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.
Bielawa, L.: Roam, Dbl Vn Conc, unfin..., In..., 15 Synops; Soloists/Rose/BosMOP O [BMOP/s (Mixed)]
A 1990 graduate of Yale University with a degree in literature, San Francisco-born Lisa Bielawa's (b. 1968) literary background is quite evident in this sampling of her music. Hearing these selections, it's immediately obvious she's an extremely talented composer, and easy to understand why she won the 2009 Rome Prize in musical composition. On the other hand, having read the album notes, some may find her creations with all their attendant subtitles and literary references, a tad sophomoric in concept. Incidentally, this album is a mixed bag from the format standpoint with the four orchestral pieces presented on a hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), disc, and fifteen Synopses for solo instruments, on a conventional CD.

Turning first to the hybrid disc (disc-1), the leadoff selection is entitled Roam and dates from 2001. It’s a twelve-minute tone poem the composer tells us was inspired by a spoken passage (see the album notes) in Alexander Pushkin's (1799-1837) verse novel Eugene Onegin (1825-32). The general subject is the sea, and her music is meant to reflect the speaker's state of mind rather than be a pelagic impression like Debussy's (1862-1918) La Mer (1903-05, see the newsletter of 9 March 2006).

The piece opens with eerie descending flute glissandi, which immediately catch the listener's attention, followed by a repeated riff [disc-1, track-1, beginning at 01:36] somewhat reminiscent of the tune for "Three Blind Mice" (see the newsletter 31 July 2009). The music builds to a striking crescendo via a series of dramatic chromatic transformations, and then fades away into quiet haunting ambiguity.

The next selection, Double Violin Concerto of 2008, is dedicated to Carla Kihlstedt and Colin Jacobsen, who are the soloists here. In three subtitled sections, the first, "Portico," is a subtle delicate spider web of sinuous silken melodic threads where the soloists are rarely heard. The composer's literary background surface once more in the second part, subtitled "Song," where Ms. Kihlstedt, playing a scordatura (specially tuned) violin, sings an English version of a song from Goethe's (1749-1832) Faust (1806-32, see the album notes). The overall effect is psychedelic.

Knowing the composer's preoccupation with things literary, the finale entitled "Play Within a Play" would seem to have some arcane association with Shakespeare's (1564-1616) Hamlet (1599-1601). It begins reservedly with the soloists rhapsodizing on a melody derived from the Gregorian chant setting of The Lamentations of Jeremiah (1538-39). This soon evolves into a toe-tapping dancefest, which eventually takes on Gypsy trappings. The concerto then closes with a cadenza improvised by the soloists, and an ebullient final coda for the orchestra.

Written between 1999 and 2000, the nine-minute unfinish'd, sent is for orchestra with a soprano part that doesn't begin until almost halfway through. The text is a nine-word phrase (see the album notes) from a soliloquy delivered by Richard III in the Shakespeare play (circa 1591). The composer wrote it to be sung by herself, which she does here.

It begins as the orchestra gradually materializes with percussive licks on the snare drum along with the piano, and more of those Bielawa glissandi. The pace then quickens in some brilliantly scored passages that slowly fade away as the soloist enters [disc-1, track-5, beginning at 05:03] singing the Richard quotation to a bizarre atonal melody spiked with quarter tones. This psychotic aria only lasts about three minutes, and then the orchestra returns with a rustic singsong idea that brings this fascinating piece to a sudden conclusion.

The disc ends with In medias res (In the middle of everything), which is a concerto for orchestra written in 2009. As the title implies, the listener is thrown right at the outset into a developmental musical melting pot, whose thematic elements become obvious only as the piece progresses. These are for the most part derived from the fifteen Synopses for different solo instruments (indicated in parenthesis) that appear on the second disc included here. But more about that later!

The concerto is in two unusually titled movements. The first one known as "and" opens with a variant of Synopses #14 [trombone; disc-2, track-14], which begins with a horn fanfare triumphantly taken up by the other brass. The movement is notable for its initial rhythmic drive, and a lovely central episode based on Synopsis #15 [harp; disc-2, track-15]. Towards the end there are some colorfully scored strumming effects that seem related to Synopses #6 [cello; disc-2, track-6] and #9 [viola; disc-2, track-9]. The movement concludes with chortling bassoons followed by a chugging bass fiddle recalling Synopsis #4 [double bass; disc-2, track-4].

The second movement called "or" begins with the same fanfare, but soon turns dark and pensive, if not threatening. After a couple of dramatic transitional passages highlighting the harp, violin and piano, the mood becomes increasingly optimistic. As the concerto draws to a close, there's a flamboyant percussion cadenza bringing to mind Synopses #2 [unpitched percussion; disc-2, track-2] and #11 [drum set and spoken voice; disc-2, track-11]. The final measures build to a tumultuous conclusion where that melting pot boils over, concluding this hybrid disc in dramatic fashion.

The second disc is a conventional CD with the fifteen Synopses mentioned above. Written specially for members of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project Orchestra (BMOPO) while Bielawa was its Composer in Residence (see the album notes for details), they last three to seven minutes each, and typically consist of a melodic fragment followed by a brief development. All of them have six-word monikers (see the album notes), making one wonder if the composer has some kind of hexadic fetish.

Canned on CD instead of being done live, they come off more as a reference tool for "In medias..." than concert material. Consequently just a couple of further remarks about them should suffice.

The sixth [cello; disc-2, track-6] alludes [beginning at 00:17] to the Dies Irae, while the ninth [viola; disc-2, track-9], quotes [beginning at 00:53] the opening bars of Stravinsky's (1882-1971) Rite of Spring (1913, revised 1947). When Bielawa wrote the tenth [English horn; disc-2, track-10], it would almost seem she had the shepherd's pipe passage in the third act of Wagner's (1813-1883) Tristan and Isolde (1865) as well as Richard Rodger's (1902-1979) "If I Loved You" from Carousel (1945) in mind.

You'll find the eleventh [drum set and spoken voice; disc-2, track-11] a hep tattoo, while that slippery clarinet in Gershwin's (1898-1937) Rhapsody in Blue (1924, revised 1942) takes center stage in the twelfth [clarinet; disc-2, track-12]. Hearing the demanding fourteenth [trombone; disc-2, track-14], it's easy to understand why they call it a slide trombone. Many will find the lovely fifteenth [harp; disc-2, track-15] the most relatable Synopsis here.

A big round of applause goes to violinists Carla Kihlstedt and Colin Jacobsen for their fine fiddling, as well as to Carla for her vocal contribution to the double concerto. That also applies to the composer who sings the brief demanding vocal part she wrote for unfinish'd, sent.

All three soloists receive first-class support from the BMOPO under their conductor Gil Rose. They give what will probably be definitive performances of the orchestral selections for a long time to come. This can also be said of the Synopses, which are played here by their dedicatees, all of whom give virtuoso accounts of their respective pieces.

The hybrid disc in this release is one of the most spectacular sounding orchestral releases to appear in some time, no matter which of its three tracks you play. The only differences would seem to be a marginally smoother high end on the SACD stereo track versus the CD one, and a center seat, total immersion listening experience in the multichannel mode.

Recorded in two different venues, the soundstages projected in the stereo modes are extensive in depth as well as breadth, and amazingly consistent. There's just enough reverberation to smooth any high-end hot spots, while keeping all the instrumental detail of these colorful scores immaculately balanced and sharply focused. The orchestral timbre is crystalline yet natural sounding, and both of the female voices are pleasing to the ear with no hint of shrillness.

Made at a third location, the CD of the Synopses sounds equally good. All of the solo instruments are convincingly captured across a soundstage that's appropriately reduced, but far from dry. Audiophiles desirous of auditioning a variety of solo instruments the next time they go on a listening safari, might want to take this along.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y100910)


The album cover may not always appear.
Castillon (De Castillon): Pno Qnt, Pno Qt; Martin/Satie Qt [Ligia]
Down through the years the French military has been able to count a number of noteworthy composers among its ranks. They've included Albert Roussel (1869-1937, see the newsletter of 31 October 2009), Jean Cras (1879-1932, see the newsletter of 18 December 2008), Georges Martin Witkowski (1867-1943, see the newsletter of 18 February 2009), and Alexis de Castillon (1838-1873), who's represented on this disc by two of his chamber works. Hearing these delightful pieces, one can't help being saddened to learn he died at the early age of thirty-four!

A student of "Papa Franck" (1822-1890) Alexis greatly admired Robert Schumann (1810-1856). So much so that he modeled the piano quintet as well as the quartet included here after those of Robert (Op. 44 and 47, 1842), and anyone loving those is bound to find Castillon's a most welcome discovery.

In four movements, the quintet dating from 1863-64 represents a little known high point between that of Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), which appeared in 1855, and Franck's of 1880. The opening allegro is in sonata form, but rather than stating the usual pair of thematic ideas, Castillon gives us a single elongated one (SE) whose elements are sequentially developed. The piano is for the most part the star performer with the strings taking a more supportive role. Towards the end the piano states a highly romanticized version of SE's opening bars, which the strings elaborate on, providing the movement with a joyful conclusion.

The scherzo begins with a perky theme whose opening measures sound somewhat like an accelerated version of the "Rhine" motif in Wagner's (1813-1883) Ring Cycle (1848-74). The piano and strings then have a merry time chasing each other around in an ingenious, highly syncopated game of tag.

A reverential quality pervades the adagio that follows. It opens with a reserved hymnlike melody (RH), and features a lovely central theme that anticipates Saint-Saëns' "Swan" (1886). There's only the briefest of breaks between it and the animated final allegro, where in Franckian cyclic fashion past ideas flash by. The quintet ends with some busy Schmanesque keyboard fingerwork and a final grand statement of RH in the major played by everyone.

The quartet, which was completed in 1869, is dedicated to the great Russian pianist Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894). It’s in four movements like the quintet, but a much more mature, tightly structured work. The opening one begins with a pensive larghetto that gradually picks up momentum transforming into an allegro. A couple of attractive themes with an angularity typical of Schumann appear, and are subjected to a combination development/recapitulation of Castillon's own design.

The scherzando is dance-like with animated courtly outer sections that smack of Beethoven. They surround a flowing lyrical central one where Schumann is once again in evidence. This movement is offset by a larghetto where each of the strings at one point or another sing lovely solo arias to piano accompaniment.

After a fleeting pause, the sonata form finale begins with the introduction of two thematic ideas. The first of these is animatedly assertive, while the second is slower and somewhat folkish in character. They’re subjected to a clever development, and then recapitulated in accelerated form, providing the quartet with a rousing ending. Robert Schumann would have loved it!

While some chamber music comes off sounding great even in the hands of amateurs, Castillon's pieces need that little extra je ne sais quoi to blossom. Pianist Laurent Martin's discerning attention to phrasing and dynamics provides just that! The members of the Satie Quartet give him admirable support despite a couple of intonational anomalies.

The recordings are generally good with well rounded piano tone and natural strings. The soundstage presented is recessed and housed in a reverberant acoustic, which does add a desirable romantic density to the music. But audiophiles will probably find themselves wishing for a cleaner, more closely miked and focused sound.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P100909)

- AVAILABILITY - Records International

The album cover may not always appear.
Langgaard, R.: Music of..., Time of..., From the...; Soloists/Dausgaard/DanNa Cs&SO [Dacapo (Hybrid)]
In the classical musical world, it would be hard to find a better example of an individualist than Danish composer Rued Langgaard (1893-1952), who followed a yellow brick road entirely of his own making. Unlike the majority of his contemporaries, who were anti-romantics bent on writing "new" music, much of which in retrospect was listener-hostile, he remained tonally based. But in the process he stretched the late-romantic envelope even further, expanding on the impressionistic symbolism of Scriabin (1872-1915), and expressionism found in such composers as Franz Schreker (1878-1934, see the newsletter of 20 November 2006).

Spanning his professional career from 1916 through 1952, the three choral-symphonic works on this new hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), release are good examples of this. And the earliest one, The Music of the Spheres (1916-18), remains an idiosyncratic Scandinavian masterpiece! It calls for a huge chorus with an orchestra that includes piano, organ and eight timpani, as well as a "distant" soprano accompanied by a fifteen-member instrumental ensemble.

It’s a pioneering colorist (see the newsletter of 12 April 2010) creation that’s in fifteen parts, each lasting about one to seven minutes. Rued gave them those quizzical captions he so loved (see the newsletter of 9 September 2009), calling the whole enchilada "A Life-and-Death Fantasia."

Devoid of any formal structure, it's probably best described as a musical stream of consciousness. But there is a sense of underlying coherency thanks to his use of recurring subatomic motifs and sound patterns with frequent tympanic reinforcement. Incidentally the latter will remind you of the Inextinguishable Symphony (No. 4, 1914-16) written two years earlier by Langgaard's nemesis Carl Nielsen (1865-1931).

The first seven sections [tracks-1 through 7] are orchestral galactic mood music made all the more cosmic by shimmering strings, exotic organ stops and pounding timpani. With no full-fledged thematic ideas, there are only swirling melodic nebulosities that pan in and out of audibility. But things get curioser and curioser" in the eighth [track-8] subtitled "Ich will!" Here a female soloist soon joined by a chorus sings "Do re mi fa sol la," whatever that's supposed to mean!

The next four sections [tracks-9 through 12] are again just for orchestra, and similar to the opening ones. That "distant" soprano then appears (on the rear channels in SACD multichannel mode) in the thirteenth and fourteenth [tracks-13 and 14] with a sentimental lachrymose song (see the album notes).

This is the quiet before the apocalyptic conclusion [track-15] bearing the sinister title "Das Ende: Antichrist - Christ." It reflects the composer's preoccupation with false prophets and the end of the world, which may have been brought on by the horrors of World War I (1914-18). Incidentally, he would revisit these subjects in his The Heaven-Rending Symphony (No. 6, 1919-20, revised 1928-30) as well as the opera Antikrist (1921-23, reworked 1926-30, see the newsletter of 20 September 2006).

The composer pulls out all of the stops here, beginning with a monumental crescendo containing what would probably qualify in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest choral pedal point and sustained timpani roll in all classical literature! After a brief silence, mystical glissandi played by the harp and literally on the strings of the piano introduce and illuminate a vocalizing beatific chorus somewhat reminiscent of "Neptune" from Gustav Holst's (1874-1934) The Planets (1916).

The singers then vanish as if swallowed up by some passing black hole, which suddenly transforms into an orchestral sonic supernova. It quickly burns to a cold dissonant chordal cinder, ending this extraordinary journey much as it began in the vast emptiness of space. If there was ever any music suitable for a planetarium, this is it!

Mention has already been made above of Langgaard's opera Antikrist, and the next selection is a twenty-four-minute compaction of the original version. Done between 1939 and 1943, this cantata-like piece is titled The Time of the End, which is a quote from the Book of Daniel (chapter 8, verse 17). In four parts drawn sequentially from the prelude and three of the opera's tableaus, it calls for mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone, chorus and orchestra.

The contemplative prelude is striking for a profound chorale-like idea (PC) [track-16, beginning at 00:15] followed by a rhythmically catchy recurring motif (RC) [track-16, beginning at 00:59] that propels the music forward. A little over halfway through, PC erupts into a powerful timpani-accented brass pronouncement guaranteed to make a believer out the most confirmed atheist.

The following three sections have arias by some of the opera's main protagonists interspersed with choruses (see the album notes for the complete Danish text with English and German translations). The last of these entitled "The Catastrophe" finds the composer at his most cataclysmic, where he even trumps the finale for …Spheres. In the final measures there are recollections of PC along with RC as the clouds of "The Last Judgment" dissipate, bringing the work to a peaceful close.

The disc ends appropriately with Langgaard’s last known opus, From the Abyss. Originally composed in 1950, and revised as late as the year he died (1952), it's a seven-minute mini-requiem for chorus, organ and orchestra set to phrases from that Latin mass. It begins with a quirky brass and timpani-spiked orchestral march which gives way to a subdued episode for organ with some woofer-pumping pedal points. The chorus then enters hushfully singing "Requiem aeternam," and the music soon builds to a towering climax. This slowly diminishes as the piece ends with the chorus intoning a benediction of eternal light and hope.

As on their previous Langgaard releases for Dacapo conductor Thomas Dausgaard and the Danish National Choir, Vocal Ensemble, and Symphony Orchestra give magnificent performances along with the many soloists featured here. They handle the more subdued moments with great finesse and sensitivity, but work themselves up into an absolute frenzy during the histrionic ones.

These interpretations are at least the equal, and for the most part surpass what little competition is out there. Incidentally, after a wait of ninety-two years, it was Dausgaard who just last month gave the British première of ...Spheres at the BBC Proms concerts.

Massive choral as well as orchestral forces, including organ and piano, along with a variety of soloists must have made this a formidable recording challenge. But as with their other discs in this series, the Danish audio engineers have triumphed! Also the producers get special credit for The Music of the Spheres. Unlike the other two selections, it was a live recording which thanks to some adroit touch-ups and editing has only a couple of barely noticeable tussive spots, and no applause.

The soundstage presented by the CD and SACD stereo tracks is appropriately extensive, and housed in the excellent acoustic of the Danish National Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen. The overall orchestral timbre and voice quality on both is for the most part natural with maybe a tad more high-end twinkle in the CD mode. The SACD multitrack version will put you right in the center of Langgaard's bizarre musical universe.

The balance between voice and orchestra in all three play modes is generally quite good. The only minor sonic beef would be with The Time of the End, where the soloists sound like they're at the end of a long reverberant tunnel, and would have benefitted from closer miking.

The frequency and dynamic ranges are considerable due to the large number of performers plus the predominance of percussion. Audiophiles will find this disc a demanding test of a sound system's imaging capabilities.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y100908)


The album cover may not always appear.
Leighton: Orch Wks V3 (Sym 1, Pno Conc 3 "Conc estivo"); Shelley/Brabbins/BBCWalNa O [Chandos]
Chandos began championing English composer Kenneth Leighton's (1929-1988) music as early as 1989 with a release of his cello concerto and third symphony. Then in 2008 they started a new series devoted to his orchestral works (see the newsletters of 3 July 2008 and 28 January 2009), this being the third volume featuring his first symphony and third piano concerto. With it we now have all his symphonies on CD, and you'll find the one here the knottiest of the three.

In three movements and dating from 1963-64, a fateful pall seems to hang over the whole work. The interrogatory opening measures soon build to an agitated percussive-laden climax, which slowly subsides only to resume with even greater nervous energy. A repeated fragmentary motif that implies the Dies Irae appears [track-1, beginning at 07:27], adding all the more to a sense of doom. The movement then ends in quiet desperation.

The highly syncopated scherzo that’s next is insistent and testy with additional references to the Dies Irae [track-2, beginning at 03:01], but this time they’re more direct. Leighton maintains a rhythmic tension reminiscent of Stravinsky (1882-1971) that keeps you on the edge of your chair.

The final movement ranks with the composer's most moving symphonic creations, and opens despairingly with weeping strings and moribund woodwinds. With anguished shrieking brass and flagellant percussion the music takes the form of a grim funeral cortège. As the mourners slowly disappear into the distance, the symphony ends just as it began, with a question mark.

The piano concerto was written in 1969 not long after the composer had moved to the south of England after living many years up north. He attempted to convey in it the warmth and beauty of the previous summer he’d experienced in his new surroundings, subtitling it "Concerto estivo" ("Summer Concerto").

Adhering to the usual concerto fast-slow-fast movement schema, the reserved opening, which begins with the piano introducing a broken angular melody (BA), may remind you of Ravel's (1875-1937) Concerto for the Left Hand (1931). At first the music takes on the aspect of the old children's game "Simon Says" with the soloist telling the orchestra what to do. But the roles soon become reversed as the orchestra becomes more assertive with the soloist acting more as a commentator. The movement ends quietly with the piano making reference to the first part of BA, and a brief perfunctory run of descending notes.

The slow movement titled "Pastoral" has relaxed opening and closing sections the composer says are meant to evoke "the warmth and stillness of a long hot summer afternoon." They surround an animated dance-like central episode that brings to mind the wilder moments in Stravinsky’s early ballets. "Pastoral" closes with the piano making condensed allusions to BA.

The finale is a set of variations based on BA, that begins with a twitchy virtuosic dialogue between soloist and tutte. Highlights include a catchy variant with a prickly piano part set against pizzicato strings and a demanding cadenza for the soloist. The concerto comes to a magnificent conclusion in which BA returns with big tune status. It's the core of a whirlwind coda where pianistic sparks set off a thrilling final conflagration that ends with a curious in medias res (see the Bielawa recommendation above) chord.

Conductor Martyn Brabbins picks up the baton from the late, sorely missed Richard Hickox (1948-2008, see newsletter of 12 March 2009) to lead the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in this latest volume from Chandos of Leighton's orchestral music. His attention to dynamic and rhythmic details so crucial to these scores is equally as impressive as Hickox’ was.

Pianist Howard Shelley, who needs no further introduction to readers of these pages (see the newsletter of 20 August 2009), plays the demanding concerto to perfection. He receives magnificent support from his Welsh colleagues in what will probably be the definitive performance of this knuckle-buster for some time to come!

Recorded in the new, extensively wood-paneled BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, Wales, which has been described as a glorified recording studio, the sonics are demonstration quality! A generous soundstage is presented in this warm sylvan acoustic, giving the considerable orchestral forces involved comfortable breathing space while keeping everything in focus.

The instrumental timbre is totally natural over the entire frequency spectrum and wide dynamic range occasioned by Leighton's dramatic scoring. The piano is ideally captured as well as balanced against the orchestra, and the low-end transient response associated with the other percussion instruments is exceptionally clean. One tiny nitpick, there’s what sounds like an awkward edit in the last movement of the concerto [track-6 at 08:13], but it goes by so quickly only pointy-eared audiophiles will notice it.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y100907)


The album cover may not always appear.
Marx, J.: Pno Qts Cpte (Rhapsody, Scherzo & Ballad); Triendl/Gaede/Schlichtig/Bruns [CPO]
Unlike his string quartets (1936-48, see the newsletter of 18 October 2006, all of which are in the conventional four movements, Austrian composer Joseph Marx' (1882-1964) three for piano of 1911 are each one movement pieces that he calls Rhapsody, Scherzo and Ballad respectively. With a symphonic sweep, one can almost imagine them as chamber reductions of those expansive orchestral scores he loved to write (see the newsletter of 28 January 2009).

In one freely structured sonata form span lasting almost half an hour, Rhapsody is of Mahlerian (1860-1911) proportions, and falls roughly into four conjoined arcing sections. The first is expository with two thematic groups that are sequentially anguished and resigned. The next two arcs are developmental and take on contrasting moods, which are respectively lyrical and melancholy. The concluding section alludes to previous ideas as well as introducing some new material with Schmannesque (1810-1856) overtones [track-1, beginning at 22:49]. All this is worked up into a thrilling final virtuosic coda.

At a little over sixteen minutes, Scherzo owes an overall debt to those found in Anton Bruckner's (1824-1896) symphonies, and its flightier moments, to the orchestral music of Marx' compatriot Franz Schmidt (1874-1939, see the newsletter of 15 January 2010). There's something Mephistophelean about the mischievous opening, which gives way to a delightful waltz. With some clever rhythmic manipulation, Marx surreptitiously adds another beat transforming it into a march. After a brief a pause this is followed by another waltz idea, and the piece ends recalling past motifs that are whipped up into an exciting finale.

Ballad is about as long as the previous quartet, and starts out with a stately cello solo reminiscent of J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) unaccompanied suites for that instrument (BWV 1007-12). The viola, violin and piano then enter in stretto fashion, and begin a relaxed melodic discourse, forming the statement of this single movement sonata form work. All four then proceed to wax rhapsodically in a development of exceptional grace and lyrical beauty seasoned with some skillful contrapuntal touches.

The recapitulation exhibits a harmonic density like that found in Johannes Brahms' (1833-1897) piano quartets (1861-75). Marx brings the work to a quiet conclusion with an exceptionally moving ending that’s one of the high points of this release.

With no collective name, the performing ensemble here consists of pianist Oliver Triendl, violinist Daniel Gaede, violist Hariolf Schlichtig and cellist Peter Bruns. While each of them is obviously a virtuoso in his own right, together they make up a formidable quartet. Their extraordinary technical ability is used only in the service of this music, which they perform with an underlying sensitivity and total commitment that will win many friends for these obscure chamber works.

Made in one of the Bavarian Radio's studios, silky strings and a well rounded piano tone characterize these recordings. However, the soundstage projected is somewhat confined, and the surrounding acoustic a bit desiccated. This is unfortunate because richly layered late romantic music like this would have benefitted from more Lebensraum.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P100906)


The album cover may not always appear.
Pizzetti: Pno Trio; Tre Canti, Arietta (Vc & pno); Vn & Pno Pcs (3); Parma Trio [Concerto]
Born in Parma, Italy, Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968) was a respected composer and music critic in his day, as well as a revered teacher at the National Academy of St. Cecilia in Rome, who could count Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968) and Nino Rota (1911-1979) among his students. But when it comes to twentieth century Italian composers, he remains an unknown entity for most of today's classical music lovers compared to Respighi (1879-1936, see the newsletter of 1 March 2007), Casella (1883-1947, see the newsletter of 23 July 2010) and even Malipiero (1882-1973, see the newsletter of 17 November 2007). This recent release on the Concerto label will help correct that oversight.

Pizzetti was originally going to be a playwright, and is probably best remembered for the incidental music and operas he wrote in association with the dramas of the great Italian poet Gabriele d'Annunzio (1863-1938). But he also composed several chamber works, and a couple of his best are to be found here.

The disc begins with the piano trio of 1925, which was written for a commission by American music patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (1864-1953, see the newsletter of 31 July 2009). In three movements it radiates an amorous glow probably inspired by his recent second marriage following the sudden death of his first wife in 1920. The composer's sense of drama permeates the entire piece, which might be described as a miniscule wordless three-act opera.

The first movement opens with the piano playing a warm blissful theme (WB). This turns somewhat anxious as the cello enters with an agitated troubled idea (AT) in the minor. The violin then appears intoning a lovely passionate melody. There's an operatic demeanor about this as well as the development which follows that makes up for the movement's lack of formal structure. It ends joyfully as the strings play an ebullient motif in the major that’s a transformation of AT with piano embellishments based on WB.

The largo that's next begins with another piano solo that's thematically Gregorian-oriented, and may bring to mind the andante from Respighi's 1916-17 sonata for violin and piano. The cello enters with an entirely different idea, and the two sing a love duet soon passionately supported by the violin.

The finale is marked "Rapsodia di Settembre" ("September Rhapsody") for reasons that remain unknown, but may relate to the composer's relationship with his wives. The strings get the first say, expressing a laid-back reverential theme (LR). The piano then joins in with an ear-catching squirrely motif (ES) distantly related to WB.

This freely structured movement is a fantasy based on these two ideas where everything is again held together with operatic glue. The trio ends with a commanding melody for the strings, which is a beefed-up version of LR decorated with some wistful ES-based passages on the piano.

A little less formal, Tre Canti (Three Songs) was written for cello and piano in 1924, and arranged for violin soon thereafter. Presented on this release in its original form with minimal breaks between the songs, it comes off as a charming three-part suite. The attractive tuneful opening is followed by a contemplative middle section and rhapsodic finale.

The CD is filled out with four occasional duo pieces. The first three are for violin, the last for cello, and all have piano accompaniment. The beginning one is a heartfelt aria entitled "To Mario Corti" (unidentified), and the earliest piece on this disc (1906). The next Colloquio, which came some forty years later (1948), is a moving tribute to a deceased friend.

Another aria from 1960 subtitled "Augurio nuziale" ("Wedding Felicitations") would seem to be a melodic characterization of marital bliss. The last selection is the delicate unpublished Arietta, which Pizzetti wrote in 1923 to honor the then budding seven year old cellist Amadeo Baldovino.

Hailing from the composer's hometown, the award-winning Trio di Parma plays each of these rarely heard chamber gems with loving attention to detail, and consummate technical skill. Performances from over fifteen years ago of the trio and violin-piano version of Tre Canti have recently been reissued, but they're minor league compared to the ones here.

The recordings are good, with a soundstage that's a bit pinched for the trio, but perfectly suited to the other selections. This dichotomy also applies to the instrumental timbre, where the piano sounds fuller as well as more rounded, and the strings silkier in the latter pieces. There are also a couple of mysterious low-end thumps in the trio. But these are minor quibbles listeners will soon forget as this music casts its magic spell.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P100905)