28 FEBRUARY 2024


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.
Grau, Eduardo: Concertos for Soloists and String Orchestra; Soloists/Varela/AniMusChO [Naxos]
Argentinian composer Eduardo Grau (1919-2006) makes his first appearance in these pages with this recent Naxos release. He was born in Barcelona, but at age eight his family moved to Buenos Aires.

Young Eduardo showed an early interest in music and sent some of his pieces to Manuel de Falla (1876-1946), who was then living in Alta Gracia, some 400 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. The great Spanish composer praised these early efforts, and consequently Eduardo studied composition with him. He also took instrumentation and orchestration courses with Spanish composer-conductor-musicologist Jaime Pahissa (1880-1969) in Buenos Aires.

The year 1948 saw Eduardo take up residence in Mendoza, which is about 300 miles west-southwest of Alta Gracia, and teach at the National University of Cuyo (UNCuyo). Then during 2002 he settled in Adrogué some 15 miles south of Buenos Aires. Grau would spend the rest of his life there and leave a significant body of works across many genres. The four concertos on this CD testify to his compositional skills. They're all world premiere recordings, and each of them has three-movements.

First off, there's the Concerto of 'Yuste' for Violin, Piano, Timpani and String Orchestra (Op. 86, 1966) that was inspired by the Monastery of San Jerónimo de Yuste located in Spain's Province of Cáceres. Moreover, this was founded by the Hieronymites, who are also known as the Order of Saint Jerome. He had strong associations with the early Christian church, and these are seemingly reflected in the titles for each of its movements.

The opening Cático (Canticle) [T-1] is marked "Allegro giusto (Fast and precise)". This begins with a spirited, percussively-laced preface [00:01] followed by a fidgety, violin-dominated segment [00:06]. The latter is material for several, inventive piano-timpani-spiced treatments, which include a demanding violin cadenza [05:49-08:42]. Then the other soloists and orchestra return [08:43], after which there are ostinato passages [09:39] that bring the movement to a simple conclusion.

It's followed by a "Larghetto (Rather slow)", sans timpani one called Salmo (Psalm) [T-2]. This opens with the violin playing a Gregorian Chant flavored melody [00:00] set to a devout, organ-like accompaniment. Then the foregoing makes a devout transition into a songlike episode [02:42] having a sincere violin cadenza [03:56-04:45]. The latter invokes some pious afterthoughts [04:46] that end the movement devoutly.

That timpanist returns for the closing, "Allegro vivo (Fast and lively)" Himno (Hymn) [T-3], which like the first movement has a spirited, percussively-laced preface [00:00]. Then the violinist enters with an inspiring melody [00:40] that's juggled about. It's subsequently the subject of a playful section [02:42] and fugal episode [03:43], followed by solo violin passages [04:39-04:55].

These call up a martial segment [04:55] with some arpeggioesque piano moments [05:26-05:53] and reverent solo violin ones [06:06-06:32]. Then a captivating violin cadenza [07:11-09:14] adjoins pugnacious passages for all [09:16], which end the work with a forceful "So there!" cadence [09:45].

Grau's Concertino for Viola, Piano and String Orchestra (Op. 124, 1972) is next. The first movement [T-4] starts with "Andante (Flowing)" passages that begin with a compelling theme (AC) for the viola. They're soon followed [00:55] by mostly "Allegro assai (Very fast)" ones, which fill out this movement. These have AC inspired rhapsodic [01:26], melancholy [02:50] and searching [03:08] sections. Then a spirited, somewhat virtuosic one [03:42] brings the movement to an uneventful conclusion.

The subsequent "Adagio, quasi largo (Slow and quite solemn)" one [T-5] is as billed and ends with an austere reminder of AC [02:02]. However, the pace quickens in the "Allegro (Fast)" third [T-6]. It begins with vivacious, viola-dominated passages [00:00], followed by another mention of AC [01:54]. This has compassionate piano moments [02:08] as well as viola ones [02:44], which end the work peacefully.

Argentine folk rhythms abound in the subsequent Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra (Op. 184, 1985). Moreover. the initial "Moderato assai (Very moderate)" movement [T-7] begins with a huella-flavored introduction for the strings [00:00]. They're soon joined by the soloist playing a florid, macho number [00:18]. This bridges [02:06] into a demanding, extended clarinet cadenza [02:22-04:16]. Then the orchestra returns [04:17] with memories of the opening measures, and rousing passages for all [05:05] close the movement definitively.

The "Lento, contemplativo (Slow and thoughtful)" middle one [T-8] calls to mind the Argentine zamba and chacarera. This opens with a tender theme for all [00:00] that's explored, thereby giving way to a lengthy clarinet cadenza [02:11-03:29]. The latter is followed by searching passages [03:31], which bring things to a serene conclusion.

Then there's an "Allegro scherzando (Fast and playful)" final movement [T-9]. It's palito-like, rhythmically spiced music that begins with plucky string passages [00:00] soon followed by flighty ones for the soloist [00:09]. These adjoin a capricious clarinet cadenza [01:43-03:10], after which the strings make a somewhat solemn return [03:11] soon followed by remembrances [03:23] of the opening measures. Then the soloist reappears [03:32] and together they engage in restive passages that end the work uneventfully.

The closing selection is Eduardo's Concerto for Flute and String Orchestra with Piano (Op. 198, 1988). Also referred to as "La flor de Gnido (The Flower of Gnido)", it was inspired by Spanish poet Garcilaso de la Vega's (c. 1501-1536) eponymous canzone. Consequently, this work is somewhat programmatic in that its first two movements reflect the poem's middle verses, while the third relates to the beginning ones.

An "Allegro assai (Very fast)" opener [T-10] gets things started with an ambulant theme for the flute [00:00] set to a stepping, piano-string accompaniment. Then there's a related, lyrical thought [01:40], and the two become material for whimsical passages [02:52] with solo piano [03:51-04:07] as well as flute [05:20-05:50] moments. After that, the strings introduce a delightful episode [05:51] having some fancy "flutework". This adjoins a captivating, clocklike segment [08:11], followed by a scurrying one [10:03]. However, the latter wanes, thereby ending the movement quietly.

The "Lento, sostenuto (Slow and sustained)", sans piano second [T-11] begins with the strings [00:00] hinting at a comely melody soon played by the soloist [00:35]. This is the subject matter for a lovely lullaby having elegant flute passages.

Then an "Allegro vivace (Fast and spirited)" third [T-12] starts with a bravura cadenza [00:00] for the soloist. It's followed by "hippity-hoppity" moments in the strings [00:55], which are soon joined by a recalcitrant piano [01:15, 01:23, 01:34]. These give way to airy, flute-dominated ones [01:42], where the piano makes a brief, tuneful, solo appearance [02:35].

Subsequently, the soloist and strings deliver songful passages [03:25, 04:26]. But then the mood becomes capricious [06:16] with that piano again in evidence as well as some flighty flute commentary [07:01]. However, the foregoing wanes into a sustained note for the soloist [08:25], which ends this work and disc uneventfully.

Spanish violinist Ana Maria Valderrama [T-1, 2 3], Argentinian pianist Fabio Banegas [T-1 thru 6, 10, 12] Hungarian timpanist Miklós Szitha [T-1], Spanish violist David Fons [T-4, 5, 6], Austrian clarinetist Simon Reitmaier [T-7, 8, 9] and Czech flautist Jana Jarkovská [T-10, 11, 12] deliver superb accounts of these selections. What's more, they're given outstanding support from the Budapest-based Anima Musicæ Chamber Orchestra (AniMusChO) under Argentinian conductor Francisco Varela.

The recordings were made 19-27 April 2022 at one of the Pannonia Sound Studios in Budapest. They present close-up sonic images of all four works in somewhat dry surroundings. All of the soloists are centered, well captured and balanced against the orchestra. However, this music would have probably sounded even better in more spacious surroundings.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P240228)


The album cover may not always appear.
Milking Darkness (see Auerbach); Delta Piano Trio [Challenge Classics]
Conductor-pianist-composer Lera Auerbach (b. 1973) hails from Chelyabinsk, Russia, which was the site of that horrendous meteor explosion back in 2013. Young Lera took piano lessons from her mother and began composing at a very early age. Then the year 1991 saw her go on a concert tour and take up residence in the United States, where she studied piano as well as composition at the Juilliard School in New York City.

Auerbach is a polymath whose creative output encompasses literature as well as the visual arts. She's since become one of today's most sought-after musicians, who to date has produced a significant body of works across all genres. Four in the chamber music category fill out this recent Challenge Classics release. Three of them are world premiere recordings and accordingly marked with a "WPR" after their titles.

The concert begins with a solo piece, namely her Lonely Suite - Ballet for a Lonely Violinist (Op. 70, 2002), which is in six titled sections. The first "Dancing with Oneself" [T-1] is a strange, pizzicato-laced, waltz-like number. It's followed by one called "Boredom" [T-2] that's accordingly monotonous except for a strident moment [00:48]. Subsequently, there's a pause and all virtuosic hell breaks loose in "No Escape" [T-3].

But petulance turns to passivity in "Imaginary Dialogue" [T-4] and "Worrisome Thought" [T-5]. Then this work ends in limbo with "Question" [T-6], which seems somewhat in the same spirit as Charles Ives' (1874-1954) The Unanswered Question (1908-35).

The following Piano Trio No. 4 (2017; WPR) is a grim, single movement, tone-poem-like creation lasting almost twenty minutes [T-7]. The album notes tell us that its "theme" is life's inevitable struggle to escape death. Accordingly, this begins with fateful passages (FP) having tearful pizzicati [00:00], weeping glissandi [00:29] and sobbing trills [00:43] for the strings.

Then the foregoing make a slow, sorrowful journey into slightly more optimistic ones that are first hinted at by the piano [05:46]. But these are subsequently interrupted by rather skittish reminders of FP [08:26], which ebb into subdued memories of the same [09:22]. Then the latter are succeeded by two FP-based segments, the first being rather agitated [11:00]. However, this wanes into a contemplative second [13:20] that ends the work with a deathly silence.

Milking Darkness (2011; WPR) is a ten-minute, impressionistic piano piece [T-8], which seems cosmos related. However, no underlying story is provided, so we'll make one up as we go along in hopes of better characterizing the music.

That said, it begins with a couple of Big Bang chords, followed by what we'll refer to as a simple tune of creation [00:16]. The latter seemingly engenders musical images of twinkling stars [01:53] as well as whirling galaxies [02:39].

Subsequently things become increasingly complex, presumably with the evolution of the sun [03:41], earth [04:35], moon [05:34] and humankind [06:12]. But then there are passages [07:50], which close this selection in the darkness of outer space.

Three Dances in the Old Style (Op. 54, 2000) for violin and cello is a rather capricious piece. Moreover, each is in a minor key and based on a different, simple, eighteenth-century-like tune of the composer's contrivance, which she then distorts in bizarre fashion.

More specifically, the initial "Andantino scherzando (Leisurely and playful)" marked one [T-9] is a haunting contrivance with eerie glissandi. Then the last two "Andante (Flowing)" ones are equally strange in that the former [T-10] has no final note, while the latter [T-11] is of an antic disposition.

This release concludes with the four-movement Piano Trio No. 3 (2013, rev. 2018; WPR), which is rather melodramatic. The "Grandioso (Grandly)" marked first [T-12] has fierce, opening piano chords [00:00] that die away into delicate, oneiric passages (DO) [00:37], where the strings join in [00:51]. But the foregoing is suddenly followed by a crazed episode [02:07] having bizarre string effects [03:27]. Then remembrances of DO [04:06] adjoin increasingly crazed moments [04:52] that end the movement abruptly.

The "Andante Libero (Flowing and leisurely)" second [T-13] gets off to an arresting start with a pianistic tone cluster [00:00] that slowly dies away. Then there's a weird waltz [00:31] featuring the violin [01:02]. This comes off like something you might hear a Russian busker play on a musical saw, and ends the movement furtively.

A subsequent "Adagio religioso (Slow and religious)" one [T-14] is a solemn passacaglia that begins with a recurring, eight-note, piano ostinato [00:00], over which the strings play a captivating, hymnlike thought [00:01]. The latter is the subject of some treatments that range from increasingly agitated [00:22] to searching [01:21], distraught [02:18] and complacent [02:38]. Then a spooky moment [04:14] brings things to an uneventful conclusion.

The "Allegro brutale (Fast and bestial)" fourth movement [T-15] is a wild, theme-and-variations-like dance based on a cocky number [00:00] as well as a ghostly, retiring idea [00:50]. They subsequently undergo frenetic [02:52], laidback [03:26], macabre [05:59], complacent [06:43] and brash [07:30] treatments. Then the latter wanes into a solo violin [08:59], which evokes a last variant [09:16] that closes the work and disc in antic fashion.

These performances are by the Delta Piano Trio, whose Dutch musicians are great fans of Auerbach's music, and worked closely with her in the preparation of this release. Accordingly, they deliver committed, technically accomplished accounts of all five selections. More specifically, there's violinist Gerard Spronk [T-1 thru 7 & 9 thru 15], cellist Irene Enzlin [T-7 & 9 thru 15] and pianist Vera Kooper [T-7, 8 & 12 thru 15]).

The recordings were made 14-16 February 2023 at the Netherlands Broadcast Music Center's Orchestral Studio 1 in Hilversum, some 15 air miles southeast of Amsterdam. The performers are centered and well captured throughout, as well as ideally balanced against one another in the Three Dances... [T-9 thru 11] and both Trios [T-7 & T-12 thru 15]. The instrumental timbre is about as good as it gets on conventional CDs with Vera's piano having a well-rounded tone and just the right amount of percussive bite.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y240227)


The album cover may not always appear.
Nørgård: Three Nocturnal Movements, Symphony No. 8, Lysning; Herresthal/Kullberg/Storgårds/BergenPO [BIS (Hybrid)]
It's been too long since composer Per Nørgård (b. 1932) has been in these pages! However, he makes a triumphant return with this recent BIS hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0) release featuring some of his orchestral works. Arguably the most prominent Danish composer after Carl Nielsen (1865-1931), he was born in the Gentofte Municipality of northern Copenhagen to music-loving parents, who owned a wedding dress shop.

Per grew up in that city and began piano lessons as a seven-year-old (1939). He also loved to draw cartoon characters, which became the subjects of performances that he set to his own music. Then at age seventeen (1949), this youngster decided to become a composer and wrote his first piano sonata.

After that, Nørgård contacted one of his country's most prominent composers, Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996), whom he'd study with privately as well as at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. And 1956-57 saw him journey to Paris, where he furthered his musical education with that doyenne of 20th century music teachers, Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979).

Subsequently, Per has had a highly successful career as a teacher, music critic and composer, who's written a large body of works in all genres. The opening Three Nocturnal Movements (2015) is for violin, cello and orchestra. It represents a close collaboration with our cellist here, Jakob Kullberg (b. 1976), and also features Norwegian violinist, Peter Herresthal (b. 1970).

Its "Allegro (Fast)" first [T-1] begins with a polyphonic, structurally complex preface [00:02] where the soloists intermittently surface. This is material for contemplative passages [01:07] that are alternately "accelerando" as well as "rallentando", and conjure up images of some oneiric, nocturnal realm.

The "Andante (Flowing)" second [T-2] is cadenza-like with sparse accompaniment, and has a first idea [00:02] spiced with intervals of a fourth, fifth and second. Then the cello plays a lurching, major-and-minor-third tinged one [01:44]. They're the main ideas for several tonally colored variants, which feature a variety of string effects that include sul ponticello, flautando, beat and microtonal ones.

These have a final, held note [06:45] that flows attacca into the third movement [T-3]. This opens with an innocent, childlike, folksongish melody [00:00] sung by the soloists to a loving accompaniment. However, it's interrupted by periodic shrieks from the tutti [01:15, 01:51, 02:27] that seemingly cause the voices of the violin and cello to become progressively dissonant. Then all engage in increasingly agitated passages [06:21], after which the soloists return [09:05] to conclude the work serenely.

The concert continues with the three-movement Symphony No. 8 of 2011. This was commissioned by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and dedicated to John Storgårds (b. 1963), who was then its chief conductor and is also the one here.

The "Tempo giusto (Precise speed)" marked first [T-4] starts with a pixilated thematic nexus [00:01] followed by flighty sicilianaesque passages [02:01 for flutes, crotales and sul ponticello strings. They evoke senza misura (free meter) ones [04:52] spiced with a glockenspiel, vibraphone, harp and piano (GVHP). These wax and wane into some horn calls [11:14] that bring the movement to an abrupt end.

Its successor is marked "Adagio molto (Very slow)" [T-5], but has faster moments. This opens with an oneiric episode scored for soft strings and winds as well as the strange sound of a suspended cymbal stroked with a wire brush. However, tempestuous tidbits intermittently appear [02:10, 04:04, 05:24, 05:35, 06:18, 06:30] and the last one slowly fades, thereby closing the movement uneventfully.

The third [T-6] has a metronome marking of "♩ = 90" (90 quarter note beats per minute). It begins with some tapping on the edge of a snare drum [00:01] and saucy passages [00:04] with underlying GVHP moments. These become increasingly brash, but then there's a brief pause followed by a string-dominated "Lento visionario (Slow and visionary)" episode [05:02]. It wanes with some chimes [06:19] into subdued passages for a cello, horns and strings [06:27] that end the Symphony somewhat ominously.

Filling out this release, there's a short piece titled Lysning (2006) [T-6] for string orchestra. It's described by the composer as "glade", which in Danish means "contented". Consequently, this is a contemplative, offering that begins with a plangent thought [00:02] that undergoes a few treatments. These range from genial [00:42] to searching [02:20] as well as reverent [04:20], where the latter closes the work and disc uneventfully.

The performances are by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, which is based in that city some 200 air miles west-northwest of Norway's capitol, Oslo. Under conductor John Storgårds (b. 1963), they give outstanding renditions of all three selections. And what's more, cellist Jakob Kullberg (b. 1976) and violinist, Peter Herresthal (b. 1970) deliver a technically accomplished, superbly played account of the opening one.

These recordings were made 29-30 August 2019 [T-1 thru 3] and 4-5 February 2022 [T-4 thru 7] at the Grieghallen in Bergen. Each of the stereo tracks project cogent, sonic images in a marvelous venue with both soloists as well as the many small groups of instruments called for in these colorfully scored works well captured and balanced against the orchestra.

The instrumental timbre is characterized by pleasant highs, a rich midrange and clean bass that goes down to rockbottom. The multichannel track will give those with home theater systems an ideal orchestra seat. Consequently, this release earns an "Audiophile" rating.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y240226)


The album cover may not always appear.
Weinberg, M. (Vainberg): Dawn, Symphony No. 12 "In memoriam D. Shostakovich"; Storgårds/BBC P [Chandos]
Polish-born, Russian-trained composer-pianist Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996, aka Vainberg) makes a welcome return to these pages (see 31 January 2019) with this recent Chandos release. He left a large oeuvre across all genres, and here we get two in the orchestral category. More specifically, there's a tone poem, this being its world premiere recording, as well as one of his 22 symphonies.

He grew up in Warsaw and as a twelve-year-old began studying piano at what's now known as the Chopin University of Music. Young Mieczysław graduated in 1939, but the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany at the beginning of World War II forced him to flee to Minsk in what was then the Soviet Union and is now the Republic of Belarus.

Weinberg studied composition and taught at the local conservatory. However, Nazi Germany's 1941 invasion of that area resulted in his moving to Tashkent located in what's now the Republic of Uzbekistan. It was there that he met Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), who became a close friend and persuaded him to take up residence in Moscow, where he spent the rest of his life.

This CD opens with his symphonic poem Dawn (aka Morning-Red, Op. 60, 1957) [T-1], which was dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the Russian Revolution (1917). It's in three conjoined sections, the first of which has ominous "Andante (Slow)" outer passages [00:04, 04:41], bracketing a "Pochissimo più mosso (Little more lively)" tidbit [03:34-04:40].

Then there's a middle section that begins with agitated "Allegro (Fast)" moments [05:03] followed by "Doppio più lento (Half as fast)" ones [07:36]. These give way to a concluding third where martial "Andante (Slow)" sentiments [13:34, 16:08] surround a triumphant "Andantino meno mosso (Slightly faster)" one [15:05-16:07]. The foregoing are indicative of that above Revolution's highly successful outcome for the Bolsheviks.

Dmitri's influence on this composer is evident throughout the next selection. It's his four-movement Symphony No. 12 "In memoriam D. Shostakovich" (Op. 114, 1975-76), which lasts almost an hour. The opening one [T-2] begins with an austere, sinewy thematic nexus that starts "Allegro moderato (Moderately fast)" [00:01] and turns "Doppio movimento (Twice as fast)" [02:25].

This undergoes a couple of "Poco più mosso (Little more lively)" developmental treatments [06:18, 07:23]. Then a "Doppio più lento (Half as fast)" recapitulation [11:21] followed by a "Largo (Slow)" coda [18:29] end the movement with grim memories of its opening.

The next is an "Allegretto (Lively)" scherzo [T-3], which begins with three insistent thoughts respectively dominated by the strings [00:01], brass [01:30] and woodwinds [02:12]. These are material for rousing passages [03:41] that ebb into a somewhat subdued segment [04:35]. But the latter suddenly gives way [07:17] to sassy, timpani-reinforced reminders of this movement's first measures, which bring things full circle.

An "Adagio (Slow)" third [T-4] is a grief-stricken lament based on an initial, extended lachrymose theme [00:01]. This has an intermittent weeping motif for the winds [02:28]. Then the latter becomes more pronounced [04:49] with more of that timpani reinforcement [06:07].

However, the foregoing wanes attacca into the fourth movement [T-5], which is of sonata-rondo persuasion. This begins with an "Allegro (Fast)" exposition where a marimba plays an innocent tune [00:02], which is offset by the strings intoning a somber idea in another key [00:15].

Subsequently, the foregoing gives rise to an extended, captivating development where it's material for searching [00:30], whimsical [02:45], playful [04:42], insistent [06:01], commanding [07:48] and martial [08:13] treatments. Then the latter adjoins the "Adagio (Slow)", recapitulative, remainder of this movement [09:01]. It has four introspective treatments [09:48, 10:41, 11:47, 13:32], and an anguished coda [15:50] that ends the Symphony and disc despondently.

Back in 2019 the BBC Philharmonic (BBC P) under its current principal conductor, Finnish-born-and-trained John Storgårds (b. 1963), celebrated the composer's birthday centenary with performances of these two works, and here they are on disc. John has championed the music of Weinberg as well as Shostakovich (see Chandos CHSA-5278, CHSA-5310, CHSA-5334), and he along with this orchestra's superb musicians deliver outstanding accounts of both selections.

These recordings were made 15 September [T-1] and 24-25 November [T-2 thru 5] 2022 at MediaCityUK located in the orchestra's hometown of Salford, just west of Manchester, England. They present consistently generous sonic images in pleasant surroundings of the large forces required for both pieces.

The many solo and individual groups of instruments in these consummately scored works are ideally captured and balanced. As for the overall instrumental timbre, it's characterized by highs and mids that are very good for a conventional disc, while the lows are clean with no hint of boominess in the lower strings. All of this makes for a release that should please Russophiles as well as any "pointy-eared" listeners.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y240225)

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