31 DECEMBER 2016


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.
Beer, Jos.: Polnische Hochzeit (cpte operetta); Soloists/Schirmer/MunGärt StTh C/MunR O [CPO]
A couple of months ago we recommended you attend a Hungarian wedding in an operetta by Nico Dostal (1895-1981; see 31 October 2016). And now CPO invites us to another equally enjoyable one just north of the border. It’s the main event in Austrian composer Joseph Beer's (1908-1987) Polnische Hochzeit (A Polish Wedding) of 1937, which was a highly successful, late addition to the many Austro-Hungarian Singspiel operettas. This is the only recording currently available on disc.

That said, there's good and bad news for those interested in it. On the positive side, the 80 some minutes of music for this undeservedly forgotten work is marvelous. However, there's around 20 of German dialogue, and this being a live recording, frequent laughter as well as applause. Fortunately, the album is rigorously banded, which allows those disliking chatter to program most of it out. On that note, in this commentary we'll only consider the musical sections.

The libretto by Austrian writers Fritz Löhner-Beda (1883-1942) and Alfred Grünwald (1884-1951 is not included, and an extensive internet search failed to turn one up. However, the album notes do have sketchy plot synopses in German and English.

In three acts, generally speaking the work initially smacks of Lehár (1870-1948; see 7 October 2011). But the last half has some euphoric Roaring-Twenties and 1930s numbers like those in Emmerich Kálmán's (1882-1953) works such as Die Herzogin von Chicago (The Duchess of Chicago, 1928), and the music of Eduard Künneke (1885-1953; see 23 February 2015). There are even some klezmer as well as jazz touches with saxophones, banjo and piano.

Set in early 19th century, Eastern Poland, the plot of Beer's operetta involves some marital escapades just like its Dostal counterpart (see above). All of the characters are Polish except for an annoying Russian Army Captain named Sergius Korrosoff. He’s after subversives engaged in activities against the Russian authorities then ruling that part of Poland.

The first act prelude [D-1, T-1] takes place in Poland on the estate of Baron Mietek Oginsky along the Austrian border, and begins with foreboding orchestral passages. Oginsky has a man and woman servant named Stani and Stasi respectively, and he's charged Stani with monitoring the influx of Polish refugees crossing his land. We soon hear a spirited chorus sung by the latter, who include a freedom fighter known as Count Boleslav Zagorsky. Then there's some accompanied dialogue between Stani and the Count, during which the former helps him get across without being detected by Korrosoff.

Next Boleslav sings an impassioned aria [02:24] recalling his sweetheart, who's the Baron's daughter, Jadja. He wants to marry her, and apart from some accompanied dialogue, his love song is in the best tradition of Lehár's Merry Widow (1905).

After a short pause the scene changes to the Baron's estate where harvest festivities are in progress to a charming rustic dance number with Slavic folk overtones [05:34]. The Baron is giving generous gifts to his peasants even though he has a number of outstanding promissory notes with Boleslav's wealthy uncle, Count Staschek Zagorsky. And speaking of financial matters, Staschek apparently owes his nephew a sizable inheritance.

The Baron's apprentice Casimir von Kawietzky reminds him of his financial obligations, and goes on to say Zagorsky’s largesse won't sit well with his estate manageress, Suza. It then dawns on the Baron he might get the notes cancelled by marrying Jadja off to Staschek, and with that the prelude ends mischievously. Incidentally, Suza is nicknamed "Wildkatz" ("Wildcat") for reasons that will soon become apparent.

The next selection [D-1, T-2] begins with an orchestral reprise of the tune for Boleslav's preceding aria. It's followed by an engaging ensemble number that includes a happy peasant chorus and dance. Then there's a lovely aria for Jadja with some choral support [D-1, T-4], in which her thoughts are of Boleslav. It's succeeded by a catchy duet for Suza and Casimir set to a krakowiak melody [D-1, T-6].

Shortly thereafter Boleslav arrives accompanied by Stani, and sings a proud aria with choral asides [D-1, T-8]. During this Suza recognizes and promises to help him marry Jadja. That prompts an amorous duet for Boleslav and Jadja (AD) [D-1, T-10], where they swear eternal love.

This is offset by the arrival of crafty Uncle Staschek (see above), who's a heavy tippler. He delivers a droll, rowdy ditty [D-1, T-11] that brings to mind the campier numbers in Mozart's (1756-1791) Magic Flute (1791; see 29 October 2010). Then the Baron, hoping Staschek will return those notes, promises to persuade his daughter to marry him despite her love for Boleslav.

At this point the celesta (shades of Papageno's chest of bells) introduces a captivating sextet [D-1, T-14] in which Boleslav, Jadja, Casimir, Suza, Stani and Stasi (see above) are respectively paired off as three couples. They deliver a playful "Merry Month of May" ditty that finds Beer at his most charming.

A magnificent finale peppered with accompanied dialogue begins in jolly fashion [D-1, T-15] as Staschek and the Baron come on stage, having just returned from a sumptuous repast. They sing some colorful numbers, and are joined by the above couples for more of the same, one of which is a welcome reprise [03:39] of AD (see above).

After that a martial chorus [04:49] prefaces the arrival of Captain Korrosoff (see above), who's after Boleslav for anti-Russian activities. In that regard we learn Jadja has promised to marry Staschek in exchange for his not revealing his nephew's identity. Boleslav is distraught over this, and Suza tries to calm him down [07:48], as the first act comes to a dramatic conclusion.

The Oginsky estate is also the setting for the second, which opens with a stirring polonaise [D-2, T-1]. It's succeeded by a convivial chorus of wedding guests celebrating the impending marriage, and a welcoming number sung by the Baron [01:23].

However, there's chicanery afoot, and before the ceremony begins Suza tells Boleslav she's arranged for a carriage in which he can elope with Jadja. Then the work really takes off with two fabulous selections!

The first finds Boleslav with some choral support singing a heart-melting aria set to a knockout melody (KM) [D-2, T-3], where he envisions his future happiness with Jadja. The next has Casimir and Suza plus chorus doing a terrific, 1920-30s (see 10 March 2011), jazzy "Kaztenaugen" ("Cat Eyes") number [D-2, T-5]. This has connotations regarding her "Wildkatz" ("Wildcat") moniker (see above), and we’re told the two hope to get married soon. Incidentally, it must have been hard to keep the audience from dancing in the aisles during this one!

We also learn that before the ceremony Suza told Casimir to ply Staschek with plenty of booze so he wouldn't notice what was going on. Accordingly, as soon as he enters Casimir leads him off, presumably to the punch bowl. This occasions another lovely duet for Boleslav and Jadja [D-2, T-8], where they swear their eternal fidelity, and hop into the getaway carriage.

Staschek then returns giving the Baron what would appear to be his notes – but more about that later! Meanwhile the festivities continue with a drinking number (DN) [D-2, T-10] recalling 1920-30s dance hall music. It features Staschek, Casimir, the Baron, a tipsy chorus, and Korrosoff. This is the Captain's final appearance as he's been unable to nab Boleslav, and is about to move on in typical duplicitous Russian fashion.

At this point Suza tells Staschek that Jadja has eloped. But having mistrusted "Wildkatz" from the start, the sly old fox has somehow discovered her plans, and sent another carriage that’s brought his bride-to-be back. Not only that, we learn those notes he gave the Baron were fake!

All this culminates in the second act finale [D-2, T-14], which also has bits of accompanied dialogue. It starts with a rousing chorus interrupted by poignant solos for Suza, Casimir, Jadja, and the Baron. Then Beer gilds the lily with an enthralling, brilliantly scored ballet sequence [05:00-07:40].

Next a harp glissando introduces a salutary chorus, after which subdued brass announce the entrance of Boleslav, who's deeply distressed over the loss of Jadja. Then the wedding begins with soft organ passages, and he intones a KM-related (see above), grief-stricken arietta lamenting the loss of Jadja [09:05-09:55]. But with the taking of vows, we get a radiant chorus celebrating the marriage.

Then there's a rising orchestral phrase [10:41] as Staschek lifts his new bride's veil to kiss her. But it's Suza, and we hear him shriek, "Was zum Teufel" ("What the devil!"), followed by Boleslav triumphantly proclaiming, "Jadja, du bist mein!" ("Jadja, you are mine!"). The act then ends jubilantly with more DN (see above) sung by the chorus [11:04].

The third and final act takes place on Staschek's estate where he and the Baron are having a peevish exchange in which they sing the curses of women [D-2, T-15]. Uncle Staschek has good reason as he's in great pain from a severe thrashing just delivered by Suza. He goes on to tell Oginski what a horrendous honeymoon he had with this "Wildkatz" of a woman.

Next Casimir arrives followed by Jadja and Boleslav, which occasions a winsome flowing waltz-quartet [D-2, T-18]. Suza tells Casimir she'll make Staschek's life a living hell until he agrees to a divorce, thereby allowing them to marry. Then the four express hopes for a double wedding in the very near future. This seems a certainty as we soon learn Staschek and Suza have separated.

But there's one issue still hanging, i.e., those promissory notes. In that regard we're told Staschek gives Boleslav his inheritance -- maybe he stiffed the Baron, and signed the real ones over to his nephew! Be that as it may, the operetta then concludes with a wistful lied for Staschek [D-2, T-20], in which he swears his future life will be one of wine, no women, and presumably song.

The female cast for this forgotten treasure features sopranos Martina Rüping (Jadja Oginski) and Susanne Bernhard (Suza) along with mezzo-soprano Florence Losseau (Stasi). The male leads are tenor Nikolai Schukoff (Count Boleslav Zagorsky), baritones Michael Kupfer-Radecky (Count Staschek Zagorsky) and Mathias Hausmann (Casimir von Kawietzky), bass-baritone Bernhard Spingler (Captain Sergius Korrosoff), in addition to basses Friedemann Röhlig (Baron Mietek Oginsky) and Alexander Kiechle (Stani).

They deliver lively, committed portrayals of their respective roles along with the Munich Gärtnerplatz State Theater Chorus. All receive magnificent support from the Munich Radio Orchestra under conductor Ulf Schirmer. Being a live performance, it's very apparent the audience loved this work, and you will too!

A coproduction of CPO and Bavarian Radio (BR), it took place last year in Munich at the Prince Regent Theater (Prinzregententheater). Originally built to house Richard Wagner's (1813-1883) imposing stage works, the sonic image presented is wide, deep, and in enriching surroundings. The engineers get credit for a microphone setup that along with skillful mixing insures proper highlighting and balancing of the soloists, chorus and orchestra throughout.

The singers are well captured with almost none of that edginess frequently present on conventional CDs. As for the instrumental timbre, it's all the more colorful for Beer's brilliant orchestration, and quite lifelike across the entire audio spectrum. In that regard, those having sound systems that go down to rock-bottom will experience some pants-flapping whacks on the bass drum.

In closing, some may find the audience noise distracting, particularly in a home setting. However, for many it may well add a sense of spontaneity and excitement that will make this Maß of Beer all the more enjoyable!

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, S161231)


The album cover may not always appear.
Hill, Alf.: Pno Conc, Pno Son; Boyle, G.F.: Pno Conc; Lane/Fritzch/Adel SO [Hyperion]
This 69th installment in Hyperion's "Romantic Piano Concerto" (RPC) series (see 30 September 2015) gives us two little-known concertos by Australian composers, both of whom studied in Germany. These are the only recordings of them as well as the companion sonata currently available on disc.

Alfred Hill (1869-1960; see 31 December 2015) was a teacher, performer, conductor and composer, who spent his later years in Sydney, Australia, and wrote a vast amount of music. His younger compatriot George Frederick Boyle (1886-1948) moved to the United States in his early twenties (1910), where he had a highly successful teaching career, and could count Aaron Copland (1900-1990; see 31 March 2011) as well as Samuel Barber (1910-1981) among his students. Compared to Alfred, he composed only a modest number of works.

Like Rued Langgaard (1893-1952; see 15 December 2015), Hill sometimes fashioned new compositions from older ones. His only piano concerto, which seems to date from around 1941, falls into that category as it's a reworking of a piano sonata that appeared sometime before 1920 (see below).

The first of its four movements is a sonata form offering marked "The Question. Adagio - Allegro moderato" [T-1]. It starts with a six-note interrogatory riff (SI) in the winds [00:03] that's picked up by the soloist. SI then gets some extended answers, the first being a flowing statement (SF) [01:00]. This is followed by a headstrong variant of SF [01:58] that bridges into a comely expansive rejoinder (SE) [02:50].

These undergo an intricate development [03:18] with a big tune restatement of SE [04:23], reminders of SI [beginning at 04:52], and a pensive piano cadenza [05:52]. The latter is followed by a forceful SI-based passage [07:01], which transitions into a recap of SF [07:19] and SE [08:19]. That's succeeded by an SF-based coda [09:45], which closes the movement joyously.

Next we have a fetching "Intermezzo (Fancies): Presto" [T-2], which ends as quickly as it began, building anticipation for "Nocturne (Homage to Chopin): Adagio con Moto" [T-3]. Alfred doesn't actually quote his Polish counterpart here. However, after a wistful introduction there’s a sublime, extended songful subject stylistically remindful of him [00:51]. This is then explored, and the movement ends with a feeling of resignation.

The concluding "Finale (Contrasts): Allegro" [T-4] is structurally similar to the concerto's first movement. It starts with a spirited riff played by the soloist [00:00], hinting at a jolly rustic theme soon introduced by the low winds (JR) [00:16]. This is manipulated, and followed by a JR-related, capacious countersubject (JC) [01:46], leading to a development [02:24] with a piano cadenza [02:43-03:20]. Then JR announces the recapitulation [03:45], and a triumphal version of JC returns big-time [05:15], bringing the concerto to an ecstatic conclusion.

Boyle's sole piano concerto of 1911, which was premiered that same year by an Australian colleague and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (see the informative album notes), became an instant success. In three movements, its themes are consummately interrelated with a dramatic fluidity that sweeps the listener away.

The opening "Moderato" [T-5] starts with ominous low string passages (OL) [00:00] and a fateful languorous idea (FL) for the upper winds [00:05]. The music builds to a percussion-enhanced climax that fades, and the soloist enters [01:37] commenting on FL. He's joined by the orchestra, and there are hints [beginning at 02:00] of a second, FL-related smiling melody (FS).

The pianist then proclaims a full-blown version of FS [03:16] that's taken up by the orchestra. Some baleful passages follow [04:00], and the soloist next plays an FS-related flighty ditty (FF) [04:18]. This is succeeded by a rhapsodic, chromatically tinted development [05:10] surrounding a brief keyboard cadenza [05:29-5:55].

A nostalgic version of FL begins the recapitulation [06:23], and builds with virtuosic piano passages into a big-tune restatement of FS [08:26] reminiscent of Rachmaninov (1873-1943). Then a curt reminder of FF [09:40] and skittering piano give way to quiet OL-FL-based passages [10:02]. These close with a brief anticipatory pause immediately followed by a "Tranquillo..." middle movement [T-6].

This is a melancholy, ternary form offering with outer sections based on a sad OL-FL-derived theme heard at the outset [00:00]. They surround a central episode featuring a sanguine folklike tune [02:47] that's worked in towards the movement's end.

The final "Allegro..." [T-7] begins in the orchestra with an insistent march-like motif (IM) [00:00] soon interrupted by towering forte piano assertions [00:56]. All of the foregoing hint at a valiant sweeping, OL-FL-related subject (VF) first heard from the soloist [01:39] and then the tutti. The world of Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934; see 15 March 2008 is not far away!

Airy VF-related flute passages [02:20] then introduce a garrulous development that's an amazing piece of workmanship. It's a masterfully woven thematic tapestry, which ends in a spectacular cadenza [06:22-07:11] succeeded by subdued tutti remembrances of past ideas.

Then there's another cadenza [08:14] that conjures up a stirring recap of VF [08:29]. This is the basis for a dramatic closing coda [09:12] filled with keyboard fireworks and ff orchestral chords. It ends the work in a blaze of glory again recalling Rachmaninov, and one can only wonder why it's taken so long for this concerto to resurface!

The CD is filled out with that Hill piano sonata mentioned above, which was the progenitor of his concerto. Its inclusion on this release is a bit strange as previous RPC ones have been filled with selections having orchestral accompaniments. Do you suppose Hyperion couldn't find another Aussie concerto-like piece as good as the two here? Or maybe they were saving on production costs.

Be that as it may, both Hill pieces are in four identically marked movements, where the music is very similar except for some minor rhythmic, harmonic, textural, and expressive differences. Bottom line, the sonata's inclusion may be useful from a reference standpoint, but it's of little entertainment value compared to the concerto.

Australian pianist Piers Lane continues his survey of keyboard curiosities from "Down Under" (see 14 May 2014) with these concertos, and receives enthusiastic support from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra under conductor Johannes Fritzsch. They make a strong case for both works, particularly the Boyle, which is a real find. Lane also delivers a solid account of the sonata.

The recordings were made last year at Adelaide Town Hall, presumably in its Auditorium. They project an appropriately sized sonic image for all three selections in warm, accommodating surroundings. However, the piano seems somewhat spread across the soundstage.

Despite that, it's well captured, highlighted and balanced against the tutti in both concertos. The instrumental timbre is lifelike with occasional tinkly highs, a convincing midrange, and clean lows. This CD may not be the ultimate in test discs, but it's definitely demonstration quality.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y161230)

Amazon Records International

The album cover may not always appear.
Holbrooke: Vn Conc "Grasshopper", "Auld Lang Syne" Vars, "The Raven"; Ingolfsson/Griffiths/FrankBrandSt O [CPO]
Confusion is rife when it comes to English composer Josef Holbrooke's (born Joseph Holbrook, 1878-1958; see 21 December 2012) works as he frequently revised them, changed their names, and gave them new opus numbers. The three on this second CPO installment of his symphonic music (see 31 July 2009) are cases in point. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.

"The Grasshopper" concerto, once known as "The Lyrical", is a reworking of the composer's second violin sonata (see 7 October 2011) with an orchestral accompaniment. Dating from between 1909 and 1922 (see the bewildering album notes), it's in three movements, the initial one being an allegro [T-22].

This begins with a jumping motif in the lower strings, succeeded by a capricious, leaping tune (CL) [00:21] for the violin. CL is picked up by the tutti, briefly explored, and we get a CL-related songlike countermelody (CS) [01:05].

The two ideas are developed with virtuosic hops for the soloist and a few melancholy tutti moments. Towards the end CL makes a triumphant return [04:12]. Then there are reminders of CS [05:18], some eerie high violin notes [06:34], and the movement ends emphatically.

A moving, ternary adagio is next [T-23] with doleful outer sections based on a couple of tearful extended themes. They surround a more hopeful episode [03:58-06:09], which try as it might can’t seem to prevail.

The concerto's final maestoso (majestic) [T-24] is similar in form to the opening movement, and gets off to an anxious start with more "grasshopper" riffs. It's succeeded by all playing a skittering tune (PS) [00:41], and a lyrical folkish melody for the violin (LF) [01:33]. The two ideas are developed with some fiddle fireworks that include a demanding cadenza [03:34-04:18]. Then the tutti bring back PS [04:19], and the soloist joins them recalling LF [05:25].

After that the music wanes into a lovely LF-based violin solo picked up by the orchestra. This escalates into the reappearance of PS [08:12] succeeded by snatches of LF, some fancy fiddling, and the tutti return to end the concerto jubilantly.

Josef composed three sets of symphonic themes and variations. The earliest (1900) is based on the old familiar children's song "Three Blind Mice" (see 31 July 2009), while the next (1904-5) uses the ever-popular Irish folk tune "The Girl I left Behind Me" (see 21 December 2012).

Then in 1906 he completed a third, which is the one included here. This takes as its theme the Scottish folk melody (SF) for that traditional New Year's song based on Robert Burns' (1759-1796) poem "Auld Lang Syne". Like Elgar's (1857-1934) Enigma Variations (1898-9), each of which is dedicated to one of his friends, those in Holbrooke's piece honor composers he knew (see the album notes). Accordingly, this was originally titled Portraits, but following several revisions, he renamed it after the subject song.

It opens with trumpet and brass stating SF [T-01], which is appropriately flavored with a couple of Scotch snaps [beginning at 00:23]. Then we get twenty variations, which are conveniently banded, and listed in the table below.

1 2 Josef Holbrooke 1878-1958 Rhapsody for strings
2 3 Frank Bridge 1879-1941 Antsy and nervous
3 4 Arnold Bax 1883-1953 Retiring
4 5 Samuel Coleridge-Taylor 1875-1912 Portentous
5 6 William Wallace (Scotland) 1860-1940 Aggressive and tempestuous
6 7 Benjamin Dale 1885-1943 Venatic with avian cries
7 8 Ethyl Smyth 1858-1944 Lament for winds
8 9 Richard Walthew 1872-1951 Demure
9 10 Edward Elgar 1857-1934 Regal with London Bridge is Falling...
10 11 Frederick Delius 1862-1934 Dreamy pastoral setting
11 12 Joseph Speaight 1868-1947 Heroically feisty
12 13 Frederick Charles Nicholls 1871-19?? Coquettish fan dance
13 14 Stanley Hawley 1867-1916 Lusty and truculent
14 15 Havergal Brian 1876-1972 Martial and regimented
15 16 Cecil Forsyth 1870-1941 Nostalgic
16 17 Cyril Scott 1879-1970 Impressionistically pensive
17 18 Richard Strauss 1864-1949 Waltzlike auguring Rosenkvalier (1910)
18 19 Gustav Mahler 1860-1911 Teutonically boisterous
19 20 John Herbert Foulds 1880-1939 Frolicsome with a bit of Annie Laurie
20 21 Granville Bantock 1868-1946 Childlike and then some (see below)

The twentieth variation [T-21] is the longest, and starts with a childlike version of SF [00:00]. This bridges via some forte flourishes [00:24] and stalking passages [00:50] into a big tune pronouncement of SF [01:04], after which the music reaches a level of excitement worthy of Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) 1812 Overture (1880) [01:23]. It ends on a sustained note for the brass [01:52] that segues into a melancholy reminder of SF in the winds [02:00] and strings [03:05]. This concludes the work with a surging, wistful sigh.

Following the death of Boston-born writer Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849), a number of English composers took inspiration from his literary works (see the album notes). They included Holbrooke, who wrote some thirty-five, Poe-related pieces between 1899 and 1948 (see 31 July 2009 and 13 December 2010), as well as Richard Walthew and Stanley Hawley, who are honored in the above Variations (eighth and thirteenth respectively).

Josef’s first such work was The Raven (1899-1900), which fills out this disc [T-25]. After Poe's homonymous classic, there's a detailed musical analysis in the album notes. Accordingly, we'll just cover the high points, and begin by saying it’s in four conjoined, arches.

The opening one begins with funereal low string passages [00:02] that set the tone for this tenebrous tale. The opening "Once upon a midnight dreary...", finds the narrator reading stories of forgotten love in hopes of allaying his sorrow over the death of his beloved "Lenore". He then hears rapping on his chamber door [00:45], and fantasizes it might be her. But opening it, he sees only darkness, which brings more sad memories of her.

A second more amorous arch follows [05:40], seemingly indicative of their past love for one another. The bereaved then goes back inside, and a third starts with passages depicting tapping on his window [09:41]. He opens it, only to have an imposing raven enter and perch above his chamber door.

A diabolical episode reminiscent of Saint-Saëns' (1835-1921) Danse macabre (1874, see 31 July 2012) follows [09:50]. It has a fateful motif (FM) [11:16] representing the sole repeated utterance of this avian visitor from "Night's Plutonian shore". This is the old familiar "Nevermore", which is probably Poe's most striking apothegm.

FM is heard three more times [12:44, 13:19 & 14:06], and its last occurrence introduces a final elegiac fourth arch. Here there are allusions to past ideas interspersed with additional reminders of FM. They bring the work to a serene close with dying thoughts of the work’s opening measures.

Icelandic-born, US-trained violinist Judith Ingolfsson does some spectacular fiddling, and virtuosic “Grasshopping”. She receives superb support from English-born conductor Howard Griffiths and the Frankfurt Brandenburg State Orchestra (FBSO), who go on to make a strong case for the other two symphonic selections. As on their previous Holbrooke release for CPO (see 31 July 2009), Maestro Griffiths and the FBSO squeeze that little something extra from these scores, turning unusual concert fare into an exceptional listening experience.

A coproduction of CPO and Deutschlandradio Kultur, these recordings were done on a couple of occasions during 2013-4 in the "Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach" Concert Hall, Frankfurt, Germany. They project a generous, well-focused soundstage in a warm space that was once a 13th century Franciscan monastery. The surroundings add just the right amount of reverberation to enrich this picturesque music without blurring the sonic image.

Ms. Ingolfsson's violin is well captured and balanced against the tutti. As for the orchestral timbre, it's pleasantly bright and natural sounding over the extensive frequency range occasioned by Holbrooke’s colorful scoring. Romantic music enthusiasts and audiophiles alike will not be disappointed!

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y161229)


The album cover may not always appear.
Molique, W.B.:Stg Qts V4 (7 & 8); Mannh Stg Qt [CPO]
Of Alsatian decent, Wilhelm Bernhard Molique (1802-1869) was born in Nuremberg. He received his first musical instruction from his father, who played bassoon and violin in the local orchestra. A wunderkind, by age six he was an accomplished violinist. At fourteen he moved with his father to Munich, where he studied at the University.

Around 1817 he got a job with an orchestra in Vienna, which led to his joining the King of Bavaria's court orchestra back in Munich (1920). But his fame was spreading, and by 1826 he’d become the music director and concertmaster of an orchestra in Stuttgart. He was based there for twenty-three years, during which he toured extensively, winning great acclaim throughout Europe, and particularly England.

That said, 1848-9 was a politically volatile time in Germany, and in 1849 he moved to London, where the year 1861 saw him become a professor of composition at the Royal Academy of Music. He taught there until 1866 when ill health forced his retirement, and then returned to Southern Germany for his remaining years.

Molique was for the most part a self-taught composer, who produced some seventy works having opus numbers. They show the influences of Mozart (1756-1791), Beethoven (1770-1827), Spohr (1784-1859), and Mendelssohn (1809-1847) in particular as regards the last two of his eight string quartets featured here. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.

Both were published by 1854, and probably written sometime during his early years in England. They’re each in four movements, and the earlier (No. 7, Op. 42) opens with a sonata form "Allegro vivace" [T-1] having a pastoral song-and-dance first subject (PS) [00:01]. It's succeeded by a PS-related introspective second [01:40] that bridges into an adept development [03:34] followed by a working recapitulation [05:14]. This ends in a PS-based coda [08:52], bringing the movement to an animated close.

The following "Minuetto" [T-2] is a scherzo in ternary form with outer sections featuring an effervescent tune. They bracket a skittering ditty [01:14-03:44], making this movement a whimsical contrast to the mournful "Andante" that's next [T-3].

This starts with hints of a slow pining melody (SP) that's soon heard [00:33], and may remind you of Carl Maria von Weber's (1796-1826) more thoughtful moments. This is followed by a variative development [01:55] where SP takes on sequentially anxious, pious, and rhapsodic characteristics. It then returns in its original state [05:57], closing the movement full circle.

After that Bernhard gives us a charming featherlight "Presto" [T-4], which is a rondo based on a fetching flighty idea (FF). This is derived from the latter half of SP, and recalls Mendelssohn's more pixilated utterances. FF appears dressed in a number of musical guises that even include a minor key manifestation [02:54-03:18], and brings the work to a congenial conclusion.

Molique's final quartet (No. 8, Op. 44) opens with another sonata form "Allegro" [T-5] that starts with a sobbing four-note riff (SF) [00:01]. This is part of the longer, grieving first subject (GF), and will infect the entire work. Then GF is followed by an anxious worried countersubject [00:58]. The two ideas are dramatically developed [02:22] and recapped [04:20], after which an SF-initiated coda [06:03] ends the movement tearfully.

The succeeding "Intermezzo. Poco vivace" [T-6] is another Mendelssohnian frolic based on an airy SF-related number. Then there's a lovely "Adagio" [T-7] based on a romantic songful melody (RS) [00:00] spiked with hints of SF. It serves as a restful introduction to the final "Rondo. Vivace" that immediately follows [T-8]. This is in the same mold as the one in the previous quartet, and has reminders of RS [01:31]. It brings the work to an engaging conclusion.

The Mannheimer String Quartet is a class act! They deliver technically accomplished, highly sensitive readings of both works with that little extra zing that turns ordinary into extraordinary fare. Those not familiar with their releases of Molique’s six other quartets will probably want to investigate them as well (see CPO 777149, 777276 & 777336).

A coproduction of CPO and Southwest German Radio (SWR), the recordings were made almost eight years ago in SWR's chamber music studio, Stuttgart. They project a wide soundstage with the instruments well placed and balanced across it. This must be a large space as there's an enriching sense of reverberation.

The string tone is natural with delicate highs, a pleasing midrange, and well-articulated bass with no hint of boominess in the cello's lower registers. Romantic chamber music enthusiasts, particularly those with a penchant for Mendelssohn, will love this disc, as will any audiophiles among them.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y161228)


The album cover may not always appear.
Taneyev, S.: Stg Qts Cpte V5 (8); Stg Qnt 2; Buswell/Carpe Diem Qt [Naxos]
It's taken almost ten years for the Carpe Diem Quartet (CDQ) to complete their survey for Naxos of Sergei Taneyev's (1856-1915) nine completed works in the genre. This final installment features what's referred to as his "eighth". But as mentioned before, chronologically speaking their numbering is totally misleading.

In that regard, click here to see a definitive listing of them. You'll also note a first as well as last undertaking that were never finished, and have only two movements each. It makes one wonder why CDQ opted to fill this release with one of his string quintets rather than those four fragments. Maybe they're so sketchy as to be unplayable.

As noted previously Taneyev was a polymath whose academic associations were formidable. His teachers included Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) as well as Nikolai Rubinstein (1835-1881), while he could count such greats as Rachmaninov (1873-1943), Scriabin (1872-1915), Medtner (1880-1951) and Glière (1875-1956) among his students.

He also learned a great deal about Western music during his travels through Germany and France. In that regard he would became the Russian master of counterpoint -- a discipline much in evidence throughout his entire oeuvre. No wonder Peter Ilyich nicknamed him the "Russian Bach".

Sergei wasn't a tunesmith like some of his countrymen, but had a commanding sense of organization. In that regard his music reflects Beethoven's (1770-1827) preoccupation with structural matters rather than Schubert's (1797-1828) predilection for melody.

With a modest number of works to his credit, these string quartets along with his operatic masterpiece Oresteia (1887-94, see 31 December 2015) stand out. They're a must for those interested in exploring some lesser known, exceptionally sophisticated, romantic chamber music.

The early "eighth" of 1882-3 was reputedly meant to honor Mozart (1756-1791), whom Taneyev and Tchaikovsky both adored. In four movements, the initial sonata form "Allegro con brio" [T-1] starts with a barking, feisty number (BF) [00:01] that will act like a signpost. It's followed by an amorous caressing idea [01:25], only to reappear, announcing a harmonically searching, contrapuntally embellished development [03:07]. Then BF returns again, signaling the recapitulation [05:49], and a final coda [08:58] that ends the movement excitedly.

The "Adagio" [T-2] begins with a wistful yearning melody (WY) [00:00], which finds the composer at his most romantic. It undergoes a woeful, chromatic exploration with final weeping fragments of WY bringing the movement to a dejected conclusion.

After that despair turns to contentment in a genial "Tempo di minuetto" [T-3] spiced with a couple of sulky passages. It sets the tone for the "Finale. Allegro molto" [T-4], which starts with a perky folkish theme (PF) [00:00] succeeded by a PF-related, aria-like melody (PA) [01:02].

Both ideas then undergo a development [01:48] where Sergei's contrapuntal proclivities materialize in a fugue based on PA [03:00]. PF and PA are then recapped [04:22 & 05:02], and power a cheeky coda [07:02] that ends the quartet capriciously.

The program concludes with the second of Sergei's two string quintets, which was written in 1904. Whereas the first of these is a three-movement work scored for two cellos (see 11 July 2007, this one has four and calls for violas. It's a Russian chamber music masterpiece that lasts almost forty-five minutes, and takes repeated listening for full appreciation.

The initial "Allegro sostenuto" [T-5] is an intense, highly chromatic modified sonata form undertaking. It has two thematic groups that are respectively soul-searching (GS) [00:00] and apprehensive (GA) [02:41]. They undergo a convoluted emotional development [04:49], and rhapsodic recapitulation [06:49] that builds to a dramatic coda [11:09]. This brings the movement to an intense, nostalgic conclusion.

Taneyev aficionados would have to agree the next "Adagio espressivo" [T-6] is one of his most moving creations. It’s pervaded by a sense of Slavic soul and feelings of tranquil resignation despite some nervous GA-related twitches [03:15 & 05:48].

This movement couldn't be more different from the next "Allegretto. Scherzando" [T-7]. Here rays of hope somewhat dispel the darkness of the preceding ones. Its spirited outer sections recall the scherzo in Alexander Borodin's second string quartet (1881), and surround a haunting central episode [02:49-05:49].

The "Finale. Vivace e con fuoco -- Prestissimo" [T-8] begins with a troubled thematic nexus having GA overtones [00:00]. This is subjected to a tortured development [02:33] bringing to mind Beethoven's (1770-1827) late quartets (1810-26). Then Taneyev again shows his contrapuntal predilections by conjuring up a spectacular five-part, triple fugue with a GA-derived subject [06:29]. This works itself into a frenzy with numerous hints of past ideas, and collapses exhaustedly. Then there's a brief pause and wild GS-GA-based coda [08:31] that ends the quintet with an emphatic GS gesture.

As with their previous four volumes devoted to his quartets (see 8 December 2007, 10 May 2011, 31 July 2013 and 31 January 2016), the CDQ's members play this with great virtuosity and attention to detail. The same holds true for the quintet, where they receive excellent support from violist James Buswell.

Some may argue that their performances lack "Russian Soul" compared to the Taneyev Quartet's (TQ) of some forty years ago. However, CDQ's are technically as well as interpretatively more refined, and better bring out all the intricacies of Taneyev's contrapuntally convoluted music. What’s more, TQ’s appeared back in 2006 on five Northern Flowers discs that were of slipshod Russian manufacture, as all had tracking problems -- Caveat emptor!

These CDQ recordings were made in the Alberta Blair Theater, Billings, Montana, during 2014 (quartet), and Grusin Music Hall, at the University of Colorado's Imig School of Music, Boulder, in 2015 (quintet). Despite the different circumstances, the sonic images projected are amazingly consistent.

Moreover, the instruments are comfortably spread across a generous soundstage in warm, accommodating venues. The players are positioned in usual fashion for the quartet, but the quintet has the cellist placed center with the violinists to the left, and violists on the right. A realistic balance is maintained throughout, and the string tone is very natural. It’s characterized by pleasing highs, a musical midrange, and clean bass with no sign of hangover in the cello's lower registers. Like their previous volume (see 31 January 2016), this qualifies as an audiophile release.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y161227)