CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
23 FEBRUARY 2011
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.
Bainton, E.: Paracelsus, Pompilia, Prometheus (w Boughton); Yates/RScotNa O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
British-born and educated composers Edgar Bainton (1880-1956) and Rutland Boughton (1878-1960) make a welcome reappearance here (see the newsletters of 25 July 2007 and 15 May 2008). Both students of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (see the newsletter of 20 September 2006), they always remained close friends even though Bainton was interned in a German prison camp during World War I (1914-18), and emigrated to Australia in 1934.
This new Dutton release gives us world premičre recordings of six youthful symphonic poems, three by each composer. The first of these to be written were Boughton's A Summer Night (1899, revised 1903) [track-3], soon followed by his Troilus & Cressida (1902) [track-2]. The earlier score is prefaced with some of Lorenzo's lines from Shakespeare's (c. 1564-1616) The Merchant of Venice (1596-98) where he mentions Troilus and Cressida, so both pieces are musical characterizations involving these Trojan lovers.
The former one is an amorous rhapsody featuring one of the best big tunes Rutland ever came up with, while the later work is an emotionally turbulent tone poem worthy of Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). Incidentally, a bit of mystery surrounds the latter. Boughton changed the name to Thou & I soon after writing it, seemingly indicating some autobiographical significance. But it must have been too personal, because he then withdrew the score, and it wouldn't be heard again until this recording!
The next two pieces to appear, Bainton's Pompilia (1903) [track-5] and Paracelsus (1904, revised 1913) [track-4] were inspired by poems of Robert Browning (1812-1889). Both are brilliantly orchestrated romantic essays with the former based on the events surrounding the unjust murder of a beautiful seventeenth century Italian countess. There are places where Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini (1876) may come to mind. But unlike that, the ending here is restrained, and a moving remembrance of Pompilia.
The renowned philosopher-scientist Paracelsus (1493-1541) is the subject of the later piece. The music is alternately strife-torn and melodically confident with a peaceful, optimistic conclusion suggesting his many accomplishments for mankind.
The remaining selections, Boughton's Love and Spring [track-1] and Bainton's Prometheus [track-6], were completed in 1906 and 1909 respectively. Prefacing his score with a vernal excerpt from The Song of Songs (aka The Song of Solomon), Boughton gives us a thrilling symphonic paean to the season of rebirth that includes some avian twitters lifted from Beethoven's (1770-1827) Pastoral Symphony (No. 6, 1808). Lyrically bubbling over with the joy and optimism associated with spring, this shimmering selection is guaranteed to sweep you off you feet!
Bainton’s piece returns to the world of English poetry, taking its inspiration from Shelley's (1792-1822) Prometheus Unbound (1818-20). The most chromatically fickle work here, the anguished opening theme (AO) paints a picture of the chained Prometheus and his suffering. But a brief outburst from the brass [track-6, beginning at 00:57], which could almost be from Liszt's (1811-1886) tone poem of the same name (1850, revised 1855 and orchestrated by Raff -- see the newsletter of 26 January 2011), represents our hero's defiance of the Gods. This will reappear in a variety of guises, acting as a unifying motif throughout the piece.
The development section that follows is an inspired musical representation of Prometheus' struggles to overcome his adversities. In Shelley's version of the myth, he ultimately does to a magnificent Bainton big tune [track-6, beginning at 10:50], that even rivals the one Elgar (1857-1934) came up with eight years earlier for the first of his Pomp and Circumstance Marches (1901, see the newsletter of 15 March 2008). If you listen carefully, you'll discover it's a heroic variant of AO, and apparently meant to signify the restoration of love and brotherhood on earth.
As on the Dutton disc we told you about last time (see the newsletter of 26 January 2011), conductor Martin Yates and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra play up a storm, delivering performances that must be considered definitive. They bring out all the Sturm und Drang of these compelling scores from two romantic British composers deserving much wider recognition.
The recordings, which were also done at the RSNO Center, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, present a broad soundstage, but it sounds shallower than on the CD mentioned above. This may well be due to the scoring rather than the microphone setup, but either way the orchestral timbre is more brittle than before. While this does add clarity to these colorfully layered scores, listeners having tone controls may feel the need to twiddle them.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110223)
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Enna: Sym 2, Fairy Tale Sym Pics (4), Hans Christian Andersen Fest Ov; Hofstetter/HanNDR RP [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Danish composer August Enna (1859-1939) had a great love for Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) and his world of fairy tales. So it's not surprising to find August was for the most part an opera composer with twenty-five of them to his credit (see the newsletter of 15 February 2008), many based on Andersen's stories. However, he also dabbled in purely orchestral fare, three examples of which make their recording debuts on this new release from CPO. But even here you'll find the influence of Andersen in two of them.
The program begins with the Fairy Tale Symphonic Pictures written in 1905. With no indication from the composer as to what they might be about, they constitute an engaging four-movement suite, which could pass as a symphony.
The first tale begins with an imposing passage somewhat reminiscent of the opening measures from Schumann’s (1810-1856) piano concerto (1841-45). A couple of attractive contrasting melodic ideas are then introduced, dramatically developed, and forcefully restated in sonata form fashion.
There's a haunting introspection about the following tale, which is a winsome andante, while the next is an alternately airborne, waltzlike scherzo that's cinematically suggestive. Both leave the listener feeling Enna had some underlying Nordic Neverland in mind, and couldn't be more different from the bizarre finale.
It opens wistfully with hints of motifs from the first tale. But the scene shifts east to the world of One Thousand and One Nights as some pugnacious Janissary music (PJ) [track-4, beginning at 05:27] suddenly pops up. This fades into a gorgeously swaying lyrical episode that's soon chased away by more PJ, which turns triumphant, concluding the suite with the feeling "everyone lived happily ever after."
The Hans Christian Andersen Festival Overture is next. Also dating from 1905, it must be one of the most attractive heretofore undiscovered Danish occasional pieces to surface in a long time. Written for the centenary of Andersen's birth, it begins with the repeated, somewhat sinister three-note motif H-C-A (B-C-A in English notation), representing his initials. A beautiful lyrical idea derived from H-C-A follows, and then another fetching, more animated melody. These are cleverly developed and recapitulated with H-C-A making a couple of ff reappearances. It's also the basis for the thrilling final coda that concludes this magnificent overture.
The second of Enna's two symphonies fills out the disc, and those liking this appealing piece wanting to hear the first one will be disappointed to learn it's been lost. Completed in 1908, what we have here is in the usual four movements. It begins with a panoramic allegro featuring several memorable melodies that include an infectious timpani-accented dance-like theme (TD) [track-6, beginning at 02:08]. All of these are subjected to a development worthy of Nielsen (1865-1931). A stirring recapitulation then follows, out of which TD emerges as the big tune, ending this movement in high spirits.
The subdued andante which comes next is a dramatic heartfelt reflection that's the symphony's emotional center of gravity. A brief antsy scherzo then clears the air for the convoluted finale, where past ideas, including TD, reappear. Tragic at times and heroic at others, this builds to a hopeful climax concluding the symphony optimistically.
It would be hard to imagine more committed performances than what we have here by the Hannover NDR Radio Philharmonic under Michael Hofstetter. These musicians obviously love Enna's music, and will win many converts to it.
The disc is cut at a relatively low level, which may explain why the sonics seem occasionally compressed. But the soundstage presented is lifelike, and the instrumental timbre convincingly musical, making for recordings that are above average, but fall slightly short of demonstration quality.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110222)
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Gál, H.: Stg Qts Cpte (4), Imp, Vars & Fin on... (stg qt), 5 Intrmzos (stg qt); Edinb Qt [Meridian]
RECOMMENDED (2 CDs)
Five years ago we told you about a Meridian CD with a couple of exemplary string quartets by Austrian composer Hans Gál (1890-1987, see the newsletter of 7 May 2006). We also noted the album had "Vol I" printed on it, which we hoped meant an additional installment with the remaining two of the four he wrote would soon follow in the US.
Well here it is 2011, and they've finally showed up in this two-CD set, which also includes the earlier disc. That's good news for potential American buyers who missed out on the first volume, because they can now get all four quartets at once. But those who already have the initial CD will have to procure the second from England, where it's apparently been available singly since 2007.
Rather than rehashing the merits of the first disc, interested parties are directed to the newsletter mentioned above. As for the second, in addition to the middle quartets there’s the added bonus of Gál's early, similarly scored Five Intermezzi.
The thirteen years separating the first two quartets saw considerable changes in the composer's style. Consequently you'll find the second of 1929 has more independent part writing with an emphasis on counterpoint, as well as increasingly adventurous harmonic and structural elements. It's in five movements having rather unconventional titles, beginning with a "Preludio" built along sonata form lines, It’s notable for contrapuntal touches along with a chromaticism that occasionally approaches atonality, and a droll false recapitulation worthy of ”Papa” Haydn (1732-1809).
The next two movements are an infectious texturally chamelionic "Toccata," and lovely modally folk-flavored "Canzone." The final ones, an "Intermezzo capriccioso" and "Rondo" which follow one another without a break, are both frenetic one minute and balletic the next. The ghost of Schubert (1797-1828) lurks in the former, while the latter is a minuet of unification, reprising thematic and rhythmic ideas from previous movements. Those wanting a more detailed analysis of this intricately structured work are directed to Roger Bevan Williams' beautifully written, highly informative album notes.
In 1933 world events in conjunction with Gál's Jewish ancestry began to conspire against him. Then when the Nazis annexed Austria to the Third Reich in 1938, he was forced to flee Vienna for the safety of Britain. There he met Sir Donald Francis Tovey (1875-1940, see the recommendation below), who helped him get a position at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, where he'd live out the rest of his life.
All this undoubtedly contributed to the forty year hiatus separating the second from the third quartet of 1969. Once again in the usual four movements, it's even more sophisticated than its predecessor. The opening allegro generally adheres to sonata form with an exposition having a couple of concentrated groups of themes rather than the usual individual ones. Fortunately these are repeated, giving the listener a chance to sort out the wealth of material that’s just been presented. An intellectually driven development follows, and then a contemplative recapitulation with a final coda that ends the movement on a sorrowful note.
The delicate scherzando has a ländler-like lilt, and twinkles with those sparkles of light that frequently dot Gál's music. It's in total contrast to the highly chromatic, gorgeous cantabile, which must qualify as one of the high points in late romantic chamber music. However not being one to overdo things, Hans then concludes the work with a capricious allegretto that walks a fine line between humor and sarcasm.
The disc concludes with Gál's earliest undertaking for string quartet, the Five Intermezzi of 1914. Together they form a delightful suite where Brahms' (1833-1897) Hungarian Dances (1852-69) as well as Dvorak's (1841-1904) Slavonic counterparts (1878-86) may have been in the back of his mind. Highlights include a fetching third [track-12] with a feathery touch recalling Mendelssohn (1809-1847), and a catchy fifth [track-14] that's a contrapuntal caper which never takes itself too seriously. It ends this magnificent CD in high spirits.
As on their previous album the Edinburgh Quartet give stunning performances in recordings that sound identical to those on the first disc (see the newsletter mentioned above).
One last thought, those liking this album who've not already done so are encouraged to try some of our other Gál recommendations (see the newsletters of 18 December 2008 and 18 August 2010).
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110221)
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Matthews, D.: Ob Conc, Vn Concs 1 & 2, After Sunrise; Daniel/Graffin/Vass/Bourn SO/O Nova [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
A couple of years ago we recommended a Chandos release with symphonic music by David Matthews (b. 1943, see the newsletter of 15 April 2009). And now we're happy to do the same for this new Dutton disc featuring world premičre recordings of three concertos as well as a short orchestral piece by this talented British composer.
The program begins with his first violin concerto, which has an interesting genesis. It began life in 1980 as a single movement work with chamber orchestra that was inspired by a film based on the 1848 Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) novella White Nights, and had initially come to the composer in a dream. Then in 1982 Matthews decided to rescore it for full orchestra, and add an extensive second movement, turning it into the full-scale concerto presented here.
The opening allegro is programmatic with a number of solos for flute and clarinet as well as violin representing characters in a love triangle (see Matthews’ candid album notes for more intimate details). The music is impressionistically mesmerizing, and the movement concludes with the violin spinning out a doleful melody of remembrance over a somber orchestral accompaniment.
The final movement is affectingly raucous one minute with whoops from the brass, and restrained the next, gradually building to the point of cadenza. But to the listener's surprise, a piano bursts forth with a rising run of notes, upstaging the violinist. The latter then enters scolding the intruder, and launches into a brief romantic reverie. The mood then shifts back to that of the opening movement as the music reverberates with past memories, and the concerto concludes in a state of enigmatic exultation.
Next up, an oboe concerto dating from 1991-92, which along with the likes of the Lindberg (b. 1958) and Tiensuu (b. 1944) clarinet concertos (2002 and 2007, see the newsletter of 6 January 2011) must rank as one of the most inspired contemporary woodwind concertante works to appear in a long time. Requiring a full-sized orchestra, it's in five brief contrasting movements which, except for the first, Matthews has scored for differing subsets of instruments so as not to overpower the soloist.
The work gets underway with a spiky, immaculately orchestrated allegro that gives the oboist plenty of opportunity to show off his technical prowess. This is offset by a scherzo where the absence of brass and predominance of marimba with vibraphone create a captivating gamelan effect. A moving plaintive lament scored for oboe and strings follows.
The fourth movement is a stroke of genius! It's based on American jazz pianist Arthur "Montana" Taylor's (1903-54) Rotten Break Blues, which the composer tells us he heard on the radio, and has haunted him ever since. It will you too, particularly as scored here with the oboe doing a piquant descant over Matthews' own distinctive jazz band arrangement of Taylor's tune.
The concerto’s finale is an effervescent sonata form vivo with contrasting ideas having the Gallic nonchalance of Francis Poulenc’s (1899-1963) melodies. Occasional impressionistic chords and some timpanic reinforcement make the movement all the more colorful. The oboe along with big brother cor anglais has the last say as the concerto ends unexpectedly.
The second of Matthew's two violin concertos is scored for chamber orchestra, and was written between 1997 and 1998. In four contiguous sections, the first opens with a whimsical descending motif for the orchestra followed by the violin stating the rhapsodic main theme. This is reiterated by the flute, and undergoes a brief development terminating in a cadenza.
A brilliantly orchestrated, scherzoesque section follows immediately, only to end abruptly. After a momentary pause a languid lento begins. The composer tells us the avian twitters present mimic bird songs he heard while working on the concerto at fellow composer Peter Sculthorpe's (b. 1929) house in Sydney, Australia.
They end in a series of prolonged notes, which segue directly into the final vivo. At first animated with challenging bravura passages for the soloist, the mood soon turns lyrically rapturous as the violin followed by the orchestra spin out an amorous canto. Here ideas heard at the concerto's outset are further developed, but the violin eventually tires of this, putting an end to the concerto with a petulant downward flourish.
The disc is filled out with a gorgeous short orchestral piece, After Sunrise (2000-01), which was also written at Sculthorpe's home and includes more bird calls. Following a slow-fast-slow schema, it's easy to imagine it as a musical memento of a summer day in the country. Nature appears to dominate the beginning and ending, which seem bathed in the orange glow of sunrise and sunset respectively, while the dancelike inner section brings more worldly pursuits to mind.
Violinist Philippe Graffin has a reputation for introducing audiences to unknown repertoire deserving wider attention, and the two violin concertos he champions on this release definitely fall into that category. A virtuoso who has the measure of Matthews' highly original scores, he gives memorable performances of both. This can also be said of oboist Nicholas Daniel in regard to the other concerto.
Conductor George Vass provides the soloists with exemplary orchestral support, as well as giving us a stirring account of After Sunrise. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is featured in everything except the second violin concerto, where we're lucky to have the up-and-coming Orchestra Nova.
Although made at two different locations, the recordings are quite consistent, with wide soundstages in reverberant venues that will appeal to those liking wetter sonics. The balance between the soloists and orchestra is ideal with Graffin and Daniel placed left of center stage. The instrumental timbre is good except for some high frequency edginess in more effusive passages.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110220)
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Pfitzner: Orch Songs (18); Begemann/Tausk/NWGer P [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
A contemporary of Richard Strauss (1864-1949), German composer Hans Pfitzner (1869-1949) also wrote many songs, but in a late romantic style which might best be described as more intellectually retiring than that of his illustrious compatriot. Five of these were originally with orchestra, while another twenty-five were later rescored for it from versions with piano accompaniment. This invaluable new release from CPO gives us all of the former (indicted by an "O" after their titles) plus thirteen of the expanded ones magnificently sung by baritone Hans Christoph Begemann.
The disc begins with "Die Heinzelmännchen" ("The Brownies," O) written in 1902-03. Brilliantly orchestrated, this Munchkin frolic finds Pfitzner in one of his lighter moods (see the album notes for this and all the other texts in German and English). You'll love it!
The next two from 1915-16, "Der Trompeter" ("The Trumpeter," O) and "Klage" ("Lament," O), are more serious. There's something of Mahler's (1860-1911) Das Klagende Lied (1880, revised 1992-93 and 1898-99) in the first, which is about a fallen war comrade. The second is a gorgeous emotionally wrought paean to the glories of a past, more heroic age.
A sighing motif [track-4, beginning at 00:51] reminiscent of Schubert's (1797-1828) "Der Erlköng" (1815) haunts "Herr Oluf" ("Sir Oluf," O), which appeared in 1891, and was Pfitzner's first orchestral song. Brilliantly scored, Berlioz (1803-1869) would have loved this tale of nuptials nipped in the bud.
Written in 1889, the next four selections, "Es glänzt..." ("It Shines..."), "Sie haben..." ("They're having..."), "Es fällt ein Stern..." ("A Star Falls...") and "Es faßt mich..." ("It Seizes Me...") comprise the composer's first song cycle. They were a bit more dour and full of Teutonic angst in their piano versions than the orchestral ones here.
"Nachts" ("At Night," 1916), "Zorn" ("Anger," 1904), "An die Mark" ("To the Mark," 1904), "Ist der Himmel..." ("Is the Sky...," 1904), "Herbstlied" ("Autumn Song," 1888-89) and "Mein Herz ist..." ("My Heart is...," 1888-89) are affecting atmospheric lieder with a variety of references to nature (see the newsletter of 15 April 2009). The last of these is particularly moving with a text about moonlight and love set to a broodingly amorous melody.
Written in remembrance for his wife who had recently died, "Lethe" ("Lethe," O) from 1926 is the most introspective song on this CD. It has all the understatement and penumbral shading typical of Pfitzner's mature style. This is also true of the next "Wanderers Nachtlied" ("Wanderer's Night Song," c. 1930), which must be one of the composer's most profound vocal creations.
The two concluding selections couldn't be more different. Dating from 1906, "An den Mond" (To the Moon") has the gravest text of anything here, and by basing his setting on a whole-tone scale, Pfitzner instills it with a detached sense of otherworldliness. On the other hand, "Willkommen und Abschied" ("Welcome and Farewell," 1922) is a triumphant anthem which extols the joys of love, ending this remarkable disc of discovery on a happier note.
One of today's finest lieder singers, German baritone Hans Christoph Begemann is in splendid voice for this recital. The clarity of delivery and sense of drama sans histrionics he brings to these songs are exceptional. Conductor Otto Tausk and the Northwest German Philharmonic provide ideal support, capturing every nuance of Pfitzner's urbane music.
The considerable forces called for are spread across an appropriately large soundstage with Herr Begemann placed slightly left of center. The balance maintained between him, the many instrumental soloists, and the rest of the orchestra is ideal. That plus a venue with a reverberation time long enough to enrich this late romantic music without clouding the texts, ensures those with a reasonable understanding of German will get most of the lines.
The orchestral timbre is pleasing over the wide frequency and dynamic ranges arising from Pfitzner's poignant scores. The soloist is accurately captured, but some may feel he might have sounded even better with a different microphone. Be that as it may, lieder enthusiasts and audiophiles will love what's here.
In closing, those discovering Pfitzner for the first time are encouraged to investigate his other lieder, operatic masterpiece Palestrina (1912-15), and wonderful symphonies. In the meantime let's hope CPO soon gives us those remaining twelve orchestrally enhanced songs.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y110219)
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Tovey, D.: Stg Qt 1, Aria & Vars (stg qt); Tippett Qt [Guild]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
One of Britain's most distinguished educators and musicologists, Sir Donald Francis Tovey (1875-1940) was also an accomplished composer, whose music is now undergoing a silver disc revival (see the newsletters of 28 October 2008 and 25 April 2010). Well-read and a true intellectual, his creations could at times border on the cerebrally dispassionate. But he rejected the avant-garde, including dodecaphonism, in favor of a late romantic style that more often than not resulted in genuinely emotionally appealing works.
The selections on this Guild release fall into the latter category, and many will find his first string quartet (he wrote two in 1909) an undiscovered chamber masterpiece. In the usual four movements, the opening andante is in sonata form, and begins with a couple of memorable thematic ideas. Tovey subjects these to an insightful extended development somewhat in keeping with what Beethoven (1770-1827) does in his late quartets (1810-26, see Sir Donald’s penetrating Essays in Musical Analysis for some of the most enlightened commentary on same). A dramatic pizzicato-laced recapitulation and final coda end the movement in thrilling fashion.
A lovely pastorale with Italian folk overtones is next, followed by a binary structured adagio that could well be a musical representation of a gently rocking cradle-cum-colicky-child. The contrapuntally complex finale finds the composer paying homage to one of his heroes, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). An intricately fashioned movement showing Sir Donald at the height of his powers, it leaves one wondering what he'd go on to say in his second quartet (not currently available on disc).
Lasting just over half an hour, the CD is filled out with Aria and Variations for String Quartet from 1900 [track-1, unfortunately without breaks]. Stated at the outset, the aria is a beautifully phrased majestic tune that sounds folk inspired. It lends itself perfectly to the following eleven variations, some of which include ingenious, minuscule developmental sections.
The first four are a chromatic fantasy [02:15], extended berceuse [04:20], angular march [07:30], where it's easy to picture the Lipizzaner Stallions prancing about, and a delightfully animated caprice [09:52]. Variations five [10:58], six [13:39] and seven [17:49] are melancholic musings brought up short by a will-o'-the-wisp skittish eighth [19:54].
It sets the stage for the final three variants. Here the composer demonstrates his consummate compositional skill by giving us a fugal fantasia [21:00], love song [23:14] and contrapuntal epilogue [25:36] that create an exciting sense of anticipation in the listener by coming ever closer to quoting the original aria.
This finally reappears in all its pristine glory [28:46], bringing the work full circle. Incidentally, perspicacious listeners may notice a melodic fragment [26:59] bearing a strange resemblance to the rondeau from Purcell's (1659-1695) Abdelazer (1695), which Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) would later borrow for his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1946).
Sir Donald couldn't have better advocates than the members of the Tippett Quartet. Their sensitive committed playing and extraordinary technical ability render performances that will be definitive for years to come. Let's just hope they'll give us the second quartet (see above) in the not too distant future.
Recorded in St. Paul's Church, New Southgate, London with a reverberation time of almost five seconds, the soundstage projected is generously resonant. This enriches Tovey's lush music all the more, but without any loss of inner voice clarity. In that regard, the string tone is natural except for some causticity in a couple of upper violin passages.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110218)
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