CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
25 NOVEMBER 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.
Anderson, Leroy: Orch Wks Cpte V5 (incl Carols Ste 3); Soloists/Slatkin/BBCCon O [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Here’s the fifth volume in Naxos' ongoing series celebrating the birthday centennial of American composer Leroy Anderson (1908-1975, see the newsletters of 15 February 2008, 30 May 2008, 24 July 2008 and 28 October 2008). This album is for the most part devoted to excerpts from the score Leroy wrote for the Broadway musical Goldilocks (1958). While the book and lyrics may not have been up to those for West Side Story, The Music Man and My Fair Lady, which were running concurrently, the music is topnotch Anderson, and well worth hearing. Not only that, but four of the numbers included are world premičre recordings (indicated by an asterisk).
The Goldilocks selections begin with an expanded version of the overture (courtesy of David Ross) in which several memorable tunes are introduced that will become mainstays of the show. The story is set in New York in the early 1900s, so it's not surprising to find oblique references to popular dances of the time in the seven instrumental and three vocal numbers (*) that follow. The Pussy Foot dance is reminiscent of The Charleston (1920), while the Lady in Waiting ballet is a wonderful choreographic concoction that recalls Leroy's fabulous Waltz Around the Scale (1970, 30 May 2008), while owing a debt to Richards Strauss (1864-1949) and Rogers (1902-1979). The Town House Maxixe couldn't have been written by anyone except Leroy, while the wistful interlude I Never Know When may remind you of the andante from Howard Hanson's Romantic Symphony (No. 2, 1930). The rollicking Pyramid Dance has Eastern overtones and provides a fitting conclusion to this suite of selections from the original show. But that's not all, because two different instrumental arrangements Anderson later made of the flowing waltz (*) from the Lady in Waiting ballet, and sighing song, Shall I take My Heart and Go, are also included.
The disc is filled out with the last of Leroy's three suites of carols (1955). While the previous two were scored for strings and brass respectively (see the newsletters of 30 May 2008 and 24 July 2008), this is for woodwinds, and the most sublime of the trilogy. It contains the haunting carol O Come, O Come Emmanuel, which embodies the mood of reverent anticipation for the advent of wondrous events about to unfold.
Once again conductor Leonard Slatkin and the BBC Concert Orchestra give us enthusiastic, thrilling performances of everything. They prove themselves worthy successors to Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, who originally championed and popularized Anderson. Soprano Kim Criswell and baritone William Dazeley are to be commended for giving us understandable, letter-perfect renditions of the three vocal numbers, which is vital, considering no texts are printed with the album notes. There's an informality about the way they present these that's totally in keeping with the Broadway character of this music.
Like volumes three and four you'll find the overall sonics are excellent with the soundstage more ideally proportioned than on the first disc in this series. A bit of digital graininess still persists in a couple of massed passages, but not to a degree that would deny this audiophile demonstration status. Those having sound systems with rock-bottom bass response may notice an occasional seismic rumble most likely associated with local traffic and/or a nearby subway.
One last note. With the holiday season fast approaching, Naxos has released a CD that's a must-have compendium of Leroy's holiday-related music (see the newsletter of 28 October 2008). It includes all three of the carol suites mentioned above plus many other festive pieces too numerous to mention.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y081125)
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Arnell: Great Detective, Angels (cpte bals); Yates/BBCCon O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Until Dutton's recent revival of his music, most knew English composer Richard Arnell (1917-2009) only through the suite from his ballet Punch and the Child (1948, no longer available on disc), which Sir Thomas Beecham recorded and popularized in the early 1950s. But Arnell would later write three other ballets, two of which, The Great Detective and The Angels, are presented in their entirety on this indispensable disc, also from Dutton. Neither of these was very successful on stage, but that wasn't because of the music, which surpasses that for Punch... Consequently this CD is a perfect medium for these ballets, whose aural was far greater than their visual appeal, at least as originally choreographed.
Commissioned by Sadler's Wells, The Great Detective (1953) is a comedy ballet that was billed as after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930). It's based loosely on the exploits of the great Sherlock Holmes, and his struggle for supremacy over his archenemy Professor Moriarty. In three scenes with an overture and a total of thirteen numbers, it opens in sparkling fashion. As the work progresses, Arnell's skill as an orchestrator becomes all the more apparent. In fact Sir Thomas once described him as one of the best since Berlioz! Highlights include a humorously flighty "Distressed Ladies..." pas de trois somewhat reminiscent of Constant Lambert's (1905-1951) ballet music. Then there are the black-cloaked "Fiend" and "Villains" episodes worthy of the best silent movie music, plus the "Dance of Deduction," which is a real hoot. This choreographic caper closes with one of those big tunes the British do so well, followed by some brief heroic afterthoughts.
Another Sadler's Wells commission, The Angels (1957) is actually structured as a three-movement symphony, which probably explains its greater success as a concert rather than a stage work. The original scenario is abstract and follows no particular story. From what the composer tells us, it concerns a life-giving angel who brings men and women together, selects one of them for immortality, and makes them shine with heavenly light. Be that as it may, the first movement opens with a searching introduction that's followed by a theme and variations. The theme is appropriately seraphic-sounding, while the seven variations are aptly characterized as "Fluttering," "Morbid," "Strident," "Terrified," "Lyrical," "Vigorous" and "Reflective." The movement ends with a joyous restatement of the main idea.
The "Roundelay" that follows is one of the composer’s most effecting symphonic creations, and sets the stage for the brief tripartite finale. This begins with a swaying brass motif followed by a rhythmically twitchy central passage that gradually transforms into a radiant concluding section. If you like this score, make sure you acquaint yourself with those four of Arnell's six symphonies that are now also available on Dutton (see the newsletters of 23 June 2006, 25 July 2007 and 15 January 2008).
Martin Yates has the reputation of being one of England's finest living ballet conductors, and his performances here with the BBC Concert Orchestra certainly support that. Lively tempos, highly dramatic phrasing and careful attention to orchestral detail make for some exciting music making.
Interestingly enough the orchestra and venue are identical to those on the Leroy Anderson Naxos disc recommended above. But the soundstage on this Dutton CD is somewhat more recessed and reverberant than the Naxos, making for an excellent example of what different microphone setups and mixing techniques can produce. Those liking a wetter (more echoic) sound will undoubtedly prefer the Dutton to the Naxos approach. It should also be noted that the orchestral timbre on the Arnell is for the most part natural sounding, but there are occasional grainy spots in the high end.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P081124)
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Effinger: Sym 1 "Little" (w Gould, Harris & Moore); Hobson/SinfaVars [Albany (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 SACD)
The four American rarities on this new hybrid release from Albany make it an invaluable addition to the catalog. That's particularly true of Cecil Effinger's (1914-1990) delightful Little Symphony No. 1 (he wrote seven), which dates from 1945 and won a Naumberg Award in 1959 when it made its recording debut on a Columbia LP. Coupled here with three other noteworthy symphonic works by Roy Harris, Morton Gould and Douglas Moore, this is the first modern day recording of it since then.
Effinger once said of his own music, "I like romantic stuff, nostalgia... I can't write Viennese music, Broadway music, or 'tricky' music." On the surface that certainly characterizes this symphony, but there's a Mozartian simplicity, directness and warmth about it that make it something you'll want to hear again and again. In four tiny movements, the first is a mellifluously attractive offering that's as fresh as a spring breeze. The second and third are a pixilated presto and autumnal adagio respectively. The spirited finale couldn't sound more American, and brings this symphonic miniature to a most satisfying conclusion. Those liking Virgil Thomson and Roy Harris, who was a good friend of Cecil, will probably love this piece. If you do, by all means investigate the music of Effinger’s student Jon Ward Bauman (see the newsletter of 23 February 2006).
And speaking of Roy Harris (1898-1979), his eleventh symphony (1967) makes its CD debut here. Like his legendary third, it's in one movement lasting about twenty minutes and instantly recognizable Harris. But unlike it's better known predecessor, there's an angst and stridency dominating the first half that apparently reflect the composer's lifelong concern over man's inhumanity to man. The open intervals and melodic groundswells so characteristic of his music are used to great effect to emphasize these misgivings. Flashes of hope in the brass dominate the conclusion, and the symphony ends with a big question mark that seems to ask whether man will ever change his ways.
Another CD debut is next with Morton Gould's (1913-1996) Cowboy Rhapsody (1940-43). In some ways it’s the symphonic counterpart of the movie City Slickers (1991), considering it's a musical excursion to the Wild West by a composer from New York City. Like Virgil Thomson in his 1930s scores for The Plow that Broke the Plains and The River (see the newsletters of 16 January 2007 and 30 October 2007), Gould incorporates all sorts of familiar American song tunes into this endearing pops panoply. There's "Git Along, Little Doggies," "The Old Chisholm Trail," "Oh, Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie," and "Home on the Range" just to name a few. They're all served up with the same consummate skill Gould demonstrated in his ever popular Latin American Symphonette (1941); and, oh boy, could Morty orchestrate! This must be one of the most colorful American symphonic works ever written. By the way, there's a recurring three note motif [track-1, beginning at 00:21] that sounds suspiciously like the composer might just be alluding to the opening of the scherzo from Dvorák's New World Symphony (No. 9, 1893).
The concluding selection is Douglas Moore's (1893-1969) second symphony (1945). Best known for his opera The Ballad of Baby Doe (1956, no longer available on disc), which has become an American classic, Moore proves here he was also a symphonist of considerable merit. A graduate of Yale, he later studied with Vincent d'Indy (1851-1931) as well as Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979), which probably explains occasional Gallicisms in this impeccably crafted, four-movement work. With a brief brooding introduction, the opening movement soon turns into a perky, freely structured sonata form edifice. Rest and renewal seem to characterize the lyrical andante, which contrasts well with the bubbling, cheeky allegretto finale. Similar in construction to the first movement, it ends this rarely heard bit of Americana in a state of jubilant excitement.
As he did with those wonderful Don Gillis symphonies (see the newsletters of 20 May 2006 and 30 October 2008), conductor Ian Hobson and the Sinfonia Varsovia give us expansive, high-spirited performances. In fact, they’re so all-American in temperament, you'd never guess you were hearing an English-born and trained conductor leading a Polish orchestra.
The master recordings for this release were conventional “Red Book” PCM ones as heard on the stereo CD track of this hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.1) disc. These were then subjected to some "Zarex" electronic wizardry (see the excellent album notes for details) to generate the SACD stereo and multichannel tracks. All three tracks are spectacular, which says a great deal for the two Polish engineers who did the master tapes. The CD and SACD tracks produce a magnificently detailed soundstage with the strings coming off a bit more natural in the SACD mode. The multichannel track will provide you with a very convincing virtual concert hall listening experience.
A word to those with multichannel systems. If you have full range front speakers, you may want to turn the subwoofer off. That's because it can sometimes blur the low end response, despite even the most sophisticated bass management techniques currently used in the production of hybrid discs. In fact, when it comes to symphonic music, most record companies no longer bother with a ".1" low frequency channel. But whether it's on or off, you'll find this disc is audiophile demonstration quality with a bright, yet pleasing high end.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y081123)
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Goldmark, Karl: Pno Qnts Cpte (2); Triendl/SinNom Qt [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
These two appealing piano quintets prove composer Karl Goldmark (1830-1915) should be remembered for more than just his violin concerto (published 1877) and Rustic Wedding Symphony (No. 1, 1877). Born into a large Jewish family (there were twenty children), Goldmark began his musical education in his native Hungary at the age of twelve, but soon moved to Vienna where he continued his studies and would spend most of his life. Back then the Viennese musical world was strongly divided between Johannes Brahms and his circle of composers and the camp of Richard Wagner: however, Goldmark respected both schools. While he could count Brahms as a friend, that was never the case with Wagner, whose anti-Semitism prevented any close relationship from ever developing. Despite that, it was Wagner who influenced Karl the most, as you'll hear in the works on this disc.
The first quintet was probably completed in 1878, and is in four-movements. The opening one is a sonata-allegro with the usual two groups of thematic ideas, which owe allegiance to Schubert and Beethoven respectively. These are subjected to rigorous development made all the more poignant by some adventurous key changes that make this a unique Goldmark creation. The joyous recapitulation and final coda are simply thrilling. The adagio begins with an autumnal theme stated by the cello. This soon gives way to a second idea on the piano [track-2, beginning at 02:30] that bears an uncanny resemblance in places to the 18th century tune for the British National Anthem "God Save the King/Queen." In the early 1800s this was used by American Samuel Francis Smith as the melody for his patriotic song "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," and by Muzio Clementi to honor England in his Great National Symphony (No. 3, see the newsletter of 15 January 2008). Goldmark's theme may or may not have been inspired by it, but the fact remains that along with the preceding cello motif, the two form the basis for one of the most heartfelt movements in all of his music.
Featuring a skittish dance-like tune that surrounds a more restrained, totally captivating binary trio section, folk influences may well have been at work in the disarming scherzo. It acts as a very effective transition between the previous slow movement and the hyperactive, mercurial finale. This starts with a hiccupping theme that gives way to a more stately melody followed by a flurry of contrapuntal activity involving both. Towards the end they're combined in a scampering final coda that closes the work in a state of ebullience.
A very late work that was not published until a year after his death, the second quintet is understandably much more advanced than the first. Again in four movements, it opens with a jagged theme that serves as an introduction to an anguished second subject. The latter undergoes some Wagnerian chromatic contortions, which in their frequency are somewhat reminiscent of Max Reger’s music. Both ideas are then extensively developed, and the movement ends optimistically.
The adagio is intensely dramatic and most affecting for its straightforward simplicity. The mood carries over to the opening of the scherzo, but not for long as a twitchy theme is introduced and the music becomes a hornet's nest of activity. This suddenly subsides and a tranquil, pastoral trio section intervenes only to be displaced by the return of the hornets, bringing things to an exciting close. The finale begins in anguish, but a gorgeous melody soon appears, eventually banishing any previous negative thoughts. The work ends with an emphatic, more positive treatment of the opening ideas, and a final burst of sunshine.
Pianist Oliver Triendl and the Sine Nomine Quartet play up a storm with performances that couldn't be any more enthusiastic. As a matter of fact they get so carried away that alert listeners may detect a couple of isolated vocalizations. Except for a couple of isolated rough spots in the strings, from the technical standpoint the playing is excellent, making these two rarely heard chamber works significant finds.
The sonics are quite good with a convincing soundstage and a realistic rendering of the piano. On a moment-to-moment basis one might hope for a little smoother string sound, but in the long-run with music this interesting you'll soon forget about that. One last thought. Repeated listening without recourse to the mind-boggling, stream-of-consciousness album notes is the best prescription for enjoying this exceptional music to the fullest.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P081122)
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Röntgen: Pno Trios Cpte V1 (6, 9 & 10); Storioni Trio [Ars Prod (Hybrid)]
RECOMMENDED (1 SACD)
Frequenters of these pages are familiar with previous recommendations for Dutch composer Julius Röntgen's (1855-1932) orchestral (see the newsletters of 16 April 2007, 30 January 2008 and 28 October 2008) and vocal (see the newsletter of 30 March 2008) works, but here's some equally accomplished chamber music. Of his fourteen piano trios, three of the finest appear here on this first volume of Ars Produktion's new series devoted to these.
The lead-off trio is his sixth, which was completed in 1904 at a very difficult time in the composer's life (his four year old daughter had just died). This can be heard in the agitated opening allegro, where minor keys predominate, and Röntgen's usually sunny disposition breaks through into the major only briefly. The andante that follows is a theme and variations where the main idea is an attractive rocking melody that could almost be a cradlesong of folk origin. The concluding allegro is energetic with a couple of lovely lyrical bright spots. However, there's an underlying angst that's maintained right through the final chord.
These are world premičre recordings of the remaining two trios, both of which date from 1924. The tenth is subtitled "Gaudeamus," which was the name of the house Röntgen would soon build in Bilthoven, following his move from Amsterdam. In four movements, it finds the composer in a much more optimistic frame of mind. The beginning one is a graceful con moto that would seem to have campanological associations, possibly inspired by all those Dutch carillons. The following scherzo-like vivace is as light as a snowflake, and finds the composer at his most fleeting. The concluding movements, a restrained, lyrical andante and a buoyant, folksy allegro, end this lighthearted trio with a smile.
The ninth trio bears the sobriquet "Post tenebras lux," or "From darkness into light," and is a more serious affair than its successor. Also in four movements, the opening is appropriately dark and of Brahmsian persuasion. This is offset by a wistful intermezzo followed by a mournful lento, which at times sounds almost Eastern [track-10, beginning at 03:12]. The final allegro is a contrapuntal romp that's notable for a central pleading melody that resolves into a gentle thematic glow of light as promised in the trio's title.
The Storioni Trio's performances are deeply felt and make a strong case for the chamber music of a composer who is just now beginning to get the recognition he’s always so justly deserved. Furthermore, we are greatly indebted to them for giving us the two recording premičres here. Those hearing this disc will probably find themselves anxiously awaiting future ones in Ars Produktion's ongoing survey of Röntgen's trios. Hopefully the Storioni string players will exhibit a little more intonational stability in future releases.
The sonics on this hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.1), disc are good, but it's cut at a rather high level so "pointy-eared" purists may encounter some digital discomfort in forte passages on the CD and SACD stereo tracks. The multichannel track seems a bit more listener friendly, and is probably the preferred medium for those with theater systems. Although a ".1" subwoofer channel is also included, it's really not needed for chamber music of this type, and might even muddy the waters on some systems. Consequently those who can, may want to turn it off.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P081121)
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Tansman: Sym 2, Sinfa Conc (aka Sym 3), 4 Orch Mvmts; Caetani/Melb SO [Chandos (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 SACD)
If volumes one and two in Chandos' ongoing survey of Alexandre Tansman's (1897-1986) symphonies somehow escaped you, for heaven's sake don't overlook this third hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0) demonstration quality installment. It features some extremely attractive, exceptionally sophisticated music by a highly educated, well traveled, cosmopolitan composer, who by the age of twenty had won three compositional prizes in his native Poland, and felt the need to move on to Paris in 1917. He became a protégé of Marice Ravel (1875-1937), and hobnobbed with the likes of Albert Roussel, Florent Schmitt, Igor Stravinsky and Les Six (Auric, Durey, Honegger, Milhaud, Poulenc and Tailleferre). Being the eclecticist that he was, it could be said that all of them influenced his music.
In the 1920s and 30s he concentrated on symphonic scores, which soon found their way into the repertoires of such great conductors as Serge Koussevitzky, Leopold Stokowki and Eugene Ormandy. Then with the Nazi occupation of France, in 1941 he was forced because of his Semitic background to flee to the United States. He was a good friend of Charlie Chaplin, so it's not surprising that he settled in Hollywood, where he achieved considerable success as a film score composer. However, after the war he felt the need to return to Paris, which would be his home base for the rest of his life. Unfortunately by that time public fascination with the avant-garde meant he would never again achieve his former level of popularity. But today's more liberal audiences will find his music has stood the test of time and is well worth hearing.
The second and third symphonies included here are world premičre recordings, and not to be missed! The earlier one dates from 1926 and is dedicated to Koussevitzky, who became permanent conductor of the Boston Symphony the following year, and chose it for the first public radio broadcast of that orchestra. Ostensibly in A minor, it's a highly innovative opus that literally covers the tonal waterfront, but in an agreeable manner. In the standard four movements, the first one is a neoclassical sonata-allegro that begins with a punchy theme somewhat reminiscent of the one that opens Ernest Bloch's (1880-1959) first concerto grosso (1924-25). This is contrasted with a subdued lyrical second subject, and the two are then masterfully developed. Slavic as well as Eastern elements are present, bringing to mind Stravinsky's Petrushka (1911) and Puccini's Turnadot (1926, see the newsletter of 30 September 2006).
The second movement is a lento based on a relaxed melody which builds to a short-lived dramatic climax. It then ends much like it started, but with the emaciated specter of that Blochian theme which opened the symphony, peeking through an A minor keyhole. The scherzo is an invigorating tonic containing equal parts of Mendelssohn, Chopin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Ravel. It ends in medias res leaving the door open for the brilliantly orchestrated, polychromatic finale, which concludes this singular symphony in a rainbow of instrumental color.
Also known as the Symphonie concertante for Piano Quartet and Orchestra, the third symphony dates from 1931. It was written in response to a commission from the Queen of Belgium for a work which could be in any setting as long as it included a part for the then well-known Belgian Piano Quartet. In four movements, it's a highly appealing twentieth century reworking of the old baroque concerto grosso. The first movement titled "Sinfonia" begins with the quartet, which is soon joined by the orchestra. It's a delightful Stravinskyian frolic spiced with rhythms derived from Polish folk dances. Highly chromatic and with a jazzy neoclassical patina, it sounds similar to what Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) was writing in Paris at that time. The following scherzo, marked "Tempo Americano," is a totally infectious, jazzy tribute to Tansman's favorite American composer, George Gershwin (1898-1937). It's a New Orleans style jam session that's a guaranteed crowd pleaser!
The slow movement, titled "Andante pesante," honors Béla Bartók and his penchant for incorporating Hungarian peasant songs into his music. Rather than actually quoting Magyar folk material, Tansman uses stylistic elements inspired by it in this strangely subdued, haunted offering. What seem like opening references to Stravinsky's Firebird (1911) as well as the Dies Irae [track-12, beginning at 02:01] add to the movement's dark mystique, and make the sprightly finale that's soon to come all the more welcome. When it does, it's an eclectic, tasty pastry with a mincemeat filling made up of stylistic bits borrowed from Ravel, Stravinsky and Martinu, wrapped in a J.S. Bach piecrust.
The disc is filled out with Four Movements for Orchestra which dates from 1967-68, and is the most progressive music here. The first two, "Notturno," which begins mysteriously with the "Tansman Chord" (see the exemplary album notes for details) and "Perpetuum mobile," are stunningly orchestrated, and might best be described as musical counterparts of the aurora borealis. They're followed by a brief stabbing "Interlude" that leads directly into the third movement, "Elegia." Here repeated four-note motifs build to a Ravelian crescendo that's the dramatic high point of the work. The concluding "Ostinato (Toccata)" is rhythmically reminiscent of Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, and an arresting display of colorful harmonic as well as a chromatic fireworks. The last few measures end the work like it began, as this symphonic salamander swallows its own tail, disappearing into the void from whence it came.
Conductor Oleg Caetani studied with the celebrated Parisian pedagogue Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979), which may explain his amazing grasp of these complex Frenchified scores. The stunning performances he elicits from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra are as lucid as Pierre Boulez' finest conductorial efforts, but in no way desiccate this late romantic, chromatically supersaturated music. His articulate phrasing and breathtaking dynamics breathe new life into some magnificent symphonic material that has been in suspended animation for too long.
The Chandos engineers have outdone themselves with this release. The sound on all tracks is lush and convincingly natural with the strings at their most silky on the stereo SACD track. Those with two-channel systems will find the soundstages on the CD and SACD stereo tracks very convincing. Those having multichannel ones will be in the audiophile equivalent of seventh heaven with center seats for a virtual concert hall listening experience rarely captured on disc. As far as orchestral demonstration recordings go, this release would be hard to beat from both the musical and sonic standpoints.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y081120)
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