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 highly acclaimed first release in their ongoing survey of English composer York Bowen's (1884-1961) concertos (see the newsletter of 30 September 2006), Dutton now gives us another. This one features his second and third piano concertos (he wrote four), each lasting about twenty minutes and in one movement with contiguous fast, slow and fast subsections. Bowen was a remarkable piano virtuoso from a very early age, and these works were showcases for his considerable ivory-tickling talents.

The second concerto, dating from 1905, was at one point called Concertstuck. It begins with a brief, profoundly assertive opening motif in the orchestra that sounds somewhat American Indian, particularly after it's thematically developed by the soloist with some brilliant keyboard pyrotechnics. A second more lyrical melody follows, but is soon overwhelmed by the "Indian" idea, which transitions right into the concerto's slow central section. Attractive and highly melodic, this serves to introduce the finale, where previous thematic ideas make brief appearances. The pianist once again has plenty of opportunities for some fancy finger work before the work ends in a thrilling coda.

The third concerto was written in 1907 and first entitled Fantasia. While similar in mood and layout to the second, it's even more lyrical, and may bring to mind Saint-Saens' last couple of efforts in this genre. A spirited opening with several virtuosic passages for the soloist leads directly into the slower central part. Here the pianist and orchestra alternately muse over several attractive thematic ideas. In the process they eventually work themselves up into a great frenzy, heralding the start of the grand finale where a couple of drop-dead gorgeous melodies are introduced.

The first of these is a "big tune" in the best English tradition, while the second is quite whimsical and may remind some of the more sprightly numbers that would later appear in Lehar’s The Land of Smiles (1929). Some last minute knuckle-busting gives way to the triumphant return of several previous themes, including that wonderful "big tune," and the concerto ends in glorious fashion.

The disc is filled out with a highly romantic symphonic fantasia in six parts, or mini-movements, that are played without a break. While the third and sixth of these owe a debt to Richard Strauss, the overall work remains predominantly English. Bowen referred to it as a tone poem, but never indicated what it was all about. In hopes of giving you some idea of how it sounds, here's a generic fairy tale in six scenes made up to match the music's mood:

(1) Once upon a time there was a valiant knight who suffered from melancholia brought on by tender memories of his recently departed wife. Desirous of ending his sadness, he became a knight errant and doer of heroic deeds.

(2) In his travels he came upon a kingdom being ravaged by a marauding dragon, and killed the beast.

(3) Having saved this realm from destruction, he met and fell in love with the king's beautiful daughter.

(4) Now the king, who was no fool, saw the dragon slayer as insurance against any future malevolent monsters. So in hopes of keeping him around, he showed him great favor, eventually even offered him his daughter's hand in marriage.

(5) But wanderlust once again overcame the knight, and rather than marry, he rode off to undertake more courageous feats.

(6) After many valiant exploits, his melancholia returned along with the realization of how empty his inner life was. So he journeyed back to the kingdom and was greeted with open arms by his inamorata, who'd remained loyal to his memory all those years. As is usually the case with most stories of this kind, everyone lived happily ever after!

Granted this simplistic fable is rather mundane, but Bowen's fantasia is a stunning achievement for a twenty-five year old composer.

In all three works the BBC Concert Orchestra has never sounded better thanks to the efforts of one of Britain's most distinguished conductors, Vernon Handley. Pianist Michael Dussek's playing is so electric that one can easily imagine showers of sparks coming from his keyboard at several points during the concertos.

The recording is excellent from the soundstage perspective, but those with systems favoring the upper midrange may experience some hot-spots in forte passages. Other than that, this release is recommended to all romantics without reservation. (P071208)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

With this second volume devoted to Chants d"Auvergne, Naxos now gives us all of these priceless songs as collected, harmonized and orchestrated by Joseph Canteloube (1879-1957). Whereas Janacek, Bartok and Kodaly’s interest in folk music was subservient to their own musical creations, Canteloube spent less and less time writing original works, preferring to pursue folk related projects. These resulted in vocal arrangements like what we have here.

Born in the Auvergne region of central France, he was a student of Vincent d'Indy, and obviously learned his lessons well as evidenced by the imaginative, colorful accompaniments we hear on both discs. In fact he managed to transform these simple folk ditties into some of the most beloved vocal repertoire of the twentieth century.

Published in five books that date from 1924 (first and second), 1927 (third), 1930 (fourth) and 1955 (fifth), they’re sung here in their original dialects by soprano Veronique Gens, who is also from the Auvergne. Highlights include the gorgeous Bailero (a shepherd's song) [volume-1, track-2], humorous Malurous qu'o uno fenno (Unfortunate he who has a wife) [volume-1, track-14], catchy Te, l'co te (Run, dog, run) [volume-2, track-8] and capricious He! beyla-z-y dau fe! (Hey, give that donkey some hay) [volume-2, track-9].

Hearing them, you'll find yourself totally refreshed as if you'd just come from a pastoral retreat. There's a folk quality about Gens' voice that makes her performances among the best, particularly with the exceptionally sensitive accompaniment provided by the Lille National Orchestra under conductors Jean-Claude Casadesus (volume-1) and Serge Baudo (volume-2).

The second volume is filled out with some of Canteloube's other efforts in this genre. Triptyque (no date given) is based on three poems by Roger Frene from 1914. These beautiful, highly chromatic settings show that when he wanted to be, Canteloube was an extremely accomplished composer in his own right. His music reveals the influences of Chausson, Debussy and not surprisingly, D'Indy.

The disc closes with six selections from his collection Chants de France (no date given), which represents a return to the country. It includes songs from other regions of France once again done in picturesque arrangements by this master folk colorist. The first of these, Aupres de ma blonde [volume-2, track-13], will be familiar to all, while the second, Ou irai-je me plaindre [volume-2, track-14], and fourth, Delicieuses cimes [volume-2, track-16], are exquisite vocal petits fours. Gens delivers stunning performances of all nine of these latter numbers.

While the recording quality on both discs is quite good, Ms. Gens would have probably sounded even more fetching had something like Ray Kimber's remarkable IsoMike been used.

One last thought. As with all folk music, different performers can turn the same song into an entirely new listening experience. So you might want to also hear one of the legendary recordings of these Auvergnian delights as sung by the great Israeli soprano, Netania Davrath. She's featured on a Vanguard Classics album (ART-1189), which contains fifteen additional songs from the same area not included on the Naxos discs. Canteloube only set these to piano accompaniment, but they're done with full orchestra in arrangements by Gershon Kingsley. (P071207, P071206)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

For the first time on CD, here are three groundbreaking recordings from Lyrita that put English composer George Lloyd (1913-1998) on the map. Offered in a single bargain box set, these performances leave what little competition there is (including some recordings conducted by the composer) in the dust!

This is big boned, highly romantic, extravagantly colorful music, where "big tunes" pop up like so many daffodils in the spring. That's particularly true of the fourth (1945-46) and fifth symphonies (1947-48), which release a flood of emotions that may reflect the severe mental trauma Lloyd suffered as a marine in World War II.

The fourth (1945-46) is in four movements and notable for the fact that each is built on widely contrasting ideas. The opening is striking for its changes of mood that range from overcast and threatening to sunny and optimistic. The slow second movement is an icy cold Arctic landscape one minute, and a warm countryside bathed in autumnal light the next.

A friendly frolic in the form of a scherzo follows. Here a jolly group of folksy ditties vie for center stage with a rather conservative extended theme [CD-1, track-3, beginning at 03:51] that sounds closely related to one of the better known tunes in Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol. The last movement begins in subdued fashion, but soon bursts into melodic full bloom with all manner of cheerful thematic ideas. These include a couple of "big tunes," which Lloyd conjoins into a fireworks-filled grand finale.

Many consider the fifth (1947 the greatest of his twelve symphonies, and this once in a lifetime performance of it should swell their ranks. In five movements, again this is a symphony of contrasts, but here it's the overall mood of each movement that's so different. The first must be one of the most gorgeous utterances in the English romantic symphonic canon. It's a pastorale sans brass and percussion with an innocence, freshness and charm that would soothe the most savage of beasts.

The second, entitled "corale," is another story! Here the violin and viola sections hit the local pub for a pint, while the brass makes up for being excluded in the first movement. By the composer's own admission, it's a study in Calvinistic ecclesiasticism. And OH boy, is it severe and unforgiving, with a strange, rhythmically insistent motif [CD-2, track-2 beginning at 03:57] somewhat reminiscent of that staccato motif in Rossini's overture to The Barber of Seville.

By the time it ends you're more than ready for the vibrant silvery airborne rondo that follows. Here Lloyd demonstrates a lightness of orchestral touch worthy of Berlioz’s Queen Mab Scherzo. In the lamento the composer utilizes the whole orchestra for the first time in this symphony. A dark-hued anguished movement, it's most affecting with a de profundis conclusion that smacks of Shostakovich's more enigmatic symphonic endings.

The finale must rank as some of the most engagingly hyperactive music ever written! The orchestration is absolutely brilliant and one can't help wondering if the percussion section might even include a kitchen sink. Also there's a killer "big tune" [CD-2, track-5 beginning at 05:40] worthy of Malcolm Arnold in his more manic moments. Words cannot possibly express the glorious state of symphonic euphoria Lloyd manages to conjure up, so you'll just have to hear it for yourself!

With only three movements the eighth symphony (1961-65) is the shortest one here, and consequently the most concise. The opening movement begins with a slow, rather exotic-sounding introduction where a couple of thematic ideas are introduced. Oddly enough, one of these sounds almost like the tune for Rock-a-bye Baby. But the mood soon changes as several energetic motifs appear in rapid succession.

These are developed sequentially and then a "big tune" suddenly emerges [CD-3, track-1 beginning at 06:53]. This will recur in both major and minor keys during the course of the movement right up until the optimistically peaceful ending. The following largo is a dark undulating sea of sadness above which an occasional circling seabird sings of better days to come.

The finale amounts to an extended scherzo that begins skittishly, but you ain't heard nothin' yet! It builds with mounting support from the percussion into a pounding headlong charge of militaristic proportions. Then a deceptive peace intervenes, which lulls the listener into a sense of false security before all hell breaks loose! The symphony culminates in what for lack of a better term might be called an "S&M" coda, complete with snapping whip.

Everything here was digitally remastered from analogue recordings made between 1982 and 1984. The soundstage is ideally wide with just the right amount of depth, but every now and then there does seem to be a bit of high frequency glare. (P071205)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

Right on the heels of the recent Szeligowski disc (see the previous newsletter of 17 November 2007), here's another outstanding Polish discovery. Milosz Magin (1929-1999) is probably best remembered as a pianist and teacher, but this release proves beyond a doubt that he was a composer of considerable ability.

With an orchestra consisting only of strings and timpani, the second piano concerto is a delightful neoclassical gem you'll find yourself listening to again and again. It opens with a sprightly theme followed by a wistfully slower one. Both sound folk-inspired and are tossed back and forth by the piano and orchestra in some of the most articulately constructed passagework imaginable. The following andante is built from a spun out melody that's moving in its classical simplicity. The final presto presents several very attractive ideas that give the soloist ample opportunity to show off his keyboard proficiency. Listeners may find themselves reminded of Ravel, Prokofiev and Shostakovich’s efforts in this genre.

The cello concerto, again with an orchestra consisting only of strings and timpani, is more intense than the preceding work. The opening allegro begins with a rhythmically energetic theme followed by a slower more lyrical one. These two ideas are developed in such a way as to place considerable demands upon the cellist.

The following slow movement is notable for its central section, which is an extended rhapsody that sounds quite Slavic. It provides a perfect vehicle for the soloist to show off the cello's almost human capacity to vocalize an extended melodic line. Like the opening movement, the finale contrasts fast and slow thematic ideas which would seem to be of folk origin. The soloist is again given ample opportunity to demonstrate his abilities before the concerto ends in Shostakovich fashion.

Cellist Jaroslaw Domzal and pianist Justine Verdier deliver outstanding performances, and the Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw Orchestra (Bialystok branch) under conductor Jan Milosz Zarzycki provides ideal accompaniment in both works.

The recorded sound is absolutely superb! The solo piano and cello are perfectly captured, and the soundstage is optimal with a clarity and detail that set an example for the rest of the industry. (Y071204)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

If you don't know Josef Gabriel Rheinberger's (1839-1901) music, this exceptional release from MD&G is a very good starting point. Not only that, but chamber music enthusiasts will find this sextet and nonet welcome additions to the classical catalog since so few of them were ever written.

The sextet dating from 1899 is a reworking of the composer's piano trio in F that appeared a year earlier, and was the last of Rheinberger's original works. The piano part remains the same in both, but the violin and cello in the trio are pretty much replaced by the clarinet and bassoon in the later piece. The opening moderato has such a wealth of lovely thematic material and is so well crafted that even the most jaded of listeners will find it charming.

The andante that follows begins with a rather severe, modal-sounding motif. This alternates with a more cheerful diatonic melody which, according to the excellent album notes, the composer based on a song he had written in 1860. In the long run, severity wins out and the movement ends dejectedly. However, the mood changes significantly with the flirtatious minuet that comes next. It's replete with suggestions of thematic material heard at the beginning of the work, and serves as a teaser for the delightful, chromatically peripatetic finale. Here there are more wonderful Rheinbergian tunes, which the composer juggles with infinite skill before bringing the sextet to an optimistic conclusion.

The nonet (1884) is a reworking of the composer's four movement octet that dates from 1861. Besides increasing the instrumentation from eight to nine with the addition of a flute, Rheinberger made numerous other modifications to the original. These included substantial changes to the outer movements, replacing the trio section of the minuet with a new one, and composing an entirely different adagio for the nonet.

The opening allegro is in sonata from and features a treasure trove of motifs that the composer subjects to some brilliant, contrapuntal manipulations. Its concluding measures are a study in elegance. The menuetto is the essence of simplicity, and all the more appealing for it. The following adagio is based on two entirely different thematic ideas that are absolutely gorgeous.

The finale is an infectious rondo that gets off to a Mendelssohnian start. The recurring rondo theme that unifies this movement is cleverly relegated to the violin, allowing all the other instruments to proffer a plenitude of other titillating tunes. All of this comes to a sparkling conclusion that will leave those who love the Schubert octet in seventh heaven.

We owe this most recent unearthing of these forgotten masterpieces to the great clarinetist Dieter Klocker and his distinguished Consortium Classicum, whose sensitive, technically solid performances are beyond reproach. It's a lucky happenstance to get a chamber ensemble of this size where everyone is not only an incredible virtuoso, but willing to become subservient to the common cause of the music. Consequently these artists totally blow away what little competition ever existed for what's here!

The recording and venue are ideal (audiophiles take note) with each of the instruments, including the frequently digitally problematic piano, perfectly placed, miked and balanced. This release provides a good object lesson in how to record chamber music, and it's not even a Super Audio disc! (Y071203)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (

With this release Naxos begins a new chamber music series devoted to Russian composer Sergei Taneyev's (1856-1915) nine completed string quartets. It remains to be seen if they'll also include a couple of incomplete two-movement efforts that preceded and followed them.

But first a word of explanation about their current ordering, as it's based on when they were published instead of written. Moreover numbers seven through nine were actually composed before the first six.

Taneyev's academic associations were quite remarkable when you consider he studied with Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), who was also a devoted friend, as well as Nikolai Rubinstein (1835-1881). What's more his students included such greats as Rachmaninov (1873-1943), Scriabin (1872-1915), Medtner (1880-1951) and Glière (1875-1956). A master of counterpoint, who published a highly regarded treatise on the subject, this discipline is much in evidence throughout his entire oeuvre.

He wasn't the tunesmith some of his Russian contemporaries were, but Taneyev's music has an organizational integrity second to none. In that respect his creations reflect Beethoven's (1770-1827) preoccupation with structural perfection rather than Schubert's (1797-1828) predilection for melody. The quartets featured here are a good starting point for those interested in exploring some lesser known, exceptionally sophisticated Russian romantic chamber music!

Dedicated to Tchaikovsky, the "first" quartet, which was actually the fourth one Sergei completed (1890), shows his teacher's influence with a degree of emotionality and pathos rarely found in Taneyev's other music. Instead of the usual four movements, there are five which alternate between fast and slow. The opening one begins in an interrogatory manner, but a sprightly theme followed by a more insistent melody is soon introduced.

Being an absolute master of counterpoint, Taneyev proceeds to develop these in most rigorous fashion. The movement then comes to an anguished conclusion, setting the mood for a mournful largo. This contains a couple of heart-wrenching melodies that can't help but move the listener. But the clouds of despair that hang over it are soon forgotten with the mercurial presto that's next.

The fourth movement is a rueful intermezzo similar in mood to the preceding largo, but with some piquant pizzicato that sets it apart. The cheeky, tuneful finale is atypical Taneyev. It sounds like something "Papa Haydn" (1737-1806), the father of the string quartet, might have written had he lived another seventy-five years. The impish ending will leave you smiling.

In spite of the fact it's a bit of an oddball having only two movements, the "third" quartet, actually the sixth one Taneyev finished (1886, revised in 1896), became his most popular. And if a poll were taken today, chances are it would remain so. Originally dedicated to Rachmaninov, there's a lyricism, sophistication and sense of drama about the opening allegro that make it a Beethoven blintz with a Tchaikovsky filling.

But Taneyev saves the best for last in the form of an absolute killer theme and variations which must rank as one of the finest in the string quartet literature. The main subject is exceptional for its classical innocence, simplicity and grace. There's also a hurdy-gurdy folkish quality about it that makes it all the more appealing. The variations are some of the most imaginative and sophisticated you could ever hope for. While the tragic ending is just as moving as the similarly structured movement that concludes Tchaikovsky's piano trio (1881-2).

The Carpe Diem Quartet performs both works with exceptional sensitivity, attention to detail, and virtuosity to spare. As far as "Russian Soul" is concerned some may feel it’s not quite up to the Taneyev Quartet's earlier traversal of these, but it surpasses them in interpretive sophistication and technical ability.

The recordings are very good, but a bit on the dry side. However, this does serve to better differentiate all the subtleties of this intricately structured music. (P071202)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (


Tired of the same old holiday music? Well, here's a release that really stands out, and what a marvelous stocking-stuffer it is! American composer Christopher Rouse's (b. 1949) Karolju for chorus and orchestra is as joyful a celebration of Christmas as you could ever want. Written in 1991, it's so good that one can only wonder why it's taken sixteen years to appear on disc.

It's a collection of eleven carols entirely of Rouse's own design. And that even includes their texts, which believe it or not are in Latin, French, Spanish, Russian, Czech, German and Italian. They're brilliantly orchestrated, tuneful masterpieces that are instantly appealing and totally convincing. That’s a great compliment to the composer, considering how hard it is these days to write a simple moving melody.

The opening carol (Latin) is a spirited invocation of Christmas made all the more rousing by a reference to a few bars from "O Fortuna" in Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. There's an infectious folk quality about the second and third carols (Swedish and French). Without looking at the album notes, can you identify that reference in the third to another well known Christmas piece [see answer]? The fourth (Spanish) is a lovely pastorale, and the fifth, a delightful miniature march that’s just for orchestra.

All audiophiles will delight in the sonic blockbuster sixth (Latin), while the seventh (Russian) has a Slavic temperament and is reminiscent of Russian Orthodox liturgy. The eighth (Czech) stands comparison with those rousing choruses in Dvorak and Smetana’s operas. Also there’s a little of Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kije thrown in for good measure. The ninth (German) sounds like something Handel might have come up with had he lived long enough to attend an Oktoberfest, and heard some of those suds-inspired songs.

It segues directly into the tenth (Latin) which reprises the glorious opening carol. The closing selection (Italian) is another gorgeous pastorale that ends this stunning yuletide creation with the feeling "...and to all, a goodnight!" A word about the name Karolju. Rouse tells us he made it up, because it suggested carols and he's always liked words ending in "u" (he must love the Czech language where all the diminutives end that way).

Speaking of Eastern Europe, seventeen of Witold Lutoslawski's (1913-1994) Twenty Polish Christmas Carols come next. Arranged for soprano (*), chorus and orchestra, these folk-based Slavic snowflakes are a real rarity, and those of you who've never heard them are in for a real treat. The opening one is enchanting and bears a strange resemblance to the eighteenth century French melody Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman (Twinkle, twinkle, little star) made so famous by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Erno von Dohnanyi. A couple of the others will be familiar to those of you who in years past were fortunate enough to get those Supraphon LPs and CDs devoted to European Christmas carols. You'll find there’s a modal subtlety and refinement of expression that makes these selections most appealing.

The disc concludes with three Christmas songs for mezzo-soprano (**) and orchestra from Joaquin Rodrigo’s (1901-1999) Retablo de Navidad (1952). Although original works, they were obviously folk-inspired. You'll find the third one "Coplillas de Belen" ("Carols of Bethlehem") bears a strange resemblance to the first movement of his Concerto de Aranjuez. They provide the perfect conclusion to one of the most enterprising and imaginative Christmas releases to have appeared in years.

Soloists Julia Doyle (*) and Anna Stephany (**) are in fine voice, and the Philharmonia chorus along with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under conductor David Zinman deliver magnificent performances of everything here.

The recording is superb with a perfectly proportioned and detailed soundstage in an ideal venue. The voice quality is totally natural with none of those digital “nasties” that often plague choral CDs. No home should be without this one on Christmas Day! (Y071201)

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (