CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
15 JUNE 2008
The albums below are "Classical Releases Of Current Key Significance," or "CROCKS", if you will. To purchase an album, simply click on one of the Web site retail outlets given in the "AVAILABILITY" table under the write-up.
Lambert, Co.: Anna… Ste, etc; Berners, L.: Halfway… Ste, etc; Soloists/Gamba/BBCCon O [Chandos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Constant Lambert (1905-1951) and Lord Berners (Sir Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 1883-1950) came from entirely different social and educational backgrounds. While the former was from a middle-class family and schooled entirely in England, the latter was an English peer who studied in Germany, Austria, France and Italy, as well as his home country. Despite these differences, both remained close friends throughout their later years, sharing the distinction of being the only two British composers ever commissioned by the great Russian dance impresario Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929). Although they're best remembered today for their ballets -- Lambert for Horoscope (1938) and Berners, The Triumph of Neptune (1926) -- they also produced a modicum of music for the silver screen. And when you hear the exceptional selections on this new enterprising release from Chandos, you'll only wish they'd written more.
Lambert is represented by suites from his music for the documentary Merchant Seamen (1940) and feature film Anna Karenina (1948). The former is in five movements and was arranged by the composer himself. It opens with a festive fanfare that will call to mind his Horoscope as well as Vaughan Williams' The Wasps. The remainder of the suite very effectively underscores in musical terms the perils faced by Allied merchantmen during World War II. There's an eerie "Convoy in Fog" sequence followed by a harrowing torpedo attack. Calm eventually prevails in the form of a gorgeously tranquil "Safe Convoy" scene, and the suite ends with a triumphal march featuring one of those big tunes that the British do so well.
We're indebted to English composer-arranger Philip Lane (b. 1950) for the ten movement suite from Anna Karenina, seven of which are recording firsts. For the most part the music sounds like Lambert, but he does manage to introduce a Russian element every now and then. Except for four movements, which include the rather cinematic sounding opening, the suite musically characterizes various aspects of Anna. Lambert is at his lyrical best in those also involving Vronsky. There's a spooky "Séance scene" with some seismic strokes on the bass drum, and a lovely pastoral cue entitled "Anna's garden." The finale is fraught with nervous tension and tragedy appropriate to this dark Russian novel.
Two excerpts from the feature film Champagne Charlie (1940), orchestrated by Philip Lane, begin the next part of the disc devoted to Lord Berners' music. The first selection is the recording première of the song "Come on Algernon, " which is delightfully appropriate to the music-hall setting of the film. It's followed by a spiky, chromatically catchy polka that Berners borrowed from an earlier piece.
The ten-minute suite (actually a one-movement medly) from the music for Nicholas Nickleby (1947) was arranged by Ernest Irving, who orchestrated Berner's score. The variety of characters in the film is reflected by the parade of delightfully cheeky themes that grace this selection. Is that a reference to the big waltz from Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier (1911) [track-18, beginning at 03:25]?
The disc concludes with the world première recording of a six movement suite arranged by Philip Lane from Berner's music for The Halfway House (1944). With a bizarre plot involving an unusual assortment of characters staying at a hotel run by two ghosts, this score must rank as one of the composer's most imaginative creations. The sinister main title leads directly into "The Concert," which is a lively overture (done here for the first time in its entirety) conducted on-screen by one of the leading characters. Then there's a helter-skelter "Bicycle Ride" followed by a queasy-sounding mock suicide scene entitled "Drowning." Like in Anna... above, there's also a séance, but Berners treats it entirely differently turning it into a "Séance Waltz." In the film this is played on a solo piano, but Lane's orchestration of it here gives it a rather disembodied character somewhat like the beginning of Ravel's La Valse (1920). In the concluding "Resolution and Finale" all of the disparate moods previously evoked are resolved as vocalizing female voices join in, bringing the suite to a euphoric ending.
As in his past recordings of film scores for Chandos (see the newsletters of 9 March 2006), conductor Ramon Gamba's approach to this music is ideal, because he brings out all of its inherent emotional dynamics without allowing it to become cloyingly dramatic. The BBC Concert Orchestra is in top form, and credit must also go to soprano Mary Carewe for the song, and the female members of the Joyful Company of Singers for their invaluable assistance in the last selection.
The recordings are good from the soundstage and venue standpoints. However, those with systems partial to the high end may find some forte passages that are a bit flashy. Generally speaking, this should not detract from the overall entertainment value of the disc.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080615)
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Langgaard, R.: Sym 1; Dausgaard/DanNa SO [Dacapo (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 SACD)
Dramatically compelling music, impassioned performances and superb sound make this latest hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0) release in Dacapo's ongoing survey of Danish composer Rued Langgaard's (1893-1952) sixteen symphonies (see 7 February and 11 July 2007) a real winner! An individualist, the old expression, "after they made him, they broke the mold," certainly applies.
He loved to give his symphonies and even their movements colorfully descriptive titles (some had more than one), and was constantly tinkering with them. While the majority of his contemporaries were doing their best to come up with modern creations, some of which were so extreme as to be just plain listener-hostile, he persisted in writing late-romantic music as exemplified by what we have here.
Like Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony (No. 6, 1807-08), Langgaard's first (1908-11), "Mountain Pastorals," is in five movements, each of which is subtitled. Over twenty minutes long and in extended sonata-form, the opening one, "Surf and Glimpses of Sun," is Brucknerian in scope. Thematically speaking it's of considerable interest and begins with a descending motif in the brass that will serve as a unifying idée fixe for this hourlong work. Perspicacious listener's will notice a striking similarity to the unifying theme Langgaard’s compatriot Carl Nielsen would later use in his Inextinguishable Symphony (No. 4, 1914-16).
There are also what sound like references to a number of motifs from Wagner's Ring Cycle and the tone poems of Richard Strauss. Be that as it may, they're all put to good use in what is about to become a unique musical mountain climbing expedition led by the indomitable Herre Langgaard.
Whereas the first movement is a highly dramatic representation of a roaring mountain stream and sunlit vistas of some "Promised Land," the second, "Mountain Flowers," is a lovely subdued pastoral offering. Images of forget-me-nots waving in the breeze are quite effectively conjured up despite the fact that this movement existed before the symphony as an entirely unrelated piece for piano trio. Only later did the composer orchestrate it for inclusion here.
The middle movement, "Legend," also predated the symphony as an independent orchestral piece, but the composer decided to incorporate it here as a respite from the long, exhausting journey up this towering peak. It's a reverie where one can imagine sitting on a commanding mountain ledge surrounded by spectacular views of distant lands and seas.
The symphonies of Johannes Brahms would seem to have been in the back of Langgaard's mind when he composed the fourth movement, "Mountain Ascent." This bold and forceful music is meant to signify the intrepid spirit of the climbers.
Having achieved the summit, the finale, subtitled "Courage," is a symphonic celebration of the triumph of the human spirit over insurmountable odds. Near its opening [track-5, beginning at 00:11], you'll again hear that motif similar to the one Nielsen would use. Previous thematic ideas then reappear as Langgaard throws in everything but the kitchen sink to come up with one of the most joyful conclusions to a romantic symphony ever concocted. Calling all romantics!
Simply stated, this performance is definitive! Conductor Thomas Dausgaard has an incredible feel for this music, and turns in one of the most stunning readings of a large-scale romantic symphony to be released in a long time. Not only that, but the Danish National Symphony Orchestra is with him every measure of the way. If you don't like large-boned, passionate music, stay away. But if you do, by all means get this disc!
The Dacapo recording engineers have outdone themselves, giving us sonics that are as spectacular as the performance. The CD and SACD stereo tracks project an entirely convincing widescreen soundstage, while the SACD multichannel version will give you a virtual seat in the center of the concert hall. This is a symphonic demonstration disc par excellence -- audiophiles please take note!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y080614)
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Mozart, L.: "Peasant..." Sinfa, "Toy" Cass (w Mozart, W.A.); Mathot/Koopman/AmstBar O [Challenge]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Ton Koopman and his Amsterdam Baroque boys and girls serve up something for young and old alike with this imaginative release! Calling for a small orchestra augmented with a variety of unusual folk and toy instruments, the sinfonia and cassation of Leopold Mozart (1719-1787) included here are an ideal way to introduce young children to classical music. Not only that, but these cleverly written pieces will appeal to grownups too, as will the three rarely heard works by Leopold's son Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791) that fill out the disc.
Unlike wunderkind Wolfie, who was more of a court-oriented composer, Leopold Mozart wrote many programmatic pieces designed to appeal to the common man. The Peasant Wedding Sinfonia and Toy Cassation are good examples of this. The sinfonia is an infectiously engaging, five-movement bucolic romp that calls for a small classical orchestra plus a set of bagpipes and a hurdy-gurdy. While the opening march sounds more suggestive of toy soldiers than rustics, the two minuets bracketing a rather somber andante are folksy offerings indicative of country life. The colorfully orchestrated finale finds all of the wedding guests joining in a jolly postnuptial dance.
Discovered in the mid-1900s, Leopold's seven-movement cassation includes all three movements of the well-known Toy Symphony originally attributed to either Franz Joseph (1732-1809) or Michael (1736-1806) Haydn. Done here in toto and in all its "Toyland" splendor, it opens with a march and minuet that will be new to most. They feature a variety of contributions from some fine-feathered friends plus a brief childlike song (no text provided). The allegro and minuet that come next will be familiar as the first two movements of the Haydn symphony. Just listen to those birds -- somebody step on a duck!
The allegretto and minuet that follow will again be new to many, and call for several avian flutes as well as a snare drum. The final presto is also the last movement of the Haydn, but done here with such gusto that it's barely recognizable. The kiddies will love it, and so will you!
Three pieces by Wolfgang fill out this disc: the fugue from his quodlibet Gallimathias Musicum (1765), the Variations on "Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman" (circa 1780) and his very first symphony (1764-65). A quodlibet was a medley of popular tunes, and the jovial fugue from this one is based on a folk song. It was composed when Wolfie was all of ten years old.
Written while he was in his mid twenties, the variations show the composer in full bloom. Just listen to the twelve incredibly imaginative transformations he conjures up from that old nursery rhyme tune known in English as "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." It's played here on a fortepiano, which if anything makes it all the more endearing.
The symphony is the most amazing piece on this disc when you consider it was written by a nine year old. On that note, it opens with a delightfully childlike theme that English-speaking listeners might well find themselves singing, "My name's, baby, baby, baby, baby Mozart" to. In three well thought-out movements, it obviously owes a great debt to Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782), whom Wolfie had lessons with. Listen carefully to the second theme of the middle andante movement [track-9, beginning at 00:21] -- sound familiar? It should, because it's the same tune that will dominate the incredibly complex contrapuntal finale of his valedictory Jupiter Symphony (No. 41, 1788). Do you suppose he had premonitions the Jupiter would be his last and this was a cradle-to-grave reference to his first? An ebullient presto, with thematic ties to what's come before, ends this extraordinary bit of juvenilia in totally captivating, youthful fashion.
In the introductory note to this release, conductor Ton Koopman tells us how enjoyable it was to make this recording, and it really shows! It's worth getting it for the Toy Cassation alone, which must be the wildest performance of it to ever hit the silver disc. And the period instruments of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra add a campy authenticity to all of the orchestral selections. A round of applause should also go to Tini Mathot who gives us an accomplished, but charmingly youthful-spirited performance of the "Twinkle..." variations. And in the cassation, let’s not forget Marieke Koopman, who not only provides us with a song, but turns out to be quite a virtuoso on the wind machine.
The recordings are superb, and an audiophile's dream! The soloists and orchestra along with all those crazy instruments are perfectly captured across an ideal soundstage. The venue imparts just the right amount of bloom to this music without blurring any of the strange sounds emanating from this Toys"R"Us orchestra.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y080613)
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Raff, J.: Fée d'Amour, Ste (vn & orch), Vn Conc 1 (orig vers); Ringborg/Quinn/NLandsOp SO [Sterling]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
German composer Joseph Joachim Raff (1822-1882) wrote a significant amount of outstanding music, which had to wait until modern times to be rediscovered. This has been due to a couple of factors. First, during his younger days he served as an assistant to Franz Liszt (1811-1886), even orchestrating a number of his pieces, and consequently remained in the shadow of the great Hungarian composer. Then in his later years he refused to join either circle of composers surrounding Richard Wagner or Johannes Brahms, which denied him the exposure he needed to keep his compositions before the public.
But with the advent of modern day recordings, and the need for new as well as interesting repertoire, a Raff revival is in progress. Current day audiences are now realizing how unjustly neglected he's been, and the three works for violin and orchestra on this release certainly prove the point.
La Fée d'Amour (1854), although Raff described it as a characteristic concert piece, is for all intents and purposes a single movement violin concerto comprised of three interlinked sections. The opening allegro lives up to the work's title with a lightness of touch reminiscent of something out of Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream. The following slow section displays a lyricism worthy of P.I. Tchaikovsky. The airborne finale sees the return of Mendelssohn, along with some thematic ideas that sound French, and at times even Spanish. About halfway through there's a cadenza with some of those spectacular, high note antics so typical of the Paganini violin concertos. The work then ends much in the same spirit as it began.
Raff had made an extensive study of music from earlier periods, and his five-movement Suite for Violin and Orchestra (1873) shows how familiar he was with J.S. Bach. In five movements, it's old baroque wine in new romantic bottles, and anticipates the neoclassicism of the early 1900s. The introductory prelude will bring to mind the more exhilarating sections of J.S.B.'s partitas for solo violin, but the excitement is compounded here by the addition of an orchestra. The next two sections, a minuet and courante, are extremely effective, romantic expansions of those baroque dance forms. The gorgeous aria that follows finds Raff at his lyrical best. A moto perpetuo finale features some exciting hyperactive fiddling over a lovely, more stately tune played by the orchestra. The piece ends joyously, leaving everyone with a smile.
All previous recordings of Raff's first violin concerto (1870) have featured the version reworked by its dedicatee German violinst August Wilhelmj (1845-1908). Here we have the original, and those familiar with the other will have to agree it's far superior to what Wilhelmj came up with. Not only did he cut some 50 measures, but laced it with fatuous displays of virtuosity and orchestral contrapuntal ornaments that turn an otherwise elegant concerto into a rather tasteless romantic ramble. See the album notes for a more detailed analysis of the ultimately disfiguring surgery he performed.
In three connected movements, the opening one is notable for its outstanding thematic material and the exquisite interplay Raff achieves between soloist and orchestra. The andante has a highly memorable motif of romantic persuasion, which the composer subjects to transformations of the utmost delicacy. The final allegro is interesting for the nationalistic implications one could associate with the first four notes of the main theme. These are the same as those that open the melody for Deutschland über alles, which was a patriotic song in Raff's day. Set to the principal theme from the slow movement of Haydn's Emperor Quartet (Op. 76, No. 3, circa 1799), it would later become the German National Anthem in 1922.
While we'll never know for sure whether Raff referenced it to commemorate Germany's recent victory over France, it certainly ends this wonderful work on a triumphant note. You'll notice an individuality of expression in this piece as well as the others here that make Raff very much his own man.
Some may remember Tobias Ringborg as the outstanding soloist in the Bengtsson violin concerto that appeared on Sterling (1063) a couple of years ago. Well, he certainly hasn't lost his touch, because he plays everything here to perfection. His sensitive renditions of these pieces, plus outstanding support from the Norrlands Opera Symphony Orchestra under Andrea Quinn make a strong case for Raff's music.
These recordings are generally acceptable from the sonic standpoint, however the soundstage is rather cavernous, and there's a steeliness about the strings that pointy-eared audiophiles may object to. But for those not so sonically inclined, less than ideal sound is certainly preferable to inferior performances when it comes to rare repertoire like this.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080612)
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Zemlinsky: 3 Pieces (vc & pno), Vc Son, Cl Trio; Müller/Ottensamer/Hinterhuber [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Best known for his operas, Austrian composer Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942) wrote a number of chamber works in his younger days, three of which are on this disc. This is very accomplished music from a composer who was greatly admired by the likes of Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg (Zemlinsky's brother-in-law), Alban Berg and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Everything here was written while Zemlinsky was living in Vienna, which he left in 1911 to take up teaching and conducting positions in Prague and Berlin. With the spread of Nazism in Europe, he emigrated to the United States in 1938 where he died four years later in Larchmont, New York.
Lost for over a century, we're lucky to have the Three Pieces for Cello and Piano (1891) and cello sonata (1894). Both are among the composer's earliest surviving works, and while they owe a great debt to Brahms, there's a melodic and harmonic adventurousness that presage the sumptuous late-romantic creations he’d eventually come up with. The first of the three pieces is a humoresque that contrasts an antsy theme with a rather dreamy melody. The second is a lovely rhapsodic song intoned by the cello, while the third is a frenetic tarantella that ends abruptly.
The three movement sonata (1894) is considerably more substantial from the conceptual standpoint than what we just heard. The opening allegro is notable for its striking, at times Slavic sounding themes, which may call to mind Tchaikovsky's Seasons or even Anton Rubinstein's Melody in F. The andante is a somber, impassioned dialogue between the two instruments. The concluding allegro is right out of the Brahms/Dvorák camp. But every now and then the lion shows his claws with brief chromatic passages, which Brahms would have undoubtedly frowned upon. The work ends quietly in a state of rhapsodic bliss guaranteed to move the most insensate listener.
In 1894, after the first performance of Zemlinsky's String Quintet (of which only two movements survive), Brahms met with him and criticized the piece on harmonic and tonal grounds. Zemlinsky took this to heart when he composed his Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano two years later (1896). As a matter of fact his choice of instruments was probably heavily influenced by the great success of the Brahms clarinet trio that had appeared five years earlier. Considering all this, it's not surprising it received Brahms' blessing after he attended its première shortly after it was completed. Don't get the idea it's a clone of the Brahms, and even though it's not as progressive as the two earlier works, there's a melodic and harmonic fluidity present that are Zemlinsky trademarks. To this day it remains one of his most popular pieces.
All three instruments are of equal prominence in the opening, sonata-form-structured allegro. There's a relaxed, wistfulness about this movement that’s perfectly suited to the inherent melancholy of the clarinet. The spirit of Brahms is quite evident in the following andante, which embraces a beautiful lyrical dialogue between the clarinet and cello. The concluding rondo begins with an attractive rippling theme that proceeds to do-si-do around several more laid-back ideas. In the cleverly written coda, past motifs make their final bow, and the trio ends suddenly on a jubilant note.
Cellist Othmar Müller and clarinetist Ernst Ottensamer may not be that well known by name, but their exemplary performances here speak for themselves. Christopher Hinterhuber is fast establishing himself as one of today's finest pianists through his previous recordings for Naxos of works by Johann Nepomuk Hummel (see the newsletter of 30 January 2008) and Ferdinand Ries (see the newsletters of 16 January 2006 and 10 October 2007). This release finds him in equally fine form and should enhance his reputation all the more.
The recorded sound on this disc is outstanding. Appropriate microphones and an excellent sense of balance between the soloists insure all three of their instruments come across with an amazing naturalness of tone. A venue suited to this type of chamber music, and ideal microphone placement ensure a soundstage of just the right proportions. Great music as well as exceptional sound make this a must for romantics and audiophiles alike.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y080611)
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Fin & Swed Orch Songs (Madetoja, Palmgren, Rangström, Sibelius); Nylund/Schirmer/Mun RO [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Vocal enthusiasts will be delighted with this extraordinary treasury of rarely heard, late-romantic/early-modern Nordic songs. From either Finland or Sweden, the four composers represented on this disc have set each of their creations, which are sung here by a soprano, to highly effective orchestral accompaniments. This, combined with texts that are at times quite dramatic, evokes a level of emotional response from the listener far and above that usually associated with Scandinavian music, where a cool sense of reserve is usually the predominant factor.
The program begins with Swedish composer Ture Rangström's (1881-1947) song cycle The Chosen One (1938-39). It's a collection of settings of nine poems by his fellow countryman Hjalmar Gullberg (1898-1961) where Eastern culture and philosophy are rife. Elements of Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss are present, but there are those pregnant pauses so often found in Scandinavian music of this period that make it a unique Rangström creation. Highlights include the opening selection, "Festive preparations," which has a repeated fanfare worthy of a CinemaScope® epic. Then there's "The sleep of the five senses" that's a subtle evocation of fetal serenity. The music for "Question and answer" could almost be out of Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle (1918), while in the intensely dramatic "Hunting for wild game" there's a hint of sprechstimme. The concluding "Sunrise" ends the cycle with a feeling of optimism as bright as the dawning of a new day.
The remaining three selections are by Finnish composers. The first of these, Leevi Madetoja (1887-1947), is deserving of a much wider reputation (check out his three exceptional symphonies), and is represented by his song cycle Syksy (1930). It consists of settings of six poems by his wife Hilja Lehtinen (pen name L.Onerva, 1898-1961), and opens with "Autumn" and "Farewell," which are dark and foreboding. But the mood shifts with "You thought I was watching you," "Goodnight" and "Oh blue bird," which are dreamy, pious and imploring respectively. The cycle ends in despair with "O'er the waves eternal." You’ll find this highly expressive, very moving music with ties to Sibelius (see below).
Next we have two songs by Selim Palmgren (1878-1951), who is best remembered for his piano music. They are settings of poems in Swedish by Finnish poets Bertal Gripenberg (1878-1947) and Kyösti Larson (pen name Larin-Kyösti, 1873-1948). The first, "A Rare Bird," is a sensitive, beautifully written lied about the changing human condition as represented by some fantastical bird. "In the Morning Mist" (circa 1945), which is from Palmgren's Opus 106 collection of songs, is a lovely lyrical paean to nature.
No collection like this would be complete without something from one of the twentieth century's greatest songwriters, Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). His Luonnotar (1913) is based on a creation story from the national epic of Finland, the Kalevala. It's in essence a nine-minute poem for soprano and orchestra with a compactness of musical expression that's simply astounding. Involving a beautiful maiden and an itinerant duck, the story may call to mind Frederick Delius' Sea Drift (1903-04). But unlike that sentimental tale of ill-fated avian devotion, the Sibelius is a spellbinding symphonic myth where the bird's eggs become the universe. Sibelius' powerful score combined with a little willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the listener will have you subscribing to this anatine cosmology. It opens with those quivering strings so typical of the composer, who with a modicum of orchestral means manages to create images of vast empty spaces. As the story unfolds the music builds to one of those Sibelian glacial climaxes only to fade away leaving a cold, dark cosmos warmed only by twinkling stars.
Heretofore Finnish soprano Camilla Nylund has for the most part been highly acclaimed for her opera roles. However this disc proves she’s equally talented when it comes to the more intimate world of the song. With a powerful, but well-rounded voice she very effectively conveys all the inherent drama found in the selections on this release. The Munich Radio Orchestra and conductor Ulf Schirmer are to be complimented for their outstanding support of this gifted soloist.
As far as projecting a convincing soundstage with a complementary ambiance, the recordings on this CD are quite effective. But the overall sound would have been much better had Ms. Nylund been provided with a microphone setup more sympathetic to the female voice. That quibble aside, you'll find this release a most rewarding listening experience.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080610)
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