10 JUNE 2014


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.
D'Albert, E.: 5 Ovs & Prels, Aschenputtel Ste, Seejungfräulein; Kaminskaite/Märkl/MDRLeip RSO [Naxos]
Eugen d'Albert (1864-1932) was born In Glasgow of an Italian-French father and English mother. He received his early musical training in London, where he embarked on a career as one of the most celebrated pianists of his time. Further studies in Vienna and with Liszt (1811-1886) in Weimar led to his also becoming a prominent composer, who identified himself with the German school to the point of changing his first name from Eugène to Eugen.

The seven orchestral selections on this new Naxos disc include five overtures and preludes, four drawn from his sixteen operas, as well as a suite, and vocal tone poem. Four of these are the only currently available recordings on disc, and so indicated by "OCAR" after their titles.

First we get the early Overture to Grillparzer's Esther (1888) [T-1], which is a concert piece inspired by Franz Grillparzer's (1791-1872) drama based on the Old Testament Book of Esther. It's an impressive dramatic offering with a couple of memorable themes.

Two preludes from the operas Die toten Augen (The Dead Eyes, 1916) [T-2] and Gernot (1897; OCAR) [T-3] are next (see album booklet for scenario details). The first is sweeping and dramatic, laying the groundwork for the miraculous events that follow in this one act "stage poem" as the composer referred to it. The other is a rousing second act curtain-raiser portending the joyful marriage festivities soon to come.

Then we get overtures to the operas Der Rubin (The Ruby, 1893; OCAR) [T-4] and Die Abreise (The Departure, 1898) [T-5] (see album booklet for scenario details). The former prefaces an oriental fairy tale, and is a tuneful Teutonic offering devoid of the Eastern exoticism so prevalent in Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) stage works. The latter recalls Paris in the late 1800s, and has a tunefulness that brings Andre Messager's (1853-1929) operettas to mind.

The orchestral suite Aschenputtel (Cinderella, 1924; OCAR) is a programmtic piece in five parts that depict episodes in the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the same name (see album booklet for details). The opening "Cinderella at the Hearth" [T-6] is a somber soporific effort, followed by "The Little Dove in the Ashes" [T-7], which is atwitter with avian activity.

There's a Viennese lilt to "Ball at the King's Place" [T-8], and then we get hints of Eugen's friend Richard Strauss (1864-1949, see 11 July 2007) in "The Prince and the Knight with the Wicked Sisters" [T-9], and final "Cinderella's Wedding Polonaise and Peasant Dance" [T-10] The former is an impish episode where the shoe doesn't fit but the evil stepsisters try to wear it anyway! The latter begins with a melody akin to the one opening Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) third orchestra suite (1884), and has a couple of catchy numbers that close the work festively.

A great ladies' man, D'Albert had six wives, and the third was a mezzo-soprano for whom he wrote Das Seejungfräulein (The Little Mermaid, 1897; OCAR) [T-11], which closes this CD. A real discovery that many will find the high point of this release, it's good to have back in the catalog!

An extended song based on Hans Christian Andersen's (1805-1875) fairy tale (see the album notes for German and English texts), it's rooted in Wagner (1813-1883). D'Albert's creativity was at its zenith, and he gives us a melodic minimasterpiece anticipating sublime moments in Hans Pfitzner's (1869-1949) Palestrina (1912-5) and Richard Strauss Die Frau ohne Schatten (1914-8).

Soprano Viktorija Kaminskaite is in good form, and receives strong support from conductor Jun Märkl and the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra, who go on to give us superb accounts of the other selections. The sound is acceptable, but Ms. Kaminskaite's voice as well as massed violin passages suffer from upper edginess.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P140610)


The album cover may not always appear.
Danielpour; Toward a Season of Peace; Plitmann/St.Clair/Pac C&SO [Naxos]
Of Iranian-Jewish descent, Richard Danielpour (b. 1956) is one of the most highly regarded American composers living today, and Naxos now gives us the world premiere recording of his striking oratorio Toward a Season of Peace. Like his moving concerto known as A Child's Reliquary (2000-6, see 20 January 2012), this was commissioned by the Pacific Symphony.

It was written to celebrate the 2012 occurrence of the Persian New Year known as Nowruz. This takes place on the first day of Spring, which is the "season" referred to in the title, and a time usually associated with change and transformation for the better.

Accordingly the work is a plea for an end to the age-old hostilities that persist in the Middle East to this day. It’s drawn from Hebrew, Persian, Arabic and Christian texts (see the album notes or click here) meant to represent the three major religions dominant in that part of the world, i.e., Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Completed in 2011 and scored for soprano, chorus and orchestra, it's comprised of three parts. The opening one, which deals mainly with war and destruction, is in three movements, the first marked "Annunciation" [T-1]. Based on Hebrew sources except for a final line in Persian, it begins threateningly in the orchestra with pounding brass and drum-reinforced chords.

The chorus soon bemoans the calamities of war, and as the music becomes more subdued there are references to man's short stay on earth. The movement then ends with the soprano singing what's translated as "Look how patient God is..."

The next "Vision" [T-2] is a somber English setting for soprano of some lines by Persian poet Rumi (1207-1272). It's a remarkable elegy on the endurance of the human spirit, and a peaceful respite before the third movement entitled "Celebration" [T-3]. Taken from an Arabic poem by Al-Mutanabbi (925-965), this is an infectious combative choral scherzo punctuated with brass and percussion.

The second part is a single dramatic movement the composer calls "Atonement" [T-4]. Apparently meant to invoke a choice between war and peace, it begins dramatically with the chorus singing the Hebrew version of that familiar Old Testament passage "For everything there is a season." Then the soprano intones a euphonic English setting of The Lord's Prayer. The movement ends with the Aramaic doxology associated with this delivered by a hushed chorus and soloist.

Peace through forgiveness is the theme of the final part, which like the first is in three movements. The initial "Consecration" [T-5] for chorus has a lyrical beginning and dynamic ending that take their Hebrew texts from Old Testament verses recalling those borrowed by Handel (1685-1759) and Brahms (1833-1897). They surround an animated central episode set to an Arabic poem by Ibn Arabi (1165-1240) glorifying love. Some may find this the most affecting movement here.

The concluding two sections draw on additional English translations of verses by Rumi (see above), and have arresting rhythms recalling Leonard Bernstein's (1918-1990) wilder moments in West Side Story (1957). The first of these, "Parable" [T-6], is sung by the soprano. It’s a colorful fable of poverty and wealth presumably advocating the abandonment of religious prejudices leading to war.

The final "Apotheosis" for chorus and soprano [T-7] begins with a celebratory paean to good fortune, love and hope. Ending with the word "spring" (see above), it's followed by a sublime epitaph having excerpts from the Old Testament Song of Solomon, as well as a Persian parable, and the Kaddish. The last expresses hopes God will bring peace to all, and gives the oratorio a supernal conclusion.

Soprano Hila Plitmann joins the Pacific Chorale and Symphony Orchestra under their artistic director Carl St.Clair for this emotionally charged premiere. Powerful music, superb singing and outstanding orchestral support make this a significant addition to the contemporary oratorio genre.

Made at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa, California, these live performance recordings are amazingly good! Skillful microphone placement along with what must have been careful touchup and editing has, except for a couple of isolated coughs, eliminated any extraneous audience noise, including applause. The resultant sonic image is wide, deep and in pleasantly reverberant surroundings.

A good balance between soloist, chorus and orchestra is maintained throughout, and the instrumental timbre generally pleasing. There are some lean, clean bass drum whacks that'll worry your woofers, while like most conventional CDs there's a hint of digital grain in the vocalists' upper registers. However, Danielpour's engaging music will make the most critical of audiophiles soon forget any sonic shortcomings!

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P140609)


The album cover may not always appear.
Hatzis: "Departures" Fl Conc (stg orch), "Overscript" Fl Conc (chbr orch); Gallois/Myrat/ThesSt SO [Naxos]
Naxos has given us some interesting releases in their Canadian Classics series (see 30 September 2012), and here's another. This has world premiere recordings of two flute concertos by Christos Hatzis (b. 1953).

Born in Greece, he received his early musical education there, and went on to complete it in the U.S. He then moved to Canada in 1982, where he's since become a Canadian citizen, and now teaches composition at the University of Toronto.

A frequent prize winner and recipient of many recent commissions, the two works here show his eclecticism. Departures of 2011 is a three movement concerto for flute and string orchestra written to commemorate the passing of several dear friends, as well as the 2011 Japanese tsunami-related Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

The initial "Blooming Fields" [T-1] is exuberant and skittish with Asian overtones. Towards the end there are a number of bizarre flute effects that include harmonic as well as buzzing tones, whistles, and a final breathy sustained note that's so pianissimo you can hear grass growing on the front lawn.

The sunny first part of "Serenity" [T-2] must rank as some of the most melodious contemporary music written to date. A few clouds then roll in with more flute plus string effects. However, the skies soon clear as the soloist spins out a gorgeous song without words to supportive tutti passages. The movement then ends rapturously.

The concluding "Progress Blues" [T-3] begins with angry flute birdcalls and scrappy string outbursts. Then there’s a virtuosic searching episode for the soloist set to a tutti accompaniment that alternates ticking pizzicato with euphonic passages. This morphs into a jolly dance episode with fluty flights of fancy, which soon fades. The concerto ends with more flute effects, a tsunami-like string crescendo, and a perfunctory pizzicato plunk.

Titled Oversight, the other selection on this disc is a 2012 revision of a concerto for flute and chamber orchestra Hatzis wrote in 1993. At almost forty-two minutes, it's a modern day contemplation of J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) BWV 1056, three-movement concerto (c. 1738-9), whose origin is confusing to say the least. Moreover, it's come down to us in versions for harpsichord, oboe and violin that may well be transcriptions of one for flute that's long lost.

In three movements sequentially corresponding to those in the Bach, Hatzis calls them "Left", "Right", and "Both (Left & Right)," which he says in his album notes refer to the hemispheric functions of the human brain. However, the connection with his music seems fuzzy to say the least!

"Left" [T-4] begins with the opening theme of J.S.B.'s initial allegro, which Hatzis says he subjects to "intervalic stretching" and "tempo compression," giving us something that might be humorously referred to as a chiropractic development. Fragments of "1056" appear periodically, and there are droll spots with tipsy tidbits that could accompany a Keystone Cops short. The movement then ends uneventfully like its predecessor.

Bach's "1056" largo starts with one of his loveliest melodies, which is heard at the outset of "Right" [T-5], and burgeons into a romantic fantasy lasting almost twenty minutes. It's an engaging stream of consciousness that would have been even more effective with some tightening up.

Hatzis' concluding "Both (Left & Right)" [T-6] commences like J.S.B.'s final presto, but suddenly becomes dyspeptic with off-key asides -- shades of Mozart's (1756-1791) A Musical Joke (K 522, 1787). A wacky exploration of the opening melody laced with more wrong notes in addition to fitful stops and starts follows. It concludes with a bravura flute cadenza punctuated by tutti recollections of past material. The concerto then ends summarily with irreverent references to previous themes.

A good friend of the composer, French flutist Patrick Gallois gives stellar performances of both concertos, and the Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra (TSSO) under conductor Alexandre Myrat provide outstanding support. Made at the TSSO Concert Hall in Greece, the recordings are excellent projecting a convincing sonic image in an accommodating acoustic.

Monsieur Gallois' flute is beautifully captured and balanced against a bright but musical sounding tutti. Delicate scoring precludes this being a heavy-duty demonstration disc, but what's here is definitely audiophile quality.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y140608)


The album cover may not always appear.
Marx, J.: Trio-Phant (pno, vn, vc); 4 Lieder… (sop, pno, vn, va, vc, fl); Soloists/Hyperion Trio [CPO]
Following their estimable releases of Austrian composer Joseph Marx's (1882-1964) string and piano quartets (see 18 October 2006 and 10 September 2010), CPO now gives us his one and only piano trio along with a set of four songs for soprano and chamber ensemble. These are the only currently available recordings on CD of the trio and last song.

Dating from 1913 the Trio-Phantasie is a large-scale five-movement work lasting almost forty-five minutes. The initial "Energetic, but not too fast" [T-1], which takes its cue from Brahms (1833-1897) and Reger (1873-1916), has a couple of memorable ideas that are respectively expansive and melancholy. They undergo a rigorous development succeeded by a dramatic virtuosic recap. The movement then ends peacefully, after which we get a brief "Adagietto" [T-2] based on a lovely lied-like melody.

The next "Scherzando" [T-3] juxtaposes sparkling, rhythmically accented passages with comely sighing ones that seem to be a Marx trademark. It's offset by a tormented "Intermezzo".[T-4] that begins with a distraught extended piano passage recalling the work's opening. The strings then enter and the music becomes more rhapsodic. However, the piano returns in an even more frantic state announcing the closing "Dance-Finale" [T-5]. This is a folksy Viennese contrivance that brings the trio to a rustic bravura conclusion.

Marx wrote around a hundred and fifty lieder, and the Vier Lieder nach Texten von Anton Wildgans (Four Songs to Texts by Anton Wildgans, 1916) filling out this disc are among his best (see the album notes for German and English versions). Austrian poet and playwright Anton Wildgans (1881-1932) was Marx's best friend (see the album notes for protracted trivia regarding their relationship), and these songs represent a fervent collaboration between the two.

Sung here by a soprano, the accompaniment calls for piano, violin, viola and cello, as well as a flute in for the last. The opening "You are the garden" [T-6] compares a loved one with a garden, and may bring a smile to those recalling Chauncey Gardiner's platitudes in the film Being There (1979).

Woodlands and mountain streams are the setting for "Through solitudes" [T-7], which reveres peace through death at a time when World War I (1914-8) was raging. Then we get "Adagio (All daily desires)" [T-8], which is a chromatically tinged somnolent curio with more pastoral imagery.

The concluding "Pan Grieves for Syrinx - A Mythological Scene" [T-9] is the longest song, and harkens back to ancient times. Considerably more earthy as well as action-filled, it's quite impressionistic and may bring Ravel's (1875-1937) Introduction and Allegro (1905) to mind.

The rapt opening and closing have extended passages for the flute representing the god Pan playing his pipe and pining for the lovely Syrinx. They surround an animated episode depicting an orgy of satyrs and nymphs in which Wildgans once said the flute is also meant to represent a phallic symbol.

The Hyperion Trio gives us an inspired reading of the fantasy, effectively capturing each of the diverse moods characterizing its five sections. It's joined by soprano Simone Nold, flutist Christoph Renz and violist Felix Schwartz for an emotive interpretation of the lieder.

These studio recordings are generally good with the instruments well-placed and convincingly captured. However, Ms. Nold's lovely voice would have sounded even better with a different microphone as her high notes occasionally suffer from an edginess that seems electroacoustically induced.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P140607)


The album cover may not always appear.
Rubinstein, A.: Demon (cpte opera); Polyakov/Lebedeva/Khaikin/USSRAllUR AcC&SO [Melodiya]
Melodiya follows their invaluable silver disc debut album of Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) The Maid of Orleans (1878-9, see 12 July 2013) with a legendary recording of Anton Rubinstein's (1829-1894) Demon (1871). A 1974 stereophonic, all Russian studio production, it's the only complete version of this undeservedly neglected opera currently available.

Based on Mikhail Lermontov's (1814-1841) eponymous poem, the libretto is by Pavel Viskovatov (1842-1905). Unfortunately only a detailed plot synopsis is included in the album notes.

In three acts the opera opens with a succinct prologue (D-1, T-1) as the curtain goes up revealing a dark storm-swept landscape somewhere in the Caucasus Mountains. Voices of evil spirits are heard [D-1, T-2] as they await the arrival of their Demon overlord, who's been thrown out of Heaven, and is cursed by God and mankind. A dramatically charged aria for the Demon is followed by a duet with an angel [D-1. T-3], whose pleas for him to repent are met with disdain.

This is followed by a change of scene to a beautiful river valley lying below [D-1, T-4]. Some attractive Georgian maidens appear, one of whom is the lovely Princess Tamara, daughter of Prince Gudal. Looking down on all this the Demon immediately lusts for her [D-1, T-5], and we get a couple of wonderful ensemble numbers.

The first has a hypnotic recurring motif [D-1, T-6]. The other ends the scene with a fearful Tamara hearing a strange voice (The Demon) calling her to follow him [D-1, T-7]. Promising her eternity and universal power, their exchange reveals Rubinstein's gift for subtle Eastern-tinted melodies.

The action then shifts to a mountain road with a rich caravan headed by Prince Sinodal, who's Tamara's intended. Blocked by a landslide and with night approaching, the travelers are forced to camp in a gloomy neighboring gorge [D-1, T-8]. We get winsome solos for Sinodal [D-1, T-9 and T-11] bracketing a captivating Slavic-sounding nocturnal chorus [D-1, T-10].

However, there's evil work afoot as the Demon lulls Sinodal to sleep [D-1, T12], after which the dozing caravaners are attacked by Tatars [D-1, T-13]. The Prince is mortally wounded and the act ends tragically [D-1, T-14] with his death.

The next one takes place in Prince Gudal's castle and begins with a brief entr'acte [D-1, T-15]. This serves as a transition from the previous dire events into a chorus of merry guests who with Tamara and her father are celebrating his daughter’s imminent marriage to Sinodal [D-1, T-16] A messenger interrupts telling them her fiancé {D-1, T-17] has been delayed and will arrive soon. The revelry then resumes with a festive drinking chorus [D-1, T-18].

Next we get an exhilarating dance for the men [D-2, T-1] followed by a Lezginka done by the women [D-2, T-2]. Many will recognize these selections, which have become very popular, stand-alone pieces. Incidentally, for some strange reason they were cut from the only other commercially available version of this opera (see Marco Polo 223781), so it's good to have them back in context.

However, all the merriment turns to grief as Sinodal's body is brought in, devastating Tamara [D-2, T-3]. Then in a moving romance the Demon comforts her from above [D-2, T-4, 5 and 6], again promising her dominion over the world. Wondering who's speaking to her, she's taken with his beguiling words, but at the same time heartbroken over the loss of her fiancé. The curtain comes down with a confused Tamara begging her father to let her enter a convent [D-2, T-7].

The third and final act starts with another short entr'acte as a night watchman keeping vigil over Tamara's monastery, makes his presence known by clicking on a metal block [D-2, T-8]. The demon supposedly transformed by his love for Tamara now tells us in a magnificent aria he wants to lead a good life with her [D-2, T-9]. His way into the convent is at first barred by that angel encountered in the first act, and a duet ensues [D-2-T-10] in which his determination to enter forces the angel to vanish.

A lovely aria for Tamara, which is one of the opera's high points and anticipates the best of Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908), follows [D-2, T-11]. In it she wonders who's been speaking to her, and her questions are answered as the Demon appears. Then to make a long story short, in moving back-to-back numbers [D-2, T-12 and 13] the Demon begins to win the hesitant Tamara over, promising to repent his evil ways.

As dawn breaks we hear the matins bell and nuns singing a morning prayer [D-2, T-14]. The Demon then overcomes Tamara's final attempts to resist him, and kissing her, she drops dead!

An epilogue follows in which the angel along with some seraphic companions chase the evil one away. The opera ends with a final apotheosis in which the celestials declare Tamara redeemed by her suffering, and bear her body heavenwards to eternal bliss [D-2, T-16].

Soprano Nina Lebedeva (Tamara), tenor Alexey Usmanov (Sinodal) and bass-baritone Alexander Plyakov (Demon) are in excellent form. They receive superb support from the USSR All-Union Radio Academic Choir and Symphony Orchestra under conductor Boris Khaikin. A good balance is maintained between soloists, chorus and orchestra.

The sound is serviceable; however, the sonic image is pinched, and at times more reverberant than others. This probably resulted from the use of different recording set-ups and/or locations. Also the voices have a fuzzy upper edge undoubtedly not helped by the age of what must been analogue, ferric-oxide master tapes. On the other hand we're lucky to have what's here, and Russian opera enthusiasts will soon forget any audio deficiencies.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P140606)


The album cover may not always appear.
Zinn: Stg Qt 1, Elie Wiesel Port (stg qt), Kol Nidrei... (stg qt); Wihan Qt [Nimbus All]
With this new Nimbus Alliance release we welcome American composer-violinist William Zinn (b. 1924) to CLOFO. These are the only currently available recordings on disc of the three works for string quartet included here.

The program begins with Zinn's 2012 musical portrait of Elie Wiesel (b. 1928), the Jewish-American political activist and author who won the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize. This is a deeply felt work in one extended arc lasting almost twenty minutes [T-1]. Zinn tells us it's meant to express his emotional responses to Wiesel's overcoming the strife he suffered in his early life. That included incarceration in the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

The piece opens with a mournful instrumental kaddish based on a sad Hebraic-sounding melody. This could be interpreted as a lament for all the victims of the holocaust (see the Kol Nidrei Memorial selection below).

A defiant theme bearing a resemblance to the opening of the third movement in Mozart's (1756-1791) fortieth symphony (1788) then surfaces. Possibly representing human perseverance, it reappears between more anguished kaddish moments. The portrait ends much like it began, but with glimmers of hope for humanity in haunting high string passages.

The four-movement first quartet was written in 1966 to honor the memory of a fellow cellist. The departed loved Beethoven (1770-1827), and requested the third movement cavatina of his thirteenth string quartet (Op. 130, 1825-6) be played at his funeral. Consequently Zinn composed the music in the style of the great Bonn master, and tells us the initial searching "Andante" [T-2] is indicative of his former associates inquiring mind.

Humor and joy characterize the whimsical "Scherzo" [T-3] that recalls skittish moments in Beethoven's early (Nos.1-6, 1798-1800) and middle (Nos. 7-11, 1805-10) quartets. On the other hand the succeeding "Requiem" [T-4] is a moving lament ending on a heavenly C major chord.

Then we get a final "Fugato" [T-5] laced with touches of Mendelssohn (1809-1847) [T-5]. This is a delightful contrapuntal representation of the deceased's soul winging its way to Heaven. It ends appropriately in a reverent cello solo decorated with some shimmering seraphic support from the other strings.

The closing selection is Kol Nidrei Memorial of 1986 [T-6] written in remembrance of the six million Jewish victims of the holocaust. A theme and variations it begins in the minor with what Zinn calls the most sacred, mournful theme in all Hebraic music.

Several variants ranging from anguished to plangent and disconsolate follow. Then the key switches to the major as the work concludes more optimistically with feelings of lessons learned and hope for the future.

The Czech-based Wihan Quartet delivers sensitive committed performances of these selections, making a strong case for Zinn's music. The recordings, presumably made at the Nimbus Wyastone Estate Concert Hall near Monmouth, Wales, are excellent and present a wide but well-focused soundstage in warm surroundings. Audiophiles won't be disappointed!

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y140605)