20 JANUARY 2012


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.
Danielpour: Child's... (vn, vc & orch, w Hagen & Ludwig); Laredo/Robinson/Hicks/Verm SO [Bridge]
The Vermont symphony Orchestra makes its commercial recording debut here with three contemporary American concertos written for the highly acclaimed husband and wife team of violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson. The composers include Richard Danielpour (b. 1956), Daron Hagen (b. 1961, see the newsletter of 30 September 2010) and David Ludwig (b. 1974), who number among the finest in the US today. The soloists need no further introduction than to say they're also members of the world famous Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio (KLRT).

The program begins with Danielpour's deeply affecting A Child's Reliquary, prompted by the tragic death of a close colleague's young son. Originally written in 2000 as a trio for the KLRT, the composer expanded it in 2006 for violin, cello and full orchestra with piano, giving us what's here.

The first of its three movements is hauntingly sorrowful with a momentary tearful outburst. But the mood turns puerilely playful in the following vivace as the soloists cavort about conjuring up memories of happier days. There are some lovely lyrical passages, an amusing reference to "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" [track-2, beginning at 03:55], and a jazzy episode worthy of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) [track-2, beginning at 06:06].

But the grief-stricken final adagietto recalls the tragic circumstances surrounding this piece, ending it with hints of the melody from Brahms' (1833-1897) "Wiegenlied" ("Cradle Song"). The fourth of Five Lieder, Op. 49 (1867-68) known more commonly in its piano transcription as his Lullaby, it softens the anguish underlying this work.

The concert continues with Ludwig's Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra of 2008. It's in three movements, each inspired by one of the Ancient Greek concepts of love, with the addition of brief interludes after the first and second. The opening con moto depicts lustful "Eros" where the composer had in mind Odysseus' last night with the goddess Calypso. Brilliantly scored, the music is quarrelsome one minute and amorous the next with the soloists, who presumably represent the protagonists, engaging in a heated virtuosic exchange.

The following interlude known as "Calypso's Dance" is a catchy bizarre number for violin and percussion. One can imagine the goddess shedding veils in a final dance of seduction to keep Odysseus from leaving her island. But it's to no avail, and she must resign herself to living alone, suffering the pangs of unrequited love, which is the subject of the next adagio devoted to "Agape."

Here Ludwig takes as his example star-crossed lovers Tristan and Iseult (Tristan and Isolde), creating a mournful reverie in which they're portrayed by the soloists. They rarely play together except at the very end, where legend has it the enamored are finally united in death. The somber, at times intimidating interlude for cello and orchestra called "Iseult's Alba" ("Iseult's Love Song") that's next, is an aria-like postscript to the preceding movement.

This music is diametrically opposed to the final con moto dealing with "Philia," or nonphysical love for family and friends. Here the figure of Buddha was foremost in the composer's mind. Accordingly he celebrates the Buddhist notion of reincarnation with a perky chime-emblazoned rebirth rondo which ends the concerto in an explosive coda that includes some final fireworks for the soloists.

The program closes with Masquerade -- Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra (2005-07) by Daron Hagen. In four movements, this piece is also programmatic, and without going into all the details (see the album notes), takes its cue from commedia dell'arte.

The opening "Burlesque" starts with an amorous exchange between the soloists. This is meant to represent the joyful courtship of two young lovers, which is encouraged by an orchestral accompaniment with brass reminiscent of Hindemith (1895-1963). However their relationship ends when a dirty old man enters and seduces the maiden. The movement concludes morosely with a drum roll that also serves to introduce the next one.

This is a tortured elegy for lost love in which we're told the former innamorati have grown wiser with experience. It's followed by "The last of Pedrolino," which is a dramatic outpouring that finds the two at the bedside of a dying friend by that name. The occasion inspires them to reconcile their relationship as friends rather than lovers, and the movement ends with a grim tattoo suggesting Pedrolino's demise.

The final "Galoppade" begins reflectively with the violin and cello eventually reliving the ecstasy of puppy love they shared in the first movement. There's some exquisite demanding solo work accompanied by exultant outbursts from the orchestra with more Hindemith brass. The concerto ends suddenly with an ambiguous rising passage for the soloists.

Violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson own this music giving definitive performances of all three works. Not only that, but the Vermont Symphony Orchestra couldn't have chosen a better program to demonstrate their standing as one of America's most promising, up-and-coming ensembles. Credit must also go to conductors Sarah Hicks for the first two selections and Troy Peters for the last.

Made on three separate occasions at two different locations, the recordings are amazingly consistent, but what else would you expect with audio wizard Adam Abeshouse at the controls! They project totally convincing soundstages in warm acoustics with the soloists ideally placed and balanced against the orchestra.

The solo string sound is natural and the orchestral timbre uniformly pleasing with shimmering highs, a lifelike midrange, and clean rock solid bass. While the dynamics are not as pronounced as they would be in more robust late romantic music, the disc most assuredly falls into the audiophile demonstration category.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y120120)


The album cover may not always appear.
Emmanuel, M.: Syms 1 & 2 "Bretonne", Ov pour un..., Ste française; Villaume/Slovenian PO [Timpani]
On the heels of their groundbreaking Gaubert discs (see the newsletter of 6 January 2012), Timpani now introduces us to another neglected French composer deserving much wider attention. Maurice Emmanuel (1862-1938) studied along with Claude Debussy (1862-1918) at the Paris Conservatory, where his teachers included César Franck (1822-1890) and Léo Delibes (1836-1891).

Maurice would go on to pursue a distinguished academic career and could count Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992, see the newsletter of 16 June 2006) and Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) among his pupils. But he also wrote some first-class symphonic music, which is sampled on this release and includes world premiere recordings of an overture in addition to a suite.

A student piece, Emmanuel's Ouverture pour un conte gai (Overture for a Merry Tale, 1881-84) was way ahead of its time to the point where Delibes totally rejected it. It augurs such saucy Gallic delights as Roussel's (1869-1937) Suite in F (1926), Ibert's (1890-1962) Divertissement (1930), and Poulenc's (1899-1963) Suite française (1935).

Lasting only about six minutes, it’s brilliantly orchestrated with antic appearances by the tuba, flute and piccolo. The composer throws modal as well as whole-tone scales, riotous rhythms, and a good dash of dissonance into his creative blender to come up with this tunefully obstreperous piece.

We next have the first of his two symphonies, which was written in 1919 just after World War I (1915-1918). Dedicated to Gabriel Pierné (1863-1937, see the newsletter of 11 July 2007), who conducted the premiere, it's programmatic and meant to express the feelings of a young aviator from his early years up to his untimely death in the war.

In three movements, the opening one begins in a state of pastoral bliss, presumably painting a picture of the countryside where he grew up. The music soon becomes animated presumably expressing the joys of youth, and then ends much as it began. Some may sense an affinity with Albéric Magnard's (1865-1914) symphonies.

The adagio is melancholy with an anguished episode possibly reflecting nostalgia for better times. But it's off "Into the Wild Blue Yonder" with the concluding allegro, which begins in martial marchlike fashion. It builds to a combative climax where one can imagine a fierce dogfight in which our hero is shot out of the skies, meeting his end in a fatal tailspin set to a drumroll. However. the mood changes shortly thereafter with a return to the symphony's opening measures, leaving one feeling a sense of reconciliation, and with hopes for happier days to come.

In 1925 Emmanuel wrote the fifth of his six piano sonatinas (currently unavailable on disc), which was a collection of six dances stylistically harking back to the Baroque. Then in 1934-35 he orchestrated it giving us what he'd call his Suite française. With a neoclassical transparency and harmonic adventurousness like that found in Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764), one could think of it as a Tombeau de Rameau akin to Ravel's (1875-1937) for François Couperin (1668-1733; Le Tombeau de Couperin, 1913-17).

The opening number is a graceful "ouverture" with a scurrying midsection. It's followed by a catchy angular "courante," and an attractive sighing "sarabande." Curiously enough there's a phrase in the latter [track-7, beginning at 00:17] that brings to mind the Advent hymn "Veni, veni Emmanuel" ("O come, O come Emmanuel"). Do you suppose the composer was making a musical pun?

The next "divertissement" is a winsome whimsicality that combines the "pavane" and "gaillarde" found in the original sonatina. The suite then ends in an impudent "gavotte," and high-stepping "gigue" with that galloping rhythm typically found in Roussel's more energetic moments.

The concert concludes with the Emmanuel's second symphony subtitled "Bretonne" ("Breton") from 1930-31. In four compact movements lasting just over seventeen minutes, this is an immaculately constructed piece without a wasted note, and also tells a story. In this case it's the legend about the Breton city of Ys, which some will know from Édouard Lalo's (1823-1892) unjustly neglected opera Le Roi d'Ys (The King of Ys, 1888).

The tempestuous outer parts of the opening allegro represent monstrous waves that engulf and submerge the city. You'll also find a couple of more relaxed inner moments where the oboe and then the violin play a lovely Breton folk melody -- shades of Guy Ropartz (1864-1955, see the newsletter of 30 May 2008).

Now this catastrophe was caused by the licentiously wicked behavior of one of the king's two daughters, whom he eventually throws into the sea. There she becomes an evil mermaid, and the subject for the light airy scherzando that follows. Appropriately enough this begins almost like Debussy's "Sirènes" from his Nocturnes (1900), and then we hear her siren songs on the flute floating over sunny seas.

The peaceful andante finds the king in a quiet forest, which assauges his remorse for his lost daughter. There are a couple of ff expletives that recall the power of the sea, and hint at the dramatic concluding allegro.

The latter takes the form of a festive finale inspired by the traditional Breton religious ceremony known as a Pardon. It quotes a couple of catchy Breton dances, ending this mini-symphony with a splash of local folk color.

French conductor Emmanuel Villaume has a real feel for this music, injecting it with that freshness and vitality so typical of 20th century Gallic symphonic repertoire. The current artistic director of the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra in Ljubljana, he gets playing from these musicians that puts them in a league with any of today's better symphonic ensembles.

As for the sonics, the recordings project a somewhat removed soundstage in a lively acoustic. This gives rise to an orchestral timbre that's pleasant enough, but characterized by tinkling highs and bony bass, making it less realistic than on other recent Timpani releases (see the newsletter of 6 January 2012).

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P120119)


The album cover may not always appear.
Hill, Alf.: Stg Qts V4 (10 & 11), "Life" Qnt (w pno/clsta & 8 voices); Soloists/Dominion Qt [Naxos]
Naxos' survey of the seventeen string quartets by Australian-born Alfred Hill (1869-1960, see the newsletter of 15 January 2010) continues here with the tenth and eleventh, as well as his oddball quintet for piano, strings and eight voices. Except for the five years of study in Germany at the Leipzig Conservatory (1887-1891), Hill spent his life in New Zealand and Australia. Accordingly, he might well be considered the major late romantic composer to emerge from "Down Under."

The tenth quartet of 1935 is in four movements, and interestingly enough would be the basis for his seventh symphony (he wrote twelve) of twenty years later (1956). The opening allegro begins with four rising notes that will become an idée fixe motif throughout the work, and the first phrase of the memorable idea dominating it. Alfred shows he learned his lessons well in Leipzig with this beautifully constructed movement. A masterpiece of understatement, it's followed by an equally appealing melancholy adagio and tripping scherzo in which Beethoven (1770-1827) is not far away.

The fruits of his rigorous academic training are again evident in the delightful finale, where the composer makes unifying cyclic references to the preceding three movements. The quartet then ends with an invigorating coda that's a clever confluence of previous motifs.

The eleventh quartet from 1935, which was apparently Hill's favorite, is stylistically quite different from the tenth. More specifically it's only in three movements, quite impressionistic in places, and structurally even more refined. In the opening movement he intersperses searching pentatonic passages with lyrically somber ones to great effect.

As brief as it is, the adagio must rank with the composer's most moving quartet utterances. While impressionism also holds sway here, it's not so evident in the final allegretto, where Hill's preoccupation with folk music from "Down Under" seems to come into play. In fact the main theme is according to the album notes similar to a Maori song. This undergoes a compact development and recapitulation that brings the quartet to a peaceful conclusion.

The "Life" Quintet from 1912 filling out the disc is a bird of a different feather! Basically for piano and strings, the instrumentalists are joined by eight vocalists (two sopranos, one mezzo, two tenors and two basses) in the last movement, where the pianist occasionally doubles on celesta. Some may find the work a bit puzzling on first hearing, but it does grow on you!

It may help to think of it as a chamber cantata with an extended piano quintet introduction. In fact Hill would later turn the finale into a fully orchestrated cantata known as From the Southern Seas (1933; currently unavailable on disc), and ultimately rework the whole piece as his Joy of Life Symphony in Eb (number and date unknown; currently unavailable on disc).

Each of its four movements is best described by the brief program notes the composer provided. For the opening one he wrote "At the Back of Life is Mystery -- Life is Vigorous," which he cogently depicts by alternating grave and rousing passages. While the second with the inscription "Life has its Sorrow, but even in the Grave there is Hope," is a moving celebration of the human spirit's ability to triumph over adversity.

"Life has its Playground" perfectly characterizes the following scherzo, which never takes itself too seriously, and couldn't be more different from the novel aforementioned finale. With the heading "Gloria in Excelsis Deo -- A Paean for the Joy of Life" and a text by the composer (see the album notes), this is a loveable guileless ode to the joys of human existence.

There are a couple of charming passages where the soloists sing offstage to a celesta and string accompaniment [track-11, 03:31-04:42 and 06:09-07:19]. The quintet then ends with a rousing hymn invoking world peace, reminding one of Sir Arthur Sullivan's (1842-1900) sacred works.

These performances by the Dominion String Quartet of New Zealand are uniformly superb, making a strong case for this undeservedly forgotten composer. Pianist Richard Mapp couldn't be better in the quintet, and presumably gets credit for those celesta enhancements in the finale (see above). The eight vocalists give an enthusiastic account of the concluding paean, both individually and en masse.

Made at a different location a couple of years before the quintet, the quartet recordings are quite good, projecting a suitably sized soundstage in a warm venue. The string tone while natural is crisp.

The quintet recording doesn't fare as well, having a more distant compressed soundstage in a somewhat drier acoustic. While the piano is effectively captured, there's an edge to the strings and voices.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P120118)


The album cover may not always appear. The album cover may not always appear.
Polovinkin: Sym 7, Heroic Ov, Sunny Tribe Ste;
Titov/StPeteStAcad [N Flowers]
Polovinkin: Sym 9;
Titov/StPeteStAcad [N Flowers]
Continuing their series devoted to "Wartime Music" (1941-1945, see the newsletters of 8 February 2010, 28 February 2010, and 29 June 2010), Northern Flowers now gives Slavophiles a big treat with these two CDs of music by a Russian composer they've probably never heard of, Leonid Polovinkin (1894-1949). A graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, where his teachers included Reinhold Glière (1875-1956), he was very prolific with many stage works to his credit, along with a significant amount of symphonic music.

The latter includes nine symphonies written between 1929 and 1944, two of which are represented here. A contemporary of Nikolai Myaskovsky (1881-1950), those liking his twenty-seven symphonies, which have become classics in their own right, will be overjoyed to make the acquaintance of the Polovinkin rarities making their silver disc debut here.

The four-movement seventh symphony 0f 1942 begins with an allegro that's at first disarmingly tuneful. However rhythmic conflicts soon appear in Myaskovsky fashion. These develop into a march-like sequence and bellicose passages bringing to mind the worsening World War II (1939-1945) conditions then overtaking the Soviet Union.

A sense of hope returns in the lovely pastoral andante and bobbing scherzo that follow. The mood of the latter carries over to the beginning of the final allegro. But clouds of concern gradually roll in, and the movement takes on a more serious aspect. It builds to a couple of frenzied percussion-laced climaxes, ultimately ending the symphony with intimations of coming victory.

Next we get the Heroic Overture. Also dating from 1942, it gets off to a subdued start with an attractive Russian-sounding theme on the clarinet. This idea is ingeniously developed and worked into a thrilling climax. There's a Slavic lyricism and orchestral opulence recalling Glière's festive symphonic pieces.

This CD concludes with a suite of music Polovinkin wrote for a 1944 prize-winning Russian science documentary about honeybees. Entitled The Sunny Tribe, it's in seven sections, and sprinkled with those titillating percussive touches found in the more tic-filled moments of Prokofiev's (1891-1953) fifth (1944) and Shostakovich's (1906-1975) fifteenth (1971) symphony. It begins with a melodically majestic opening "Hymn to Nature" followed by "Mist and Sun," where there are impressionistic elements as well.

Next the heavens open for a "Thunderstorm" lasting all of twenty-eight seconds! This transitions directly into an infectious "Dance of Bees," which must refer to that amazing waggle dance they do.

Then more "Mist" rolls in followed by a melancholy "Palace" scene, probably referring to the domain of the queen bee. A final plucky "Battle of the Bees," presumably where rival queens engage in a "stingers-out," life-and-death struggle, ends this suite of remarkable film music.

The next disc is entirely devoted to Polovinkin's ninth symphony, which dates from 1944 and is also in four movements. Lasting twenty-minutes, the initial one falls into three connected, contrasting sections. These are nostalgically pastoral, rhythmically energetic with percussive effects again à la Prokofiev, and lyrically relaxed.

The scherzo that follows has arresting lively outer sections surrounding a lovely melodic waltz episode, which anticipates the subdued coming andante. This is a songlike offering with folk references recalling those in the symphonic music of Liadov (1855-1914) and Arensky (1861-1906)

Solidly constructed and colorfully orchestrated, it's probably safe to say the jubilant finale reflects the anticipated victorious conclusion of the war. The movement ends in a coda of joy, bringing the symphony to a glorious close.

Rapid mood swings are a major factor in Polovinkin's music, adding all the more color to it while at the same time making it difficult to hold together. But conductor Alexander Titov and the St. Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra have no trouble doing so, giving sterling performances of everything here.

Made in St. Catherine Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg on two occasions in the fall of 2010, the recordings sound quite consistent. The soundstage they project suffers somewhat from "tunneling," but the reverberant acoustic adds a soothing romantic aura to the music. The instrumental timbre is agreeable if a bit on the metallic side.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P120117, P120116)


The album cover may not always appear.
Schäfer, D: Vc Son (w Bosmans & Hekking); Hochschied/Ruth [Audiomax (Hybrid)]
Audiomax continues its invaluable hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.1) disc survey of 19th and 20th century Dutch chamber music for cello and piano with this fourth installment. It features selections by three individuals who were best known in their day as outsanding performers. But proves pianists Dirk Schäfer (1873-1931) and Henriëtte Bosmans (1895-1952), as well as cellist Gérard Hekking (1879-1942) were composers of considerable merit who contributed significantly to the cello repertoire.

The recital begins with Schäfer's three-movement cello sonata of 1909, which was most likely inspired by Hekking, with whom he frequently concertized. The initial thematically memorable, tightly knit allegro immediately grabs the listener's attention. And while there are places reminiscent of Mendelssohn (1809-1847), the music is considerably more adventurous from the harmonic standpoint than anything Felix ever wrote.

The next adagio is best described as a da capo aria for the cello, which sings a reflective melancholy melody (RM), and then a folkish ditty followed by a return to RM. All of this is set to a delicate captivating piano accompaniment, and couldn't be more different from the rather stern finale. Here some severe thematic ideas are subjected to a rigorous development, ending this little known sonata on a more serious note than it began.

Two selections by Bosmans are next, beginning with her Trois impressions (Three Impressions, c. 1926), which is a triptych she dedicated to Hekking (see above). It consists of a gorgeous nocturnal centerpiece entitled "Nuit calme" ("Quiet Night"), highlighted between a somewhat impressionistic martial "Cortège ("Procession"), and fiery Iberian miniature called "En Espagne" ("In Spain").

We then get her four-movement sonata of 1919 in a performance based on original handwritten material as the authenticity of the published version is in question. Oddly enough the theme opening the first allegro may bring to mind Rachmaninov's (1873-1943) The Bells (1913). Do you suppose Bosmans had all those Dutch carillons in mind when she wrote it?

It dominates this dramatic movement, which ends quietly giving way to an allegretto that's in essence a subdued scherzo. Delicate and whimsical, it's succeeded by a sorrowful adagio, and busy final allegro having bravura passages for both performers. The latter concludes the sonata with a reference to that initial bell motif.

Considering Gérard Hekking's connection with two of the preceding selections, it seems appropriate the concert should end with something by him. So as encores we get three of his occasional miniatures (c. 1933). Joujou mécanique (Mechanical Toy) is a delightful windup mouse that could have fallen out of Debussy's (1862-1918) Toy Box (La Boîte à joujoux, 1913; see the newsletter of 10 March 2011). While Danse campagnarde (Countryside Dance) and Danse pour les Sakharoffs (Dance for the Sakharoffs) are in turn appropriately rustic and balletic, ending this engaging disc on a light note.

As on the three previous volumes in this series (see one, two and three), cellist Doris Hochschied and pianist Frans van Ruth are featured here. Both are award-winning Netherlandic musicians who once again give us technically dazzling, totally committed performances of these rare Dutch treats. Mevrouw Hochschied's cello tone is superb, while Mijnheer van Ruth couldn't be more supportive. No wonder he's also known as one of today's finest song accompanists.

In regard to the sound, first a note about Audiomax, which is a relatively new label. Atypically their choice of repertoire is left up to the artists, while the actual recordings are done by Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm (MD&G). As we've noted before MD&G makes some of the most natural sounding recordings in the business (see the newsletters of 18 April and 21 September 2011), so it's not surprising these fall into that category.

Being a hybrid disc there are three tracks to choose from, and all benefit from the warm surroundings in which these recordings were made. As far as the soundstage is concerned, the CD and SACD stereo tracks project a narrow one that would have benefitted from more “spielensraum” for each of the soloists. However, those with home theater systems configured for either 5.1 or MD&G 2+2+2 (see the album notes) will find the SACD multitrack back channels impart some welcome ambience to an otherwise pointy sonic image.

That said, the string tone is quite natural, particularly on the SACD tracks. The piano is well captured on all three, except for a hint of digital grain in the CD mode. Certainly those with multitrack capability will find this release demonstration quality.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y120115)