfully combines bits and pieces of them into a stunning coda, ending this magnificent work.

Again, we owe the Trio Hochelaga a great debt of thanks for unearthing these two outstanding selections. Itís one of Canada's most distinguished chamber ensembles, and its members with an assist from the very talented violist Jean-Luc Plourde and oboist Philippe Magnan play up a storm.

The recorded sound is quite good too, guaranteeing you a disc definitely worth investigating.

If you like this release, make sure you have their fabulous first volume of Dubois' works for piano and strings also on ATMA Classics (22362). (P071029)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

Granted, American composer Don Gillis' (1912-1978) music may not reach the levels of profundity as that by Roy Harris or Aaron Copland, but it's sincere, very colorful Americana that most will find a refreshing change from more serious fare. A case in point is this latest, superb sounding release from Albany in their ongoing series devoted to Gillis (see the 20 May 2006 newsletter recommendation for the one previous to this).

Like the "5½" in the title for his Symphony No. 5½: A Symphony for Fun (1947), the "X" in that for the Symphony X: Big D (1968) included here is another example of the composer's wry sense of humor. That's because it was actually his eleventh, which as it turned out, would be his last in this genre. "Big D" refers to the city of Dallas, Texas. The composer moved there after living some twenty years in New York, where he produced the NBC Symphony Orchestra broadcasts under Arturo Toscanini. And speaking of Toscanini, this symphony is dedicated to his son and manager, Walter Toscanini.

Consisting of four movements that last less than four minutes each, it's more of a pops suite than a formal symphony. The first section, "All-American City," is an energetically percussion-spiced, boisterous opener that couldn't sound more American. The next, "Requiem for a Hero," is a very moving lament with a hymn-like simplicity worthy of Virgil Thompson (see the recommendation for two of his film scores below). It may well have been inspired by the assassination of JFK, which had occurred in Dallas five years earlier.

The "Conventioneer" movement that follows is tongue-in-cheek Gillis, where he treats us to a discombobulated waltz suggestive of some visiting Sons of the Desert delegate who's tripping the light fantastic with more than just a couple under his belt. The symphony closes with "Cotton Bowl," which conjures up all the excitement of that time-honored contest. It may bring back fond memories of past football games, scantily clad cheerleaders and hip flasks.

Commissioned by a bank in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Tulsa: A Symphonic Portrait in Oil (1950) is a tone poem that describes the settling of the Oklahoma territory and subsequent development of oil resources around Tulsa. One of his most imaginative pieces, it's worth getting the disc for this alone. Highly lyrical -- Richard Rogers eat your heart out -- and brilliantly orchestrated, it opens unassumingly in sweeping Western fashion. But the music soon takes on an industrial strength, machine-like rotating rhythm that invokes images of wildcatters drilling oil wells. It even includes a musical picture of a big gusher coming in, and ends with a raucously celebratory parade followed by a hoedown complete with square dance. Charles Ives would have loved it!

The disc is filled out with Gillis' Symphony No. 3: A Symphony for Free Men (1942), which along with his Symphony No. 1: American Symphony (1941) and Symphony No. 2: Symphony of Faith (1942) form a trilogy originally designed to be a musical representation of American ideals. The third is in three movements, and was just too straightforward, subdued and romantic sounding for the critics when it premiered in 1945. But it deserves a second hearing, because times have changed, and today's audiences are much more accepting of concert music with immediate appeal.

The opening is rather threatening and reminiscent of some frozen nocturnal landscape in a Sibelius tone poem. However the scene brightens as a brass aurora borealis begins flashing in the sky, and the movement ends on a hopeful note. The following slow movement begins a bit like Janacek's Sinfonietta, but soon takes on aspects of that cold wasteland we just encountered. Then a lovely, warmer sounding melody is introduced and the mood becomes more sanguine as the movement ends uneventfully. The finale begins and closes with a series of fanfares for brass and percussion, surrounding a meditative central section where understatement is the byword. This symphony could have benefitted from some tightening up, but it does have some lovely moments. Conductor Ian Hobson and the Sinfonia Varsovia certainly do their best by it, as well as the other two selections here.

These recordings, which were originally released on conventional CD, have been subjected to some "Zarex" electronic wizardry (see the excellent album notes for details) to create this hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.1), disc. The stereo CD and SACD tracks produce a magnificently detailed soundstage with the strings sounding a bit more natural in the SACD mode. The multichannel track will provide you with a virtual concert hall listening experience. But you may want to turn off your subwoofer, if you have full range left and right front speakers. Thatís because it can often muddy up the low end response, despite even the most sophisticated bass management techniques currently used in the production of hybrid discs. In fact, when it comes to symphonic music, most record companies no longer bother with a ".1" low frequency channel. (Y071028)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

This is the first volume of Hyperion's planned four-disc survey of Bohuslav Martinu's (1890-1959) complete orchestral works featuring at least one solo violin. Most of the pieces that will appear in this series deserve much wider recognition, and we have conductor Christopher Hogwood to thank for this revival. It seems likely he's about to do for Martinu what another one of Englandís great conductors, Charles Mackerras, did for Leos Janacek's music.

The opening selection on this outstanding release, a concerto for flute and violin dating from 1936, is a good case in point, because itís first-rate Martinu that's all but disappeared from today's repertoire. In three movements, like the other concertos here, it begins with a chugging, neo-classical-sounding motif, but soon turns very lyrical with the introduction of a lovely melody, which may well have been derived from some Moravian folk song. These two thematic ideas, or cells as the composer called them, alternate with the soloists and orchestra toss them back and forth right up until the movement ends much as it began. By the way, the score includes a prominent part for the piano, which plays a colorful continuo role.

The following adagio begins with what might best be described as a walking-theme ornamented by the piano. This leads right into a gorgeous, extended-duet for the soloists, which is punctuated by dramatic outbursts from the orchestra. Then there's a brief cadenza for the violin, after which the duet resumes and the movement ends quietly. The beginning and ending of the finale are highly kinetic and couldn't sound more like Martinu as the orchestra and soloists buzz around each other. The central section, although more restrained, is a showcase for the flutist. The work ends in high spirits leaving everyone with the feeling that a good time was had by all.

The next selection is the Duo concertante for two violins (*) written in 1937. It was obviously inspired by the Baroque concerto grosso, and is a Martinu mini-masterpiece. The balance between concertino and ripieno is ideally suited to highlighting the sumptuous sonorities produced by the two violin soloists. Another one of those chugging motifs opens the piece and becomes a recurrent rhythmic riff throughout the entire first movement. The soloists and orchestra take turns cavorting around it and the movement ends in hoedown fashion. As in the previous concerto, the presence of a piano serves to embellish and make the music all the more colorful.

The adagio is a more serious affair where the two soloists play some rather melancholy passages that turn out to be some of the lushest in the whole score. The upbeat, animated finale is vintage Martinu, and opens with a theme in the orchestra that once again seems folk-inspired. The soloists then grab onto and toy with it, producing a variety of moods ranging from nervously antsy to lyrically romantic. The work comes to a succinct, but memorable conclusion much as it began.

The disc is filled out with Martinu's concerto for two violins (**), which dates from 1950 and is stylistically entirely different from the preceding neo-classical selections. For a much larger orchestra, itís in the grand romantic tradition and starts off with a two-chord motif, which most will identify with the opening of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony (No. 3, see the newsletter of 30 April 2008). A stirring, romantically inclined melody for full orchestra follows immediately, and is taken up by the soloists once theyíve announced their presence with the "Eroica motif." An engaging thematic taffy pull then follows. Here Martinu delivers some of his best concerted writing prior to the movement's rather perfunctory ending.

The next part is atypical because it's quite scherzo-like, making this a concerto without a slow movement. Here the soloists subject an infectiously whimsical opening theme to some variations utilizing multiple stopping, creating some truly magical Martinu moments. There's never a morose millisecond in the finale where it sounds like the composer must have been putting notes on paper faster than they could be played. There's some fancy tuneful fiddling here, and a wild cadenza where one can almost smell burning horse hair. The work then comes to a gorgeous, highly memorable romantic conclusion. Like the previous concerto, this must be counted as another Martinu masterpiece.

Accolades go to violinists Bohuslav Matousek, who appears in all three works, Regis Pasquier (*) and Jennifer Koh (**), as well as flutist Janne Thomsen for their highly sympathetic performances. Conductor Hogwood elicits terrific support from the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in all three concertos. He obviously loves this music as evidenced by a couple of barley audible ďprimal yalpsĒ where he exhorts his troops on to bigger and better things [track-5 at 04:54 and track-6 at 05:33].

The recording presents a wide, but totally lifelike, well-focused soundstage with silky strings, and should please the most critical of audiophiles. It's an auspicious beginning to Hyperion's projected series covering a relatively neglected sector of Martinu's output. (Y071027)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

The two concertos by Ned Rorem (b. 1923) on this recent Naxos release will appeal to listeners with an ear for late romantic American music. Both are world premiere recordings, which is surprising considering they're highly imaginative, beautifully written works that one would have expected to appear on CD long before now. You'll find that Rorem's concept of a concerto is refreshingly different from the usual fare.

The composer studied orchestration with Virgil Thomson (see the recommendation below for a CD with Thomson's film scores for The Plow that Broke the Plains and The River), and it certainly shows in the highly colorful second piano concerto (1951) that begins this disc. It's in three movements, the first of which is marked "Somber and Steady." It commences with a slow introduction played by the soloist who's soon joined by the orchestra as the music builds to a stormy crescendo. This quickly subsides and the piano introduces an agitated, spiky theme that's briefly developed and serves as an introduction to a lovely lyrical counter melody. These motifs alternate, setting the stage for an extended cadenza where Rorem now and then pays homage to the piano music of his early idol, Maurice Ravel. The two thematic ideas then reappear, intermingle and are further developed as the movement ends in animated fashion.

The next section, "Quiet and Sad," is as advertised with more French impressionist overtones. There are a couple of dramatic tsunamis that heighten the emotional tension, but the conclusion is peaceful and quite pastoral sounding. The last movement, entitled "Real Fast," is a brilliant hyperactive romp and guaranteed crowd-pleaser with plenty of opportunities for the soloist to show off his keyboard skills. At times it's almost seems a rhythmic cross between George Gershwin's Concerto in F and the wilder moments in Aram Khachaturian's Gayne Ballet. The final bars are thrilling and similar in spirit to the outside movements of Ravel's G major piano concerto.

The cello concerto is much later Rorem (2002), and stylistically similar to his two concertos for flute and violin respectively, which appeared not too long ago on another Naxos disc (see the newsletter of 16 June 2006). All three are atypical, because each is in at least six movements, every one of which bears a fancifully descriptive title. They're a kind of orchestral song cycle where the vocalist is replaced by a solo instrument, and the words with thematic ideas that take on a meaning all of their own thanks to Roremís extraordinary sense of melodic invention. The genesis of these pieces is quite understandable when you consider the composer is best known as a songwriter. For want of a better name, one might even think of them as concerto canticos.

But returning to the one here for cello, itís in eight sections, which display a variety of moods. The opening movement, "Curtain Raise," is meditative. The second, "There and Back," is rather sinister with the timpani intoning a kind of "stalking bass" that becomes absolutely hypnotic. Itís quite similar to the "False Waltz" and "Toccata-Chaconne" sections of the flute and violin concertos previously mentioned. The next five movements are equally as inventive and varied as their catchy titles, giving the cellist an opportunity to explore every tonal aspect of the instrument. The last one, ďAdrift,Ē is a diaphanous Verklarte Nacht-like apparition that disappears into the nocturnal mists, leaving the listener hoping Rorem will give us some more concerto canticos.

Make sure you read the excellent album notes by conductor Jose Serebrier for more interesting details about this piece. He along with Cellist Wen-Sinn Yang, pianist Simon Mulligan, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra do us a great service by delivering stunning performances of it as well as the previous concerto.

The recording is quite good, but a little brighter and drier sounding than Serebrierís previous Rorem release on Naxos mentioned above. The music on both discs is brimming over with enough ideas to keep you returning to them again and again. (P071026)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

The Naxos DVD of Pare Lorentz's classic documentary films The Plow that Broke the Plains and The River (see the newsletter of 16 January 2007) was so well received that they now gives us a CD devoted just to Virgil Thomson's (1896-1989) scores for them. Anyone interested in American music must have this, and that includes those who got the DVD, because there are cues here that never made it into the films.

This is the most extensive version of these scores ever recorded, and even contains some tidbits that aren't on the supposedly complete recording conductor Richard Kapp did for the Ess.a.y label almost twenty years ago (no longer available). Theyíre not only considered some of Thomson's finest music, but two of the best scores ever written for the silver screen.

Thomson, who studied at Harvard, and then with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, had the ability to write as well as orchestrate music with a clarity and simplicity that made it immediately appealing and meaningful. For the Lorentz films he used this talent along with a variety of folk and hymn tunes to create an entirely new kind of American music. Eclectic, down-to-earth and at times even humorous, his creations had such a uniquely compelling sound that they greatly influenced what would later come from other American composers, particularly Aaron Copland and Roy Harris. While the finer points of Thomson's exquisite scoring were never that apparent on the original film soundtracks, which date from the 1930s, they certainly come through on this modern day CD.

Not only that, but the music becomes an entity unto itself with a meaning all of its own thanks to the loving attention lavished on it by up-and-coming conductor Angel Gil-Ordonez and his spunky Post-Classical Ensemble. Known in the Washington, D.C. area for their imaginative programming and sensitive performances, they really outdo themselves here in spite of some mysterious chirps in The Plow That Broke the Plains "Cattle" cue. Their efforts would undoubtedly have pleased the composer, who was also a formidable music critic.

The Plow... (1936) documents the calamities brought about by the Dust Bowl, and the New Deal policies designed to overcome them. The River, which came a year later, tells the story of the mighty Mississippi, it's disastrous floods, and New Deal efforts to contain as well as prevent them. Thomson considered The Plow... his finest film score. But Gil-Ordonez makes an exceptionally strong case for The River, by turning it into a highly emotional experience of almost symphonic poem proportions.

This is musical Americana at its best, and the recorded sound is quite good, although one does get the impression that the level was set a bit too high.

Incidentally, Thomson fans should be sure to check out a CD featuring his cello concerto along with some pieces by his student and good friend Charles Fussell. They should also read the recommendations above for a couple of concertos by another of Virgilís students, Ned Rorem, and some very colorful symphonic music by American composer Don Gillis. (P071025)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (


For some perfect Halloween music, look no further than this reissue of the complete House of Frankenstein film score composed by Hans J. Salter (1896-1994) with a little help from Paul Dessau (1894-1979). Not only that, but this Naxos re-release is less than half the price of the original one on Marco Polo. It's hard to think of Salter, who was born in Austria and classically trained (he even studied with Alban Berg), as the man who composed the music for the Universal Studios' Frankenstein movies. But he did, and over the years, just like the films they were written for, these scores have become classics in their own right.

That's particularly true of House... which was made in 1944. It's the who's who of horror movies whose characters include a mad doctor (Boris Karloff), his evil assistant (J. Carrol Naish), Dracula (John Carradine), the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr) and of course, the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange). Back in those days Hollywood composers usually had to borrow heavily from other in-house scores in order to meet the incredibly demanding deadlines imposed on them by the studios. But that's certainly not the case here where Salter came up with one of his most original creations. All of the main characters have associated leitmotifs that recur throughout the film, and the variety of thematic invention is astounding. There are striking three and four-note rhythmic motifs, gypsy airs and a host of other monster melodies that'll keep you guessing as to whatís going bump in the night.

The "Death of the Unholy Two" cue is a magnificently chaotic conclusion to this horror of horror movies, where everyone is done in. Salter's classical background is very much in evidence, because you'll hear references to Beethoven and Webern, while there are stylistic similarities to the music of other twentieth century composers like Honegger and Busoni.

We have John Morgan and William Stromberg, who is also the conductor here, to thank for painstakingly reconstructing this score from a bewildering variety of sources. These included original three-line piano reductions as well as the soundtrack itself. Stromberg elicits an enthusiastic performance from the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, whose Eastern origins are quite in keeping with the Magyar and Transylvanian locations usually associated with a couple of the films creatures.

While the recorded sound on this disc is certainly far superior to the original soundtrack, it is a bit on the dry side.

If you enjoy this CD, do try the recent Naxos releases of the complete film scores for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre by Max Steiner as well as The Sea Hawk and Deception by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, also done by Stromberg and his Muscovites. (P071024)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (