CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
30 SEPTEMBER 2023
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.
Elcock: Chamber Music V2 (The Cage of…, The Girl from…, The Aftermath of…, Night after Night); Tippett Quartet [Toccata]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Having given us a good sampling of British composer Steve Elcock's (b. 1957) orchestral works (see 31 May 2022), with this release the adventurous Toccata label continues their ongoing survey of his chamber music (see TOCC-0506). It has first recordings of all his pieces for string quartet.
Steve's album notes about his background as well as details regarding each of the selections here are very comprehensive. Consequently, we'll limit our commentary to their high points, and begin by saying these are quite programmatic with cinematic-sounding titles. What's more, rather than the usual four movements, they're each comprised of at least five or as many as eight short sections.
Our concert begins with The Cage of Opprobrium (Op. 22, 2014). This was inspired by a sixteenth-century metal boxlike enclosure (see here) the composer once saw while visiting Levoča in southwestern Slovakia. Apparently, people were punished by locking them in it so they could by scorned by the passing public.
Those confined included unaccompanied women found walking that city's streets after dark, which got the composer thinking about what would have characterized them while they were caged. This is the basis for its five attacca sections. The first four are sequentially Largo (Slow) sighing [T-1], Allegretto (Lively) dancing [T-2], Largo (Slow) singing [T-3] and Allegro (Fast) screaming [T-4] numbers. Then a Largo come prima (Slow like the first) mourning one [T-5] ends things.
No underlying story is provided for our next selection, which is titled The Girl from Marseille (Op. 17, 2010). Suffice it to say, this is a set of eight variations, each tinged with the tune for the French National anthem known as "La Marseillaise" (LM). We'll refer to them by their respective roman numerals and tempo markings.
Things get underway with a captivating "I-Poco Andante (Somewhat slow)" [T-6] introduction having a lovely viola melody (LV) [00:15] plus a suggestion of LM [02:10-02:24]. It's followed by a scampering "II-Allegro (Fast)" [T-7] and cantankerous "III-Allegro molto (Very fast)" [T-8], which may remind you of moments in Igor Stravinsky's (1882-1971) "The Rite of Spring" (1913).
Subsequently, there's an ominous "IV-Largo (Slow)" [T-9] having hints of LM [02:42-03:12], capricious "V-(Allegro (Fast)" [T-10] with passing thoughts of it for the cello [00:01, 00:16 & 00:55], and a gentle "VI-Andante (Slow)" [T-11] that's reminiscent of Gabriel Fauré's (1845-1924) more peaceful passages.
However, a whimsical "VII-Vivace (Fast)" [T-12] has frenetic suggestions of LM and adjoins the concluding "VIII" [T-13]. This starts Poco Allegro (Somewhat fast) with a version of LM [00:00], which is alternately confident and distracted. It's followed by a jazzy take on it [00:32], as well as a Tempo di valse (Waltz tempo) [00:45] one that invokes a reminder of LV [01:00].
Then, the latter calls up a Più allegro (Faster), almost note-for-note statement of LM [01:30]. This triggers a Presto (Very fast), boisterous, LM-based double fugue [01:56], which brings the work to a vivacious conclusion.
Next, we get The Aftermath of Longing (Op. 36, 2021), which has no underlying story other than what the listener might imply from the title. That said, it's in six sections, the first four of which are marked to be played Largo (Slowly) [T-14], Solenne (Solemnly) [T-15], Tranquillo (Tranquilly) [T-16] and Gelidamente (Coldly) [T-17].
These are collectively grief-stricken, but then the music turns Allegro (Fast) [T-18], thereby offering what's seemingly a ray of hope. However, this fades into a closing Largo (Slow) [T-19] that ends the work despairingly.
Night after Night (Op. 27, 2017) draws its name from the final verse of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson's (1850-1894) poem "The Infinite Shining Heavens" (1894). This work, to quote the composer, "is intended to depict the lonely journey through the night of the chronic insomniac..."
The first of its six sections is called "Somniloquy (Sleep-talking)" [T-20] and marked Largo (Slow). This has an eerie ostinato (EO) tinged opening [00:00] with a spooky segment [02:43-03:27] and suddenly wanes into fitful passages [04:32] having an anguished outcry (AO) from the viola [06:56}.
AO is the basis for the next Allegro (Fast) "Pavor Nocturnus (Night terror)" [T-21]. Here ominous passages are interspersed with a couple of nightmarish waltz-like ones [00:43-03:05 & 03:57-04:45], but suddenly give way to a rather ethereal sounding "Somniloquy (Sleep-talking)" [T-22].
This invokes a Largo (Slow) "Per noctem plurima volvens (Many thoughts rolling through the night)" [T-23], whose title is a quote from the first book of Virgil's (70-19 BC) Aeneid (29~19 BC). The music brings to mind those times in bed when it's hard to fall asleep.
The forgoing adjoins a third, "Somniloquy (Sleep-talking)" [T-24] that quickly bridges into the final section titled "Incubus" [T-25]. This is a highly agitated, EO-infected episode with memories of AO [beginning at 00:49]. It builds to a climax and suddenly ends, where seemingly the insomniac has managed to get to sleep, but suddenly awakens.
Britain's highly acclaimed Tippett Quartet (violinists John Mills, Jeremy Isaac, violist Lydia Lowndes-Northcott, cellist Božidar Volkotić) is featured here. Formed in 1998 and named after English composer Sir Michael Tippett (1905-1998), it's appeared before on this label (see TOCC-0149, TOCC-0357, TOCC-0619) and gives captivating performances of these Elcock tone-poem-like quartets.
The recordings were made 6-8 October 2022 at what the album notes refer to as Studio TQHQ, Ruislip, Middlesex, UK. Regrettably, no further information regarding the venue was available as of this writing. Suffice to say there's no feeling of that confinement frequently associated with "studios".
Moreover, they present a generous sonic image with the instruments well captured from left to right in order of increasing size. The string tone is as good as it gets on conventional discs, thereby earning this release an "Audiophile" stripe.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y230930)
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Goltermann, G.: Cello Concerto No. 1, Romance in A, Ballad in G, Symphony in A; Aliyev/Griffiths/Vienna RSO [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
German cellist-composer-conductor Georg Goltermann (1824-1898) makes his first appearance in these pages with this recent CPO release. He left a large number of works across all genres, and here we get three orchestral ones featuring the cello as well as the world premiere recording of his only symphony.
Born in Hannover (aka Hanover) some 150 miles west of Berlin, Georg grew up in a musical family, his father being an organist, and had cello lessons as a youngster. Then at age twenty-three (1847), he moved south to Munich, where he continued his cello instruction and studied composition with Ignaz Lachner (1807-1895).
His first works began appearing in print during 1848, and the year 1851 saw him journey to Leipzig, where he conducted his symphony to great acclaim at the renowned Gewandhaus. Then in 1852 he got a full-time job as the first cellist and part-time conductor of a theater orchestra in Würzburg.
The spring of 1853 saw him move to Frankfurt, where he became deputy director of a theater orchestra. Then in 1875 Goltermann succeeded Ignaz Lachner (see above) as conductor of another one of that city's theater orchestras. He'd hold this position until his retirement in 1893, and would live out his remaining years in Frankfort.
The program begins with his Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor (Op.14; late 1840s), which is arguably the most successful of the eight he wrote. In three movements, it begins "Allegro moderato (Moderately fast)" [T-1] with a captivating theme (C1) for the orchestra [00:01] that's vigorously explored.
Then there are six, tension-building, pizzicato notes [01:31] followed by the soloist [01:41] playing C1 [01:58] and then making some virtuosic commentary [03:22]. This is cause for the cello to intone a ravishing melody (R2) [04:21], which is pondered and gives way to showy, bravura passages [06:22].
These invoke rousing, C1-based moments for the tutti [07:28] that wane, thereby gracefully transitioning attacca into the middle "Andante (Slow)" [T2] movement, which is a lovely cantabile number. Here the soloist plays an attractive, somewhat wistful song [00:00] that's in three conjoined sections [00:00, 01:25 & 02:09].
This is followed attacca by an "Allegro moderato (Moderately fast)" [T-3]. It has a brief orchestral introduction [00:00] hinting at C1, which is soon played by the cello [00:21]. This is cause for some soloist fireworks [01:36] that ebb with recollections of R2 [02:32]. Then the latter escalate into additional highly virtuosic passages [03:41] with a fortissimo hint of C1 [04:48] and a definitive, final "So There!" cadence [04:55].
Georg wrote many pieces for cello and piano, one of them being a Romance in A minor (Op.60, No. 1; pub. 1870). Then in 1876 he made a version with orchestra, which is our next selection [T-4]. This is a brief, serene offering where melancholy passages [00:01, 03:23, 04:51] alternate with sanguine ones [00:50, 04:10].
It's followed by his Ballad in G major (Op. 81; pub. 1877) [T-5], which is another short piece for cello and orchestra. This takes the form of a conversation between the two and has a couple of halcyon sections [00:01, 03:54] that bracket a more intense one [02:20].
Then the cellist leaves the stage, and the orchestra gives us Gottermann's Symphony in A minor (Op. 50), which was probably completed not long before the work's 1851 premiere (see above). Having the usual four movements, the initial one [T-6] is in sonata form and has a "Sostenuto (Sustained)", sinister introduction [00:01] hinting at an upcoming first theme.
Subsequently, the pace turns "Allegro con fuoco (Fast with fire)", and we get the aforementioned theme, which is rather fervid (F1) [02:36]. It's then explored and followed by a playful second (P2) [03:37] that's forcefully repeated [03:57]. Subsequently, F1 initiates an engaging development [04:32] and a thrilling recapitulation [07:51]. The later adjoins an explosive, F1-spiked coda [09:19] that brings the movement to an emphatic conclusion.
The next "Andante con moto (Slow with movement)" [T-7] is an idyllic offering. Here tranquil sections [00:00, 02:15, 03:51, 05:32] are interspersed with ones hinting at a passing storm [01:27, 03:08, 04:51] and end things peacefully.
A generous, "Presto (Very fast)" Scherzo is next [T-8]. In ternary, A-B-A form, it has venatic "A"s [00:00, 5:53] based on a galloping, hunting-horn-enhanced number. They surround a "B" [03:00-05:52] having a hymnlike melody (H1) [03:01], and bring the movement full circle.
The final one [T-9] starts with festive flourishes [00:00] portending an F1-reminiscent, vivacious idea (V1) that quickly follows [00:08]. It soon gives way to a coquettish countermelody (C2) [00:52], which is repeated [01:08] and succeeded by some forceful afterthoughts [01:24]. Then fanfares [02:10] herald a V1-invoked, valiant development [02:25] and thrilling recapitulation [03:45]. The latter has a coda based on an H1-like idea [05:20] that ends this work and disc triumphantly.
Turkish cellist Jamal Aliyev (b. 1993) delivers a superb account of the first three selections. He receives outstanding support from the Austrian Broadcasting (ORF) associated Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra (Vienna RSO) under British conductor Howard Griffiths (b. 1950). Then Maestro Griffiths and the Vienna RSO go on to give us a magnificent account of a symphony that's been overlooked for far too long.
The recordings were made 7-10 June 2022 at the Radio Kulturhaus in Vienna. They present a consistently generous sonic image in ideal surroundings. More specifically, Aliyev's cello is centered, well captured and highlighted against the orchestra.
The overall instrumental timbre of all four selections is characterized by pleasant highs with occasional bright spots, a good midrange and clean bass. Everything considered the sound is generally good, but could have been demonstration quality had this been an SACD.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P230929)
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Novák, V.: Orch Wks V2 (Moravian-Slovak Suite, Two Wallachian Dances, De profundis); Svoboda/Štilec/Janá P Ost [Naxos]
RECOMMMENDED (1 CD)
Three years ago Naxos gave us a superb release where Czech conductor Marek Štilec (b. 1985) lead some of his fellow countryman Vítězslav Novák's (1870-1949) orchestral works (see Naxos-8.574226). Now here's a second featuring more of them, and it includes the world premiere recording of Two Wallachian Dances.
Novák was born in Kamenice nad Lipou that's a town located in Bohemia, which is the westernmost region of the Czech Republic. More specifically, it's 66 air miles south-southwest of Prague.
Young Novák took violin as well as piano lessons, and in his late teens moved to Prague, where he studied at the Conservatory. It was there that Vitězslav furthered his piano studies, attended Antonín Dvořák's (1841-1904) master classes in composition and would graduate in 1892. Then in the late 1890s he became interested in the folk music of neighboring Moravia and Slovakia, elements of which he began incorporating into his works.
The year 1909 saw Novák become a professor of composition at the Conservatory and his music well received. However, he soon suffered some setbacks when he contradicted cultural authority Zdeněk Nejedlý's (1878-1962) advocacy of Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884) over Dvořák.
These misfortunes lasted through the early 1930s. But then Vitězslav wrote a number of extensive orchestral works as well as some patriotic pieces during the Nazi occupation of his country (1938-1945), which restored his reputation as one of his country's most highly regarded composers. He then died in Skuteč some 60 air miles northeast of Kamenice nad Lipou (see above).
Novák ranks with fellow countrymen Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) as well as Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959), and would leave a large body of works across all genres. Some of his orchestral ones such as In the Tartra Mountains (1902) and Eternal Longing (1908) (see Naxos-8.573683) secured him a large following.
The release here starts with another of the composer's best-known works, namely his Moravian-Slovak Suite (Op. 32, 1903). This began life as a piano piece that he soon orchestrated and has arguably become his most popular creation.
It's in five sections, which the composer once described as "evoking moods encountered on a summer holiday". The first "At Church" [T-1] opens serenely and features a lovely hymnlike melody (LH) [00:43]. Subsequently, LH adjoins reverent passages [01:37] tinged with an angelic harp. These are followed by a powerful LH-based episode [04:09] that has devout moments with an organ [05:58-06:18]. Then the music quietly fades away much like it began.
The next "Among the Children" [T-2] is an absolutely delightful frolic. This has playful outer sections [00:00 & 02:40] hugging a songful one [02:15-02:39], and all of its tunes seem based on Czech folk material.
Things become amorous with "The Lovers" [T-3]. It features two themes, which seemingly limn a couple of sweethearts. The first is an adoring idea that could represent a young beau. This hugs [00:00 & 02:21] a rather fickle one [01:30-02:19], which presumably connotes his girlfriend, and ends things full circle.
Then maybe those sweethearts attend "The Ball" [T-4]. It's intermezzo-like and has a lively introduction [00:00] hinting at a memorable Czech-folksong-derived melody that's soon heard [00:35]. It undergoes five variational treatments, the first four being sequentially smiling [01:34], confident [02:10], playful [02:39] and dudy-like [03:09]. Then a fleeting fifth [04:20] brings this section to a capricious conclusion.
The final "At Night" [T-5] has a restful preface [00:00] soon followed by a comely soporific theme (CS) [00:17] that's a bit reminiscent of LH (see above). Subsequently, CS is food for a moving developmental treatment [00:54] that could be a beautiful sunset. Then CS returns [04:06] evoking images of a nightingale [04:44-05:23] and the sun's last rays, thereby ending this delightful piece somewhat like it started.
After that we get those Two Wallachian Dances (Op. 34, 1906), which have an interesting history. Moreover, back in 1897-8 the composer wrote Three Bohemian Dances for Piano Duet (Op. 15), which he once played with Janáček when he visited him at Hukvaldy some 200 air miles east-southeast of Prague. Then in 1904 he arranged the first two for a single piano, and would orchestrate them in 1906, giving us what we have here.
The title refers to the mountainous Moravian Wallachia region (aka Valašsko) lying along the border between Moravia and Slovakia. Incidentally, they may remind you of Janáček's Lachian Dances (JW 6/17, 1924-5).
The first called Troják [T-6] was inspired by an eponymous dance from Czech Silesia, which is located along southwestern Poland, where it's called a Trojąk. This means "Three", and accordingly it's traditionally performed by two women and a man.
Novák's "Allegro ben ritmico (Fast and very rhythmic)" version of it begins with a somewhat casual version of the dance tune [00:00], which becomes increasingly spirited and gives way to a fetching countermelody [01:51]. Then the two ideas intermingle and end things in proud fashion.
The next Dymák [T-7] is marked "Con fuoco (With fire)". This bears the same name as the third of those Lachian Dances (see above), which depicts a blacksmith at work. Consequently, it's a tiny tone-picture with a rhythmically twitchy opening [00:00] that calls up a sprightly tune (ST) [00:28]. ST is repeated in several guises and adjoins a merry section [02:52], which bridges into reminiscences of ST [04:01]. These are then explored giving way to frolicsome, ST-based passages that bring the work to a joyful conclusion.
But merriment turns to misery with the last selection, namely the composer's De profundis (Op. 67, 1941) [T-8], which takes its name from the first line of Psalm 130. This was motivated by the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia (1938-1945), and Novák summed things up when he wrote on the title page, "Consecrated to the suffering of the Czech nation during the German reign of terror (1939-45)".
Scored for orchestra and organ, it begins in the depths of despair with growling winds plus brass [00:00], which call up a lengthy grief-stricken thought (GS) [00:31]. GS waxes and wanes into supplicating moments [04:10] that become increasingly hopeful.
The latter give rise to a more optimistic treatment of LG [06:39]. This turns rather flighty [08:43] and then forceful [12:47], thereby ebbing into redemptive, organ-tinged passages [beginning at 15:34]. They parent a compelling, organ-enhanced episode [20:02], which ends the work and disc with hopes of better days to come.
These performances are by the Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava (Janá P Ost), which prior to 1971 was known as the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra. It's based in Ostrava, some 175 air miles east-southeast of Prague, and under Maestro Štilec (see above) these superb musicians deliver definitive accounts of all three selections. Also, Czech organist Pavel Svoboda (b. 1987) gets a big hand for his playing in De profundis [T-8] and presumably also the Moravian-Slovak Suite's "At Church" [T-1].
The recordings took place 16-17 [T1 & T8] and 22-23 [T2 thru T7] March 2021 at the Ostrava House of Culture. They present an adequately sized sonic image in surroundings that audiophiles may find a bit dry. As for the orchestral timbre, the highs may strike some as occasionally strident, but the midrange and bass are good.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P230928)
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Petitgirard, L.: Si Yeou Ki (The Journey to the West); Petitgirard/Hung SO Buda [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Laurent Petitgirard (b. 1950) is a distinguished, award-winning, Parisian composer-conductor. He makes his CLOFO debut with this recent Naxos release in their continuing series devoted to his music (see Naxos-8.570138, 8.557602, 8.660300-01, 8.573113 & 8.574034). By way of background, young Laurent was family trained in that he studied piano with his father and was taught composition by an older brother.
But jumping ahead, as a conductor he's had a distinguished, worldwide career and since 2018, concentrated more on writing music. Consequently, Laurent has composed more than 20 symphonic works to say nothing of some 150 film scores. Unfortunately, there are no comprehensive listings of them readily available as of this date.
In regard to the sole selection here, it's his three-part ballet for large orchestra titled Si Yeou Ki (The Journey to the West) that was written in 2019-2020. The composer tells us this was inspired by a book his brother gave him back in 1966, which was the 16th century eponymous novel attributed to Chinese writer/politician, Wu Cheng'en (c. 1500-1582). However, Laurent didn't get around to composing it until some 53 years later!
The underlying story is well summarized in the album notes, and each of its parts has informatively titled dance episodes on separate tracks. Moreover, Part I begins with "Xuanzang's Dream and Departure" [T-1], he being a 7th-century Chinese Buddhist monk (602-664). It's quite eerie with a haunting theme (HT) [00:11] and soon followed by a pensive "The Deliverance of Sun Wukong" [T-2], who's the Chinese Monkey King. This flows attacca into an arresting "The Six Bandits" [T-3] with a splash of colorful chimes [02:14-02:18].
It adjoins "Zhu Bajie's Conversion" [T-4], which is percussively-accented music with more chimes [02:14-02:18] and elicits "Sha Wujing's Conversion" [T-5] with some pounding drums. But this wanes into a generally tuneful "The Temptation of Zhu Bajie" [T-6] with a very soft passage [00:33-00:59]. It conjures up the ominous repetitive start of "Destruction, Resurrection, of the Ginseng Tree and Fights" [T-7]. HT reappears here [01:49] and becomes increasingly forceful, thereby ending this part dramatically.
Part II gets off to a sinister start with "The Triple Murder and Punishment of Sun Wukong" [T-8], featuring arcane passages [00:00, 02:23] surrounding malefic ones [01:16-02:22]. It's conjoined with "The Yellow-Robed Monster and the Jealous Princess of a Hundred Flowers' [T-9], which has a placid preface [00:00-01:34] succeeded by a bestial episode (BE) [01:34]. The latter waxes and wanes into tender segments [02:27, 04:39] that hug an ill-boding, BE-like moment [04:00-04:38] and close things on a lighter note.
All this bridges directly into "The Magic Tournament" [T-10], which has an arresting start [00:00] that soon ebbs into peaceful passages [00:24]. However, they suddenly succumb to runic ones [01:12] and an episode [02:13] with insistent moments plus what seem like hints of thunder [01:31-02:00] and lightning [02:39-03:16].
The foregoing adjoin "The Golden Fish" [T-11] that begins peacefully [00:00] limning a river by night. But then [00:21] the music gets increasingly agitated and more colorfully scored, presumably depicting a battle with a fish-like monster [01:03]. However, the Chinese Bodhisattva known as Guanyin intervenes and the good guys prevail.
Subsequently, this episode makes a temperate transition into "The Kingdom of Women" [T-12], which starts peacefully [00:00]. But things soon [00:21] become increasingly agitated as well as colorfully scored, heralding a confrontation with some unidentified female monster [01:02]. However, Guanyin makes another appearance, subdues the creature [02:00], and the music turns progressively more tranquil, thereby closing this part uneventfully.
Part III begins with "Lesser Thunder Monastery" [T-13], which has an intriguing start [00:00]. But the pace quickens [01:48] as Sun Wukong kills another monster thereby freeing Xuanzang and two of his associates [04:38].
Then we suddenly get "The Robbery of the Precious Weapons [T-14] that has an uneasy beginning [00:00]. This becomes increasingly embroiled [01:15] and then combative [02:25] as the above four use those weapons to capture the Tawny as well as Nine-Headed Lion Demons.
The foregoing is followed by radiant moments [04:41, 04:54, 05:07 & 05:19], after which there's "Arrival at the Temple of the Thunder Smash and Obtaining the Books" [T-15]. It has a peaceful preface [00:00] invoking a flowing, river-like theme (FR) [00:14]. FR is succeeded by some barely audible moments [01:55-02:26] and then undergoes an exploration [02:27], which gradually intensifies into a very forceful version of FR [04:14].
Subsequently, the latter is explored [04:49-05:37] and reenergized [05:38], thereby bridging [06:16] into anxious passages [07:40]. These become increasingly intense, but suddenly end giving way to a melancholy afterthought (MA) [09:23].
MA is immediately followed by "The Return of Travelers to Chang'an and Their Admission to the Western Paradise" [T-16]. This has an effervescent beginning [00:00] with a triumphant, exclamatory moment [01:30] that wanes into nostalgic passages [01:42]. Then there's a brief pause and beatific ones [02:44], where Xuanzang and Sun Wukong are acknowledged as having attained Buddhahood. These slowly fade away bringing the ballet and disc to a hallowed conclusion.
This superb performance by the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra Budapest (Hung SO Buda) is conducted by the composer, and will probably be definitive for a long time to come. Consequently, those loving contemporary, French ballets won't want to be without this release.
The recording took place 21-24 October 2021 at Studio 22 located in Budapest, and presents a suitably sized sonic image in warm surroundings. The orchestral timbre is characterized by pleasant highs, a good midrange and clean bass. The orchestral timbre is characterized by pleasant highs, a good midrange and clean bass. All this does justice to Petitgirard's colorfully scored music, and will please audiophiles.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y230927)
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