31 AUGUST 2015


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.
Bartók: Vc Conc (arr Va Conc); Dorati: Vc Conc; Seiber: 3 Pcs; Wallfisch/Takács-Nagy/BBCWalNa O [Nimbus]
Three Hungarian works for cello and orchestra inhabit this recent welcome release from Nimbus Records, including one by Bartók (1881-1945). But he didn't write one you say! Well in essence he did, and the facts surrounding it are interesting.

Summarizing the informative album notes, he'd moved to the USA in 1940, and developed a fatal case of leukemia by early 1944. However, advanced medical treatments stabilized it enough for him to accept some commissions the following year. One was from the great Scottish violist William Primrose (1904-1982; see 11 July 2007), who wanted a contemporary work showcasing his instrument.

Accordingly Bartók originally planned a four-movement concerto. However, he only completed sketches for a three-movement one shortly before his death, telling Primrose it was ready in draft and only needed to be scored.

Not long thereafter the composer's apprentice and promoter Tibor Serly (1901-1978), who was a violist himself, decided to realize alternate viola and cello performing versions, the reason apparently being twofold. First, Bartók had once told Primrose some passages would prove awkward or even unplayable on the viola. And second, there was the precedent of the composer having done an arrangement of his First Violin Rhapsody (1928) for cello.

On that note, in 1948 Serly gathered together sixteen of the composer's closest associates and played samples from each his efforts, asking which they preferred. Two abstained, but the remaining fourteen voted eight to six in favor of the one for cello.

Either way Serly's efforts were a labor of love that he wouldn't finish until 1949. Some of the difficulties encountered included the proper sequencing of countless unnumbered pages, as well as deciphering Bartók's scribbled shorthand harmonic intentions. That's not to mention the formidable task of scoring it, where all he had to go on was the composer having once told Primrose the orchestration would be "rather transparent".

Tibor's allegedly "authorized" viola version was premiered in late 1949 by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra with Primrose as soloist. The conductor would be Antal Dorati, who'd go on to write one of the other selections here (see below).

However, the story doesn't end there! In 1955 Bartók's son Peter (b.1924) and a music editor associate came up with another version for viola reputedly more faithful to the source material. They revised it in 2003, and that's what the orchestra plays here, but the solo part is for cello, based on both the Serly and Peter Bartók reconstructions.

Timewise, the opening allegro [T-7] at almost fifteen minutes is half of the concerto. In modified sonata form, it begins quietly on the cello with a singing Magyar-like, timpani-accented idea (SM) [00:02] that's picked up by the orchestra. SM is dramatically explored, and followed by a flowing rustic melody (FR) [03:05].

After that we get an engaging development [04:12] having virtuosic passages for the soloist that include a tutti-reinforced cadenza [06:50-08:50]. It also has rondoesque reminders of SM, one of which [09:25] sounds like something out of Béla's Concerto for Orchestra (1943).

Then there's a recap coda that begins heroically with an SM-related theme [11:43], but soon fades away, making you think the movement is over. But just as you stand to applaud, the music resumes [13:09] with a shriek and bravura passages for the soloist. Set to a snarling accompaniment, these end this section in quiet desperation.

The last two movements run together, and couldn't be more different. Moreover, the brief "lento" [T-8] starts with a melancholy Hungarian-sounding ditty on the cello with shimmering tutti support [00:02]. This builds to an emotional climax succeeded by an angry, timpani-accented brass outburst [04:06] announcing a cinematic episode [4:20] worthy of Miklós Rózsa's (1907-1995) biblical scores.

It runs right into an equally short final "allegretto" [T-9], which is a crazed workout for everyone based on a Magyarish frenetic fiddle tune [00:03]. This surrounds a delightful folksy dance ditty [01:46-03:03], and suddenly quits on a forte chord, ending the concerto perfunctorily.

Born in Budapest, Antal Dorati (1906-1988), whom we've already mentioned above, studied between 1920 and 1924 with Bartók and Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) at what's now the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. Although best remembered as a conductor of several prestigious American symphony orchestras -- the Minneapolis (1949-60), National (Washington, D.C.; 1970-7) and Detroit (1977-81) among them -- he was also a composer, who left some significant orchestral works.

These include a couple of symphonies and several concertante pieces, one of the latter being the cello concerto of 1977 featured next. In three movements, the first is a recitative-like offering [T-4] that opens with the cello stating a halting troubled theme (HT) [00:09; note the excessive lead-in time].

The orchestra then joins in, and after another Rózsa-like outburst [02:02] we get a rhapsodic exploration of HT [02:55], which turns increasingly lyrical. This ends the movement peacefully, bringing to mind Dorati's own characterization of his style as contemporary but not afraid of melody.

Next we get a theme and variations [T-5] whose main subject is a devout hymnlike melody (DH) [00:02]. The first two of the five variants that follow are exotically Eastern [01:34] and rustically jolly [03:33]. Then there's a soul-searching third [04:42] with church bells and a restless cello cadenza [05:48-06:34].

The nervous percussive fourth [06:35] recalls combative moments in Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) Ein Heldenleben. While a lovelorn fifth [07:45], which is the most dramatic, features the soloist along with the orchestra's cello section.

It segues into a final coda where DH makes a dreamy reappearance [09:54] followed by another cadenza [10:25-11:22]. This concludes with the quiet return of the orchestra, which plays a final sustained note that fades away, ending the movement uneventfully.

The allegro finale [T-6] is a vivacious romantic bash where the cello introduces two folksy themes that are mirror images of one another. The first is a vibrant cheerful ditty (VC) [00:08] that after a brief exploration gives way to a flowing songful melody (FS) [03:36].

Then there's a commanding development of both that begins with Rózsa eruptions [05:13]. It leads to a triumphant reminder of FS [08:41] succeeded by a rapturous episode. This bridges into an extended demanding cadenza [10:04-12:31] and brief ebullient coda, closing the concerto with virtuosic panache.

Mátyás Seiber (1905-1960) was born in Budapest and began playing the cello at age ten. Then like Dorati (see above) he'd study at the Franz Liszt Acadeny of Music (1919-24) where Kodály was a mentor, with whom he'd journey all over Hungary collecting folk material.

In 1927 he began his career as a cellist, conductor and teacher in Frankfurt. Having a strong interest in jazz, Seiber would be the first on the continent to offer academic courses in it. However, the rise of Nazism forced him to stop them in 1933, and move to London. He became a British citizen in 1935, and eventually one of its most respected composition teachers.

He'd also write a considerable amount of music. This included numerous concert pieces and film scores, one being for a movie version of George Orwell's (1903-1950) classic Animal Farm (1954, see 31 July 2015).

The selection for cello and orchestra on this disc falls into the former category. Entitled Tre Pezzi (Three Pieces, 1956), the work's overall structural continuity makes it in essence a three-movement concerto. The opening piece marked adagio [T-1] takes the form of a fantasia that begins with a rigorous thematic nexus (RT) having three motifs.

Descending and ascending intervals of a fourth characterize the first played by the flute (DA) [00:04]. It's succeeded by an anguished stabbing second on the cello (AS) [00:20], under which a dark expansive third suggestive of the opening to Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra (1943) emerges in the lower strings (DE) [00:37].

A dramatic exploration of RT is next [01:08], then some pensive cello passages, and an antsy pizzicato-laced episode (AP) [02:52-03:42]. It's followed by reminiscences of the opening measures that end this piece in much the same spirit it began.

The next "Capriccio" [T-2] with all its cheeky staccato and extensive percussive effects is an impish delight permeated with an insistent pixilated variant of AS [00:57]. Bravura bits for the soloist abound in this prickly sound spectacular, and there's a catchy AP-related canonic episode [04:08-05:03]. The piece concludes irreverently with a brass Bronx cheer [05:44] and three perfunctory timpanic thumps.

While writing the above the composer learned that a close pianist-composer friend had been killed in a car accident -- strangely enough Mátyás himself would suffer the same fate four years later. He therefore decided to write a closing epilogue [T-3] in his memory.

Based on DA and DE, it's marked lento. There's a haunting hushed chromaticism present recalling the Second Viennese School, which instills a sense of unsettling bewilderment. Consequently it comes off as a mystical transformation of the opening fanfare's outer sections, and brings the concerto full circle.

Cellist Raphael Wallfisch delivers spectacular readings of all three works. He receives excellent support from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Gábor Takács-Nagy, who's one of Hungary's leading musicians, and a highly regarded expert on Bartók.

Also a graduate of the Franz Liszt Academy (see above), he'll be better known to many as the founding member of the acclaimed Takács String Quartet. His enthusiasm for the music of his fellow countrymen is audible at a couple of points where he urges his musicians on to greater things.

Made in association with BBC Radio at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, Wales, the recording projects a wide deep sonic image in a reverberant acoustic. The balance between the soloist and orchestra is acceptable, but Wallfisch's stunning performances would have benefitted from more highlighting.

The cello is natural sounding, and the instrumental timbre characterized by brilliant highs, a convincing midrange, and clean bass. The dynamic range is considerable. Moreover, those cranking up the level to better capture Wallfisch's remarkable playing may find themselves blown away by forte passages. In short, an arresting recording that some may find falls into the audiophile category.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P150831)


The album cover may not always appear.
Hahn, R.: Le Bal de…, Conc provençal, Divert pour..., Sérénade; Soloists/EnInit/Chalvin/PaysSav O [Timpani]
Timpani has introduced us to a number of lesser-known French composers deserving wider recognition, and this recent release has another. Born in Caracas of a German-Jewish father and Venezuelan mother, Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947) was only three when his family moved to Paris in 1878. A musical wunderkind he'd later study with Théodore Dubois (1837-1924, see 31 May 2015) and Jules Massenet (1842-1912, see 4 July 2014), becoming one of the latter's favorite pupils.

He was granted French citizenship in 1909, and would serve in the army during the First World War (1914-8). But despite that, rampant anti-Semiticism during the Nazi World War II (1939-45) occupation of France forced his relocation to Toulon and later Monte Carlo in Vichy-controlled southern France. He then returned to Paris in 1945, where he'd live out his life.

A man of many talents, Reynaldo pursued a diversified career as a conductor, music critic, salon singer, and composer, who left a significant body of works. That's particularly true of the four included here! These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.

The opening selection, Le Bal de Béatrice d'Este (c. 1905), takes us back to Renaissance Milan between 1491 and 1497. It was home to one of Italy's most resplendent courts whose mistress was the beautiful, highly cultivated Beatrice d'Este (1475-1497), wife of Lodovico Sforza (aka Lodovico il Moro, 1452-1508), who was Duke from 1494 through 1499. She was one of the most exemplary cultural influences of her age, who surrounded herself with scholars, poets and artists that included Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519).

It's a seven-movement dance suite whose scenario is an impression of an evening spent in her court. Written around 1905, and scored for ten winds, piano, two harps, timpani and percussion, Hahn convincingly captures the spirit of music from that time.

That's true from the initial "Entrée pour Ludovic le More" ("Entrance of Lodovico il Moro") [T-1]. It opens with a harp glissando [00:01] and stately commanding theme (SC) [00:03] that bring to mind Lully's (1632-1687) more august moments (see 11 July 2007)..

The next two selections are long forgotten Renaissance dances known as a Lesquercade [T-2] and Romanesque [T-3]. The first is a graceful melodious pavane that finds the composer at his most charming, and the second a simple folksy minuet.

A change of pace is next with "Ibérienne" [T-4], which is associated with Beatrice's older sister Isabella (1474-1539), who was the Marchesa of Mantua, and also a major cultural figure. An infectious bouncy little number it seemingly reflects her reputation for having "lively eyes", and being "of lively grace".

Then we get a tone miniature titled "Léda et l'Oiseau. Intermčde léonardesque" ("Leda and the Swan. Leonardo Interlude") [T-5]. It alludes to his original painting of that title (see 30 June 2015), which disappeared back in the sixteenth century, and was probably deliberately destroyed by the artist. Here the winds play a voluptuous Hahnian melody to a graceful accompaniment.

An unresolved final chord bridges into the penultimate "Courante" [T-6] with sprightly outer sections surrounding a lithe central trio that's a canon for oboe, horn, clarinet and bassoon [01:16-02:02]. Then the suite concludes zealously with "Salut final au Duc de Milan" ("Final Entry of the Duke of Milan") [T-7], which is a big tune reprise of SC, bringing the work full circle.

Skipping ahead some forty years we get one of the composer's last pieces, Concerto provençal of 1944. This is a modern day concerto grosso where four wind soloists (flute, oboe, clarinet and horn) are pitted against a string orchestra. The name reflects its three-movements, which are each associated with a type of tree typically found in the French region of Provence, where Hahn then lived (see above).

The first "Sous les platanes" ("Under the Plane Trees") [T-8] was probably inspired by those along the Canal du Midi. It's a sonata form pastoral with a couple of attractive thematic groups that are respectively coy (GC) [00:07] and wistful [01:47]. They're subjected to a harmonically colorful development, after which there's a lovely recap and coda that end the movement with a touch of nostalgia.

"Sous les pins" ("Under the Pine Trees") [T-9] is a lazy nocturne, which begins with melancholy strings and lachrymose winds. Then it's easy to imagine the sound of a nightingale as the flute plays a GC-related melody [03:37]. And carrying that analogy a bit further, it's succeeded by what might be an owl on the bassoon [04:09]. After that the somber mood of the opening returns [05:24] to end this section as it began.

The final "Sous les oliviers" ("Under the Olive Trees") [T-10] is another sonata form offering with two GC-related ideas. The sinuous first is announced by a liquid clarinet [00:00] and anticipates the folksy dancelike second (FD) played by the strings [01:14].

They are subjects of an animated developmental dialogue [01:54] with a catchy recurring farandole-like phrase [02:05-02:26].Then the divertissement concludes with an FD-based recap [05:31] and deceptive coda. The latter begins sentimentally on the cello [06:09], only to end in a burst of joy for all.

The recently discovered Sérénade of 1942 for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon follows. It's in three immaculate classically proportioned movements, where the composer's melodic gifts once again shine through. The first "Vif et gai" ("Lively and Gay") [T-11] is a perky minuet with a bubbly first idea (BF) [00:01] and avian-pecking second [00:54].

The "Moderato..." [T-12] juxtaposes a wistful melody [00:00} with a slightly more optimistic one [01:24], while the closing "Preste et léger" ("Fast and Light") [T-13] is as advertised, and starts with a chortling theme [00:01]. It's followed by a nonchalant countersubject [00:31], and the two undergo a virtuosic development with a reminder of BF tossed in for good measure [01:47]. Then there's a curt recap [02:33] and jaunty coda [03:03] ending the piece with a grin.

Closing out this enticing release there's Divertissement pour une fęte de nuit (Divertissement for a Night Celebration, c. 1931), which is the Hahn counterpart of Mozart's (1756-1791) Serenata Notturna (K 239; 1787). Moreover, it's a six-movement suite for winds, piano, string quartet and percussion meant to evoke memories of nights in old Vienna.

The first "La Nuit. Le Parc" ("The Night. The Park") [T-14] gets off to a dreamy piano-embellished start followed by horn and timpani flourishes that announce three picturesque tableaus. The first "Haydn chez le Prince Esterhazy" ("Haydn at Prince Esterhazy's" ) [T-15] is a scampering rondo that brings to mind the many keyboard concertos "Papa Haydn" (1732-1809) wrote during his long association with the affluent Esterházy family. (1751-1803).

The next "Adieu pour toujours! Dessus de pendule" ("Farewell For Ever! On Top of the Clock") [T-16] finds Hahn at the height of his melodic powers. Reminiscent of Massenet, it's an exquisite remembrance of those antique bronze figurines atop late eighteenth century household clocks. We're told in the informative album notes it originated in his ballet-pantomime La fęte chez Thérčse (Teresa's Party, 1910; currently unavailable on disc)

Reynaldo may have had another picture in mind (see Leonardo above) when he wrote the third tableau titled "Le Jugement de Paris. Danse lente" ("The Judgement of Paris. A Slow Dance") [T-16], which was the subject of several 17-18th century paintings inspired by a Greek myth. It's an elegant minuet with a demure flute and seductive saxophone, which suggest the three Olympic beauties Paris had to judge.

The following "Canzone. Sur le lac" ("Song. On the Lake") [T-18] may refer to one of the Danube's inlets near Vienna. It's prefaced by a restful episode beginning with a drumroll and mellow horn. The viola then introduces a captivating boatman's song [01:32] with hints of wavelets in the sparkling accompaniment.

No piece of music about Vienna would be complete without something commemorating its past as waltz capital of the world. This is reflected in the final "Lumičres. Valse dans les jardins" ("Lights. Waltz in the Gardens") [T-19], which opens fulgently with piano, strings, flute and glockenspiel. Then after an expectant pause we get a gliding waltz medley that concludes this CD of music by one of France's most tuneful romantic composers

The wind octet Ensemble Initium, which was founded ten years ago at the Paris Conservatory, takes center stage here. Each of its members plays these delicate scores to perfection. They receive sensitive support from the Pays de Savoie Orchestra under Nicolas Chalvin in the two opening works and final divertissement.

The recordings, which were made at the Reuil-Malmaison Conservatory outside Paris (Le Bal..., Sérénade, Divertissement...) and Cité des arts in Chambéry, France (Concerto...), sound consistent. Close miking of the wind soloists convincingly captures and balances them against the other players. This and minimally reverberant venues result in comfortably sized, clearly focused sonic images.

The instrumental timbre is characterized by pleasant highs, a musical midrange, and clean-cut bass. Pointy-eared listeners may notice some occasional wind-related action noises along with rustles from the performers as they shift position. There are also a few isolated low frequency thumps of unidentified origin.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P150830)


The album cover may not always appear.
O'Brien, C.: Cpte Orch Wks V1 (Sym in f; Ellangowan Concert Ov, Op 12); Mann/Liepaja SO [Toccata]
Bonnie Scotland is well represented on this first of three volumes in Toccata Classics' recordings devoted to Charles O'Brien's (1882-1968) complete orchestral works. With music degrees from Oxford (1907) as well as Trinity College, Dublin (1926), Charles would also receive instruction from the best-known Scottish composer of the day, Hamish MacCunn (1868-1916).

During his career as an organist, conductor, pianist and teacher, he would write a small number of symphonic pieces. World premiere recordings of his two most important ones are on this disc.

The opening selection is a concert overture whose genesis as explained in the album booklet is somewhat confusing. Moreover, there are two versions identically titled Ellangowan that are both said to date from 1909.

At almost eighteen minutes, the one here marked Op. 12 is for large orchestra [T-1]. While the other, which we're told is his Op. 10, runs some five minutes less, and employs smaller forces.

The notes imply the shorter was a revision prompted by negative comments from critics regarding the original made just after its 1914 premiere. These apparently included complaints about a lack of formal structure, probably referring to the unconventional midsection [04:25-12:30], and its length. All this brings their dates and numbering as presented here into question.

Be that as it may, Op. 10 will apparently appear on an upcoming volume, which may help clarify things. In any case both works take their name from a fictional Scottish estate in Sir Walter Scott's (1771-1832) novel Guy Mannering (1815). Not meant as program music, they're tonal impressions of Scotland's southwestern Galloway region, where Ellangowan was said to be located.

Op. 12 [T-1] is in loosey-goosey sonata form. It begins with a folksy hornpipe-like ditty (FH) [00:02] that sounds all the more authentic for the composer's use of pentatonic scales and "Scotch snaps". FH is elaborated and succeeded by a related leisurely songlike tune (LS) [01:52], after which the two are developed [03:15].

Then there's a stirring hunting horn sequence (SH) [04:25] introducing an adagio section based on a sad sobbing melody [05:04]. It's followed by a modulating sequential passage [06:44] smacking of Wagner (1813-1833), which bridges into a reminder of the opening measures [09:19].

This leads to another development [11:02] that's initially overcast but turns sunny, giving way to a cheerful recapitulation [12:30]. A moving FH-based coda [15:22] recalling SH [15:24] then ends the overture with peaceful reminders of LS [17:01] and FH [17:25].

Lasting almost forty-five minutes, the Symphony in F minor of 1922 was his sole effort in the genre, and final large-scale orchestral undertaking. The year 1934 saw its first and only performance until this recording of eighty years later (2014). In four movements the first marked "Con moto moderato e serioso" ("With moderation and seriously") [T-2] finds the older, more circumspect O'Brien in strict compliance with sonata form.

Having two main ideas, it starts with a bothered foreboding theme (BF) [00:05] that hints [00:51] at the other soon to come. After a bit of manipulation we get an innocent jaunty second idea (IJ) [03:08], and harmonically searching development [04:04] haunted by the ghost of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897).

Then there's a literal recapitulation [09:01] of the opening exposition. However, this time around we get a dramatic brass-enforced addendum [14:13]. It ushers in a BF-based coda [14:54] that concludes the movement on a manic Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) high.

A charming, exquisitely scored "Menuetto" [T-3] has a classical simplicity harkening back to Haydn (1732-1809). Here delicate perky passages surround two tuneful trio sections [01:38, 04:19], and cleanse the palate in preparation for the work's emotional slow movement [T-4].

Marked "Andante sostenuto e cantabile" ("Tranquil and songlike"), its outer sections feature a gorgeous flowing melody [00:07] with an Edwardian complacency evoking Elgar (1857-1934, see 15 March 2008). They're separated by a central episode with a brooding idea [05:33-08:04], that prevents the music from becoming a romantic wallow.

The final movement marked "Allegro con molto" ("Considerably fast") [T-5] is another sonata form contrivance with two subjects. The sinister opening one (SO) [00:01] begins with a four-note rhythmic riff (FR) that brings Tchaikovsky's Marche slave (1876) to mind. While the attractive second (AS) [01:31] is a coy melody with an Elgarian accompaniment.

A vivacious development with fugato spicing follows [02:24]. This becomes increasingly intense, and includes some chugging basses [05:29]. It then dissipates, and SO returns [06:00] to begin the recap where we're soon reminded of AS [07:27].

After that the trombones playing FR announce the concluding coda 09:08]. Here SO turns triumphant with pounding timpani and exultant brass ending the symphony in Tchaikovskian euphoria.

A British-Latvian undertaking, O'Brien couldn't have better advocates than conductor Paul Mann and the Liepaja Symphony Orchestra. Maestro Mann gets performances from these talented musicians brimming with an enthusiasm that turns what would normally be an enjoyable listening experience into an extraordinary one.

Made at the Latvian Society House in Liepaja, the recordings project a confined, deep soundstage in reverberant surroundings. The resultant orchestral timbre is accordingly characterized by bright highs, a somewhat congested midrange, and sparse bass. While this disc won't win any audiophile ribbons, with repertoire this rare we're lucky to have what's here.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P150829)


The album cover may not always appear.
Pigovat: Holocaust Requiem, Poem of Dawn; Serova/Guerini/CroatR&TV SO [Naxos]
You'd never guess it from their titles, but these two works are for viola and orchestra. They're by Boris Pigovat (b. 1953), who makes his CLOFO debut with this Naxos release. Born and trained in Russia, he immigrated to Israel in 1990, where both pieces were written. This disc will also introduce many to one of today's most outstanding violists, Russian-born, Anna Serova. Poem of Dawn, which is dedicated to her, receives its world premiere recording.

The program begins with the Holocaust Requiem of 1994-5, which was premiered in 2001 for an event commemorating the 1941 massacre of some 34,000 Ukrainian Jews in Kiev's Babi Yar ravine. The composer tells us he originally planned something along traditional lines, and accordingly explored various texts. However, in the end he felt these would just complicate it and detract from the emotional intensity he wanted to achieve. Accordingly Pigovat opted to score it for viola and orchestra, having in mind that instrument's soulful, human-voice-like qualities.

Set in four movements, each takes its name from a section of the Catholic Mass for the Dead, and is meant to emulate the sentiments traditionally associated with them. The opening "Requiem aeternam" [T-1] reflects the sorrow expressed during the first part of the service, and with a downcast orchestral preface [00:02] having a brief anguished outburst [00:52].

This fades into sad subdued passages, from which the viola emerges and wanders about. It's then joined by the orchestra, and introduces a nebulous "Requiem aeternam" idea (NR) [02:59], which is food for dark thoughts.

A pensive developmental interplay between soloist and tutti follows, building [07:47] into a calamitous, percussion-laced episode with grief-stricken cries that suddenly end. After a dramatic pause there's a powerful triple thwack on the timpani [11:40] succeeded by a mournful viola hinting at NR [11:46]. Then the movement concludes in much the same way it began.

Fear and suffering characterize the next "Dies irae" sequence (DI) [T.-2]. Here hellish frenetic strings [00:00] introduce trombones [00:27], which have been associated with this part of the Mass since Mozart's (1756-1791) day.

They play a DI motif [00:27], after which there's a percussively horrific "Last Judgement" episode with a rhythmic intensity recalling Stravinsky (1882-1971). Fiendishly difficult viola passages abound where it seems the devil -- allegedly an awesome fiddler -- has taken over as soloist.

There's also a hint of the Sh'ma Yis'ra'eil… (Hear, Israel…) melody (SY) [08:56-09:12]. This accompanies the traditional Jewish prayer known as the The Shema, which anticipates the first part of the Christian Nicene Creed. While all this makes for stunning sonics, more conservative listeners may find the music borders on the overwrought.

The "Lacrimosa" [T-3] usually associated with sadness and quiet resignation, takes on a different aspect here. The composer tells us the horrors of the Holocaust compelled him to instill it with feelings of crushing grief and mental anguish. That's immediately evident from the initial, startling blow struck on the chimes [00:00]!

It's followed by a demanding four-minute cadenza [00:05-04:14], which is an agonized lament. After that there's a passage with hushed timpani strokes [04:18] and the soloist alluding to SY [04:27]. This is interrupted by a gong-enhanced crash [05:22] and a distracted viola. Mourning strings [06:15] then end this section in "sackcloth and ashes".

The final "Lux aeternam" [T-4] exudes feelings of rest and salvation for the dead. It begins with the orchestra intoning SY [00:00], and after considerable pensive noodling, the viola surfaces with a song of consolation [02:10]. This is explored, and the harp introduces a lovely restful SY-related episode that's the work's melodic zenith [06:00-08:48].

A magic, tintinnabulary celestial passage follows, in which the soloist returns with whispers of SY [11:21]. Then there's a hushed, unresolved tutti chord [12:02], ending the Requiem in keeping with the horrific events it commemorates.

The closing work is Poem of Dawn composed in 2010 for our violist [T-5]. Inspired by a passage from Russian historian Nikolai Kun's (1877-1940) Legends and Myths of Ancient Greece (1914, see the album notes), it's a colorful tone painting that limns the arrival of dawn and the sun god Helios (aka Apollo, see 31 July 2012).

Recalling the Russian romantic, impressionistically tinged world of late Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) and even Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), it opens leisurely with sequined percussion [00:01] and shimmering strings [00:14] that suggest waning stars.

The viola enters [00:18] soon to be accompanied by winds hinting at gentle morning breezes. It plays an extended melody presumably representing the breaking day [00:18]. This undergoes a fragrant development where it's easy to picture grassy fields strewn with flowers.

The music builds to an lucent climax depicting Helios' arrival, and the surrounding landscape bathed in brightening rosy sunlight. As the music slowly fades into passages featuring a radiant viola set to a rapt accompaniment, one can imagine the beginning of an idyllic day in this Greek paradise. The poem then concludes in the same mood it began.

Violist Anna Serova is spectacular, delivering exceptionally confident, technically brilliant, sensitive renditions of Pigovat's heartfelt scores. She makes this one of the finest discs featuring her instrument to roll down CD lane in a long time.

Her intonation is always spot-on with no hint of that pitch-related queasiness that often plagues violists. She receives superb support from the Croatian Radio & Television Symphony Orchestra under Italian conductor Nicola Guerini. Their enthusiasm for these pieces is pervasive.

Made at the Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall, Zagreb, Coratia, the recordings create a narrow, deep sonic image in a suitably reverberant venue. The viola is convincingly captured and balanced against the orchestra.

The instrumental timbre in both works is characterized by steely highs in forte passages, an acceptable midrange, and clean bass. The latter is quite substantial in the Requiem, which calls for a large percussion section. This recording of the work beats the only other currently in the catalog. Moreover, there's no distracting audience noise, and it's widely available at a bargain price.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P150828)


The album cover may not always appear.
Sallinen: Chbr Music I-VIII; Soloists/Meta4 Qt/Jyväs Wind Qnt/Meta4 Qt/Matvejeff/Gothóni/Jyväs Sinfa [Ondine]
Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen (b. 1935) makes a long overdue return to CLOFO (see 3 July 2008) with this new two-disc Ondine album offering the only complete version of his Chamber Music I-VIII currently available on disc. Written between 1975 and 2009, all are for string orchestra, and the last seven feature a variety of solo instruments.

Sallinen stands out among Scandinavian composers for his no-frills, pragmatic style of writing, which characterizes these eight works. In that regard there's an innate practicality bringing to mind the matter-of-fact Gebrauchsmusik concept associated with Paul Hindemith's (1895-1963) Kammermusik 1-7 (Chamber Music 1-7, 1922-7).

That's not to say they're devoid of emotion as occasional glimmers of the late romantic preclude them from becoming callous intellectual exercises. They also reveal the composer's penchant for building his music from small motivic cells.

Chamber Music I (1975) [D-1, T-1] is just for string orchestra, and in one twelve-minute movement. It opens with an unusual accordion-like episode where the strings seem headed in all directions. A five-note motif (FM) emerges [01:05-01:08], becomes increasingly insistent, and is followed by an animated development [01:50-10:22].

Here FM is the zygote from which several thematic ideas grow. A romanticized, wistful version of FM [10:33] then announces a quiet coda, ending the work uneventfully with the music vanishing into the mists.

Each of the seven other works highlight solo instruments, beginning with a mellow alto flute in Chamber Music II (1976). Another single movement work lasting almost fifteen minutes [D-2, T-1], it opens reluctantly with a somnolent soloist [00:01]. The strings then play a snapping cellular motif (SC) [00:33-00:37], piquing the flute into a virtuosic SC-spiked activity [01:47].

A meditative discourse (MD) [05:17] follows with spurts of intense fiddling hinting at what's to come in the vivacious conclusion [09:22]. This is for the most part a wild hoedown for hyper strings and a spaced-out soloist. However there's an MD-like interlude [10:31-12:58] that arguably weakens it. You be the judge!

Ten years would pass before Sallinen wrote Chamber Music III (1985-6), which has the enigmatic subtitle "The Nocturnal Dances of Don Juanquixote". The composer offers no explanation for it, or underlying story behind this programmatic work. However, as with Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) Don Quixote (1896-7), the lovable old dotty Knight is represented by a cello. Consequently, even though it's in one span of about twenty minutes [D-1, T-2], it comes off much like a concerto.

Despite a pensive beginning, it's a playful work with a couple of infectious tunes seemingly harkening back to Sallinen's youth when he played with a dance band. The first of these is a jazzy 1930s number (JN) that first appears in the orchestra [00:59]. It's enthusiastically adopted by the soloist [01:32], making it easy to picture a tipsy Don cutting a wild caper.

A virtuosic exploration follows [02:18], and then a JN-related, tango-tinged idea (JT) [05:12] that undergoes a rhythmically antsy development [05:50]. This segues via sighing passages [09:16] into a third cocky tune (TC) [10:54], after which we get another development [11:30]. Occasionally queasy-sounding, it has several demanding bravura cello passages.

Here one can easily imagine a hungover Quixote with "Excedrin Headache Number One". But the undaunted Don gathers his wits [14:36], and goes into a frenetic last dance [16:17], finally falling exhausted to the floor. The work then ends with a couple of twitches from the cello [19:08].

Moving ahead we get Chamber Music IV, where the piano is featured. This version with strings is an arrangement made in 2000 of a 1964 work for piano and chamber orchestra (not currently available on disc). Subtitled "Metamorphoses" and again about twenty minutes long, it's in four movements each based on an earlier five-minute solo cello piece titled "Elegy for Sebastian Knight" (1964), which was ispired by Vladimir Nabakov's (1899-1977) novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1938-9).

The initial allegro [D-2, T-2] opens with the soloist stating a catchy twelve-note riff (CT) [00:00-00:04] that's explored, and picked up by the tutti. After that the piano introduces a melodized version of CT (MT) [01:13] reminiscent of Shostakovich (1906-1975). The soloist plays the last note [01:41] with the sustain pedal down, and it's allowed to completely fade away, thereby creating a dramatic pause.

Then there's a CT-related developmental argument that breaks out between the piano and strings [01:55]. It ends in a whisper from the latter, thereby concluding the movement uneventfully.

The succeeding "passacaglia" [D-2, T-3] starts with flighty strings, and the soloist hinting at an MT-related ostinato (MO) [00:07] that will pervade the movement. The lower strings then toy with MO [00:43], which finally appears on the piano [01:00]. Then the soloist and tutti toss variants of MO back and forth ending the movement with a cadenza-like one [05:08].

A harried piano is accompanied by threatening strings in the mysterious "lento" [D-2, T-4], where MO gets turned on its head. However, the closing rondo interrotto (Interrupted Rondo) opens with the soloist trying to right MO [00:00].

Plucky strings do their best to discourage that, and at one point the pianist bursts into a pounding temper tantrum [02:50], where it's a wonder his instrument doesn't collapse in Marx Brothers fashion! Finally he manages to play a semblance of MO [04:37], and then just quits, ending the movement as marked.

Chamber Music V [D-1, T-3] began life in 2000 as a work for accordion and string orchestra (not currently available on disc). Subtitled "Barabbas Variations", its themes were drawn from a cantata-like piece called Barrabas Dialogues that the composer was working on, but didn't complete until 2003. Then in 2005 one of the pianist-conductors on this release, Ralf Gothóni, did the arrangement included here, replacing the accordion with a piano.

In a continuous arch lasting just over twenty minutes, it's a series of musical ideas somewhat analogous to those pestiferous thoughts that can appear just before one falls asleep. A worried string introduction [00:00] accented with ff chords on the piano soon coalesces into a Dies Irae evocative motif (DE) [00:25-00:33] that will haunt the work.

A troubled variational development follows [02:45], which becomes increasingly restless with burgeoning reminders of DE, and virtuosic piano passages. These include some keyboard tone clusters [beginning at 04:14] like those originated by Henry Cowell (1897-1965; see 31 March 2011) and George Antheil (1900-1959; see 14 May 2014).

After that the music transitions via a piano cadenza [05:57] into a hectic afterthought [06:19], which slowly fades. It's followed by a brief pause and soporific variation [07:35] with fleeting dreamlike passages for the soloist and glissando snores from the cello section [10:08].

However, alarm clock trills on the piano [13:28] wake our sleeper, and usher in a transitional passage succeeded by an unpredictable psychotic episode [14:57] with John Cage (1912-1992) percussive keyboard effects (see 30 September 2012) and more clusters. It has truculent fitful passages one minute and apathetic ones the next. One of the latter just for piano ends the work in limbo.

We get a change of pace with the next two works in this series, which like the concerto grosso from days of old, have solo parts for small groups of instruments. Chamber Music VI (2005-6) calling for a string quartet has the French subtitle "Trois invitations au voyage" ("Three Invitations to Travel") referring to its three movements.

There's a frigid severity reminiscent of Sibelius' (1865-1957) more frosty moments pervading all of them, presumably reflecting Finland's coldest months. Then even the southern Helsinki area has only six daylight hours and temperatures as low as 34 below Fahrenheit, which apparently motivated Sallinen to spend his winters in France.

Simply marked "I", the first movement [D-2, T-6] begins with an icy sighing motif (IS), whose first part is played by the quartet [00:00-00:26] and second, the tutti [00:27-00:37]. A vigorous virtuosic exploration of IS follows [01:06] with a phrase [05:33] reminiscent of DE in Chamber Music V above. This bridges into a dramatic episode [06:20] that ends the movement introspectively.

The slow one marked "II Ŕ Charles" ("II To Charles" -- De Gaulle do you suppose?) [D-2-T-7] is a hibernal rumination that must rank as one of the composer's most affecting pieces. While the shivering "III" [D-2, T-8] makes a final case for warmer southern climes!

Named after Finnish, clarinetist-composer Bernhard Crusell (1775-1838), "Crusell Week" is an internationally acclaimed, annual festival that takes place in Uusikaupunki, Finland, and honors woodwind music. Chamber Music VII (2007-8) featuring a wind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn) was commissioned for its 2009 observance, and accordingly marked "Cruselliana".

Maybe the composer had just returned from France, because there's a saucy neoclassical Gallic air about it smacking of Ibert (1890-1962, see 30 June 015), Honegger (1892-1955), Milhaud (1892-1974, see 17 February 2007), and Poulenc (1899-1963). In one movement of almost twenty-five minutes {D-1, T-4], it's a stream of musical consciousness where the mood is in constant flux.

What starts off in neoclassical jagged fashion [00:00] turns pensive [01:31], and then jazzy [05:09] with a Dixieland clarinet [05:28] Wind solos abound throughout with a cadenza sequence for oboe [08:20], flute [09:33] and accompanied bassoon [11:05].

After that there's a slow ominous episode [13:33] where the horn gets to show off [14:06]. This eventually turns folklike [19:00], then cheerful [20:20], and even whimsical [21:18]. But in the end the strings bring the piece to a nostalgic conclusion [22:24] with some parting chirps from the winds.

Finnish poet-playwright Paavo Haavikko (1931-2008) has figured heavily in Sallinen's life as his highly acclaimed operas The Horsemen (1975; not currently available on disc) and The King Goes Forth to France (1984) have librettos by him based on his eponymous plays of 1974. So his death just as the composer was starting Chamber Music VIII (2008-9) must have been a shock.

Accordingly he dedicated it to Haavikko's memory with the subtitle "The Trees, All Their Green" (1966) taken from his classic poetry collection of that name. The cello is again highlighted, and begins this twenty-minute, one movement work [D-2, T-9] with a spastic rhythmic riff (SR) [00:00-00:08]. The strings follow with an angular mercurial motif (AM) [00:09], which is interrupted by another SR from the soloist. He then intones an AM-related keening countermelody (AK) [00:50].

A tormented development is next [01:25] that's at times rhapsodic, and has a brief cello cadenza [02:48-3:18]. The strings then play a wired amalgam of SR and AM [06:17], which introduces a distraught, twitchy episode. This ends with a despairing cello [11:09] launching into an extended cadenza of grief [12:23-14:21].

A sorrowful finale follows [14:22] where the strings soon play an AK-derived sobbing theme [14:32], which elicits a lament. The succeeding closing segment [17:28] starts with dramatic reminders of AM [beginning at 17:34], but then turns peaceful, ending the work in quiet resignation.

These performances featuring the strings of the Jyväskylä Sinfonia (JS) are superb. Under Finnish pianist-conductors Ville Matvejeff (I-IV, VI-VIII) and Ralf Gothóni (V), who are also the soloists in the fourth and fifth works, they provide consistently ideal support.

A big round of applause goes to flutist Alexis Roman (II, VII), and the other wind players (VII), who were then with JS. That also holds for cellist Arto Noras (III and VIII), and the Meta4 String Quartet (VI).

Ondine produces some of today's best sounding releases, and this one is no exception. Made at the Hannikaissali Concert Hall, Jyväskylä, Finland between February 2014 and 2015, the recordings present a consistent, immaculate sonic image in affable surroundings.

The Finnish engineers get high marks for their superb microphone placement and skillfull balancing of the many solo instruments. In that regard you'll even hear some emphatic huffs and puffs from Matvejeff and Noras when they get carried away with the music.

The overall instrumental timbre is characterized by bright, pleasant highs, a musical midrange and lean, clean bass. Audiophiles will not be disappointed!

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y150827)