18 DECEMBER 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.
Arnold, M.: 3 Musketeers (cpte bal, arr & orch Longstaff); Pryce-Jones/NBalTh O [Quartz]
No Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006) fan will want to be without this enterprising release from Quartz! It features music for the 2006 two-act ballet The Three Musketeers based on his compositions. Oddly enough back in 1975 Arnold came close to writing a ballet with a similar scenario, and even made a few preliminary sketches for it. However, a massive mental breakdown precluded his completing it, and he never returned to the project.

Enter talented British conductor and arranger John Longstaff (not to be confused with the John "Jack" Langstaff of Christmas Revels fame), who assembled tidbits from eighteen of Malcolm's works into this swashbuckling choreographic caper. In integrating all these selections, Longstaff had to reorchestrate everything so it could be played by the diminutive, but elegant, Northern Ballet Theater Orchestra. But much to his credit he's faithfully preserved that indomitable spontaneity that characterizes Arnold's works.

References to the ever popular English and Irish Dances, the infectiously slippery third movement from the fifth symphony, as well as music from the films Hobson's Choice and David Copperfield highlight the first act. Those unfamiliar with Arnold's exceptional film scores are in for a real treat, because his cheeky irreverence and heart-on-the-sleeve approach to music-making were tailor made for the silver screen.

Longstaff saves the best for the last act where the gorgeous second movement and Yankee Doodle-like finale of the fifth symphony come into play. Then there's the "big tune" from the film No Love for Johnnie, the resplendent March for HRH The Duke of Cambridge, plus a reference to the Cornish Dances. The ballet closes with the brief Anniversary Overture, which alternates a couple of rousing melodies, ending this magnificent balletic celebration of Alexandrer Dumas' great novel in festive fashion.

Conductor John Pryce-Jones elicits a fabulous performance from the twenty-eight member Northern Ballet Theater Orchestra. Longstaff's brilliant scoring along with their exceptional playing will make you believe you’re hearing a full-size symphony orchestra! A perfectly proportioned soundstage, wide dynamic range and frequency response, with some spectacularly low articulate bass drum work, characterize this recording. Clarity and brilliance should make it all the more appealing to those audiophiles who like a bright, transparent sound.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y081218)


The album cover may not always appear.
Bischoff, H.: Sym 2, Intro & Rondo; Albert/RheinPfSt P [CPO]
German-born Hermann Bischoff (1868-1936) greatly admired and even studied with Richard Strauss (1864-1949), which is apparent in the two selections on this disc. The second symphony dates from 1911 and the Introduction and Rondo from 1925. The latter is notable because it was Bischoff's last work even though he lived for another eleven years. It remains a mystery as to why a composer capable of producing music as accomplished as this chose not to write anything more.

There's an informality about the symphony that makes it sound more like a suite, where each of the four movements could almost be miniature Strauss tone poems. Other influences are also rife, including Dvorák in the opening and closing movements, Tchaikovsky in the scherzo-like intermezzo, and even Bruckner in the moving adagio. But in the last analysis, Bischoff skillfully juggles all these stylistic balls to come up with an act all of his own.

The Introduction and Rondo is an immediately appealing sixteen-minute sonata-rondo. It combines the lightness of Richard's Bourgeois gentilhomme (1918) with elements of folk dance, giving it a rustic charm that's bound to please.

The performances by the German Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic under Werner Andreas Albert are most sympathetic, making a strong case for this music. The recorded sound is certainly adequate with a fairly forward soundstage. The overall orchestral timbre is pleasing, but the strings could be a bit smoother. There are occasional slightly audible low frequency sounds in the second movement of the symphony that may have been Maestro Albert doing the "Bernstein Bounce" on the podium. By the way, Bischoff's first symphony is also available on CPO (see the newsletter of 1 November 2006).

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P081217)


The album cover may not always appear.
Bowen, Y.: Pno Concs 3 & 4; Driver/Brabbins/BBCScot SO [Hyperion]
The York Bowen (1884-1961) revival continues here with Hyperion's latest volume (the 46th) in its ongoing series devoted to romantic piano concertos. Until a few years ago Bowen was best remembered as a pianist, but with the current flurry of recordings devoted to his music (see the newsletters of 30 September 2006, 8 December 2007 and 24 July 2008) it's become increasingly obvious that he was one of England's greatest romantic composers. This is particularly borne out by his last two piano concertos (he wrote four) that appear here.

The third concerto dates from 1907 and was first entitled Fantasia. Lasting only about twenty minutes, it's a one movement lyrical outpouring with fast opening and closing sections that surround a more subdued one. The spirited, virtuosic beginning, which may bring to mind Saint-Saëns' later efforts in this genre, leads directly into a lovely central part. Here the pianist and orchestra alternately muse over several attractive thematic ideas, eventually working themselves up into a frenzied finale. This includes a wonderful "big tune" and significant displays of keyboard fireworks before the work ends ecstatically.

The fourth concerto was completed in 1929 and, although it was broadcast a couple of times, had to wait until 1959 for its first public performance. A large-scale, three-movement romantic work, it's one of Bowen's greatest. There are elements of Richard Strauss in the orchestral part, and Rachmaninov in the piano writing. Wisps of French impressionism (see the newsletter of 7 April 2007) are evident in the opening movement, while the slow one is a gorgeous showpiece not only for the piano, but a variety of other instruments as well. The finale begins energetically, gradually becoming more reflective, and ultimately ending on a major ray of hope. This is music that shines ever more brightly with repeated listening.

Pianist Danny Driver is superb, and many may find his obvious affinity for Bowen's piano music gives this recording of the third concerto an edge over the one on Dutton we previously told you about (see the newsletter of 8 December 2007). As for the fourth, there is no current competition, and judging from Driver's performance, that will probably be the case for some time to come. Martyn Brabbins and the Scottish Symphony Orchestra are ideal partners in another winning installment of Hyperion's great romantic piano concerto series. All of this is complemented with crisp, naturally bright sound across an ideal soundstage. Audiophiles will not be disappointed.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y081216)


The album cover may not always appear.
Cras: Pno Trio, Vc Son, Largo (vc & pno); Jacquon/Koch/Khramouchin [Timpani]
Like Balakirev (see the newsletter of 28 October 2008), composer Jean Cras (1879-1932) was self-taught. A French naval officer by profession, it would seem he holds the distinction of writing most of his music while at sea. In fact the three selections featured here were composed in the early 1900s during naval campaigns to Tunisia and Iceland.

Conceived in 1904, the four-movement piano trio was published in 1907. With several memorable thematic ideas, the opening is in free sonata form and might be likened to a fantasia. It's followed by a pensive lento that's choral-like, and a mercurial scherzo. There's a playful quality about the finale that makes it most appealing, and ends the trio in a state of innocence. Folk music influences from the composer's native Brittany seem scattered throughout. Consequently it may remind you of chamber music by another great Breton composer, Guy Ropartz (1864-1955, see the newsletters of 15 March 2007, 10 October 2007 and 30 May 2008).

Although the sonata for cello and piano dating from 1901 was one of the composer's first large-scale undertakings, it shows an amazing degree of sophistication. In three movements, the first is masterfully crafted with a seriousness of purpose that totally belies the fact it was written by an amateur. The adagio is a gorgeous heartfelt lament that sets the stage for the anguished finale. Beethoven's more tempestuous works would seem to have been models for this, which ends the sonata pessimistically.

The concert concludes with a previously unpublished largo (no date given) for cello and piano. It's a moving meditation that the composer may have intended as a movement for another larger chamber work which was never completed. If that's the case, judging from the quality of this piece, it's a shame it wasn’t.

The performances by pianist Alain Jacquon, violinist Philippe Koch and cellist Aleksandr Khramouchin are totally committed to this unknown, but highly rewarding repertoire. The recordings are quite good from the soundstage perspective, but may be a little on the bright side for some listeners. If you like this music and are an opera fan, by all means investigate Cras' masterpiece Polyphčme.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P081215)


The album cover may not always appear.
D'Anglebert: Hpd Stes (4, w/o 19 trs); Farr/Hill Hpd & Lute-Hpd [Naxos]
Those who like the keyboard creations of Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) and Francois Couperin (1668-1733) are going to fall in love with these lovely pieces by Jean-Henry D'Anglebert (1629-1691). A close associate of the great Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), he was Louis XIV's harpsichordist, and wrote only for the keyboard. His compositions, while not actual transcriptions of lute music, were greatly influenced by it. Consequently there's a vertical harmonic simplicity and dynamic uniformity about the four suites here that make them some of the most melodic harpsichord music to come out of the French baroque. Not only that, but D'Anglebert was a master of ornamentation, which adds an amazing degree of variety and color to these scores.

All of these factors are further enhanced by performances featuring a soloist who is a consummate "ornamentalist," playing two extraordinary instruments. Both built by Keith Hill, one is modeled after a two-manual harpsichord from the renowned mid-eighteenth century Parisian builder Francois Blanchet. The other is a real rarity because it's a recreation of a lute-harpsichord, none of which have survived to the present day. With gut rather than metal strings, Hill made it as per documentation dating from 1768 describing one built for Johann Sebastian Bach.

Published in 1689, D'Anglebert's Pičces de Clavecin included the suites presented here, plus nineteen transcriptions from Lully operas (see the newsletter of 11 July 2007) and other unnamed sources. The first and fourth suites are in major keys and played on the lute-harpsichord. Highlights from the first include an allemande, which is a superb example of the brisé, or broken arpeggiated style of keyboard writing inspired by lute music. Then there's a chaconne rondeau that's quite regal in bearing, and a plucky concluding menuet, which sparkles with iridescent ornamentation.

The fourth suite is the shortest with a joie de vivre that sets it apart from the rest. It includes a catchy gigue and a festive chaconne rondeau where campanella effects mimic the tolling of bells. The concluding Tombeau de Chambonničres is a moving tribute to the composer's teacher, the great French harpsichordist Jacques Champion de Chambonničres (1601-1672).

The middle suites are played on the Blanchet-inspired instrument, and what a wonderful sounding harpsichord it is. Just listen to the beautifully rounded tone of the prelude and percussively infectious courantes in the second suite. The final passacaille is a showpiece for many of those ornaments that are a D'Angelbert trademark. Incidentally, those interested in them will find further details in the highly informative album notes, or the 1689 publication mentioned above, which includes particulars about their notation and execution.

The third suite is the longest, lasting about three-quarters of an hour. Here the composer regales us with a twelve-minute Folies d'Espagne which is a mesmerizing, ingenious set of twenty-two variations on the familiar fifteenth century Portuguese dance tune La Folia.

A specialist in keyboard works of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Elizabeth Farr's performances leave what little competition there is in the dust. Besides sheer technical ability, she has that exceptional sense of rhythm and phrasing that is so vital to these keyboard works. In the hands of lesser artists, highly ornamented music like this can become stilted or even awkward sounding. But that's certainly not the case with Farr whose digital dexterity and unfailing sense of timing insure smooth traversals of all these suites.

Demonstration quality sound makes this delectable baroque offering all the more appealing. Spread over a relatively broad soundstage, both instruments come across with a clarity and lifelike detail that are exceptional. Audiophiles and harpsichord enthusiasts alike will be totally captivated by this album. And those liking the dulcet tones of the lute-harpsichord should investigate an earlier Naxos release with Ms. Farr playing the lute music of J.S. Bach (see the newsletter of 28 January 2009).

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y081214)


The album cover may not always appear.
Gál, H.: Pno Trios Cpte (3); D.Adam/K.Adam/Stradner [Camerata]
Like Alexander Tansman (1897-1986, see the newsletter of 25 November 2008), Erich Zeisl (1905-1959, see the newsletter of 20 June 2007) and Alexander Zemlinsky(1871-1942, see the newsletter of 15 June 2008), Hans Gál (1890-1987) was forced to flee Europe when the Nazis came to power. He left his native Austria in 1938 for Great Britain, where he eventually established himself as a distinguished professor of music theory at the University of Edinburgh.

His mature compositions, while Brahmsian in principle and decidedly tonal, are highly chromatic, lying somewhere between Mahler and the Second Viennese School of composers (Schoenberg, Berg and Webern). Written between 1914 and 1949, the three piano trios on this invaluable release from Camerata provide ideal snapshots of Gál’s stylistic development.

The first trio from 1914 is known by the name Variations on a Popular Viennese Folk Melody. It's a set of twenty-four variations with a final coda based on a tune the composer heard at a wine bar near Vienna. It's an imaginative, impeccably constructed and immediately appealing work that's a harbinger of the elegant chamber music that would follow. About halfway through [track-4, beginning at 03:29] Gál cleverly introduces references to the old Viennese folk song O, du lieber Augustin in the accompaniment for the seventeenth variation.

The second trio (1924) is in three movements and much more advanced than the first. It opens with what might best be described as a leisurely chromatic reverie, which occasionally borders on the impressionistic. A somewhat grotesque scherzo-like movement with a gorgeous trio section follows. The finale is a tripartite, polyrhythmic, chromatically fickle affair with manic depressive tendencies that ultimately ends in a state of euphoria.

With the economy of expression so frequently found in later works of great composers, the last trio (1949) is the most sophisticated work here. The opening movement is a relaxing melodic stroll through the park with possible folk associations. The petit pastoral that follows conjures up images of some itinerant musician with a mandolin serenading a local damsel. The closing "Marche Burlesque" is a whimsical parade of toy soldiers that concludes this charming musical flight of fancy somewhere in never-never land.

Pianist Doris Adam, violinist Karin Adam and cellist Christoph Stradner play these rarely heard gems to perfection. Their assured but light touch, and overriding attention to detail bring out all the subtleties of these finely honed scores. This is further helped by superb recordings where the soundstage and balance between the soloists are ideal. All three instruments are completely natural sounding over the entire frequency spectrum, making this a demonstration quality chamber music disc. Those liking this CD may want to explore Gál's string quartets (see the newsletter of 7 May 2006).

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y081213)


The album cover may not always appear.
Gaubert. P.: Sym in F; Chants de la Mer, Concert in F; Soustrot/Lux PO [Timpani]
In his day French composer Philippe Gaubert (1879-1941) was best known as a great flutist, conductor and teacher. But this wonderful disc of discovery from Timpani proves beyond a doubt that he was also an extremely talented composer. If you like the orchestral music of Gabriel Pierné (1863-1937, see the newsletters of 15 July 2006 and 11 July 2007) and Guy Ropartz (1864-1955, see the newsletters of 23 February 2006 and 31 August 2006), you're going to love the selections on this release. You'll also detect elements of Albert Roussel (1869-1937) and Florent Schmitt (1870-1958, see the newsletter of 25 July 2007).

The feature attraction here is Gaubert's Symphony in F. Written in 1935-36, the album notes describe it as one of the greatest French symphonies of its time, and when you hear it you'll probably agree! In four movements, the first gradually emerges from an impressionistic mist, and then bursts forth into a couple of memorable Gallic sounding melodies. These undergo a rather Chausson-like development, and the movement ends in a thrilling coda.

Granted the following adagio and scherzo owe a debt to Debussy (1862-1918) and Lalo (1823-1892) respectively, but there's a harmonic adventurousness that's all Gaubert. The finale is magnificent with an emotional density and baroque patina worthy of Albéric Magnard (1865-1914). Here a dirge-like introduction eventually blossoms into a beatific choral, ending this symphonic treasure in a state of divine grace.

Les Chants de la Mer completed in 1929 is a series of three symphonic seascapes. The first begins with a quote from Debussy's La Mer (1903-05), and then becomes a vaporous swirl of melodic color. The skittish second part has an angularity about it reminiscent of d'Indy. The last seascape is a unique Gaubert creation. It's a gorgeous tone painting where patches of brilliant melodic sunshine reflect off the rippling surface of an otherwise wine dark sea.

Filling out this CD, there's the 1932 Concert in F, which is an engaging three part suite. It opens lethargically with hints of Fauré (1845-1924), but suddenly springs to life, as the first movement ends all atwitter. A lovely slow section mostly for strings is next, and then the work concludes with an animated will-o'-the-wisp finale that's probably best described as a toccata rondo. Although there are hints of d'Indy, Gaubert really comes into his own here, generating a sound-world quite unlike any other.

The Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra under Marc Soustrot play everything with great panache, and Timpani is to be commended for giving us these outstanding current-day studio performances of this rare repertoire. The sonics are for the most part good and generate an impressive soundstage. However, the disc is cut at quite a high level, so the violins are on occasion a bit brittle in forte passages. But this is a minor quibble, considering the importance of the music on this release.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P081212)



The album cover may not always appear.
Menotti: Amahl & the Night Visitors, My Christmas; Soloists/Willis/Chic SC/Nashv SC&O [Naxos]
At long last here's a modern day recording of Amahl and the Night Visitors! American composer Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007) created a Christmas classic when he wrote this endearing little one-act opera for the NBC Television Network back in 1951. Inspired by Hieronymus Bosch's painting The Adoration of the Magi, the story is about a poverty-stricken mother and her crippled son Amahl who are visited by the Three Kings on their way to worship the Christ child. They tell her of their gifts for the babe, including gold, which the mother later tries to steal, only to be caught by the kings' page. But the kings take pity on her, telling her to keep it, and Amahl offers his crutch as a gift in its place. A miracle then occurs when Amahl suddenly discovers he can walk. The opera ends as he goes off with the kings to offer thanks to the baby Jesus.

Menotti's sentimental, but affecting libretto, exquisite melodies and sincere, straightforward approach to this work certainly explain its past popularity. They also undoubtedly assure it will remain a Christmas favorite of young and old alike for years to come. Highlights include a lovely opening pastoral prelude followed by an amusing exchange between mother and child. In it she chides him for lying when he tells her about a miraculous star in the sky and the arrival of the kings.

Then there's a delightful, mini-aria by King Kaspar who has a parrot and carries a curious box that piques Amahl's curiosity. The ensemble piece "Have you seen a child" (mother and kings) and a cappella shepherd's chorus "Emily! Emily!" along with the exotic dance that follows, find Menotti at his best. The emotionally powerful miracle scene where Amahl walks is admittedly more dramatic when seen as well as heard on DVD. But with music this great, the CD is almost as effective.

As a bonus Naxos has included Menotti’s little known My Christmas, dating from 1987. It's an appealing piece for chorus and chamber ensemble featuring flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, harp and double bass. With words also by Gian Carlo, it sounds somewhat impressionistic [track-28, beginning at 08:44], and you'll find it a welcome relief from the usual holiday musical fare.

Boy soprano Ike Hawkersmith sings the role of Amahl to perfection with a childlike innocence that includes an endearing hint of mischievousness. Kirsten Gunlogson is ideal as the mother, and tenor Dean Anthony, baritone Todd Thomas and bass-baritone Kevin Short are very convincing kings with an admirable assist from baritone Bart LeFran as their page. Conductor Alastair Willis conjures up sterling support for the soloists from members of the Chicago and Nashville Symphony Choruses and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.

The recordings are generally good with a generous, but well focused soundstage, which assures the words are perfectly understandable. This is important because no texts are included with the album notes. While the orchestral sound is superb, some may notice a slight edge to the voices, but not to a degree that detracts from this outstanding holiday offering.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P081211)