CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
21 DECEMBER 2012
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.
Ashton, A.: Vc & Pno Wks V1 (2 Sons, Phant.., Arioso); Mizerska/Abbate [Toccata]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
There are several parallels between composers Algernon Ashton (1859-1937), whose music is featured on this new release from Toccata, and Percy Sherwood (1866-1939), whom we told you about last month (see 7 November 2012). Both were of English descent, educated in Germany and spent the latter part of their lives in London.
Algernon was a highly prolific composer with published works running up to 174 opus numbers plus many others in manuscript form. Unfortunately the latter were probably destroyed when his house was hit by German incendiary bombs during the London Blitz (1940-41). That loss seems all the greater considering the quality of the pieces for cello and piano included here. All are world premiere recordings.
Ashton's music like Sherwood's is of German persuasion reflecting his training at the Leipzig Conservatory (1875-79), where his instructors included Carl Reinecke (1824-1910, see the newsletter of 14 May 2007) as well as Salomon Jadassohn (1831-1902, see the recommendation for his serenade below), and in Frankfurt (1880-81) under Joachim Raff (1822-1882, see 26 January 2011). More specifically it's highly structured, and thematically a logical extension of Mendelssohn (1809-1847), Schumann (1810-1856) and Brahms (1833-1897).
The program opens with an occasional piece entitled Arioso (publ. 1889). This begins in aria fashion with a couple of lovely themes that are melodically transformed throughout the work. In the process the cello part pretty much spans the instrument's range, and there's a harmonic adventurousness that anticipates the late romantic. There's also an informality about it which gainsays Ashton's German training and makes it more of an English pastorale.
That's certainly not the case with the next piece, which is his first cello sonata (publ. 1880). In three movements it's a rigorously structured work that stands comparison with Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) chamber music. The initial sonata form moderato has two thematic groups that are skillfully developed. These are then recapitulated with some minor alterations, and the movement ends in a fiery coda.
A couple of attractive ideas alternate with each other in the beautiful larghetto. There's a simplicity worthy of Schubert (1797-1828) in this introspective movement, which couldn't be more different from the whimsical finale.
This opens with a bounding tune (BT) followed by a related more lyrical melody. A whimsical development that includes some humorous false fugal starts follows, and then the sonata ends with a saucy reprise of BT.
The following Phantasiestücke (publ. 1883) is a set of three short individual pieces. The first marked moderato begins with three motifs that are gently falling, aria-like and playful. It then concludes with a developmental recap of them. The next andantino is a melancholy instrumental dialogue, while the last allegro is a perky scherzo of folkish persuasion looking forward to Percy Grainger's (1882-1961) rambles.
The CD is filled out with the second sonata (publ. 1885), which is in three movements like the first, but a much more advanced undertaking. That's obvious from the start of the initial sonata form allegro, whose opening statement is a complex exchange of motifs between cello and piano.
The agitated development that follows is harmonically impish to the point of introducing the recapitulation in the wrong key. But order is soon restored as the music returns to the sonata's tonic of G major, and concludes in an exciting coda with a "So there!" ending.
The introspective adagio [track-9] has three main subjects which might best be described as a lament [00:01], chorale [01:21], and cavatina [01:47]. They undergo some thematic transformations, and are sequentially recapped but with the third returning in a minor key. This ends the movement somewhat ambivalently.
The finale begins with the cello playing a chortling tune followed by a phrase hinting at the sonata's opening measures. After some further elaboration it states a childlike idea, which undergoes a rondoesque development along with the other previous material. Another one of those deceptive Ashton recapitulations follows where the tonic isn't reinstated until the last minute. And then the sonata ends exuberantly with final reference to the movement's opening bars.
Polish cellist Evva Mizerska and Italian pianist Emma Abbate, known collectively as the Evva&Emma Duo, make a strong case for Ashton's music. He was an accomplished pianist himself, and it shows in these challenging scores, which our artists handle with great aplomb. They have technical ability to spare, and their playing ranges from sensitively shaded in more melodic passages to virtuosically supercharged when the notes start flying thick and fast.
Made at the Challow Park Studios in Oxfordshire, England, the recordings project a narrowly focused soundstage in a pleasing acoustic. Depending on your speaker placement, some may feel the sonic image would have benefitted from a greater sense of space between the artists.
Be that as it may, both instruments are beautifully captured. The cello tone is rich and natural across its entire range. The piano is well rounded with no sign of any digital nasties, however the keyboard action is a little noisy in the second sonata [tracks-8 through 10]. Other than that this disc easily qualifies as an audiophile release.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y121221)
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Herbert, V.: Eileen (cpte opera); Soloists/Brophy/StPatCathD BC/Ire O [New World]
RECOMMENDED (2 CDs)
We've introduced you to some of Irish-born Victor Herbert's (1859-1924) instrumental music (see 7 October 2011), and now it's a pleasure to tell you about his romantic comic opera Eileen of 1917, which he apparently considered the best of his many stage works. It again shows his remarkable gift for melody, and while sometimes reminiscent of Sirs Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) and Edward German's (1862-1936, see 31 May 2012) music, it anticipates Jerome Kern's (1885-1945) later stage works.
The libretto (included in the album notes) by Henry Blossom (1866-1919) is based on Ireland's past rebellious encounters with Britain. The music underwent many modifications, and the album producers give us the most comprehensive recording of it to date. This includes an appendix with all of the deleted numbers (see the informative album notes), and then some! Incidentally you'll hear many Irish-sounding tunes, which Herbert tells us are his own melodies cast in folk molds.
Set in the year 1798, after a rousing overture [CD-1, track-1], which includes the opera's big love tune (BLT) [01:46], the curtain goes up on the first of its three acts. It reveals a sea coast with a cliff at its back, and an inn next to an adjoining cave where smugglers are hiding contraband. There's occasional dialogue here and there, but it's usually accompanied by interesting music that never allows it to become tiresome.
With a dozen main characters the plot is rather involved, and there's neither time nor space to go into it here. Suffice it to say you can find all the details in the informative album notes.
Highlights in the first act include a rousing smugglers' drinking song with sea shanty overtones [CD-1, track-3], and a lovely aria for Rosie Flynn, who's the innkeeper's daughter. There's also a winsome ditty for the Irish patriot and hero of this comedy, Barry O'Day [CD-1, track-7]. BLT appears in the concluding ensemble number [CD-1, track-8] and introduces the heroine, Lady Maude Estabrooke's beautiful niece Eileen Mulvaney [02:30]. As might be expected, Barry immediately falls in love with her!
The second act takes place on the afternoon of the same day at Lady Maude's castle, and begins with a delectable entr'acte [CD-1, track-9]. It's followed by a very clever madrigalesque round sung by Maude's guests [CD-1, track-10]. Other memorable selections are a gorgeous "French Pavane" number for Eileen with the guests [CD-1, track-11], and an amorous aria by Barry expressing his love for her [CD-1, track-12].
There's also an amusing patter song about Eve and her apple delivered by Maude's admirer Sir Reginald Stribling [CD-1, track-13], as well as a charming duet for another Irish patriot named Dinny Doyle and Rosie (see above), who’s his sweetheart. The plot thickens in the dramatic finale [CD-1, track-18], which ends with the chorus extolling Lady Maude for saving Barry from his would-be British captors [09:15].
The third and final act takes place that evening on the lawn of Maude's castle, where guests, tenants and servants are celebrating her birthday. A short whimsical entr'acte [CD-2, track-1] is followed by a delightful dance tune [CD-2, track-2] featuring an Irish bagpipe [00:23], and a moving "Ave Maria" sung by a boys choir [01:48].
A little later there's an attractive ensemble number for Lady Maude and the assembled partygoers [07:31]. It's followed by an amorous duet for Barry and Eileen [CD-2, track-3], which of course includes BLT [01:24]. One of the most drop-dead melodies Victor ever wrote, it'll bring tears to your eyes!
The opera then ends with joyful news that the rebellion is over and the British king has pardoned all the rebels. This is cause for a spirited conclusion with patriotic-sounding Irish songs from Dinny [CD-2, track-4] and Barry [CD-2, track-5] with male chorus.
An appendix of six deleted numbers follows. Then there’s the added bonus of an invaluable nine-minute medley of the opera's melodic highlights [CD-2, track-11]. This was put together in 1917 by Harold Sanford (1879–1945), who was one of Herbert's orchestrators.
Sopranos Lynda Lee (Lady Maude Estabrooke) and Mary O'Sullivan (Eileen Mulvaney), along with mezzo-soprano Rachel Kelly (Rosie Flynn), tenors Eamonn Mulhall (Barry O'Day) and Dean Power (Dinny Doyle), as well as baritone Joe Corbet (Sir Reginald Stribling) are in splendid voice for this obeisance to the Emerald Isle. The Boy Choristers of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin and Orchestra of Ireland under conductor David Brophy are in equally fine form. Although a studio recording, they all deliver a splendid rendition of this work with a level of enthusiasm worthy of a live performance. It totally blows away what little competition there is!
Made in the National Concert Hall, Dublin, Ireland, the recording projects a wide deep soundstage in a warm venue. The soloists are placed in front of the orchestra with the chorus behind, and the balance between them is good. The orchestral timbre is very musical, but there's an upper edge to the voices. It makes one wish this had been a hybrid release where that probably wouldn't have been the case on the Super Audio tracks.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P121220)
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Leighton: Pno Conc 1; Gipps: Pno Conc, 2 Pno Pcs;
Brownridge/Laus/Malta PO [Cameo Cl]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Elkrington: Out of the Mist (w Howell, Jadassohn, Scott):
Seferinova/Purser/Orion SO/etc [Cameo Cl]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Howell, D.: Lamia; Blower: Sym in C; Holbrooke: "Girl, I..." Vars;
M.Stravinsky/Karelia PO [Cameo Cl]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
These three Cameo Classics releases give us a treasure-trove of rarities by twentieth century British composers Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988, see 10 September 2010), Ruth Gipps (1921-1999), Lilian Elkrington (1900-1969, see 16 April 2007), Dorothy Howell (1898-1982), Cyril Scott (1879-1970, see 28 February 2010), Maurice Blower (1894-1982, see 25 April 2012) and Josef (sometimes spelled Joseph) Holbrooke (1878-1958, see 25 April 2012). As a bonus there's also a little known piece by nineteenth century German composer Salomon Jadassohn (1831-1902, see 19 October 2012). Except for the Elkrington these are the only currently available recordings of this music on CD.
The most recent disc (album cover to the left) begins with the first of Leighton's three piano concertos. Dating from around 1950 it's in three movements and begins with a vigorous riveting allegro. The highly romantic slow movement opens with a fateful horn solo, and builds to a dramatic climax that dissipates like mountain mists. The final one is once again infused with that boundless youthful energy which characterized the first. It recalls Bartók's (1881-1945) efforts in this genre, and concludes with a spiky fugue that ends the work on a virtuosic high.
Two short solo piano works by Gipps, Theme and Variations (1965) and Opalescence (1989), follow. Both are rather modal sounding, which may reflect the influence of Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), who was one of her teachers. The first is an elegantly constructed piece, while the latter has an impressionistic diffuseness recalling Ravel's (1875-1937) piano works.
The disc concludes with her three-movement piano concerto of 1948, whose grand romantic opening section should appeal to Rachmaninov (1873-1943) fans. The next movement is a delicate pastoral theme and variations again recalling Vaughan Williams. While the finale is a brilliantly orchestrated neoclassical frolic, where the piano hops and skips about the tutti ending the concerto on a contemporary-sounding note.
Pianist Angela Brownridge plays these pieces to perfection, employing her virtuosity only in service to the music. Conductor Michael Laus evokes fine support from the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra in the concertos.
Made at a couple of locations, the recordings are good and in complementary venues. The soundstages presented are slightly pinched, but the balance between soloist and orchestra is fine. The piano is well captured and orchestral timbre generally pleasing. There are some occasional low frequency murmurs probably occasioned by outside traffic.
The first two rarities on the second CD (middle album cover), Elkrington's Out of the Mist (1921) and Howell's only piano concerto (1923), were taped two years ago at a concert in London. The score and orchestral parts for the first piece weren't discovered until the late 1970s, and having told you about a studio recording of same (see 16 April 2007), suffice it to say many may find this evocative live performance more compelling. Either way, it's a significant discovery that leaves one hoping additional Elkrington goodies will eventually surface.
The twenty-minute concerto is in a single movement [track-2] ostensibly consisting of three adjoining sections. The first one begins rhapsodically in the orchestra with a repeated heroic horn motif (HH) [00:03] that will dominate the work and serve to unify it. The piano then makes its entrance with a flashy cadenza, later receiving encouragement from the orchestra. The pace then briefly abates as soloist and tutti introduce a lighthearted episode. It alternates with reminders of the opening measures, and transitions via subdued piano passages into the central slow section [08:19].
This is a moving melodic rhapsody with enough chromatic diversity to ensure it never becomes cloyingly romantic. Here the soloist plays a lovely cantilena to an amorous orchestral accompaniment that grows increasingly agitated with bravura pianistic interjections. These transition into the final segment [13:36], which is a dramatic rondo with thematic material based on HH [beginning at 14:21]. Judging by the enthusiastic applause that follows, the audience loved this piece!
The next two selections, Scott's harpsichord concerto (1937) and Jadassohn's third serenade for orchestra (1876), were done sans audience. Not exactly a dime a dozen in the twentieth century, harpsichord buffs will delight in the concerto, whose best-known immediate predecessor is the Martinu (1899-1963) of 1935 (see 13 July 2012). With a tutti consisting of flute, clarinet, bassoon, strings and piano, it's an immaculate neoclassical creation that anticipates Frank Martin's Petite symphonie concertante (1945) for harp, harpsichord, piano and strings.
In three movements the initial sprightly allegro is phosphorescent with those occasional Ravelian touches found in Scott's music (see 23 June 2006). The andante entitled "Pastorale orientale" features exotic Eastern sounding harmonies made all the more haunting by repeated riffs from the soloist garnished with harplike piano glissandi. It creates a sense of mystery in the listener that's enhanced by the chromatically peripatetic finale. This concludes the concerto with colorful virtuosic outbursts from both soloist and orchestra.
Filling out the disc, Cameo continues their revival of Jadassohn's music (see 19 October 2012) with the third of his five orchestral serenades, leaving only the fourth now unaccounted for on CD. Dating from 1876 and in four movements, it bears witness once again to what a consummate structural craftsman, melodist and orchestrator this undeservedly neglected German composer was.
There's a fetching folksiness about the introduction reminiscent of Goldmark's (1830-1915) Rustic Wedding Symphony (1877), while the next cavatina-intermezzo and scherzo are brilliantly scored with all the charm of Mendelssohn's (1809-1847) Midsummer Night's Dream (1826-42). The finale is a bubbling sonata form allegro with two memorable themes that may bring Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) to mind. These are stated twice, skillfully developed, and make a last appearance in a recapitulation that ends the serenade with a final thrilling coda.
The opening concert selections feature committed performances by the Orion Symphony Orchestra under Toby Purser with pianist Valentina Seferinova in top form for the Howell. The members of the Malta Philharmonic under their music director Michael Laus, who's also soloist in the Scott, deliver good performances of the other two works.
Made in Cadogan Hall, London, the concert recordings are musical, but project a pinched soundstage, and there's applause immediately on the heels of the Howell. The others were done in Floriana, Malta at Robert Sammut Hall and fare considerably better, presenting a wide deep soundstage in a reverberant acoustic. The harpsichord with its small voice is highlighted enough to prevent its ever being overwhelmed by the orchestra.
That said, the overall instrumental timbre is a bit on the bright side with some digital grain in upper passages. Granted this isn't audiophile grade sound, but as we've noted before with repertoire this rare we're lucky to have what's here!
The third CD (album cover to the right) begins with another Howell selection (see her concerto above), the fifteen-minute tone poem Lamia (1918) [track-1] inspired by John Keats' (1795-1821) eponymous poem (1819). Set in Classical times it's about a Cretan woman who's been changed into a snake, and is later returned to human form by the god Hermes only to suffer the vicissitudes of love with a handsome Corinthian youth named Lycius.
Roughly divisible into four spans, the sumptuous opening one conjures up images of an enchanted forest, Lamia’s yearnings to become human, and the magic transformations that follow. The second [03:39] suggests the growing love between Lamia and Lycius. Marriage festivities seem to dominate the next section [08:18], and then the final part [11:01] limns Lamia's strange disappearance, and the resulting tragic Liebestod of Lycius. The ghost of Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) occasionally haunts the score.
Chances are you've never heard of Maurice Blower, but his only symphony that's next is a major discovery. Written in 1938-9 the manuscript wasn't found until shortly after the composer's death (1982), and would have to wait until 2006 for its premiere. In four movements the first allegro [track-2] immediately commands attention with its opening brass flourishes. A valiant bounding theme (VB) [00:19] along with a related lyrical counter-subject (RL) follow [00:31], and are subjected to a brilliantly scored skillful development. The movement then ends peacefully with winsome subdued references to RL and VB.
The following scherzo is magic with bustling outer sections having memorable thematic material and piquant contrapuntal devices which make them all the more interesting. They bookend a dramatic trio episode based on a lovely plaintive pastoral melody introduced by the cor anglais.
Almost twice as long as any of the other movements, the lento [track-4] is the symphony's emotional center of gravity, and takes the form of a grave march. One can't help wondering if it reflects misgivings the composer might have had regarding Europe's future with the rise of Nazism.
Based on a lugubrious main theme (LM) [00:49] underpinned with menacing thumps on the bass drum, it builds to a fateful crescendo that gives way to a peaceful episode with a slightly more optimistic idea (MO) [03:27]. But hope soon fades as LM returns and the music takes on an anguished aspect with a shriek from the strings [11:53]. This subsides, ushering in a peaceful sanguine ending based on MO.
The triumphant finale [track-5] begins with blazing brass hinting at the explosive hornpipe-like theme (EH) that soon appears [00:19]. It's colorfully elaborated and counterbalanced with a negro-spiritual-sounding melody [02:07], both of which are subjected to a rousing development. The symphony then concludes with a remembrance of VB [05:35] and jubilant coda derived from EH.
The disc ends with the second of Holbrooke's three sets of stand-alone themes and variations (see 31 July 2009) based on the late eighteenth century Irish tune for the folk song "The Girl I Left Behind Me" [track-6]. Written in 1904-5 it begins with a brief introduction followed by the theme and some seventeen delightfully wide-ranging transformations -- all in the space of thirteen minutes!
After a raucous laughter-filled opening with hints of the main subject (MS), the winds state it in its entirety [01:02]. The fun begins with a humorous tuba treatment of MS [01:27], and a queasy one for winds plus lumbering double basses [01:52]. Slippery [02:33], imperial [02:59], tipsy [03:27], skipping [03:52], and waltzlike [04:12] variants follow. Then the composer puts MS in an army uniform [05:10], turns it into a circus parade [06:25], and transplants it to the Scottish Highlands [06:57] with references to the melody for "Auld Lang Syne" [07:02].
The next variations are sequentially woozy [08:13] with hints of the "Rule, Britannia" tune [08:29], obstreperously dissonant [09:12], sinister [09:39] and mocking [10:41]. Holbrooke then brings these irreverent proceedings to a close [11:49] with a droll stiff upper lip reference to the old familiar British Grenadiers march [11:57], some guffaws [12:03], and a final frivolous MS raspberry [12:19]. Hearing this delightful music makes it hard to believe the composer was rumored to be a bit of a curmudgeon.
The Karelia Philharmonic Orchestra (KPO) under their artistic director Marius Stravinsky (no relation to Igor) gives spirited performances of all three works. What the musicians, particularly the horns, may lack in technical ability they make up for with their enthusiasm for the music.
The recordings were made at the KPO concert hall in Russia. They project a moderately wide soundstage of considerable depth in a reverberant acoustic that should appeal to those liking wetter sonics. The orchestral timbre is extremely musical with clear bright highs and marginally clean bass.
There is what sounds like an isolated overload snap [track-1, 00:02; right channel], and intermittent low frequency murmurs throughout, probably courtesy of outside traffic. But with repertoire this rare we're fortunate to have what's here, and recording producer David Kent-Watson gets a vote of thanks for making these CDs possible.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P121219, P121218, P121217)
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Shebalin: Orch Wks V1 (Stes 1 & 2); Vasiliev/Siber SO [Toccata]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Russian composer Vissarion Shebalin (1902-1963) will be new to most and his music a welcome discovery, particularly for those liking Sergei Taneyev's (1856-1915, see 31 July 2009 creations. A student of Myaskovsky (1881-1950, see 15 March 2007), and highly respected by Prokofiev (1891-1953) as well as Shostakovich (1906-1975), he would go on to become director of the Moscow Conservatory in 1942.
Shebalin was a prolific composer in every genre, including incidental music for the theater. He would later extract three orchestral suites from the latter, and the first two are presented here for the first time on CD in their revised versions of 1962. Be on the lookout for the third one on an upcoming Toccata release.
Originally dating from 1934, the earlier suite is derived from two plays produced that year by Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874-1940) at his theater in Moscow. And as some may recall, he was the extremely talented Russian director who met with a grisly fate at the hands of Joseph Stalin's security goons.
In six parts it begins with a halting funeral march, and then a 1920s-sounding dance whose scoring includes banjo and saxophone. The mood becomes more restrained in the following slow waltz featuring an unctuous clarinet and violin. But the jazzy atmosphere of the previous selection returns in the fourth number.
A dramatic aria with piquant oboe solos follows, and then another waltz of a much more conventional nature. This builds to a flamboyant conclusion reminiscent of Ravel's (1875-1937) La valse (1920), ending the work with Viennese twists and turns.
The second suite is derived from incidental music for Meyerhold’s 1935 production based on Alexandre Dumas the younger's (1824-1895) 1852 theater adaptation of his tragic novel La dame aux camélias (The Lady of the Camellias, 1848). This was also the basis for Verdi's (1813-1901) La traviata (1853).
The first of its eight selections is a lush sweeping waltz, which brings to mind those in Prokofiev's (1891-1953) Romeo and Juliet (1929) or Cinderella (1945). The mood then becomes more Latin in the next three sections. These include a spirited castanet-accented tarantella, a slow waltz introduced by an oily bass clarinet, and a bolero having affinities with Ravel's of 1928, as well as his Ma mère l'oye (1908-11).
The fifth piece is a romantic waltz with haunting wind and graceful string passages. While the sixth called "Potpourri" [track-11] is a whimsical offering that begins with a chortling bassoon somewhat like the cygnets' dance in the first act of Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) Swan Lake (1877). Is that a reference [02:16] to Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) Le coq d'or (1907-8)?
The penultimate "Romance without Words" is a mellifluous song for strings with plaintive wind asides. The suite then concludes with a brilliantly orchestrated cheeky cancan gallop that ends things in the middle of Jacques Offenbach’s (1819-1880) Paris.
Dmitry Vasiliev and the Siberian Symphony Orchestra (SSO) certainly do well by this composer. Their performances are loaded with energy in the animated numbers, but sensitive and passionate in the more introspective ones. These will undoubtedly be the definitive accounts of this music for some time to come.
The suites were recorded on separate occasions in the warm venue of the newly remodeled Omsk Philharmonic Hall (see the informative album notes), Siberia. The recordings project soundstages that are well-focused, but on the narrow and deep side with that for the second suite seeming a tad wider. The orchestral timbre is pleasingly musical, however those with systems going down to rock-bottom and having tone controls may want to de-emphasize the bass.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P121216)
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