17 NOVEMBER 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 the spectacular release of Loft Recordings’ first volume (see the newsletter of 1 March 2007) in a projected series of three devoted to all of Dieterich Buxtehude's (1637-1707) extant organ music, here’s the second installment.

Born in Denmark, Buxtehude was one of the greatest of the North German Baroque composers, and he heavily influenced Johann Sebastian Bach, who journeyed some 300 miles to experience his music-making firsthand. Accordingly, the selections featured here are those known to have been of interest to J.S.B. and his associates. Like the first volume, this disc is also in a class by itself! That's true for a number of reasons, the foremost being that everything in this series is performed on a mean-tone tuned organ. That’s probably the way you would have heard this music at the prestigious St. Mary's Church in Lübeck, Germany, when Dieterich was organist there.

Strange and wondrous sounding things happen to Baroque organ music played in mean-tone temperament, because this method of tuning produces pure major thirds. These were all the rage in Buxtehude's day as they were thought to represent "heavenly harmony." Heavenly or not, they do in fact intensify the contrast between consonances and dissonances, thereby giving the music greater emotional impact, or Affekt. But these "divine thirds" come at a cost, because pieces in certain keys can sound harsh or even dissonant on mean-tone instruments. So steps must be taken to ameliorate the resultant "uglies," or "wolf tones" as they're called (you'll hear some good examples of them on D-1, tracks 12 and 17).

The most radical solution is to transpose the work in question to a more listener-friendly key, and in Buxtehude’s day organists did this all the time. In addition to transposition, there are several other ways to attack the problem. For instance, the organ for this recording has additional sub-semitone black keys and pedals to render the wolves a little less ravenous. These address the fact that accidentals like d-sharp and e-flat, which are the same identical note represented by one black key on a modern day piano (equal temperament), take on slightly different pitches in the mean-tone system. Additionally the performer can downplay lupine notes by shortening their length, camouflaging them with ornaments, and/or even opting for leaner registrations that deemphasize them.

The highly versatile and talented soloist here, Hans Davidsson, uses every trick at his disposal to come up with some of the most colorful Baroque music that ever emanated from an organ pipe. As a matter of fact, after you get used to hearing Buxtehude on this instrument, you may find he sounds rather lackluster on a conventionally tuned one. The organ Davidsson plays is located in Göteborg (Gothenburg), Sweden, and there are no words to describe what a fabulous sounding piece of work it is. That’s because it’s a modern day replica of the finest in North German Baroque organs from such builders as the great Arp Schnitger, and housed in an ideal venue, the Örgryte New Church in Göteborg.

Not only that, but this is one of the best sounding recordings of "The Pope of Instruments" to come along in some time. It utilizes Erik Sikkema's ULSI recording methodology, which does the same thing for organ music that Ray Kimber's IsoMike does for instrumental (see the 7 February 2007 newsletter). Accordingly, interested audiophiles must have this release!

As with the first volume, from the musical, artistic and sonic standpoints, producer Roger Sherman has given us another “Triple Crown” winner! You'll also want Loft’s third and final installment of Herr Bux's organ works à la mean-tone (see the newsletter of 29 September 2009).

Those desiring more detailed information about what’s included on this most recent disc can find it on the beautifully appointed Gothic Web Site by clicking here. (Y071117)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

In classical music circles, when the name Franck is mentioned, most people usually think of César, who was the great romantic French composer of Belgian descent (1822-1890). But there were two others of German birth, Eduard Franck (1817-1893) and his son Richard (1858-1938), who produced a significant body of chamber music that is well worth your attention. That's true of the two beautifully written piano quartets by Richard featured on this release. In fact, you'll find the earlier one is bit of an undiscovered masterpiece that should have appeared on disc long before now.

In the first quartet, written in 1901, there's a greater sense of dialogue between the four instruments than is usually found in this type of chamber work. The opening allegro is a romantic rush where the four protagonists speak to one another in lovely melodic phrases. The adagio has a gorgeous central theme, and is somewhat similar in mood to the dumka movement of Dvorak's piano quintet in A major (1887). A trippingly light allegretto functions as a scherzo where the notes waltz like snowflakes in some Disney film. The finale is awash with delightful motifs that Franck juggles with consummate skill. Each of the instruments has a last say before they all come together in a vivaciously joyous conclusion.

With a total playing time of just under nine minutes, the second piano quartet (1905) may well be the shortest completed work of its type in the repertoire. It was among the composer's most popular pieces, and when you hear it you'll understand why. It's in one movement consisting of four continuous subsections with tempo markings similar to those in the preceding quartet. In the opening section Franck presents some attractively sunny ideas, which he then subjects to rhythmic transformations that make up the remaining three sections. The craftsmanship and aplomb with which it's written make it a mini-masterpiece.

The disc is filled out with a tripartite fantasy for solo piano (1896) that began life as three separate pieces later combined into a single opus. The opening part starts with a confident theme that gives way to a tender melody. The two ideas alternate and are developed with an emotional intensity worthy of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The following adagio is a lovely romantic outpouring tinged with sadness and yearning. But that's all swept away by the optimistically flowing finale, replete with virtuosic chromatic runs. The piece ends in a state of knuckle-breaking euphoria.

Pianist Bernhard Fograscher is exceptional in all of the selections here. The committed, enthusiastic support provided in the quartets by violinist Christoph Schickedanz, violist Marius Nichiteanu and cellist Mathias Beyer-Karlshoj makes it very easy to overlook any of these performers’ technical shortcomings.

The recorded sound on this hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), disc is quite good in the CD mode and even better in the SACD ones.

If you like this release, be advised that there are quite a few other Audite discs featuring more music by Richard as well as Eduard Franck. (P071116)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

The concepts of formal structure and thematic development adhered to by most composers were totally rejected by Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973). Consequently for many listeners there's a loosey-goosey quality about his music that’s sometimes refreshing, but now and then rather disorienting. Fortunately the selections on this new hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), release from CPO fall into the former category. Written over a thirty year period beginning in 1934, each of his six piano concertos is cast in three relatively short movements that follow a fast-slow-fast scheme. While there is a pronounced sense of dialogue between the soloist and orchestra, all of these works are atypical for the notable absence of passages written expressly to show off the pianist's digital dexterity.

The opening movement of the first concerto (1934) is a dramatic sequence of melodic episodes where the piano and orchestra have equally important roles. The elegiac andante contains a lovely duet for violin and piano, and the finale is light and animated with a central theme that sounds folk-inspired. It includes a cadenza where the composer generates a sense of excitement through dynamic rather than virtuosic means. The work ends not with a bang, but a whimper.

The second concerto (1937) tends to be the loosiest-goosiest of the six. But there are some wonderful moments in the lento, and the finale is quite engaging, even if the soloist's role is a bit to the fore.

The third concerto (1948) is one of the composer's finest creations. The joyous opening allegro is followed by a haunting lento that's remarkable for its colorful orchestration. It's not only the longest, but probably the most outstanding movement in any of these concertos. The finale is arresting in its rhythmic drive, and notable for some polytonal acrobatics as well as a cyclic cadenza that recalls some of the previous motifs.

The fourth (1950), fifth (1958) and sixth (1964) concertos become increasingly more chromatic and progressive sounding than the first three. The piano writing in the fourth is so unadorned that it sounds more like an obbligato part. But in the fifth it’s just the opposite, making it the showiest of all the Malapiero piano concertos. The sixth concerto, subtitled "delle macchine," is a real curiosity. Repetitive rhythmic and percussive elements turn the outer movements into what might best be described as "musique mecanique." But that's not all! The central lento contains strange references to the "DSCH" (D-Eb-C-B) motif used so frequently as a musical signature by Dmitri Shostakovich. It's a fascinating piece that you’ll probably find yourself returning to.

The Variations without a Theme (1923) for piano and orchestra that fills out this enterprising album is another curiosity. Written for a large orchestra, Malapiero considered it a symphonic work, which is reflected in the fact that the piano is used only for decorative purposes. Brilliantly scored, it's in seven continuous sections, three of which are fast (1, 4 and 7) and the others, slow (2, 3, 5 and 6). It's rather like a tiny tone poem that's somewhat reminiscent of Manuel de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain.

All of the performances here by pianist Sandro Ivo Bartoli and the Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra under Michele Carulli are exemplary.

The two-channel CD and SACD tracks are audiophile quality and generate a broad and detailed soundstage with a string sound that's a little smoother in the SACD mode. The multichannel track makes for a very convincing virtual concert hall listening experience. (Y071115)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

This release provides a fascinating look at the creative development of one of the twentieth century's most outstanding composers. The seven chamber works by Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) included here were among his first efforts written while he was between the ages of 16 and 24. The sonata for violin and piano (1881-82) and duet for two violins (1882) are each tiny three-movement curios that are right out of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But who cares! They are absolutely delightful, solidly constructed works with lovable melodies. In both works "Baby Nielsen" proves himself a neo-classicist par excellence.

The next selection, a romance for violin and piano (1883), is more progressive sounding with passages that conjure up pictures of a beetle-browed Beethoven.

The string quartet that follows (No. 1, 1883*) is a highly infectious concoction that’s right out of Felix Mendelssohn! It ranks with Felix's best chamber music, and perhaps even outdoes him in its foreboding andante.

The next six selections for string quartet [tracks 12-17] probably date from around 1887*. Four of them may have been the basis for a quartet that was performed the following year, but there is no surviving documentation to tell us which were involved (see the excellent album notes for additional details). All of them are beautifully written pieces where the lion's claws are finally beginning to show through in the first four [tracks 12-15]. With a little creative programming of your CD player, you’ll find you can assemble them into a variety of delightful, do-it-yourself Nielsen quartets.

The disc closes with a romance for violin and piano arranged by Hans Sitt from the first of Carl's two fantasy pieces for oboe and piano (1889). This lovely late romantic sounding miniature is a fitting conclusion to the youthful music on this disc, as well as an effective teaser for what would soon be coming from this great Danish composer.

Violinist Georgios Demertzis, pianist Maria Asteriadou and the New Hellenic Quartet (*) deliver immaculately committed performances of all these pieces.

Also the recorded sound is very good, making this a release that chamber music lovers will not want to pass up. (P071114)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

Chalk up another great discovery to Naxos in the form of this adventurous release of orchestral music by late romantic Polish composer Tadeusz Szeligowki (1896-1963). His music shows French as well as Polish influences, which is not surprising considering he spent three years in Paris where he worked with Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger.

The Comedy Overture (1952) is an occasional piece that's just plain fun. It's lyrically boisterous, colorfully orchestrated and quite Slavic sounding with ties to the lighter side of Shostakovich. The ending may even remind you of Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol.

The suite of Four Polish Dances follows the time honored tradition of Eastern European composers to arrange and orchestrate the folk music of their respective countries. Szeligowski certainly proves he's up to the task with these inventive dances derived from Polish folk sources, including the ever popular polonaise and mazurka. While the symphonic dances of Dvorak, Bartok and Kodaly immediately come to mind, it’s the Lachian Dances of Leos Janacek that seem the closest relative to what we have here.

The piano concerto (1941) is in the standard three movements and shows that Szeligowski learned his lessons well in Paris as it's a heavy-duty, neo-classical gem that's at times reminiscent of Kabalevsky's efforts in this genre. There's never a lull in the hyperactive first movement where an exhilaratingly joyful theme is contrasted to great effect with a more reflective one. In the process there are many opportunities for virtuosic displays from the soloist. The andante is mysterious and haunting in a way that probably reflects the composer's love for the music of his fellow countryman Karol Szymanowski. The finale is another high-energy exercise with more keyboard pyrotechnics, and provides a fitting conclusion to this captivating Baltic pianistic showpiece.

The nocturne for orchestra (1947) that follows is an impressionistic watercolor that's even more reminiscent of Szymanowski. There’s a repeated figure in the bass [track-9, beginning at 01:33] amazingly like the opening of Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird (1910).

The program closes with a concerto for orchestra (1930), which oddly enough is the most modern sounding work here, although it was written long before anything else on this disc. In three movements, it predates the famous Bartok concerto by thirteen years, and was composed while Szeligowski was in Paris. There's an enfant terrible aspect about it that brings to mind music dating from that period by another composer who was also resident in Paris, Sergei Prokofiev. In fact one of the rhythmic figurations in the strident opening is reminiscent of the clock motif that would appear some fifteen years later in Prokofiev's Cinderella ballet. A pensive and demanding cadenza for the violin dominates the last part of the first movement. It sets the stage for the lugubrious, but emotionally powerful andante where mysterious wind-swept passages for the violins make the music sound possessed. A folk melody serves as the central idea for the finale. Here the composer gives us an ear-catching free-for-all where all the instrumental facets of the orchestra sparkle with all the colors of a sonic rainbow.

The Poznan Philharmonic Orchestra under Mariusz Smolij delivers impassioned performances of everything, and soloist Bogdan Czapiewski plays up a storm in the piano concerto.

The overall recorded sound is quite good except for a few spots where there's a bit of that Slavic stridency reminiscent of those old Melodiya recordings. (P071113)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

The five outstanding chamber works featured here were written by former composers-in-residence of the Chicago Music in the Loft concert series. With the exception of the Jalbert trio, all of are world permiere recordings.

The first piece, Ricardo Lorenz' (b. 1961) Bachango (1984*) for solo piano, is based on Afro-Cuban music. Just five minutes long, it begins with a skittish theme that undergoes several catchy transformations before it vanishes into the mists.

The next selection is a modern day five-movement partita for cello and piano by Carter Pann (b. 1972) entitled Differences (1998**). Its opening section, "Strand," is rhythmically antsy, as opposed to the next movement, "Air," which is a lovely aria for the cello. "Country Dance" is predictably folksy, and immediately appealing with one of those tunes that's hard to get out of your head. The next section, "Blues," is pretty much as advertised. The title for the closing movement, "Song," is a little puzzling, because it sounds like a spirited South American dance. In any case it provides a strong ending for this highly engaging piece.

Next up, Pierre Jalbert's (b. 1967) diminutive two-movement piano trio (1998***). The opening, "Life Cycle," is notable for a heartbeat-like rhythm that keeps reappearing. The finale, titled "Agnus Dei," is deeply reverential with occasional glissandos, and brings this piece to a very effecting conclusion.

The string quartet that follows will be the high point of this release for most listeners. By Stacy Garrop (b. 1969) it’s subtitled "Demons and Angels" (2005****), and is her second in this genre. According to the composer it's about an unidentified Jeckyl and Hyde-like character who commits five murders. These are represented at the very beginning of the piece by stabbing, Psycho-like chords, which Bernard Herrmann would have loved. The first two movements, "Demonic Spirits" and "Song of the Angels," are vivid musical characterizations of the evil and good aspects of this individual. The concluding two, "Inner Demons" and "Broken Spirit," have a complexity of ideas reminiscent of the late Beethoven quartets. "Inner Demons" describes the descent of this psychopath into madness and the resultant killings. This movement is a mini-masterpiece where Garrop utilizes an Appalachian folk tune The Wayfaring Stranger to great effect. In "Broken Spirits" the composer pulls out all the emotional stops making her quartet a stunning listening experience that must rank with some of the best chamber music being written today.

The disc concludes with Vivian Fung's (b.1975) Miniatures (2005*****) for clarinet and string quartet. It's a theme and variations where the cart comes before the horse, so to speak. That's because each of its four short movements are variations, and the actual theme, which is based on a Chinese folk melody, doesn't appear until the very end. Short, but quite engaging, it provides a fitting conclusion to this fine contemporary chamber collection.

The performances are all first-rate, and feature a number of Chicago-associated musicians and ensembles. These include pianists Marta Aznavoorian (*) and Elinar Freer (**), cellist David Ying (**), clarinetist John Bruce Yeh (*****), the Lincoln Trio (***) and the Biava (****) as well as the Maia Quartets (*****).

The recordings are very good, making this another excellent example of the imaginatively programmed releases we've come to expect from Cedille Records producer James Ginsburg and his talented associates. (P071112)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (


Those early music fans who never got these dances when they first appeared on CD several years ago, now have another chance.

The program begins with a suite of some of the most popular Renaissance delights ever written. They're drawn from a collection known as Terpsichore (the Greek Muse of dancing and choral song), which consists of over three hundred dance tunes of French origin harmonized and arranged in 1612 by German composer Michael Praetorius (1571-1621). Some of these will be familiar to many from that legendary Archiv LP featuring the Collegium Terpsichore that appeared in the early 1960s. Like those, the ones here are played by what's known as a "broken" consort, which is a group of instruments from differing families (strings, winds and percussion). Praetorius favored such an approach, and you'll find these performances have a crispness and intimacy that in many ways outdo what was on the old LP.

The next selection of dances are from French composer Thoinot Arbeau's (1520-1595) Orchesographie (1589). Here only the melodic lines are given, but conductor Christopher Ball's imaginative realizations make these numbers sound convincingly Renaissance. His choice of differing instruments for each selection insures the listener's attention never flags.

Next up, some lively tunes used sometime around 1640 by Italian dancing master Gregorio Lambranzi. Apparently many of these were of English origin, but regardless of their nationality, it's worth getting this disc for the concluding Hurlo Bacho alone! The dances by

English composer Anthony Holborne (c. 1547-1603) that follow are for the most part quite stately. This is not surprising considering he was at one point closely associated with the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

The disc is filled out with some delights of German and Polish origin. These are taken from four collections of dances made by Bohemian composer Christoph Demantius (1567-1643) and published in 1601. They're harmonized in five parts, but there's no indication as to instrumentation. Like the opening Praetorius selections, Maestro Ball opts for the "broken" consort approach to this music, providing a highly colorful ending to one of the most memorable Renaissance dance marathons to have ever appeared on CD.

The Praetorius Consort turns in totally authentic, virtuoso performances of everything here.

Not only that, but the recorded sound is superb with a detailed soundstage in an ideal venue. Early music lovers and audiophiles alike will find themselves cutting a rug when they hear this release. (Y071111)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (