CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
(CLOFO)
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS



29 SEPTEMBER 2009

CROCKS NEWSLETTER

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.
Buxtehude: Org Wks Cpte V3 (mean-tone temp); Davidsson/NGerBar Org, Göteborg, Sweden [Loft]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (3 CDs)
Here's the third and final installment in Loft's stunning survey of North German composer Dietrich Buxtehude's (1637-1707) extant organ music. Like the first two volumes (see the newsletters of 1 March and 17 November 2007), Hans Davidsson is once more at the console of the North German Baroque Organ located in Göteborg (Gothenburg), Sweden.

As noted before, this is a mean-tone tuned instrument producing pure major thirds. These can add a varying degree of harmonic pepper, called "wolf tones," to whatever's being played, depending on the key it's in (see the album notes and/or click here for more details). Such tuning was generally the rule in Buxtehude's day, and it's probably the way you would have heard his music had you been a parishioner at the prestigious St. Mary's Church in Lübeck, Germany, where he was organist.

The first disc begins with a prelude (BuxWV 143) which has a whole pack of those "wolves" mentioned above [track-1, beginning at 00:53]. Another prelude (BuxWV 162), a canzona (BuxWV 173), courant with eight variations (BuxWV 245) and sprightly canzonetta (BuxWV 225) follow. They're interspersed with fourteen preludes based on chorale tunes (BuxWV 185, 190, 193, 198, 201, 202, 206, 213, 214, 215, 220, 221, 222 and 224) that will remind you of J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) Orgelbüchlein (BWV 599-644). In it Bach, who journeyed some three hundred miles to experience Buxtehude's music-making firsthand, uses three of the same chorales (BWV 609, 623 and 626).

The second CD offers thirteen selections related to Christmas. It opens with a catchy prelude (BuxWV 145) containing a bouncy seven note motif that's repeated over and over. It may bring to mind the beginning of the fugue from Johann Sebastian's Toccata, Adagio and Fugue (BWV 564). Other highlights include a cleverly disguised version of "In dulci jubilo" (BuxWV 197), and a dynamic toccata (BuxWV 156) with some earthshaking pedal work in addition to a strange stop reminiscent of chirping birds [track-5, beginning at 06:29]. Then there are four Magnificats (BuxWV 203, 204, 205 and 205b), which end this disc joyfully as befits the birth of the Redeemer.

The nine selections on the third CD find the composer at the height of his contrapuntal powers. These include the same prelude (BuxWV 146) first played in the key of g [track-1], and then f-sharp [track-6]. Note the abundance of "wolves" (see above) in the latter, resulting from it’s being in a key that’s more problematic for mean-tone tuned organs. But either way it’s an imposing, highly involving edifice with that sense of improvisational spontaneity which makes Dietrich's music so appealing, and shows off this incredible instrument to great advantage!

The three fantasias built around chorales that follow (BuxWV 76/1, 194 and 195) are as intricately structured as a fine timepiece, and proceed at an appropriately measured pace. A soprano and bass alternately sing the stanzas of the middle one [track-4] to an appropriately reverential accompaniment on the organ.

Two more vocal selections, this time for soprano only, fill out the disc. The first of these [track-8] is the lovely "Klaglied" (BuxWV 76/2). The second [track-9] is an eighteen-minute piece (BuxWV 210) that might best be described as a chorale fantasia with variations. In it the singer intones lines from the subject chorale, each of which is followed by a different commentary on the organ.

As in his two previous albums (see above), the highly versatile and talented Hans Davidsson gives us some of the most colorful Baroque music that ever emanated from an organ pipe. As a matter of fact, after you've heard this album, Buxtehude comes off sounding rather drab on a conventionally tuned instrument! Soprano Anna Jobrandt and bass Jan Börjesson are in fine voice for the vocal selections.

As far as Baroque music is concerned, organs don't get any better than this one! That’s because it’s a modern day synthesis of the finest North German Baroque instruments from such builders as the great Arp Schnitger. Also it's housed in an ideal venue, the Örgryte New Church in Göteborg.

The pipework was modeled after the Schnitger organ in St. Jacobi Church, Hamburg, Germany, whose pipes are originals that miraculously survived the Second World War. The resplendent organ case is a reconstruction of the one that once housed Schnitger’s instrument in Lübeck Cathedral, Germany (installed in 1699, and destroyed by an Allied firebombing in 1942). Quite honestly you'll just have to hear it to believe what an exceptional instrument it is!

Like the previous two volumes, this is one of the best sounding recordings of "The Pope of Instruments" to come along in some time. It utilizes Erik Sikkema's ULSI recording methodology, which is a church space counterpart of Ray Kimber's IsoMike (see the newsletter of 7 February 2007). Accordingly, audiophiles who love organ music must have this release!

Those desiring more detailed information about what’s included on the third and final volume can find it at the beautifully appointed Gothic Web Site by clicking here. Incidentally, Gothic is offering all three volumes at a very special price.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y090929)

- AVAILABILITY -
ArkivMusic.com hbdirect.com


The album cover may not always appear.
Delius: Hiawatha, Vn & Orch Ste, Dbl Conc (arr vn & va), etc; Soloists/Lloyd-Jones/BBCCon O [Dutton]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
All romantics are going to want this exceptional release from Dutton containing five indispensable orchestral curiosities by English composer Frederick Delius (1862-1934). One of them is a world premičre recording of the early tone poem Hiawatha in a performing version by Delius authority Robert Threllfall. Like the ever popular Florida Suite, it was written in Leipzig, Germany about 1888 just after the composer returned from a two-year stay in the United States.

Inspired by his American experiences and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's (1807-1882) poem of the same name, Hiawatha is a significant discovery, and one can only wonder why Delius never finished it (see Mr. Threlfall's album notes for more details). Do you suppose the scale and popularity with English audiences of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's (1875-1912, see the newsletters of 30 September 2006, 20 June 2007, 30 October 2007 and 15 April 2008) extensive cantata The Song of Hiawatha (1898-1900) might have made Delius feel his effort was comparatively insignificant and not worth completing?

Lasting almost twenty minutes and in two sections, it begins tranquillo with some of that nature music Fred conjured up so well. One can imagine the sounds of early morning songbirds, and warm rays of the rising sun dancing about on the forest floor. The composer gives us a couple of his most gorgeous youthful themes, one of which he liked well enough to reuse in Paris – The Song of a Great City (1899-1900).

The concluding allegretto follows immediately with a frenzied dance reminiscent of the one in the Florida Suite. The cavorting then suddenly stops, and an arboreal calm like that which characterized the opening returns with a lovely oboe solo. Gradually the mood becomes more anxiety-ridden, but brightens as the "Paris" theme reappears, ending the poem quietly and maybe with loving memories of Minnehaha!

Also dating from 1888, the suite for violin and orchestra that's next is another rarity, this being the only version currently available on disc. In four movements it opens with a drop-dead "pastorale" and an infectious, feather light "intermezzo." The charming "elegie" that follows has those winsome rising phrases so typical of the composer. It provides a dramatic contrast to the mercurial finale, which would seem to owe a debt to Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). Chances are you'll find yourself playing this over and over!

Moving right along we have the Légende for Violin and Orchestra of 1895. While there's another version with just piano accompaniment, this makes for richer listening, and is the only extant modern day recording of it in expanded form. More harmonically adventurous than what we've heard so far, it's a luxuriant rhapsody that's instantly identifiable as Delius.

The Double Concerto dating from 1915 and originally for violin and cello (not currently available), appears here for the first time on disc in a stunning arrangement for violin and viola by the great Lionel Tertis (1876-1975). This is one of Frederick's most ravishing creations, and if anything the amatory tones of the viola make it even more so!

In three connected movements it opens quietly, and then the soloists spin out a sumptuous extended melody (EM) that's subjected to a series of spellbinding harmonic transformations. As the pace slackens the viola introduces the slow movement, which is a heart-rending study in melancholia worthy of the silver screen -- Max Steiner roll over! Towards the end a jogging theme in the orchestra introduces the finale where the soloists once again take up EM. Delius fashions this into a dramatic climax, which for many of us remains unsurpassed in any of his music!

Concluding this release, and also making it's first appearance on disc, we have an arrangement for viola and orchestra of the 1930 Caprice and Elegy for cello and piano. The original was dictated by the blind and paralyzed composer to his amanuensis Eric Fenby (1906-1997), who then used the "Serenade" from the incidental music for Hassan as a model for a version with cello and orchestra. Some years later, it was Lionel Tertis again who made the transcription for viola. Caprice with its nonchalant descending harp motif is as light and fickle as a summer breeze, while Elegy seems a fitting epilogue to this exceptional collection of Delian delights.

The extraordinarily talented British conductor David Lloyd-Jones gets another gold star for the magnificent performances he elicits from the BBC Concert Orchestra. And in the concertante pieces, he's well-served by violinist Philippe Graffin and violist Sarah-Jane Bradley. Their playing is characterized by a sensitivity, sometimes to the point of understatement, and purity of tone which distinguish great from everyday Delius performances.

Those symphonic rivers of sound Delius could create are evident here, and beautifully captured by the Dutton audio engineers. Recorded in the warm acoustic of the Colosseum Town Hall in Watford, England, the soundstage is ideally proportioned. The orchestral timbre is totally natural, and the strings are silky smooth with the soloists perfectly highlighted. Those wanting a demonstration disc will have to turn to the likes of Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908, see the newsletter of 30 August 2007), but those desirous of a memorable listening experience need look no further than this!

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y090928)

- AVAILABILITY -
ArkivMusic.com hbdirect.com


The album cover may not always appear.
Gade, N., Lange-Müller, Langgaard, R.: Vn Concs; Astrand/Storgards/Tamp PO [Dacapo (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE (1 SACD)
Although some critics may feel these three romantic Danish violin concertos are second tier works, most listeners will find they have much to offer! What's more the performances and sound on this new hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0) Dacapo release are vastly superior to any other versions currently available.

Mention the name Niels Gade (1817-1890) and most folks immediately think of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), whose music he championed as conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. But with eight symphonies to his credit, Niels was in his own right Denmark's first great romantic composer
.
On the whole his three-movement violin concerto of 1880 certainly ranks with some of the best in the romantic literature, and it's surprising that it's never entered the standard repertoire. Maybe that's because some past critics have felt the final two movements didn't live up to the first. Granted the beautifully crafted opening allegro with its engaging thematic material and brilliant solo work is a hard act to follow. However, you'll find that with a couple of hearings the delicate heartfelt romanze and perky rondo scherzando that end the concerto are perfectly acceptable, making it a very enjoyable listen.

Although he's best remembered as a vocal composer with a number of stage works to his credit, Peter Erasmus Lange-Müller (1850-1926) also wrote a number of instrumental pieces. His two symphonies testify to that, but most would probably agree his crowning symphonic achievement is the violin concerto of 1902. In three movements, it's more of a tripartite rhapsody than a formal concerto for a couple of reasons. First, the emphasis is on thematic invention rather than formal development, and the composer proves right from the start what a gifted melodist he was with a gorgeous opening idea. Second, displays of virtuosity are at a bare minimum. As performed here in its original version, there aren't even any cadenzas, although there have been times in the past when some soloists inserted their own.

The second movement is notable for a series of pastoral tunes that fall easily on the ear, and recall Delius (1862-1934, see the recommendation above) in one of his more Scandinavian moods. The final allegro begins with a delightfully childlike theme that may bring to mind the "Galop" from Bizet's (1838-1875) Jeux d'enfants (1871). This is offset by some more serious passages underscored with pizzicato string work [track-6, beginning at 03:25] that smacks of the last movement from Brahms' (1833-1897) fourth symphony (1884-5). The Bizet-like tune then returns, and the concerto ends in a state of youthful exuberance.

The disc is filled out with one of the most atypical violin concertos on record. But what else would you expect from that late romantic Danish eccentric Rued Langgaard (1893-1952, see the newsletters of 7 February 2007, 11 July 2007, 16 June 2008 and 9 September 2009)! It's a very late work (1943-44) that's in a single movement lasting only about ten minutes. What's more, the violinist shares the spotlight with a pianist who plays a colorful obbligato role. There's a structural informality and chamber-like clarity about it that many listeners may find remind them of Percy Grainger's (1882-1961) "rambles." And that's not meant in a pejorative sense because like Percy's music, it's totally charming and you'll only wish it were longer!

A master of modern repertoire, violinist Christina Astrand shows she's equally at home with these romantic concertos. Superb tone and sensitive, articulate playing characterize her performances in all three. Conductor John Storgards and the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra rank among Finland's best, and couldn't be more supportive. Pianist Ville Hautala also gets a round of applause for his nimble finger work in the Langgaard.

The sonics are terrific in all playback modes! The stereo CD and SACD tracks produce a convincing soundstage in the inviting venue of the Tampere Concert Hall. The multichannel track places you about a third of the way back in the orchestra, and surrounds you with some of the most lush sound you could ever want, but without any loss of clarity. The violin sound is silky, particularly on the SACD track, and the orchestral timbre, totally natural with an ideal balance maintained between the soloist and tutti. There are a couple of "Bernstein Bounces" from Maestro Storgards, but better that and thrilling performances than quiescent vapidity.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y090927)

- AVAILABILITY -
ArkivMusic.com ClassicsOnline.com hbdirect.com


The album cover may not always appear. The album cover may not always appear. The album cover may not always appear.
Janácek: Opera Stes V3 (Cunning Little Vixen, From the House…, arr Breiner); Breiner/NZ SO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Janácek: Opera Stes V2 (Kát'a Kabanová, Makropulos Affair, arr Breiner); Breiner/NZ SO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Janácek: Opera Stes V1 (Jenufa, Excursions of Mr. Boucek, arr Breiner);
Breiner/NZ SO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
When it comes to operas, except for stand-alones like overtures, preludes, entr'actes and ballets, it seems that some composers find writing for the orchestra a rather perfunctory task done simply to support the soloists. That's not the case with Czech composer Leos Janácek (1854-1928) whose orchestral accompaniments comment even further on the speech rhythms and folk-inflected motifs ever present in his vocal lines. Consequently his operas have motivated a number of modern day conductors and composers to extract orchestral suites from them.

Our conductor here, Slovak-born Peter Breiner (b. 1957), tries his hand at it in this series of three CDs containing suites drawn from Leos' six major operas. Lasting between thirty to forty minutes each, Breiner successfully captures the composer's unique sound world, and includes more material from the parent operas than most of the other suites currently available on disc. Consequently all Janácek enthusiasts will want these whether they have other versions or not -- particularly at Naxos prices!

Volume three in the series begins with a suite from The Cunning Little Vixen (1924), which was inspired by a series of stories that appeared in a Brno newspaper back in 1920. For many this remains Janácek's most endearing opera. While on the surface there's a childlike simplicity about it, a fundamentally profound message asserting nature's unending cycle of birth and death lies underneath. Maestro Breiner's six-part suite comes across as such a convincing stand-alone symphonic work that it would be easy to believe the opera was a later elaboration of it. Highlights include an infectious "Blue Dragonfly" opening movement [track-1], a captivating Moravian folk-filled "Wedding" scene [track-4] and a "Vixen is Running" finale [tack-6] utilizing some of Janácek’s most powerful music.

The companion suite, From the House of the Dead (1927-28), symphonically encapsulates Leos' most succinct and arguably finest opera. It's based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky's (1821-1881) fictionalized account (1862) of the time he spent in a Siberian prison camp. Due to the very nature of the opera, Breiner's six part suite doesn't have the melodic sweep of what we just heard. Instead there are repeated fragmentary motifs that in some ways anticipate minimalism, but not to an extent where "Glassophobes" would find it unlistenable.

The opening overture [track-7] with its insistent driving introductory theme is hypnotic. The "Holiday is Coming" section [track-9] is a fascinating juxtaposition of swaying liturgical passages replete with chimes, and boisterous bass drum-spiked dance episodes. There's what could even pass as a tiny tone poem in the form of "The Play and the Pantomime" movement [track-11], which harkens back to the Sinfonietta (1926) and much earlier Taras Bulba (1915-18) . A blazing finale entitled "Jesus, God's Prophet" [track-12] ends the suite enigmatically with optimistic brass fanfares squelched by pessimistic thunderations from the orchestra.

The first selection on volume two is a five-movement suite from Kát'a Kabanová (1921), which is based on Russian dramatist Aleksandr Ostrovsky's (1823-1886) The Storm (1859). Apparently it was Janácek's love for Puccini's (1858-1924) Madama Butterfly (1904) that was a key motivating factor in his writing this heart-rending opera about an ill-fated provincial belle.

At the very beginning of the overture [track-1] eight strokes on the timpani serve as a fate motif (FM), anticipating the tragic tale to come. The "Intermezzo and Songs" section [track-4] contains some lovely melodies undoubtedly derived from Moravian folk sources, and concludes rapturously with some of the composer's most amorous music. The finale, "The Storm is coming" [track-5], opens dramatically with FM repeated over and over again, and takes on the aspect of a miniature tone poem. There’s a subdued romantic central section, but FM returns and the tension builds, ending with Kát'a's demise as she jumps into the Volga river.

This disc is filled out with a six-movement suite from The Makropulos Affair. Completed in 1925, the opera is based on a 1922 play by Karel Capek (1890-1938). It's about a young woman named Elina Makropulos (E.M.) who back in the late 1500s drank a life-extending potion devised by her physician father. It's kept her young and beautiful for three hundred and thirty seven years, which takes us up to the time of the opera. During her almost vampire-like existence she's had a variety of names as well as many lovers, and she's now an opera singer called Emilia Marty (E.M. again).

The opening two sections of the suite, "Death was touching me" [track-6] and "The Gregor Prus Case" [track-7], are notable for a couple of strange glissandi and more of those explosive timpani strokes Leos loved so well. The second section is drawn from the opera's overture, which anticipates the Sinfonietta, and contains one of the composer's most engaging melodies [track-7, beginning at 01:35]. The fourth movement, "I am actually an idiot" [track-9], is spiced with some Tzigane touches recalling a time when Elina was known as the gypsy Eugenia Montez (E.M. once again). The stunning finale, "So?" [track-11], where Elina ultimately triumphs over her desire for eternal life by refusing to take any more of the potion, is a real tearjerker.

It seems appropriate volume one should begin with a suite from Jenufa (1904), which put Janácek on the operatic map. The folk music of Moravia is some of the most gorgeous in the western world, and it's melodies and speech rhythms are the lifeblood of this stage work. It's based on a tragic drama about peasant life by Czech playwright Gabriela Preissová (1862-1946).

The opening, "Night is already falling" [track-1], is anxiety-ridden and spooked by ossified notes repeated on the xylophone. Two folk highpoints include a wild dance that breaks out in the second part "All are getting married -- Every couple must get over its problems" [track-2], and the melody to a fabulous wedding song ("Ej, mamko, mamko" or "Oh mother, mother") that appears in the fifth movement, "May God grant you a good day" [track-5]. The last part, "They've all left -- Now you leave too!" [track-6], builds via a spellbinding undulant theme to an overwhelming climax guaranteed to melt the iciest of hearts.

The Excursions of Mr. Broucek (1908-17) is the subject of the concluding five-part suite on this disc. The opera is based on a couple of satirical novels by Czech writer Svatopluk Cech (1846-1908). In two parts, the central character is a bumbling besotted landlord named Matej Broucek who takes a trip to the moon in the first half of this farce, and is then transported back to the fifteenth century in the second. Most of the suite is drawn from his lunar excursion, with only the concluding movement derived from his visit to Renaissance times.

With an emphasis on extended melodies, the music here is less folkie than in Leos’ other operas. The two opening movements, "I, Matej Broucek" [track-7] and "There is the Moon" [track-8], open the suite in lyrical fashion with a minimum of those quirky rhythmic passages so typical of the composer. The third section, "Waltzes and Other Dances" [track-9], is about as folkish as the suite ever gets, but the predominance of waltz episodes will bring Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) Der Rosenkavalier (1911) to mind. The finale, "Those who are the warriors of God" [track-11], sounds more like the composer, and contains a bit of Czech nationalism in the form of a reference to the same Hussite hymn Smetana (1824-1884) quotes in Ma Vlast (1872-79) [track-11, beginning at 01:23]. It ends the suite triumphantly, and brings this CD to a memorable conclusion.

With the arranger conducting, all of these performances by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra are totally committed and even passionate where appropriate. In the process the musicians from down under certainly prove themselves a class act! Some may find a couple of Maestro Breiner's tempos a little slow, but in the context of these suites they seem to work.

All three albums were recorded between May and August of 2007 at Wellington Town Hall and produced by the same personnel, so it's not surprising that the sonics are uniformly demonstration quality. The soundstage is perfectly proportioned with enough intimacy for instrumental detail, but at the same time sufficient space for this intricate music to breathe.

The orchestral timbre remains natural over the extended frequency and dynamic range engendered by Janácek's brilliant instrumentation. Tinkling bells, triangles and tambourines will tweak your tweeters. While at the other end of the audio spectrum, timpani and bass drum profundities will plumb the depths of your woofers. Audiophiles take note!

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y090926, Y090925, Y090924)

- AVAILABILITY -
ArkivMusic.com ClassicsOnline.com hbdirect.com
ArkivMusic.com ClassicsOnline.com hbdirect.com
ArkivMusic.com ClassicsOnline.com hbdirect.com


The album cover may not always appear.
Welcher: Stg Qts 1, 2 "Harbor Music" & 3 "Cassatt"; Cassatt Qt [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Three years ago we lauded the Manhattan-based Cassatt String Quartet (see the newsletter of 9 March 2006), and this exceptional release gives us cause to do so again! Named after American impressionist painter Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), this ensemble has been instrumental in promoting some of the finest chamber music being written today. The three string quartets of American composer Dan Welcher (b. 1948) featured on this CD most assuredly fit into that category.

The program starts with his third composed in 2007-08 subtitled "Cassatt." Dedicated to our performers here, its three movements were inspired by an early, middle and late period painting of the artist. All are connected by a common key schema derived from her name, and begin with a variant of what the composer calls "Mary's Theme." After a melancholy introduction the "early period" movement, "The Bacchante" (1876), becomes agitated, and in the spirit of the painting takes on a Latin temperament similar to that frequently found in the music of Ravel (1875-1937) and Falla (1876-1946)

The "middle period" movement, "At the Opera" (1878), begins in twitchy fashion, and may remind some of the first movement from Shostakovich's (1906-1975) fifteenth symphony (1971). But not for long as the tune for "The Soldier's Chorus" from Gounod's (1818-1893) Faust (1859) enters on little cat feet, introducing a meditative central episode. More quotes from Faust follow, and then a brief hyperactive outburst, after which the movement ends uneventfully.

The concluding "late period" selection, "Young Woman in Green, Outdoors in the Sun" (1909), is the most romantic part of the work. Melodically as well as harmonically lush, it's based on three themes, which according to the composer represent the "Young Woman," "Green" and "Sunlight." They're first stated in a straightforward manner, and then in a more impressionistic setting. There are also references to Debussy's (1862-1918) song "Green" from his Ariettes Oubliées (1903). Be sure to read the composer's album notes for a better understanding of this quartet.

The single movement second quartet dates from 1992 and is subtitled "Harbor Music." The idea for it came to the composer after he visited Sydney, Australia, which encircles one of the world's busiest harbors. A fetching ocean motion piece characterizing the goings and comings of all those ferry boats in Sydney Harbor, it's bitonally spiced and somewhat neoclassical in spirit. Welcher describes it as a "loose rondo" in his informative notes, where you'll find more particulars.

Completed in 1988, the first quartet is in four movements and might best be described as a series of moodscapes. The opening movement easily lives up to its subtitle "Harsh, angry" with the cello defending itself against entomological attacks from the violins and viola. The next part, "Lonely," builds to an anguished climax followed by mournful passages that end things despairingly. A diabolical scherzo is next, giving all four performers a chance to strut their stuff. There's a Paradise Lost sense of abandonment about the opening of the finale, but rays of hope begin to break through in the animated passages that follow. References to previous themes are then tossed about in a contrapuntal blender, and the quartet ends with a triumphantly defiant coda.

These knotty, moody scores are full of special string effects that make considerable technical as well as interpretive demands on any who would perform them. The Cassatt Quartet meets these challenges head-on! Their impeccable intonation as well as attention to detail and dynamics are only surpassed by what must be an inherent gut feeling for this music.

Although a year separates the recordings of the first two quartets (2007) and the third (2008), producer-engineer Judith Sherman gives us consistently excellent sonics. With a soundstage that's somewhat forward and in the articulate acoustic of New York City's American Academy of Arts and Letters, it seems she opted for clarity and focus rather than expansiveness. Considering the complexity of these scores, that was a wise choice, particularly since the string tone remains totally convincing despite any closeness. Audiophiles as well as late-romantic/early-modern chamber music enthusiasts will find this disc worth having.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y090923)

- AVAILABILITY -
ArkivMusic.com ClassicsOnline.com hbdirect.com


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