3 JULY 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.

The album cover may not always appear.
Alpaerts: Capriccio..., "Pallieter" Sym, James Ensor Ste, etc; de Neve/Tabachnik/Flem RO [EtCetera]
With the hundreds of classical discs released each year, it's become increasingly difficult for record companies to find new and interesting repertoire. But that challenge has certainly been met here with some terrific late-romantic music by a Belgian composer, who will probably be new to even most "deep-catalog" collectors. Flor Alpaerts (1876-1954) studied at the Royal Flemish Conservatory and later became director of the Antwerp Conservatory, as well as a highly respected conductor throughout Europe. This didn't leave him much time for composing, which is too bad because the sampling of his music on this CD is top quality.

The program opens with one of his last works, Capriccio - Merriment (1953), which could be considered an overture. It's a thrilling, brilliantly orchestrated piece bursting with youthful energy that totally flies in the face of the fact the composer was seventy-three when he wrote it.

His Pallieter Symphony (1924) is named for a 1916 novel about two young lovers by Felix Timmerman. "Morning in May," the first of its three highly programmatic movements, begins with what sounds like a musical recreation of a sunrise. Several absolutely gorgeous melodies are then introduced and developed in one of the most exhilarating displays of romantic writing imaginable. The concluding coda explodes with sheer joy. The peaceful pastoral opening of the next section, "Summer Evening," may bring to mind Wagner's "Forest Murmurs" from Siegfried. However the skies begin to darken and a tremendous thunderstorm -- made all the more terrifying by Alpaert's electrifying orchestration -- breaks loose. But the clouds soon roll by and the movement ends in lovely lyrical fashion, much as it began.

The finale, "Wedding Feast," is much as advertised and begins in a rustically festive mood. There's a motif introduced by the trumpet [track-4, beginning at 00:26] that's oddly reminiscent of Leroy Anderson's Waltz Around the Scale (1970, see the newsletter of 30 May 2008). Alpaerts quotes folk melodies and recalls previous themes throughout the movement, which ends in a quiet, uneventful way. Every now and then perspicacious listeners may note passages that sound similar to the orchestral interludes in Franz Schmidt's opera Notre Dame (1902-04).

Two brief occasional pieces, a romance for violin and orchestra, and Summer Idyll, both dating from 1928, are next. The romance is short and sweet with lyricism reigning supreme, but Alpaert's unfailing sense of thematic invention precludes its becoming hackneyed.

Summer Idyll is an intense piece of late-romanticism that's out of Mahler and headed towards Richard Strauss. Alpaerts adds just the right amount of chromaticism to prevent it from turning into a sentimental wallow. Once again the specter of Notre Dame seems to lurk in places.

This wonderful disc of discovery concludes with the James Ensor Suite (1929-30), which is the most progressive music here, and demonstrates beyond a doubt that Alpaerts had a sound all of his own. It consists of four musical representations of pictures by the Belgian expressionist painter James Ensor (1860-1949). The first, "The Entry of Christ into Brussels," opens sinisterly and then becomes bizarrely triumphant only to end quite suddenly. As in Saint-Saëns' "Fossils" from The Carnival of the Animals, the xylophone dominates "Skeletons Fighting for the Body of a Hanged Man," which is an expressionist-tinged, ossiferous scherzo. "The Garden of Love" is an erotic offering that easily outdoes any of Max Steiner's passionate music for those 1930-40s Bette Davis movies. The closing "Infernal cortege -- Sabbath" is a twentieth century counterpart of Mussorgsky's Night on the Bare Mountain, conjuring up images of Hieronymous Bosch's (c.1450-1616) more grotesque paintings.

A protégé of Igor Markevitch, Herbert von Karajan and Pierre Boulez, conductor Michel Tabachnik delivers impassioned performances of everything here. The Flemish Radio Orchestra is in top form, and violinist Guido de Neve deserves a big round of applause for his sensitive handling of the romance.

Those who like a reverberant, all enveloping soundstage are going to love this CD. And Alpaert's Technicolor orchestral effects make this a demonstration disc par excellence. Just make sure your speakers are nailed down when you play it!

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y080703)


The album cover may not always appear.
Ives, C.: Orch Sets 1 (orig vers), 2 & 3 (ed Porter & rlz Josephson); Sinclair/Malmö ChC&SO [Naxos]
It was Charles Ives (1874-1954) who came up with the concept of an orchestral set, in which he allowed himself a structural freedom and programmatic diversity that make it a unique American musical art form. All those Ives trademarks, including pervasive folk and hymn tune references, as well as a preoccupation with polyrhythms are to be found in the three included on this CD. Conceived in the early 1900s, each of them is a triptych for large orchestra, and should not be confused with the several sets he wrote for smaller ensembles. Curiously enough the one stylistic factor common to all might best be described as a form of American impressionism somewhat akin to what Debussy and Ravel were doing in France at the time.

The first set (1913-14), which many will know by the title Three Places in New England or A New England Symphony, is recorded here for the first time in its originally completed form. The music is less complex and more immediately appealing than the better known version Ives later came up with (1921). You'll find the opening "Impressions of the 'St.Gaudens' in Boston Common" is a bit more straightforward, while the closing "The Housatonic at Stockbridge" is a little less fog-covered. The circus band march included in the "Children's Holiday at Putnam's Camp" has never sounded more bumptious.

Dating from 1919, the second set is a masterpiece of Ivesian tone painting. A ghostly parade of thoughts and characters drift by the listener in the haunting "An Elegy to Our Forefathers." Revival meeting and ragtime music become unlikely partners in "The Rockstrewn Hills Join in the People's Outdoor Meeting." The day America learned about the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine (7 May 1915) is commemorated in "From Hanover Square North, at the End of a Tragic Day, the voice of the People Again Arose." The quiet beginning finds the orchestra accompanied by a chorus singing in English the words from the old Christian hymn Te Deum Laudamus. It's some of the most powerful music Ives ever wrote, and builds to a grief-stricken crescendo only to fade away with a flicker of hope for the future. Could that be a reference to the main theme in the last movement of Beethoven's Choral Symphony (No. 9, 1822-24) [track-6, beginning at 02:49]?

This is the world première performance and recording of the complete third set, which the composer had started in 1919. Unfortunately, a heart attack and diabetes led to a decline in his mental abilities, preventing him from ever finishing it. We are indebted to David Gray Porter for editing and assembling the partially completed first two movements, and to Nors Josephson for his realization of the third from the scattered sketches Ives left.

The piece begins and ends with untitled andantes that surround a central section known as "During Camp Meetin' Week -- One Secular Afternoon." The opening is quite impressionistic and rather funereal, except for a few rays of optimism about halfway through. "During..." is a fun-filled free-for-all with fast and furious references to old familiar tunes that fly by so fast it'll make your head spin. The finale is twelve minutes of pure Ives magic quite unlike anything of his you've ever heard. It's disembodied, vaporous music that no sooner takes shape than it disassembles into something entirely different. Spiritually linked to the last movement of his Fourth Symphony (1910-16, see the newsletter of 6 December 2006), it provides a fitting conclusion to this invaluable reconstruction of something that would undoubtedly have been an Ives masterpiece had he completed it.

Conductor James Sinclair has recorded a number of Ives "firsts," and you couldn't ask for a more dedicated champion of Charlie’s music. Sinclair coaxes magnificent performances of everything here from the Malmö Symphony Orchestra (with a little help from The Malmö Chamber Chorus in the second set). If you enjoyed this release, make sure you investigate another from Naxos (855917), which includes a fascinating elaboration of a piano concerto Ives was working on.

The recorded sound is excellent with just the right amount of acoustic bloom to assure a wide, but well-focused soundstage. The orchestral timbre is very natural over the considerable dynamic range associated with this music. This is definitely a "sheep-and-goats" disc when it comes to selecting new audio equipment.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y080702)


The album cover may not always appear.
Leighton: Orch Wks V1 (Stg Sym, Org Conc, Stg Orch Conc); Scott/Hickox/BBCWalNa O [Chandos]
This is the first volume in Chandos' new series devoted to the orchestral works of British composer Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988). Two of the three selections on this disc are exclusively for string orchestra, sound quite English, and are on the same cricket field with Benjamin Britten's Simple Symphony and Michael Tippett's Concerto for Double String Orchestra. But the organ concerto shows French influences, particularly in its scoring (organ, strings and timpani), which is exactly the same as that for Francis Poulenc's (1938). All of these selections are characterized by a rigor and highly developed sense of structure that make them much more than a one-time listen.

According to the composer, the first selection, Symphony for Strings (1948-49), honors the coming of spring. In three movements, the opening is dark and wintry, but warming breezes soon prevail, and the first movement ends with some rather dramatic writing for all of the string sections. The following lento is made up of lyrically reserved outer episodes surrounding an impassioned central one, which sounds like it might be folk inspired. The finale is a youthful virtuoso showpiece bursting with melodic spring flowers, and concludes in quiet, noncommittal pastoral fashion.

In three movements, the organ concerto (1970) opens with a passacaglia. This begins hesitantly with the soloist intoning a hushed motif consisting of three sequential chords. The strings soon join in creating a sense of impending doom, reinforced by the fateful entrance of the timpani. At one point [track-4, beginning at 02:42] the music is reminiscent of the adagio from Aram Khachaturian's Gayne Ballet (1942, revised 1952 and 1957). The organ then reenters forcefully along with anguished strings and pounding timpani as the music builds to a powerful climax, only to gradually fade into the mists. The second movement is an extremely ingenious, syncopated toccata, which is a combination of neoclassicism á la Igor Stravinsky [track-5, beginning at 00:48] and Waltonian rhythmic hyperactivity.

Leighton gives us a remarkable chorale with variations for the finale. It opens with a subdued statement of the main theme by the strings. This is then subjected to several highly sophisticated transformations, which become more and more intense. One of them [track-6, beginning at 06:41] is reminiscent of Shostakovich's more frenetic string writing. And speaking of outside influences, towards the end there's an organ cadenza reminiscent of that in the Poulenc concerto. The work ends most effectively with a powerful restatement of the chorale theme and that triple chord motif which opened the piece. Structurally this is like no other organ concerto you've ever heard, and it's a masterpiece for that fact alone. You'll find yourself playing it again and again.

The disc ends with Leighton's Concerto for String Orchestra (1960-61), which is also in ternary form. The foreboding first movement is noteworthy for its opening three themes which utilize all twelve tones of the chromatic scale. However this is not duodecaphonic Schoenbergiana, because a sense of tonality prevails as the music undergoes an enigmatic crescendo, and then evaporates into nothingness. The contrapuntal complexity of the string writing as well as increased dissonance and chromaticism make this the most advanced and challenging music on this disc. But the mood lightens with the elastically bouncy, syncopated pizzicato scherzo that follows.

A driving sense of purposefulness returns with the finale, whose opening may recall that of the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony (1937). Impelling rhythms and impressive contrapuntal string writing characterize this movement, which the composer ends with an ascending coda and mind-bending final chord of ambiguity. This may just rank among the finest works in the body of English string music.

Conductor Richard Hickox really outdoes himself, evoking stunning performances from the BBC Wales National Orchestra string players and timpanist. As the organist at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, and more recently St. Thomas Church in New York City, John Scott has made quite a reputation for himself, which he easily lives up to on this release.

Recorded at St. David's Hall, Cardiff, the sonics are quite good with a wide enough soundstage to insure clarity in the incredibly dense string textures the composer creates. The organ is not identified, but suffice it to say that Scott's registrations produce a somewhat French sound, which is quite appropriate to the character of Leighton's music. The balance between organ, strings and timpani is ideal; however, depending on your speakers, you may find the string tone a bit grainy. But that's a small price to pay for relatively unknown music of this caliber.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P080701)


The album cover may not always appear.
Rachmaninov: Pno Conc "5" -- arr Warenberg of Sym 2; Schmitt-Leonardy/Kuchar/Janá PO [Brilliant]
Although a couple of hard-line reviewers have dumped on this release, open-minded listeners may find it highly enjoyable. That's particularly true for those who've long since OD'd on Sergei Rachmaninov's (1873-1943) second symphony, which Russian composer-arranger Alexander Warenberg (b. 1952) has reworked into the piano concerto recorded here. While this sex change involved major surgery on the original score, you'll find the Piano Concerto "No. 5," as Warenberg calls it, very much in the spirit of Rachmaninov's third piano concerto. Humorously speaking, considering it's based on a symphony written five years after Sergei's second piano concerto and three years before the third, maybe "No. 2¾" would have been a bit more appropriate.

Warenberg has taken the symphony, which is in the traditional four movements clocking in at a little over an hour (without the usual cuts), and converted it into a three-movement piano concerto lasting about forty-five minutes. While the beginning is similar to that of the symphony, it soon becomes obvious that a massive amount of recomposition was involved to bring about this transmutation. But the good news is Warenberg manages to preserve that distinctive Rachmaninov sound to an amazing degree.

Of the concerto's three movements, the first is generally closer to the symphony than either of the remaining two. But even that becomes a bird of quite a different feather with the extremely clever interplay between soloist and orchestra Warenberg has come up with. Also there's an extended cadenza [track-1, beginning at 11:10] entirely of his own design. But to his credit, everything he's manufactured here is to Rachmaniniov specifications. Incidentally, many may find the dialogue between the piano and orchestra considerably heightens the emotional impact of this movement over its symphonic counterpart.

In order to preserve the three movement format Rachmaninov used in all four of his piano concertos, Warenberg has ingeniously combined elements of the symphony's two inner movements -- a scherzo and adagio respectively -- to form the middle one of this concerto. It consists of opening and closing sections derived from the adagio that bracket a brief central one [track-2, beginning at 06:43] based on a couple of themes from the scherzo. Hearing it, most will agree it was a very effective way to go from a four to three-part structure while minimizing the loss of some rather inspired moments in the symphony.

The final movement of the concerto and that of the symphony are roughly congruent with a couple of interesting exceptions. First, the second of the three themes introduced at the beginning of the symphony's last movement has been dropped. And second, there are some whacks on the tubular chimes [track-3, beginning at 05:50 and 09:13], which are nowhere to be found in the symphony. While the deleted theme is a relatively minor one, which most listeners will not even miss, one can only wonder about Warenberg's motivation for adding Ding Dong School to the concerto. In any event, the magnificent interplay between the piano and orchestra in the final coda is absolutely electric. So much so that unabashed romantics may find the ending of this extraordinary undertaking one of the most thrilling moments in romantic piano concerto literature! Do take a listen and let us know what you think.

Put quite simply, the performance is dynamite! Pianist Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy's playing is not only filled with explosive displays of virtuosity, but an overriding passion for the music. Conductor Theodore Kuchar and the Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra provide him with such enthusiastic support that one gets the feeling everyone must have been on a high when they made this recording.

The recording is quite good with a soundstage and ambience perfectly suited to a piano concerto of this size. The balance between the soloist and orchestra is ideal, and the instrumental timbre is generally quite natural sounding. The only reservation would be that the piano occasionally sounds a bit on the tinkly side. But once Rachmaninov-Warenberg begin to work their magic, you'll soon forget about that.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P080630)


The album cover may not always appear.
Sallinen: Syms 3 & 5 "Washington Mosaics" (rev 1987); Rasilainen/RheinPfSt P [CPO]
CPO's ongoing survey of Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen's (b. 1935) eight symphonies continues with this release of his third and fifth. Scored for very large orchestras, the composer evokes an amazing variety of symphonic colors and moods from these somewhat unconventionally structured works. Hearing them one can easily understand why many consider Sallinen the finest Finnish symphonist alive today.

The third symphony (1974-75) was originally to be in one movement like its two predecessors, but the variety of material the composer had sketched for it would not fit comfortably into a monolithic structure. So it's in three separate movements, the first of which is distinguished by birdcall-like motifs played by the winds that soar over some prehistoric valley pictured by the rest of the orchestra. The chaconne that follows is a highly original creation where the repeated theme holding it together is so tenuous that the music might well be compared to some iridescent, dew-laden spider web.

The finale begins pastorally with more birdcalls, but becomes quite martial as some conquering army overruns the countryside. You may even be reminded of Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony (No. 7, 1941). But there's no mercy for the vanquished as Sallinen ends the work with barbarous chordal outbursts from the brass and percussion. This is powerful stuff, and make sure you secure any loose tchotchkes before you play it!

Commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, DC and its then conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, the fifth symphony (1984-85, revised 1987) follows a totally unorthodox structural scheme for this genre, but it works! Subtitled "Washington Mosaics", it's in five movements where the outer ones could almost be considered tone poems and the inner three are referred to as intermezzos. The opening "Washington Mosaics I" is the longest at about twelve minutes.

It’s a fascinating study in symphonic schizophrenia where stabbing brass motifs could be compared to the tormenting inner voices heard by those suffering from this mental disorder. The percussion runs rampant throughout it, and there are brief recurring passages that may bring to mind Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony (No. 6, 1893) [track-4, beginning at 05:39]. The movement ends with a bizarre waltz-like idea [track-4, beginning at 10:02] that alternates with what sound like references to the fate motif from Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony (1877) [track-4, beginning at 10:10].

The intermezzos that follow are quite different in mood. There’s an icy Scandinavian sense of reserve about the first that’s invoked by the woodwinds and percussion over sustained strings. The second is dark and foreboding with disjointed chords and a taps-like trumpet call that paint a picture of a body-strewn battlefield. The extraordinary feeling of stasis produced could be compared to that of "The Lake of Tears" in Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle (1918). The third intermezzo is a mysteriously rapturous string fabric sequined with harp glissandi that leaves the listener totally unprepared for what's about to come.

In 1987, the composer revised the concluding "Washington Mosaics II," tightening its structure and turning it into dramatic dynamite. Powerful orchestral chords reinforced by the percussion introduce a demonic sequence that could well describe some terrifying cosmic Juggernaut crushing the planet Earth. References to previous thematic material dot the symphonic wasteland, and then the movement ends just as suddenly as it began with an amphibolic drumroll. Just on the basis of this and the previous symphony, Sallinen is obviously one of today's most outstanding colorists, in the best sense of the term.

Finnish conductor Ari Rasilainen's attention to detail and astute sense of dynamic balance make his readings of these symphonies the preferred ones to date. He brings out all the color and drama inherent in them, while at the same time giving coherence to their rather disparate movements. While many may never have heard of the Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic, suffice it to say it's one of Germany's most prestigious orchestras as evidenced by their stunning performances of these highly involved works.

The CPO engineers were certainly on a roll the day they made these recordings. A wide, but well-focused soundstage with a complimentary venue insure you a totally convincing virtual image of the orchestra. This plus the fact that the instrumental tone is completely natural over the entire frequency spectrum put this disc in the audiophile demonstration category. By the way, Sallinen's first, second, fourth, seventh and eight symphonies conducted by Rasilainen are also available on three other CPO discs (999918, 999969 and 999972).

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y080629)



The album cover may not always appear. The album cover may not always appear.
Arensky: Ste 1, Ste 2 "Silhouettes", Egyptian Nights (bal ste); Svetlanov/StAcad SO [Svet Fdn]
Arensky: Ste 3, Fant "Marguerite Gautier", 3 Sym Opera Excs, etc; Svetlanov/StAcad SO [Svet Fdn]
Those who missed out on these rare treats when they appeared on Melodiya and Olympia CDs many years ago now have another chance with their rerelease on these two Svetlanov Foundation discs. Anton Arensky (1861-1906) studied with Rimsky-Korsakov and was a highly respected pianist, conductor, composer and teacher whose music was admired by such greats as Tchaikovsky. But like Mussorgsky, Anton had a propensity to hoist a few too many, which undoubtedly led to his early demise at age forty-five. Consequently he left us a relatively small number of works, many of which are for the piano. These include five suites for two pianos, two of which he later orchestrated. Superbly crafted and full of Slavic flavor, both are included here, and when you hear them you'll wish he'd arranged all five.

The first disc opens with the Suite No. 1 (Op. 7, 1885), which was originally written for orchestra and is entirely different from the ones for piano duo mentioned above. In five movements, it begins with an animated theme and variations based on a Russian folk tune. This is followed by a lilting dance, fiery scherzo and plodding basso ostinato movement reminiscent of the Polish oxcart ("Bydlo") in Mussorgsky's PIctures at an Exhibition (1874). The work then ends with a magnificent triumphal march.

The next selection is the second suite for orchestra, subtitled "Silhouettes," (Op. 23, 1892), which the composer arranged from his second suite for two pianos (see above). It's a colorful symphonic snapshot album containing five character studies. The first, "Scholar," could be the musical counterpart of Auguste Rodin's "The Thinker." The next, "Coquette," is a flirtatious bit of whimsy that's as light as a feather. "Clown," with its catchy minor-major key changes, is absolutely infectious -- bet you can't play it just once! Arensky sets "Dreamer" to one of his most luscious melodies, and the concluding "Dancer" is obviously of Flamenco persuasion (complete with castanets), ending this delightful suite in most colorful fashion.

Some fascinating Russian esoterica fills out this CD in the form of a suite from the composer's ballet Egyptian Nights (1900-08). In seven sections this is some of the most appealing romantic Russian music you've probably never heard! And if you're not seeing it danced, the suite is much more effective than the complete ballet. The opening overture finds Arensky on a thematic high that includes a motif [track-11, beginning at 03:57] almost identical to one Reinhold Glière would later use in his ballet The Bronze Horseman (1948-9). Other highlights include an Iberian-laced "Dance of Ghazies," and a "Snake-Charmer" episode reminiscent of Rimsky-Korsakov's more Eastern sounding concoctions. The concluding "Anthony's Solemn Entrance" is worthy of the better moments in Glazunov's Raymonda.

The second CD begins with the third suite for orchestra (Op. 33, 1893), which the composer arranged from his third suite for two pianos (see above). It's a theme with nine variations where he takes a rather ordinary sounding tune and performs some pretty amazing transformations on it. These include turning it into an imposing triumphal march, a charming eighteenth century minuet, which will remind you of that Musical Snuffbox belonging to Liadov, and a catchy mercurial scherzo. A lovely nocturne with a prominent piano part follows, and the work closes with a magnificent polonaise.

The fantasia subtitled "Marguerite Gautier" is based on that tragic character out of Alexandre Dumas' novel The Lady of the Camelias -- she also inspired the character of Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata. This appealing symphonic cameo begins festively with a couple of engaging themes and features a lovely, slow central waltz episode. It ends much as it began, but the opening material becomes appropriately heartbreaking and full of pathos.

More Russian rarities in the form of symphonic excerpts from Arensky's three operas are next. The overture to Dream on the Volga (1891) is a brilliantly orchestrated, folk-tune-filled piece very much in the Rimsky-Korsakov mold. An introduction to a scene from Raphael (1894) is pensive, while that to Nal and Damajanti (1904) consists of melodically sumptuous opening and closing sections surrounding a stormy inner scene. Like everything else on these CDs, there's a sense of reserve and refinement about these pieces that sets Arensky's music apart.

The disc ends with an intermezzo and a march. Strings dominate the former, which could almost be out of Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream. The latter, "To the Memory of Suvorov," honors that great Russian general (1729-1800) with blazing brass and pounding drums, bringing this CD to a triumphant conclusion.

We owe a great debt to Evgeny Svetlanov (1928-2002) for unearthing many buried Russian musical treasures like the ones here. Not only that, but he was an exceptional conductor who always seemed to add that little extra Russian something to the music of his countrymen. In fact, his accounts of many of the selections here are definitive despite the fact that the performances by some members of the State Academic Symphony Orchestra were at times erratic.

The recordings, all stereo, were made by Melodiya between 1983 and 1990. They're certainly not as strident sounding as some of the ones the Soviet engineers were turning out back then, but on the other hand they're not audiophile demonstration quality either. But, as we've said before, the musical content far outweighs any sonic considerations. By the way, there's a third disc in this series devoted to Arensky's two symphonies that you might also want to consider.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P080628, P080627)