18 FEBRUARY 2013


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.
Hakim, N.: Sakskøbing Prels (12, chbr orch); Chbr Conc 1 & 2; Org Conc 4; Hakim/DanChPl [Signum]
Time to welcome Naji Hakim (b.1955) back to CLOFO (see 31 May 2010). Born in Lebanon, he moved to France in 1975 where he studied at the Paris Conservatory with Jean Langlais (1907-1991), winning seven first prizes in a variety of musical disciplines. He'd later succeed the great Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992, see the newsletter of 16 June 2006) as organist at Église de la Sainte-Trinité, which testifies to his abilities as a performer.

Now with this recent Signum release we get further proof of his considerable compositional skills. It includes four of his more recent works, which as done here by an eight-member chamber ensemble are the only currently extant versions of them on CD.

Back in 2005 Naji dedicated a new Allen organ at the Sakskøbing Church in Denmark. He would then go on to pay homage to that parish, its organist and rector with the opening piece entitled Sakskøbing Præludier (Sakskøbing Preludes, 2005). Scored for organ or chamber ensemble, the latter being the version presented here, it's a set of twelve charming miniatures, some based on Danish hymns.

The opening one [T-1] is a capricious arrangement with flighty passages for harp and flute of the melody for Carl Nielsen's (1865-1931) Christmas carol "Mit hjerte altid anker" ("My heart always wanders," 1914). The next [T-2] is based on the old standby "Nearer, my God, to thee" and may evoke a moment of melancholy in those who associate it with the sinking of the Titanic.

The following four smack of Falla (1876-1946) [T-3], Berg (1885-1935) [T-4], Poulenc (1899-1963) [T-5], and Ravel (1875-1937) [T-6] respectively. The childlike seventh [T-7] is apparently based on a Swedish popular tune, but there's also a whiff of Verdi's (1813-1901) ballet music for Aida (1871).

The spirit of Easter pervades the succeeding two miniatures, which are a lovely Paschal hymn [T-8] and bubbling resurrectional number [T-9]. The latter has frivolous Shostakovich (1906-1975) overtones, and recalls the opening prelude's whimsicality. It's briefly offset by a lyrically reverent prelude [T-10], but the geniality that's characterized this music prevails in the last two selections [T-11 and 12], which are all smiles.

The composer's two Kammerconcerter (Chamber Concerts) scored for flute, clarinet, bassoon, harp, piano, violin, viola and cello are next. The first dating from 2008 is in a single movement subtitled "The Sun Always Shines on Beirut" [T-13].

It's a collection of tunes borrowed from Lebanese folk sources as well as songs by Danish composers J.P.E. Hartmann (1805-1900) and Carl Nielsen, all assembled into a delightful melodic mosaic. The peaceful oriental opening [00:00] soon gives way to a couple of vivacious passages having an initial Viennese lilt [01:43].

But the mood soon turns more lyrically introspective [03:40], and then Middle Eastern to the point of sounding klezmer-like [05:35 and 08:13]. The piece ends tongue in cheek with some innocent animated tunes [09:14] that could almost be from nursery rhymes.

The second chamber concert from 2010 is a Christmas piece entitled "Come, Let Us Go to Bethlehem," and in three movements that follow an Italian concerto fast-slow-fast schema. Each is based on a Danish yuletide carol that Hakim first states, and then cleverly elaborates in keeping with his reputation as one of today's masters of organ improvisation.

The opening allegro takes as its subject "Welcome again, God's small angels" [T-14], the middle andante "Lovely is the blue sky" [T-15], and the final allegro "A child is born in Bethlehem" [T-16]. The last is amusingly spiced with some jazzy Latin American riffs [00:49] ending the work in 1920-30s dance hall fashion (see 28 February 2012).

The concert concludes with the last of four organ concertos Hakim has written to date (see 31 May 2010). Composed in 2007 and subtitled "The Streaming and Inextinguishable," which we're told in the album notes refers to the Holy Spirit as the eternally flowing source of life, it's scored for organ and a seven-member chamber orchestra.

The initial allegro marked "Streaming" [T-17] begins with the soloist playing a sprightly motif [[00:00] that gives a nod to "Golliwog's Cakewalk" in Debussy's (1862-1918, see 10 March 2011) Children's Corner (1906-08), and sounds a bit like what you might hear on a circus calliope! The composer then borrows a couple ideas from earlier works as subjects for this tuneful sonata-variations movement. They are respectively cabaret songlike (CS) [00:19] and bluesy (CB) [00:57], giving the music a totally captivating, jazzy early 1900s demeanor (see 28 February 2012).

The "Sorrow and Gladness" andante [T-18] is a theme and variations based on another Danish hymn (AD). Brilliantly orchestrated, Hakim creates an intriguing accordion effect in the opening measures [00:06]. An earthy morose bassoon solo with a disembodied organ descant soon follows [02:00], after which the music takes on a celestial tone. Towards the end soloist and tutti proclaim a triumphal variant of AD [04:47], and the movement concludes with angelic passages for organ, harp and winds presumably representing the eternal bliss of Heaven.

Like Nielsen's fourth symphony (1914-6) the final allegro bears the title "Inextinguishable", but the concerto's reduced scoring makes it a far cry from that monumental work! Once again the composer borrows more Danish hymns for this scurrying sonata-rondo that's meant to signify the eternality of the Holy Spirit. Reminiscent of friskier moments in Poulenc's organ concerto (1938), the final coda recalls CS [06:40] and CB [07:19] bringing cyclic closure to this exhilarating piece.

One of today's most accomplished instrumental groups, the Danish Chamber Players (DCP) deliver stunning performances of all four works. Their ensemble playing is a marvel of precision, and with a band this small where each member is frequently spotlighted, it soon becomes apparent that everyone's a virtuoso in their own right!

As soloist the composer delivers a definitive performance of the concerto. His choice of the articulate forty-stop 1979 Frobenius organ in the Vangede Church, Denmark, colorful registration, and impeccable technique make this a welcome addition to the few contemporary organ concertos out there.

Made in the Nykøbing Falster Theater, Denmark, the recordings of the preludes and chamber concerts present a suitably proportioned soundstage for an ensemble of this size in a hospitable acoustic. The concerto recording, which was done in the church mentioned above, understandably projects a somewhat larger but well-focused sonic image in more reverberant surroundings.

The overall instrumental timbre is characterized by crisp highs, a mellow midrange, and clean bass. The many solo passages are faithfully captured and highlighted with respect to one another, and the organ ideally balanced against the DCP. That said, some may perceive the first three works as a bit skewed to the left. There are also occasional low frequency murmurs, particularly near the beginning of the ninth prelude [T-9 at 00:29], probably related to outside traffic.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P130218)


The album cover may not always appear.
Irgens Jensen: Theme w Vars, Parta..., Ste, Sinfa in d, Rondo..., Passacaglia, etc; Aadland/Trond SO [CPO]
The music of little-known Norwegian composer Ludvig Irgens Jensen (1894-1969, last name sometimes spelled Irgens-Jensen) on this recent CPO release will be a welcome discovery for late-romantic enthusiasts. It shows he easily qualifies as one of Norway's finest twentieth century symphonists, which is quite surprising considering he was completely self-taught.

In that regard he made an extensive study of scores covering the entire classical repertoire. These included music from the Renaissance (see 16 January 2013) as well as by J.S. Bach (1685-1750), Robert Schumann (1810-1856), Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), Richard Strauss (1864-1949) and Max Reger (1873-1916). Consequently he was to some degree an extension of the last three composers, but with touches of such Scandinavian compatriots as Johan Svendsen (1840-1911), Edvard Grieg (1843-1907, see 22 March 2012), Christian Sinding (1856-1941, see 17 August 2011), Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935, see 31 May 2012), and Eyvind Alnæs (1872-1932, see 26 March 2010).

The first disc begins with his Theme with Variations. Originally completed in 1926, the composer later revised it on two occasions. In 1934 he shortened the last variation [D-1, T-17] keeping only remnants of what had been a final monster triple fugue. Then in 1949 he made four minutes worth of cuts in variations five through seven [D-1, T-6, 7 and 8]. The version presented here observes the earlier but not the later modifications.

Soft woodwinds state the modal main subject (MM) [D-1, T-1], which could almost be of Scandinavian folk origin. The rest of the orchestra then joins in with a dramatic elaboration of it. The eight variations that follow range from wistful [D-2, T-2] to introspectively Brahmsian [D-2, T-4 and 5], dancelike à la Grieg [D-1, T-6 and 7], lyrically amorous [D-1, track-8] and scherzoesque [D-1, T-9 and 10].

The next two are heroically ponderous [D-1, T-11] and mysterious [D-1, T-12]. Then we get a whirling variant with otherwordly "celestal" embellishments [D-1, T-13] followed by an ominous number [D-1, T-14]. The piece concludes with galloping horses [D-1, T-15], and a manic episode [D-1, T-16] that segues into the final variation [D-1, T-17], which ends the work with a glorious big tune treatment of MM.

In 1937 the composer wrote some incidental music for a 1938 production of Driftekaren (The Herdsman) by Norwegian writer Hans Kinck (1865-1926). Not long thereafter he compiled it into a suite consisting of six movements, two of which he later deleted giving us the four-part Partita sinfonica that's next.

The opening allegro [D-1, T-18] begins with an aggressive motif succeeded by an amorous idea which are then developmentally intertwined. The following lento [D-1, T-19] is a tender love tune, while the next allegro [D-1, T-20] is nervously agitated one minute and melancholy the next. The final grave [D-1, T-21] provides a moving reflective conclusion to what's become one of the composer's most popular works.

The program continues with his sad Nordic miniature known as Air [D-1, T-22]. This is an orchestral arrangement made in 1959 of the song "An einen Freund" ("To a friend"), which is the fourth in his cycle of nine known as Japanischer Frühling (Japanese Spring, 1920). Considering the text (see the album notes), it's an affecting musical representation of unrequited love.

The first CD concludes with a four-movement suite the composer made in 1939 drawn from incidental music he wrote for a 1935 Oslo production of Helen Stibolt's (1888-1975) children's comedy Kong Baldvines armring (King Baldwin's Armlet). The initial scherzo [D-1, T-23] is based on a catchy theme we're told is modeled after folk music of the Sami people in the Arctic regions of Scandinavia.

The intriguing intermezzo [D-1, T-24] has stirring outer sections surrounding a lovely rapturous episode. It's followed by a mysterious andante [D-1, T-25], and then the suite ends with a brilliantly scored, charming childlike miniballet [D-1, T-26]. Does the latter remind you of Grieg's Sigurd Jorsalfar (1872)? Well Irgens-Jensen may have had it in mind as Sigurd is also one of the main characters in Stibolt's play.

The second disc begins with Ludvig's only venture into the realm of the symphony, his Sinfonia in D Minor. Written in 1940-2 it originally had three-movements. But the composer decided from 1952 on to retain only the first two, transposing the ending of the second from E to A major, and relegating the third to a life of its own with the title Rondo marziale.

The opening movement is an allegro [D-2, T-1] which begins with an ominously pensive thematic nexus (OP) [00:02]. This is elaborated and succeeded by a somewhat hopeful idea (SH) [04:32], which will serve to unify the work. A dramatic Mahlerian development ensues where OP becomes an imposing harbinger of doom. The music then subsides giving way to hints of SH, but OP creeps back and the movement concludes in a calamitous crescendo.

The final andante [D-2, T-2] begins with rhapsodic reminders of SH. However, the mood becomes increasingly agitated and threatening with hints of OP, and the music turns into a dramatic closing fugue with a menacing variant of SH as its subject (MV) [07:07]. But the closing coda is based on a radiant chorale derived from MV [10:53], and provides the symphony with a triumphant ending that in some ways anticipates the finale from Benjamin Britten's (1913-1976) The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1946).

The Rondo marziale (Martial Rondo) is strategically placed next [D-2, T-3], allowing you to easily judge for yourself whether Ludvig was right in excising it from the symphony. Brooding strings and horns are heard first [00:01], and then a pizzicato version of MV (see above) in the low strings [00:18], which are soon joined by the upper ones playing a legato rendering of it. A bellicose development follows with brass flourishes in keeping with the work's marziale designation. There are also some highly dramatic passages recalling Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss' more martial moments.

The music builds to a towering climax, which ends in an fff chord for full orchestra [13:40] followed by total silence, and a brief epilogue recalling the bleakness of the opening. This ends the piece in limbo, and will probably leave many feeling the two-movement version of the symphony is the more emotionally satisfying.

The CD is filled out with what some consider the composer's masterpiece. It's a purely orchestral passacaglia dating from 1928 that was begun as a large-scale choral work the previous year. Submitted to the Schubert (1797-1828) Centenary Competition, formally known as the 1928 International Columbia Graphophone Competition (see 13 December 2010), it took second place among the Nordic candidates, just after Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg's (1887-1974, see 20 June 2007) Dollar Symphony (No. 6, 1928), which ultimately won the contest.

Simply called Passacaglia [D-2, T-4], it achieved international fame with Carl Nielsen (1865-1931 see 26 March 2010) and Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) among its most influential supporters. Again like most of Ludvig's other creations, the composer would later revise it (1934-5 and 1949-50), refining the orchestration, dynamics and tempos.

The end result is a work of singular design. It might best be described as a sonata form creation having a passacaglia opening statement and recapitulation surrounding a central fugal development. Generally speaking there's a melodic and structural solidity reminiscent of Brahms along with some chromatic restlessness similar to that found in Reger.

It starts with an overcast introduction [00:01] that seems to be wrestling with some profound question, and contains hints of the ostinato (OS) [00:10] motif that will be the work's thematic DNA. The music builds to a dramatic climax followed by a momentary pause. Then we get the opening statement beginning with a complete version of OS [04:27]. Variations of OS over a recurring accompaniment based on it follow in passacaglia fashion. They range from pleading [04:58] to agitated [06:49], wistful [07:17], domineering [08:38], pastoral [09:29], and ponderous [10:45].

The composer then throws caution to the wind and gives us as a development a magnificent volcanic triple-fugue whose subject is a contraction of OS [11:08]. This contrapuntal eruption transitions into a lushly exultant recapitulation of the passacaglia [14:10] that ends in a drumroll.

After a brief caesura there's a quiescent dreamy remembrance of OS [18:06] that disappears heavenwards like smoke from a dying fire. It ends the piece blissfully, and leaves the listener astounded that such a sophisticated work could come from a composer with no formal training!

Irgens Jensen was constantly tinkering with what he'd written in an attempt to make it more meaningful. Accordingly there's a complexity in his music approaching that of Mahler and Reger, which makes considerable interpretive demands on any conductor. Norwegian-born Eivind Aadland meets them head-on getting performances from the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra that reveal all the subtleties of these scores while preserving their overall dramatic contour. This release must now take precedence over what little competition is currently out there.

Made at the Olavshallen in Trondheim, Norway, the recordings are extremely clean and project a generous, highly focused soundstage in ideal surroundings. The orchestral timbre is musical with some shrill high spots and bass that's generally lean, but packs a couple of wallops. There is a mysterious thump towards the end of the Passacaglia [D-2, T-4, 14:58].

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P130217)


The album cover may not always appear.
Petrassi: Magnificat, Psalm IX; Cvilak/Noseda/TurinRTh C&O [Chandos]
Recordings of Italian composer Goffredo Petrassi's (1904-2003) music are few and far between making this new Chandos CD a welcome addition to the catalog. Whereas a release just prior to this featured three of his symphonic scores (see 12 September 2012), the one here is devoted to his choral music. This genre was particularly important to him because in his youth he'd been a boy chorister at a Roman schola cantorum, where he'd sung Josquin Des Préz (c. 1450-1521) and Palestrina (c. 1525-1594).

The two selections here are for the most part contemporary sounding and reflect the influence of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). But stylistic elements of the Renaissance music he'd encountered in his youth are also present making them more immediately accessible.

The Magnificat from 1939-40 is scored for a soprano leggero (light or agile), chorus and orchestra. The brilliant orchestral writing is neoclassically transparent with contrapuntal spicing, while the vocal parts are lyrically dramatic.

Lasting half an hour, it's been conveniently banded for easier access, and begins with scampering passagework for strings and winds that sets the stage for the dramatic opening "Magnificat..." [T-1] and "Et exultavit..." [T-2] choruses. The pace slows and tone becomes more reverential for the choral "In Deo salutari..." [Ts-3] and "Quia respexit..." [T-4] sung by the soprano.

Explosive outbursts for orchestra and chorus punctuate the following "Quia fecit..." [T-5] and "Et sanctum nomen..." [T-6], the latter having a flighty aria for the soloist. The chorus then returns and we get a lovely instrumental interlude, after which the soprano and chorus share some dramatic moments in "Et misericordia..." [T-7] and "Fecit potentiam..." [T-8]. These conclude in an excited orchestral episode that bridges via a snare drum roll into the most introspective part of the work, "Deposuit potentes" [T-9] and "Esurientes..." [T-10].

The latter ends forcefully in the orchestra, which then adopts a walking bass line soon accompanied by the hushed choral "Suscepit Israel..." [T-11]. At one point the singers whisper their lines [01:28], and the stage is set for the moving finale. This begins with an impressive fugue for chorus and orchestra on the words "Sicut locutus est..." [T-12]. Colorful instrumental passages including xylophone as well as piano announce the dramatic "Gloria Patri..." conclusion [T-13].

The work owes a strong debt to Stravinsky, which also applies to the 1934-6 Psalm IX that comes next. In fact Petrassi tells us he was influenced by Igor's Oedipus Rex (1926-7) and Symphony of Psalms (1930, revised 1948). This helps explain the unusual scoring for chorus, strings, brass, percussion and two pianos. Dedicated to Goffredo's parents, it runs a little over half an hour and is in two parts, each of which is again banded for easy access.

The opening chorus praising the Lord [T-14] immediately grabs the listener's attention with its stabbing forte orchestral chords and brass fanfares. A moment of respite follows [T-15], but God's punishment of the wicked is reflected in aggressive passages with driving Stravinskian rthythms and threatening brass [T-16 through 19]. At one point the composer seems to be alluding to the Dies Irae [T-18, beginning at 00:42].

The chorus that follows gives assurances of God as a refuge for the oppressed [T-20 and 21]. It builds to a powerful climax, and then quietly fades away ending the first part.

The final one begins [T-22] with orchestral flourishes which strangely enough recall the opening of Falla's (1876-1946) El amor brujo (Love the Magician, 1915). More praise for the Lord follows, and the music becomes quietly contemplative [T-23]. Then arresting piano passages followed by the rest of the orchestra introduce an animated chorus. This tells about the fall of all heathens [T-24], and consignment of the wicked as well as those who forget God to hell [T-25 and 26].

A quiescent moment remembering the poor and needy follows [T-27], soon interrupted by a blast from the drums. This is succeeded by skyrocketing passages for orchestra and chorus urging the Lord to show his power over mankind [T-28]. The pianos, brass and strings with percussive accents then introduce a powerful concluding chorus [T-29] asking the Lord to make the nations of the world realize they are only men. The psalm ends in a peaceful orchestral epilogue implying man's insignificance compared to God.

Soprano Sabina Cvilak is in fine voice singing her role in the first selection with a lightness of touch ideally suited to Petrassi's "leggero" designation. Our conductor Gianandrea Noseda continues his exploration of lesser-known modern day Italian repertoire, and gets superb performances from the Turin Royal Theater Orchestra and Chorus. They make these obscure but important additions to twentieth century sacred music all the more memorable.

Made at the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy, the recordings are in keeping with Chandos' high standards. They present a wide and deep soundstage commensurate with the substantial forces involved, surrounded by an enriching acoustic. The balance between soloist, chorus and orchestra is ideal, and the dynamic range impressive. Pleasing highs and deep clean bass characterize the sonics. However, there is some midrange grain in massed choral passages. Had this been a hybrid release this probably wouldn't have been present on the Super Audio tracks.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P130216)


The album cover may not always appear.
Weinberg, M. (Vainberg): Sym 19 "Bright May", Banners of Peace; Lande/StPeteSt SO [Naxos]
Forced to flee his native country when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) would take up residence in Russia. He completed his musical studies there, lived in Moscow from 1943 on, and became a good friend of Shostakovich. Highly prolific, his creative output includes seventeen string quartets (see 31 July 2012) as well as twenty-six symphonies (see 6 July 2011). It's one of the latter along with a little-known tone poem of his that appear here, and are the only versions of either currently available on CD.

The symphony is his nineteenth, dating from 1985. Subtitled "Bright May," which could also be translated as "Joyous May," it celebrates the Soviet victory over German forces in the spring of 1945. In one extended movement lasting almost thirty-five minutes, it generally falls into three spans, which are conveniently banded on this release. The first [T-1] opens with angst-ridden string passages probably indicative of the many hardships the Russian people faced in the "Great Patriotic War." These turn more intense with cries from the winds, and then fade into a folkish pastoral episode (FP) [04:03].

FP becomes increasingly excited with whiplike percussive snaps [07:57], only to trail away into the middle section [T-2]. This begins with a lovely slow subdued melody for the strings that becomes strident, building to a tremendous bellicose climax reminiscent of moments in Shostakovich's (1906-1975) Leningrad Symphony (No. 7; 1941). There's a heroic brass flourish [08:41], and the music dies away followed by a brief pause. This span then ends in a melancholy passage for winds and strings [09:21] where it's easy to imagine a desolate battlefield littered with bodies.

The third and final part [T-3] commences in much the same manner as the preceding measures. But the music spirals upwards with avian chirps, building to a momentary coruscating chime-enhanced crescendo [02:37]. A sunny horn melody [02:54] follows, and then a peaceful epilogue tinged with sadness over past events, but flashes of optimism for the future. A final taps-like trumpet tattoo above a muted string pedal point ends the symphony with what must be memories of the fallen.

Written right after this symphony and dedicated to the 27th Soviet Communist Party Congress held in Moscow, The Banners of Peace (1985) [T-4] is a festive twenty-minute tone poem. Although there are references to folk and revolutionary songs, some of which Shostakovich had used in his The Year 1905 Symphony (No. 11, 1957; see 16 January 2013), Weinberg never allows his music to become the mundane Soviet propagandistic bombast being turned out back then by the likes of Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007).

The piece opens with a short affecting dirge for the strings whose closing measures are made all the more dramatic by the addition of drums and chimes. After a brief pause [03:42], the tempo accelerates and the music intensifies with heroic percussion-laced brass pronouncements. A soulful Slavic episode follows [06:30], which turns introspective [07:59] with a touch of mystery added by the celesta [09:46] and clarinet [10:00].

Antic winds announce what seem like happier times in a fleeting scherzoesque episode [11:02], which downshifts into a pastorally peaceful passage [14:09]. Then a repeated three-note motif [15:43] marks the beginning of the celebratory brass-punctuated finale, where the spirit of Shostakovich is very much alive. It builds to a festive climax with whooping horns [18:41] as well as dramatic fortissimo chords [20:08] that end the poem triumphantly.

The Saint Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra under their principal guest conductor Vladimir Lande does the honors here, making a strong case for these long neglected scores. Maestro Lande gets high marks for making an emotionally challenging coherent whole out of a symphony that in lesser hands might have become a stream of musical consciousness. And as far as the poem is concerned, he gives us a rousing Russian paean far removed from the nationalistic nonsense many of Weinberg’s contemporaries were cranking out to curry favor with the Soviet cultural authorities.

Like some of the recent Northern Flowers orchestral CDs (see 28 February 2010), these recordings were made at Saint Catherine Lutheran Church in Saint Petersburg. The soundstage projected is average-sized and in moderately reverberant surroundings. The orchestral timbre is generally pleasing with a musical-sounding midrange and clean bass. But the highs, while superior to the steely ones on those old Soviet Melodiya recordings, are occasionally grainy in massed string passages. That said, the music will soon make you forget any sonic shortcomings.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P130215)