14 JULY 2014


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.
Gaubert, P.: Vn Son, 3 Pcs (vc, pno), 4 Esquisses (vn, pno), 3 Aquarelles (pno trio). etc; Soloists [Timpani]
The Timpani label continues their estimable revival of French composer Philippe Gaubert's (1879-1941, see 6 January 2012) music with this sampling of chamber works. Although he’s best remembered for his substantial contributions to flute repertoire, all five of the selections on this disc are for strings and piano. As performed here three of them are the only currently available recordings on disc, and so indicated by "OCAR" after their titles.

The program starts with his only violin sonata (1915; OCAR). Lasting a little over twenty minutes, it's the longest piece on this release, and a real discovery in the company of those by Franck (1822-1890), Fauré (1845-1924), d'Indy (1851-1931), Pierné (1863-1937, see 1 March 2007), Magnard (1865-1914), and even Vierne (1870-1937).

In four movements, the first allegro [T-1] immediately launches into a soaring melody followed by a relaxed countersubject. The two undergo a virtuosic development, followed by a chromatically searching recapitulative coda ending the movement in flighty fashion.

The succeeding "Très lent" ("Very Slowly") [T-2] is a moving pensive reverie. It seems to end, but then the composer has an austere recitativelike afterthought that bridges into the next "Très vif scherzando" ("Very Lively and Scherzoesque") [T-3]. Here perky passages recalling whimsical moments in the first movement alternate with subdued ones based on ideas from the second.

Another allegro [T-4] concludes this exquisite musical gem. It starts with a declaratory theme distantly related to that which begins the sonata, and is followed by a melancholy variant. The two are juggled in a rondo-like development, and then the work ends in a brief euphoric coda.

Each of the Trois pièces (Three Pieces) for cello and piano (1926) rank with the finest salon music of Gaubert's day. The initial "Lied' ("Song") [T-5] has attractive nostalgic outer sections embracing a folksy dance-like inner one. It may bring to mind Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) Souvenir d'un lieu cher (Memory of a Dear Place, 1878). A delicate "Menuet" [T-6] and rustic "Cortège" [T-7] conclude this charming set of character studies with a smile.

Returning to violin and piano we get Quatre esquisses (Four Sketches, c. 1926; OCAR), which are sea-related pieces and more programmatic than the previous cello selections. The first "Extase" ("Ecstasy") [T-8] is a graceful rocking berceuse that would seem to reflect a euphoric state of mind brought on by rapturous memories.

A barcarole-sounding "Voiles blanches, au crépuscule" ("White Sails, at Twilight") [T-9] initially conjures up images of a graceful schooner gliding over gentle waves. The wind then rises, causing the ship to heel heavily. But as night falls we get Red Sails in the Sunset (1935) as calm seas once more prevail, ending the piece like it began.

A scherzoesque number entitled "Une chasse... au loin" ("A Hunt... In the Distance") follows [T-10]. It would be an ideal accompaniment for one of those Wile E.Coyote, Road Runner chases in a Warner Bros. cartoon.

This colorful collection ends with a somewhat sinister "Là-bas, très loin, sur la mer" ("Over There, Far Away, On the Sea) [T-11]. Gaubert aficionados will recognize this as the source material for his later orchestral work Les Chants de la Mer (Songs of The Sea, 1929; see 18 December 2008).

Harkening back to Franck and Fauré, an early Lamento for cello and piano of 1911 [T-12] is next. There's a deliberateness that adds real drama to this, but at the same time robs it of the subtlety which makes Gaubert's later works so appealing.

The disc concludes with one of the composer’s best chamber pieces, Trois Aquarelles (Three Watercolors). Instead of the later version with flute (1926), this is the original for conventional piano trio (1921; OCAR). The opening "Par un clair matin" ("On a Bright Morning") [T-13] features an exhilarating theme. The elaboration that follows suggests a spring day with brilliant sunshine, soft breezes and rustling leaves performing a shadow dance on the forest floor.

A change of season comes with "Soleil d'automne" ("Autumn Sun") [T-14], which is a wistful auburn-lit duet for violin and cello set to a supportive piano accompaniment. And finally we get "Sérénade" [T-15] with a couple of infectious melodies Gaubert may have based on folk tunes he heard at his Basque country retreat. This has perky dance-like passages bookending an alluring amorous episode recalling the previous watercolor. It's an ideal ending for this set of consummate miniatures.

All Paris Conservatory graduates, violinist Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian, cellist Henri Demarcquette, and pianist Marie-Josèphe Jude seem particularly well qualified when it comes to this music. They give us technically accomplished, sensitive readings of these scores, making a strong case for an unduly neglected composer.

The Timpani recording engineers produce some of today's best sounding French discs, this being no exception. Made on a couple of occasions during 2012-3 in Vincennes just outside Paris, the recordings project a convincing soundstage in a warm acoustic. The instruments are optimally placed and balanced with the string sound on the bright side of natural, and the piano beautifully captured, making this a priority release.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y140714)


The album cover may not always appear.
Kahn, R.: Cpte Pno Trios (1-4); Hyperion Trio [CPO]
Born in Mannheim to intellectual affluent parents, German composer Robert Kahn (1865-1951) was the third of eight children, all of whom learned to play an instrument. Robert's was the piano and later the violin, which he studied up through his early teens.

He'd then go on to Berlin and Munich where his preeminent teachers were Robert Schumann's (1810-1856, see 28 April 2007) brother-in-law, Woldemar Bargiel (1828-1897, see 9 April 2014), Friederich Kiel (1821-1885, see 27 February 2008) , and Joseph Rheinberger (1839-1901).

Kahn greatly admired Brahms (1833-1897), and an 1886 meeting with him in Mannheim became a turning point in his career. On that occasion the older composer agreed to give him advanced instruction, and spent several months of 1887 with him in Vienna.

Beginning in the early 1890s he would hold various teaching positions. However, the rise of Nazism and Kahn's Jewish ancestry would eventually lead to his expulsion from the Berlin Academy of Arts in 1934, and years of increasing repression. Finally in January 1939 he and his wife emigrated to England where he'd spend the rest of his life.

His four piano trios filling this release date from 1893 through 1914, a period during which the composer was at the height of his creative powers. While there are frequent reminders of his idol Brahms, lucid construction and interrelated themes are Kahn trademarks. The first three trios are each in three movements and the last, five.

The earliest completed in 1893 begins with a lovely sonata form allegro [D-1, T-1] having a couple of memorable winding themes. These are elegantly developed, deftly recapped, and exquisitely combined in a seemly final coda that ends the movement glowingly.

The beautiful andante [D-1, T-2] is in three connected sections. The first has an amorous sighing melody (AS) that's the subject of a string duet set to a caressing piano accompaniment. The following one features a livelier anxiety-ridden tune (LA), while the third initially recalls AS bolstered by some gorgeous keyboard support. Then remembrances of LA appear succeeded by more AS to end the movement quietly.

The thematic material for the final Allegro [D-1, T-3] is derived from the preceding movements. This adds structural integrity to the trio like that found in the chamber music of Kahn’s hero, Brahms. A captivating metamorphic development and intricate recapitulation make this the most sophisticated movement yet. It leaves one wondering why this polished work is just now coming to light.

The second trio (c. 1900) also begins with an allegro [D-1, T-4]. However, this time around we're treated to three themes. For the most part the successively waggish, melancholy, and flowing development that follows involves only the first two. But not to be forgotten, the third appears in the subsequent recap, and the movement ends with an ebullient coda based on all three.

Joy turns to grief in the first part of the andante [D-1, T-5], which is a torpid funeral march (TF). But the pace quickens, and we're given a winsome nostalgic countermelody (WN). This is succeeded by some musings about TF and a dramatic pause, after which TF reasserts itself. A transitional, pizzicato-spiced passage leads to the return of WN. Then a harmonic sequence bridges into remembrances of the opening measures, closing the andante much as it began.

Once again Kahn's predilection for interbred melodies is apparent in the final allegretto [D-1, T-6], which opens with a sprightly TF-related number (ST) that takes its cue from Schumann (1810-1856). A chromatically tinged rondoesque development contrasts the previous movement's despondency with increasingly virtuosic invocations of ST that end the trio exuberantly.

The year 1902 marked the appearance of Robert's third trio, which is of dark Brahmsian hue. The initial allegro [D-2, T-1] has a slow introduction engendering a gloomy despondent theme (GD). After a brief pause, there's a somber development where GD becomes progressively more agitated and pleading. The tension rarely abates, and the movement concludes despairingly.

Another allegro [D-2, T-2] is next and offers little relief from the foregoing pessimism. It’s an austere landler that’s tossed back and forth between the three instruments. Despite a marginally more hopeful trio section, it sets the tone for the dolorous opening of the final andante [D-2, T-3]. Here the clouds of despair briefly clear a couple of times with the appearance of a romantic theme of renewal. However, they return in the end, bringing the trio to a troubled conclusion.

It would be twelve years before Kahn wrote his fourth and final trio (1914). There's an overlying informality about this five-movement work that may explain why the composer once referred to it as a serenade. The initial moderato [D-2, T-4] opens with cascading riffs that give rise to an angular theme followed by a related imploring countersubject. The two are grist for an emotional development, and then resurface closing the movement on a pensive note.

The molto vivace... [D-2, T-5] is in essence a scherzo with catchy scampering outer sections. They surround a romantic tune that comes back just as the movement ends.

Next, a phlegmatic adagio... [D-2, T-6] succeeded by a mercurial allegretto... [D-2, T-7]. Strangely enough the latter has moments reminiscent of Dvorák (1841-1904).

Then we get a high-strung concluding allegro... [D-2, T-8]. This starts with a frantic fugato based on an insistent motif, after which a couple of fetching melodies emerge. This pattern repeats, and the "serenade" ends with a coda that's a colorful synthesis of all past ideas.

The Hyperion trio, which is known for including little known composers on its programs, deserves our lasting thanks for introducing us to these exceptional Kahn rarities. The performances are generally very good. However, there are a couple of intonationally tremulous spots in the concluding two works, which makes one wonder if they were being sight-read.

Like the Ernst Toch (1887-1964) disc we told you about last May, these recordings were made at the Siemens Villa concert hall in Berlin. They project a modest sonic image appropriate to this small chamber ensemble in a pleasant acoustic with the instruments ideally placed and balanced. While the strings are lifelike and the piano well captured, the overall sound seems a mite confined. One can't help feeling this romantic music would have blossomed even more had it been given additional breathing space.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P140713)


The album cover may not always appear.
Massenet: Fant (vc & orch), Phèdre Ov, Roi… Ov, Scenes..., etc; N.Järvi/SwisRom O [Chandos (Hybrid)]
Last summer Neeme Järvi (b. 1937) and the legendary Orchestra of the Suisse Romande (OSR) gave us a wonderful box of bonbons by French composer Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894, see 31 July 2013). Now they turn their attention to his fellow countryman and contemporary Jules Massenet (1842-1912).

The eight selections on this new Chandos hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), release include a couple of old favorites, but the rest are rarely heard. Two of them are the only currently available recordings on disc, and accordingly marked "OCAR" after their titles.

The Spanish-rooted, dramatic legend Le Cid of 1885 premiered that year at the Paris Opera, where no production was considered complete without a ballet. The one for this ranks with the most popular ever written, and performances of it as a stand-alone piece have long outlasted the parent opera.

A series of seven dances, the first three represent regions of Spain, beginning with a flighty, castanet-accented "Castillane" ("Castile") [T-1]. Then there's a lazy "Andalouse" ("Andalusia") [T-2] and twirling "Aragonaise" ("Aragon") [T-3].

A plucky syncopated "Aubade" [T-4] is next followed by three more regional numbers. The temperamental "Catalane" ("Catalonia") [T-5] is alternately sad and frolicsome. "Madrilène" ("Madrid") [T-6] gets off to a melancholy start, and then turns into a toe-tapping cavort. This sets the tone for the final spirited "Navarraise" ("Navarre") that at one point recalls the "Aragonaise" to end the ballet in thrilling fashion.

The composer's sacred legend La Vierge of 1877-8 was unsuccessful in its day, but the prelude to the fourth part, Le dernier sommeil de la Vierge (The Last Sleep of the Virgin), has withstood the test of time, and is offered next [T-8]. A moving meditation with reverent solo cello passages, it would even become one of Sir Thomas Beecham's (1879-1961) celebrated "Lollipops".

Moving right along we get the overture to Massenet's highly successful opera Le roi de Lahore (The King of Lahore, 1876) [T-9]. Set in what's now Pakistan, Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) reportedly loved it!

Strange to say the exotic Eastern musical elements found in the main body of the work are absent from the overture. It's in the Western grand romantic tradition, and contrasts blusterous fanfares with mellow melodies to great effect.

Then we get a real rarity, the Fantaisie for cello and orchestra (1896-7), which is in three connected sections. The initial "Animé" ("Lively") [T-10] has soloist and tutti exchanging alternately skittish and lyrical ideas. It segues via a miniscule cadenza into "Lent" ("Leisurely") [T-11] that's a pizzicato-spiced episode with whimsical cello solos.

A final drumroll introduces the closing section of this mini-concerto, which is another "Animé" [T-12]. It's based on a heroic tune for the cello. This reappears in rondo fashion around a graceful countersubject caressed by a couple of clarinets.

Ouverture de Phèdre (1874) [T-13] was a commissioned concert work inspired by Racine's (1639-1699) eponymous play (1677) based on Euripides' (c. 480-406 BC) tragedy Hyppolytus (428 BC). This was Debussy's (1862-1918) favorite Massenet piece, and you may find it's yours as well!

A powerful forte chord succeeded by a sinister six-note motif is repeated and elaborated, getting things off to a tragic start. Then a fateful passage for winds and strings ending in an ff outburst adds a sense of impending doom. This is suddenly followed by one of Massenet's most striking themes (MS), which he then works into a lush romantic idea (LR).

After that MS is stated again and subjected to a development with some dramatic fugal elements. The mood then becomes more subdued, but LF returns taking on big tune proportions. This is succeeded by a thrilling MS-based coda, whose final forceful chords anticipate the play's ill-fated outcome.

In 1873 Massenet wrote incidental music for Leconte de Lisle's (1818-1894) tragedy Les Érinnyes (The Furies, 1873) based on Aeschylus' (c. 525 - c. 455 BC) The Oresteia (458 BC). "Scène religieuse" from Act II (OCAR) is next [T-14]. A devout piece, it ends with the cello playing an old familiar Massenet melody from Dix Pièces de genre (Ten Descriptive Pieces, 1866) for piano.

The composer's comic opera Don César de Bazan (1872, currently unavailable on disc) is represented by the "Entr'acte Sevillana" (OCAR) [T-15] preceding its third act. Apparently based on a tune Jules heard during his travels in Spain, it's a catchy, brilliantly scored Iberian interlude.

Massenet wrote seven resplendent orchestral suites (see Naxos 8.553124, 8.553125, and 15 January 2008). This release closes with one of the most stunning accounts on disc of the fourth known as Scènes pittoresques (Picturesque Scenes, 1874). In four movements, there's something impish about the syncopated initial "Marche" [T16] that makes it very appealing, while the "Air de ballet" [T-17] recalls moments in Bizet's (1836-1875) L'arlésienne (1872).

There's a quaint rusticity about "Angelus" [T-18], which honors the devotional prayer recited daily in Roman Catholic religious institutions. It's usually accompanied by the ringing of a bell, which the inventive Massenet represents with horns instead of chimes. Then the suite concludes with "Fête bohême" ("Bohemian Festival") [T-19] that’s some of the most rousing romantic French music ever written, particularly in the hands of "superconductor" Järvi.

The indefatigable Estonian Maestro and time-honored OSR give us performances of this music that are just as electric as those on their previous Chabrier release (see 31 July 2013). Norwegian cellist Truls Mörk's reading of the Fantaisie sweeps the competition away, and his contributions to Le dernier sommeil... as well as Scène religieuse are equally commendable.

These recordings like the Chabrier were made in Victoria Hall, Geneva, and utilized the same equipment with equally dazzling results. The overall instrumental timbre is characterized by bright musical highs, a pleasing midrange, and clean lows aptly demonstrated by periodic whacks on the bass drum in "Aragonaise" [T-3].

In the SACD mode the stereo track is marginally more silken and airy, while the multichannel one will put you in a center orchestra seat. Audiophiles who liked the earlier disc won't want to be without this one.

Incidentally the album notes tout a free download of the "Meditation" from Thaïs (1894) in a version for cello and orchestra. While we couldn't seem to find it at the address given, you might want to try by clicking here.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y140712)


The album cover may not always appear.
Moór: Dbl Conc (2 vcs & orch), Vc Conc 2, Prel (vc & orch); P.Szabó/I.Szabó/Hamar/Misk SO [Hung]
A man of many talents, who apparently had a cantankerous disposition, Hungarian-born Emánuel Moór (1863-1931) was at one time or another a pianist, organist, inventor and prolific composer. He studied in Budapest and Prague, later going to Vienna where Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) was his teacher.

He then began his career in Hungary, but would later live in England and finally move to Switzerland, where he met Pablo Casals (1876-1973). The great Catalan cellist championed his music, inspiring him to write a significant number of works for violoncello. The three on this new Hungaroton release are with orchestra, and dedicated to Pablo. Two of them are the only currently available recordings on disc, and accordingly marked "OCAR" after their titles.

First up, a double cello concerto from 1908 written for him and his then very talented young associate Guilhermina Suggia (1885-1950). A tremendous success in Casals' time, it's in four movements, and starts with a moderato [T-1].

There's something of Ravel's (1875-1937) Pavane pour une infante défunte (1905) in the orchestral opening, which introduces a stately dramatic theme (SD) bringing Dohnányi (1877-1960) to mind. The soloists then pick up on SD, and a cadenza-like development follows. After that there's a romantic recap ending the movement in a melancholic state.

The pace quickens in the next intermezzo [T-2] where the two cellists chase about in virtuosic outer sections surrounding some SD-related introspective moments. Calm is restored in the succeeding sad adagio [T-3], which takes its cue from subdued passages in both preceding movements.

Then grief turns to elation in the final allegro [T-4] where the soloists spin out a pair of folkish themes. Successively dancelike and nostalgic, the concerto ends in rustic bliss with references to the first of these.

Casals made his debut in Vienna (1910) with Moór's second cello concerto (1906, OCAR), which is one of his finest works. Also in four movements, the first largo [T-5] begins with an angular searching idea (AS) for the orchestra that will recur in various guises throughout this aberrant rondo.

Picked up and elaborated by the cello, AS becomes the subject of an engaging development with virtuosic asides for the soloist that include a brief cadenza. This culminates in a tutti big tune romanticized version of AS (RS) that slowly fades.

The cello then plays RS, introducing an alternately pensive and agitated exploration of it with contrapuntal elements. This gives way to a recap of RS in the strings that becomes a magnificent concluding peroration with some cello fireworks and majestic memories of AS.

The nervous presto, which follows [T-6] starts with a repeated upward three-note riff (UT), and makes great demands on the cellist. UT becomes the bone of contention for an animated exchange between soloist and tutti having flashbacks to RS. The movement then ends suddenly with a perfunctory cello flourish.

Next up, a moving adagio [T-7] based on a mournful melody occasionally recalling darker moments in Elgar's (1857-1934) Enigma Variations (1898-9). This movement sets the tone for the emotional final allegro [T-8].

It begins with a harrowing introduction for soloist and tutti, followed by the cello playing a couple of RS-related ideas. These undergo a development ending in a triumphant recap and cadenza. The latter is made ominous by an underlying drumroll, and ushers in a tragic ff orchestral restatement of AS. This ends the concerto darkly, pointing the way to more modern ones like Miklós Rózsa's (1907-1995) of 1969.

The disc concludes with Prelude for Cello and Orchestra (c. 1911-2; OCAR), which is a brief showpiece encompassing the cello's entire range. With a rapturous beginning, it builds to a melodic climax, and then closes sotto voce, bringing this disc of discovery to a reserved ending.

In this all-Hungarian production, highly acclaimed cellist Péter Szabó is the lead soloist. He gives spirited, heartfelt performances of all three works, and gets a splendid assist from his daughter Ildikó in the double concerto.

They receive committed support from conductor Zsolt Hamar and the Miskolc Symphony Orchestra, which most will be hearing here for the first time. Suffice it to say, what its members may lack in technical finesse, they compensate for with their enthusiastic response to this rarely heard music.

Made over the past couple of years at an undisclosed location in Miskolc, Hungary, the recordings are consistently good and in an accommodating acoustic. The soundstage projected is generous with the balance between soloists and orchestra ideal.

The Szabós are located just left and right of center in the double concerto, while the remaining pieces find Péter at the midpoint. The soloists are convincingly captured, but the orchestral timbre suffers from an occasional hint of grain in the highs.

By the way, if you like these concerto rarities, consider trying some Magyar ones for harp that appeared on a Hungaroton release a few years ago (see 28 March 2007).

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P140711)

- AVAILABILITY - Records International

The album cover may not always appear.
Rimsky-Korsakov: Tale of Tsar Saltan (cpte opera); Soloists/Nebolsin/USSRStAc BolshTh C&O [Melodiya]
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) wrote fifteen operas, a couple of which, The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1899-1900) and The Golden Cockerel (1906-7), are after fairy tale poems by Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837). While the latter has been available for some time, Melodiya continues their groundbreaking CD rereleases of more obscure Russian operas (see 10 June 2014) now giving us this only currently available version of the earlier one.

An orchestral suite from Tsar Saltan has been a concert favorite for years. However, the complete opera as presented here in this serviceable monaural recording is an exceptional discovery that adds another dimension to some ever popular music! The libretto by Vladimir Belsky (1866-1946), who also did Cockerel, is unfortunately not included in the album notes, but there is a plot synopsis. Those wishing to see the entire text can click here.

The opera consists of a prologue and four acts, in which Rimsky employs leitmotifs. He tells us he used the orchestra to represent the fantastic as opposed to the vocalists, who embody real elements. An avid folk song collector, he comes up with one infectious Eastern-tinged melody after another.

The prologue takes place in a country house on a wintry evening, and opens with a trumpet flourish (TF) [D-1, T-1] that will appear frequently. Next we're introduced to two sisters and the aged matchmaker Barbarikha, who sing a couple of droll chastushka numbers [D-1, T1 through 3]. Then we meet their younger sister, the beautiful Militrissa [D-1, T-3], who's forced to do all the housework, bringing the Cinderella story to mind (see 10 June 2014). Following that all three siblings fantasize about becoming Tsarina.

Orchestral references to a spirited march (SM) [D-1, T-4] indicate the presence of Tsar Saltan, who for some reason has been lurking outside the front door and overheard their conversation. He enters and in an exultant SM-related exchange orders them all to his palace at Timutarakan.

There he marries Militrissa , making her sisters a cook and weaver much to their chagrin. Babarikha along with the two disgruntled siblings then hatch an evil plot. To wit, when the Tsar goes off to war and the young expectant Tsarina gives birth, they'll send a message to Saltan saying the child is something along the lines of Rosemary's Baby (1968) [D-1, T-5].

Act I gets off to a TF start succeeded by a compelling SM-based orchestral episode marking the Tsar's departure [D-1, T-6]. Not long thereafter Militrissa has a perfectly normal boychik, but as planned the evil sisters intercept her message to the Tsar telling him about his son, and replace it with their own.

Next we get a winsome Nannie's lullaby [D-1, T-7], but the Tsarina is sad because she hasn't heard from her husband. In hopes of lifting her spirits, members of the court provide some entertainment {D-1, T-8 through 15]. This includes another humorous chastushka exchange (see above) between the Court Jester and a character known as Old Grandfather [D-1, T-9], followed by a glorious chorus praising the Tsar's new son [D-1, T-16].

However, elation turns to consternation when a letter arrives from Saltan, who thinking his wife has given birth to a monster, decrees she and her progeny be put in a barrel and tossed into the sea [D-1, T-17]. This is cause for a moving aria from the Tsarina [D-1, T-18] worthy of Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). The act then ends in a dramatic ensemble number accompanied by sinister orchestral passages as members of the court carry out the Tsar's orders [D-1, T-19].

The TF-announced mysterious symphonic interlude prefacing Act II [D-1, T-20] will be familiar to those knowing the orchestral suite. However, it has even more dramatic impact in the context of the opera.

The action takes place a few years later on the desert island of Buyan, where the barrel finally came ashore. Militrissa and her son Gvidon, who's now grown into manhood, are the only human inhabitants, and rejoice over escaping their cask of confinement [D-1, T-21].

Gvidon then goes hunting, and discovers a swan swimming nearby being pecked to death by a vulture. He kills the attacking bird with his bow and arrow [D-1, T-22]. But being a fairy tale opera, this is a magic female swan -- shades of Wagner's (1813-1883) Lohengrin (1846-7) -- who then comes ashore.

She thanks him for saving her life in a gorgeous aria that's arguably the melodic zenith of the opera [D-1, T-23]. She also reveals she was once a young girl who was transformed into her current likeness by an evil sorcerer, who was the bird of prey he just shot.

As night falls we get a lovely duet for Gvidon and his mom [D-1, T-24], after which Militrissa delivers a touching folkish ditty [D-2, T-1] recalling how the Tsar once loved her [D-2, T-1]. A haunting intermezzo follows [D-2, T-2], during which the Swan causes the city of Ledenets to magically appear, bringing to mind Rimsky's penultimate operatic masterpiece, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh (1905).

It's a thank-you gift from the Swan to Gvidon for saving her life, and the town folk hail the Tsarina and her son, declaring him their leader. The act then comes to a blazing conclusion as he's crowned king in a massive coronation scene [D-2, T-3 and 4] made all the more attractive by the timely appearance of some previous leitmotifs.

The orchestral introduction to the first scene of the third act begins with another reference to TF [D-2, T-5], and accompanies Gvidon as he paces the shore of Buyan. He spies three ships on the way to Timutarakan, and sings an affecting aria [D-2, T-6] in which he longs to see his father. The magic Swan then appears with a novel way of granting his wish.

In a captivating exchange [D-2, T-7], she tells him to dive into the sea three times. This changes him into a bumblebee, and we get one of the world's best loved classical pieces, The Flight of the Bumblebee (FB) [D-2, T-8]!

He then flies to the ships which take him to Timutarakan, where the Tsar's palace is the setting for the act's closing scene [D-2, T-9 through 14]. Again beginning with TF, it contains some of Rimsky's best tunes, and is one of the opera's most colorful episodes.

In it the ship's merchants and sailors tell about the wonders of Buyan as the nasty sisters along with Babarikha bad-mouth it in hopes of keeping Saltan from wanting to go there. The conniving matchmaker also hints at the presence of a beautiful island princess.

Every now and then we hear FB reminding us that the airborne Gvidon is taking all this in. He finally stings the women, blinding the treacherous matchmaker. Then the act closes as the Tsar somewhat humorously bans bumblebees from the palace, and announces he'll visit the fabulous island just described to him.

Buyan is the setting for the fourth and final act. The first scene introduction opens with -- you guessed it! -- TF. It's another stunning symphonic offering [D-2, T-15] as Gvidon walks along the beach, delivering a tender aria [D-2, T-16] in which he longs for the princess Babarikha had mentioned.

Suddenly the Swan appears and in an enchanting duet [D-2, T-17] changes into the Princess, after which the two pledge themselves to one another. They're then joined by Militrissa and her maids who in a sublime number [D-2, T-18] bless their upcoming wedding to close the scene ecstatically.

A seven-minute orchestral masterpiece known as "Three Wonders" [D-2, T-19] prefaces the final scene. A thrilling musical representation of the island's miraculous features, it would be hard to find any other Russian music more lyrical and colorfully orchestrated than this!

One of the best scenes in all of Rimsky's operas, it begins with Militrissa and Gvidon sighting the Tsar's ship [D-2, T-20]. Not wishing to meet him after what he did to her, she leaves. A festive chorus set to a wild orchestral accompaniment augmented with bells and drums [D-2, T-21] follows as the people of Ledenets welcome Saltan and his entourage.

Gvidon then extends his greetings [D-2, T-22], and the Tsar sings a sad Tchaikovskyesque aria [D-2, T-23]. In it he expresses his regret over how he treated his wife and son, who along with the older sisters and Babarikha try unsuccessfully to cheer him up [D-2, T-24].

There are brief references to the first two "Wonders" [D-2, T-25 and T-26], and finally the third [D-2, T-27], which is the Swan now turned Princess. She repeats that to-die-for aria we heard in Act II [D-1, T-24], and Gvidon introduces her to the Tsar. Then Militrissa suddenly reappears much to Saltan's delight, and the two sing a touching duet of reconciliation [D-2, T-28].

The whole cast returns for a couple of rousing final ensemble numbers. In the first [D-2, T-29] the Tsar finds out Gvidon is his son, Barbarikha takes flight, and the two older sisters are forgiven. Then the opera ends joyfully [D-2, T-30] as everyone celebrates the impending marriage of Gvidon to the Swan Princess with more spirited references to a number of Rimsky's inspired leitmotifs.

The all Russian cast includes sopranos E. Smolenskaya (Militrissa), G. Oleinichenko (Swan Princess) and E. Shumilova (Older sister - Cook); mezzo-soprano L. Nikitina (Older sister - Weaver); contralto E. Verbitskaya (Babarikha); tenors V. Ivanovsky (Gvidon) and P. Chekin (Old Grandfather); and basses I. Petrov (Tsar Saltan) and M. Reshetin (Jester). They're very convincing in each of their roles, and receive outstanding support from the USSR State Academic Bolshoi Theater Choir and Orchestra under conductor Vassili Nebolsin (1898-1958).

We’re lucky to have even this somewhat steely-sounding 1958 monaural studio recording of the complete opera. However, considering a work of this scale one can't help wishing it were in stereo.

Fortunately the balance between soloists, chorus and orchestra is good, which means those with home theater sound field processors can simulate a virtual venue thereby spreading the music over a larger soundstage. In closing, this is a great opera, and hopefully some enterprising record company will soon give us an audiophile rendition of it.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P140710)


The album cover may not always appear.
Verhulst: Stg Qts 1 & 2; Utrecht Qt [MD&G]
Born and for the most part educated in The Hague, Dutch composer Johannes Verhulst (1816-1891) would at the invitation of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) complete his studies in Leipzig, Germany. Then upon his return to the Netherlands in the mid-1840s he pursued an initially highly successful career as a composer-conductor. He was known for his strong advocacy of early romantics such as Mendelssohn and Schumann (1810-1856).

However, a man of highly conservative tastes, his refusal to promote the more modern works of his day by the likes of Berlioz (1803-1869), Liszt (1811-1886) and Wagner (1813-1883) lead increasingly to his estrangement from Dutch musical circles. It's only been in the past few years that there's been a renewed interest in him, and judging from the selections on this new enterprising MD&G release, a Verhulst revival seems overdue.

He would write three string quartets, the first two of which appear here in these only currently available performances on disc. Both dating from 1839, they're each in four movements and profoundly influenced by Mendelssohn, who's their dedicatee. But don't get the idea these are just Felix clones! On the contrary you'll find a singing lyricism worthy of Schubert (1797-1828) that's all Verhulst.

The first quartet's opening allegro [T-1] begins with a sunny tender theme (ST) that's elaborated and followed by a more restrained idea. The foregoing is repeated after which we get an overcast development and brief recap that ends the movement with a somber reminiscence of ST.

It’s followed by a wistful melodic adagio [T-2] with sighing phrases. However, the mood lightens in the succeeding scherzo [T-3] that alternates fleeting Mendelssohnian passages with a comely imploring tune.

Then we get a final presto [T-4] that starts with a dynamic descending phrase (DD) recalling the opening of the last movement in Beethoven's Eroica Symphony (No. 3, 1803; see 30 April 2008). A couple of memorable ideas follow that along with DD are subjects for a hyperactive rondo that ends the quartet in a thrilling virtuosic tour de force. You'll love it!

The second quartet, which is a bit more adventurous, begins with an allegro [T-5] having a couple of themes that are respectively antic and lullaby-like. They're subjected to a development that’s rhythmically as well as harmonically more progressive than anything in the preceding quartet. This includes some subdued mysterious passages, which give way to recollections of past ideas that end the movement perfunctorily.

It would be hard to argue with Schumann who opined that the sincerity and warmth of the aria-like adagio [T-6] made it the quartet’s finest movement! Then it’s scherzo time again with another perky offering where more of those busy Mendelssohn-like passages are intermixed with what could be a folk song melody.

An allegretto brings the quartet to an exciting conclusion. Imbued with skittering rhythms, a whimsical harmonic structure, and lots of fancy fiddling, it ends this release all too soon! Let's hope the third quartet (c. 1843), which Schumann apparently loved, is soon forthcoming on MD&G.

Continuing in the tradition of their highly praised survey of Alexander Glazunov's (1865-1936) works for string quartet (see 12 April 2012), the members of the Utrecht Quartet give us exemplary performances of this unjustly neglected Dutch music. Their technical mastery is tempered with insightful readings of these rarities. Those new to Verhulst liking this disc are encouraged to try some of his larger scale works (see Chandos 10020 and 10179).

MD&G produces some of today's finest sounding chamber music discs, and this is no exception. Made last year at an undisclosed location in Haarlem, Holland, they give us another audiophile release with recordings that present a generous soundstage in an accommodating, agreeably reverberant acoustic. The instrumental balance is ideal, and the string tone while bright, musically pleasing.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y140709)