28 FEBRUARY 2021


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.
Mayer. E.: Pno Qts 1 & 2; Mariani Pno Qt [CPO]
During the 1800s, women composers were a rarity in the world of Classical Music. However, German-born Emilie Mayer (1812-1883), who's appeared a couple of times in these pages (see 31 October 2017 and 31 December 2018), was a notable exception. Writing in every genre, she left a large oeuvre. This includes a great deal of chamber music, and her two Piano Quartets are featured here, these being the only recordings currently available on disc.

The album cover photo refers to them as "Piano Quartets 1 & 2", both being four-movement works, which were written in the late 1850s (exact dates not given). As the notes point out, their structural design seems modelled after Robert Schumann's (1810-1856) ever popular Op. 47 of 1842.

That said, this CD opens with Emilie's E♭ major one, which is presumably the second (see the album booklet). It begins with an "Allegro con molto" [T-1] that's a sonata-formish creation, where Ms. Mayer serves up a tuneful, thematic nexus (TN) [00:01], followed by a related, songlike idea (TS) [01:27].

Then the foregoing is repeated [02:34], giving way to a dramatic, chromatically-spiced development of same [05:04], having virtuosic moments for all five performers. Subsequently, the return of TN [06:33] announces an engaging recapitulation and wistful, TN-related coda [09:24] that ends the movement uneventfully.

Next, a perky scherzo [T-2] with angular, Schumannesque, outer sections (AS) [00:00 & 03:40]. They surround an exquisite, lullaby-like trio [02:13-03:39] with AS-reminiscent arpeggios, and end this movement forcefully. Then there's one marked "Un poco adagio" ("Somewhat slowly") [T-3], which is a highly moving, emotionally charged conversation between the strings and piano. It shows Mayer at the height of her creative powers!

But lest things end on a tragic note, she serves up a jolly "Finale" [T-4] that's a letter-perfect, sonata form "Allegro" ("Fast"). This gets off to a capricious start with an antsy idea (CA) [00:00], soon followed by a lovely cavatina-like one (LC) [01:26]. These are food for a curt development [02:25], and then CA initiates a recap [02:54], having a CA-LC-derived, rollicking coda [04:49], which ends the work joyously.

The Quartet in G major's opening movement is a sonata-rondo [T-5]. It has an "Andante" preface [00:01], where the instruments introduce themselves in operatic fashion, hinting at a winsome, folksong-like tune (WF) soon to come. Then there's an "Allegro" statement beginning with a full-blown version of WF [01:18]. This will be the main recurring idea and gives way to a related, hymnlike thought (WH) [02:20] that's in turn examined.

Subsequently, the foregoing thematic material is repeated [03:45], bridging into an anguished, virtuosically-laced, development [06:12]. Here we get a somewhat frivolous version of WF [07:18], which calls up a mischievous recap with ornamented reminders of WH [08:01]. These wax and wane into a frenetic, WF-riddled coda [10:01] that ends the movement in a smiling, forte "So there!" cadence [10:20].

The following "Adagio" ("Slow") [T-6] is a captivating contemplation of WF having a brief bravura outburst [01:34-02:00]. It's succeeded by a "Scherzo" [T-7] with scampering outer sections based on a WF-related, saucy, Tzigane-like ditty (WS) [00:00 & 02:22], which hug a WS-derived trio [02:07-02:21].

And bringing this chamber delight to a sublime ending, there's an "Allegro" ("Fast") [T-8] of Ms. Mayer's own design! Probably best described as a rondo theme and variations, it opens with a WF-like, cocky tune (WC) [00:00], which invokes a WH (see above) reminiscent, melancholy melody (WM) intoned by the cello [00:38]. Then WC is explored [01:34] and a songlike variation of WH appears on the piano [02:02]. This is followed by a flighty version of WC [02:51] that's examined [03:24], thereby calling up the return of WM [04:01].

Subsequently, more WC [04:58] gives way to a rhapsodic treatment of WM featuring the keyboard [05:26], after which running WCs [06:15] engender an anxious development [06:52] that wanes into the romantic return of WM [08:03]. This fosters another development [09:01] with weeping references to WM [09:26]. But then the music suddenly turns more hopeful [10:16], triggering a WC-derived, excited coda [10:52], which ends the Quartet decisively.

The young, German, Mariani Piano Quartet (violinist Philipp Bohnen, violist Barbara Buntrock, cellist Peter-Philipp Staemmler and pianist Gerhard Vielhaber) delivers enthusiastic yet sensitive accounts of these works. That said, Ms. Mayer couldn't be better represented, and those liking this disc should be on the lookout for future recordings by these up-and-coming musicians.

Made in June 2016, the recordings like CPO's previous ones of Ms. Meyer's Piano Trios (see 31 October 2017), were another coproduction with Südwestrundfunk (SWR, "Southwest Broadcasting"), Germany. They were also done in Stuttgart at SWR's chamber music studio located some 350 miles south-southwest of Berlin, and project a small soundstage in pleasant, but somewhat dry surroundings.

The instruments are positioned from left to right (violin, viola, piano and cello) and ideally balanced against one another with the piano well captured. As for the string tone, it's characterized by somewhat steely highs, a convincing midrange and clean low bass, with no hangover in the cello's lower registers. That said, Ms. Mayer's congenial Quartets would have sounded all the more endearing in less confined surroundings.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P210228)

Amazon Records International

The album cover may not always appear.
Taylor, Mat.: Sym 4, Romanza (stgs), Sym 5; K.Woods/BBCWalNa O/Eng SO [Nimbus]
Some years ago, we told you about English, composer-conductor Matthew Taylor (b. 1964; see 27 May and 23 September 2013). He's written a significant body of works, many in the orchestral genre, and these include five symphonies, the last two being featured on this new Nimbus release.

The program begins with his Fourth Symphony of 2015-16. Calling for a large orchestra, this brilliantly scored work is cast in a single movement that falls into three spans. The first marked "Giubiloso" ("Jubilant") [T-1] gets off to a vivacious, scherzoesque start [00:03], which may bring to mind more colorful moments in Ottorino Respighi's (1879-1936) Fontane di Roma (The Fountains of Rome; 1914-16).

Then there's a wild timpani outburst [01:57] followed by a whimsical episode [02:15], where it's easy to imagine twittering birds [02:30], and what sound like feline meows [02:51]. This transitions into smiling passages [04:54] that turn increasingly radiant [08:12] as they build to a joyous climax [10:31].

Subsequently, the music ebbs attacca into an "Adagio teneramente" ("Slow and tender") [T-2], which opens with a pensive melody for the violas [00:00]. It elicits a searching, wind-dominated segment [02:57] that invokes an aria-like episode for unison strings and brass [04:28]. The latter becomes increasingly dramatic, only to die away into a clarinet solo [07:16], which calls up brooding, wind-laced passages that end this span mysteriously.

After a brief pause, there's "Finale buffa" ("Droll finale") [T-3] that starts "Allegro giocoso" ("Fast and playful") with a flippant flourish [00:00]. This is immediately followed by a mischievous ditty [00:03], which despite repeated jeers manages to solicit a waltzlike section [01:34-02:22].

The composer tells us the latter pays homage to Brahms (1833-1897), whom he refers to as one of his Gods, and more specifically that great German master's Liebeslieder-walzer (Op. 52 & 65; 1868-74). Then the music resumes "Giubiloso, brioso, vivo" ("Jubilant, spirited, lively") [02:23], and timpani underlined, big-tune flashes of past ideas [05:02] end the work in a blaze of glory.

A brief Romanza for Strings (2006) [T-4] serves as an interlude before the other major offering here. It's a short, stand-alone piece that's an arrangement the composer made of the second movement from his Sixth String Quartet (2006-08). The work opens with a subdued, expansive, songlike melody (SS) [00:01], which becomes quite urgent. However, this subsides [03:35] into melancholy memories of SS [04:26] with some gloomy cello passages [06:04] that bring the piece to a sorrowful conclusion.

Then it's on to the four movement Symphony No. 5 (2017-19), where the opening "Allegro" [T-5] is a sonata-form-like creation with a loquacious, opening thematic nexus (LN) [00:01]. In accordance with what the composer tells us, it would seem LN reflects the expressiveness of Beethoven's (1770-1827) Fifth (Op. 67; 1807-08), which apparently made a great impression on him around the age of five. Additionally, there's an angularity about LN that brings to mind the music of Robert Schumann (1810-1856), whom Matthew says is probably his favorite composer.

After that there's a delicate, tuneful idea [02:01], and both of the preceding thoughts undergo an engaging development [03:13]. This leads to an animated recap [05:05] and an explosive martial, brass-drum-laced coda [06:46] with a pounding-timpani cadenza [07:10] that ends things boisterously.

The last three movements are each, personal tributes to meaningful people in the composer's life (see the album notes), and he describes the first two as "gentle intermezzi". Scored for chamber forces, they're respectively marked "Allegretto misterioso" ("Lively and mysterious") [T-6] and "Allegretto tranquillo" ("Lively and tranquil") [T-7]. Accordingly, both come off as delicate, pastoral offerings.

Then the mood turns more introspective in the final "Adagio" [T-8], where by Taylor's own admission there are intimations of Beethoven's (1770-1827) Choral Symphony (No. 9, Op. 125; 1822-24) as well as Bruckner's (1824-1896) Seventh (WAB 107; 1881-83). That said, here an opening anguished, rumination (AR) [00:01] features weeping strings and sobbing brass. It's followed by an ethereal, woodwind-spiced, chamber-like episode [02:20].

Subsequently, low strings [05:09] introduce tragic, brass-highlighted reminders of AR. These invoke fleeting string passages [06:09] followed by a brass and drum accented outburst [06:47], which subsides into a recap coda [07:02].

Here all of the work's main ideas reappear, and it becomes a brass-reinforced, march-like chorale (BM) [08:09] that builds in intensity, giving way to another timpani cadenza [09:48] (see the first movement). The latter then dies away into subdued reminders of BM [10:11], which bring the work to a remorseful conclusion with a final, crestfallen, brass chord [12:01].

The English Symphony Orchestra (ESO) under its Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, Kenneth Woods, give a superb account of this Symphony. They make a strong case for some late-romantic, British music that bears repeated listening to discover all of its subtleties.

As for the first two selections, they also find Maestro Woods on the podium, but in front of the BBC Wales National Orchestra. Generally speaking, these are more playful works, and he elicits buoyant performances of both, for which they're all the more fetching.

The Fifth Symphony was recorded 8 June 2019 in St. Jude's on the Hill, London. The other two took place on 14 January 2020 at BBC Hoddinott Hall located in Cardiff, Wales, some 150 miles west of London.

Despite their different times and locations, all three present amazingly consistent, generous sonic images in pleasantly reverberant surroundings. The orchestral timbre is characterized by lifelike highs as well as mids, while the bass is lean and clean. That said, the overall sound is generally serviceable, and will particularly appeal to those liking wetter sonics.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P210227)

Amazon Records International

The album cover may not always appear.
Theofanidis: Vn Conc, Va Conc (chbr orch); Chee-Yun/O'Neill/Miller/Albany SO [Albany]
Prize-winning, American composer Christopher Theofanidis (b. 1967) studied at Yale, where he now teaches, as well as the Eastman School of Music and Houston University. He's since produced a significant body of works across all genres, two of which in the concertante category fill out this recent Albany Records release. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.

The program opens with his three-movement Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (2008, rev. 2017). Originally written for the great, Korean-American violinist Sarah Chang (b. 1980) and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the composer says it was a collaborative effort with her. Then some ten years later, he significantly altered the work, incorporating suggestions from our soloist, Korean-American violinist Kim Chee-Yun (professional name "Chee-Yun"; b. 1970), thereby giving us the version presented here.

In three movements simply marked "I.", "II." and "III.", the first [T-1] is a romantically tinged, dramatic confrontation between soloist and orchestra. That said, it begins with gruff, chugging riffs in the lower strings [00:00], which evoke a searching idea [00:25]. This gives way to an ardent, demanding cadenza for the violin [01:29], and then the tutti return with sighing phrases [02:21]. These become a weeping, six-note motif (WS) [02:29], having a complementary countermelody (WC) [02:32].

WS-WC is repeated by the soloist [02:43] and transitions into a skittering version of itself [04:13] that initiates an introspective development. The latter has rhythmically driving passages [07:14], which conjure up the return of WS_WC for violin [07:35] and orchestra [08:07]. This builds to an exciting episode that slowly wanes, ending the movement with a harp-speckled, ppp reminder of WS on the soloist [09:33].

The subsequent "II." [T-2] is a WS-WC-reminiscent, amorous rhapsody spun out by the violin to a loving tutti accompaniment. Highly chromatic and of late romantic persuasion, it ends uneventfully, providing a brief respite before a short, vivacious "III." [T-3].

This has a brief preface [00:00] and then becomes a display of fiddle fireworks [00:04] set to an equine, cantering accompaniment. There's even a whip snap [01:58]. after which the music turns all the more frantic, thereby bringing the work to a sudden close.

The Concerto for Viola and Chamber Orchestra of 2001-02 was originally composed for American violist Kim Kashkashian (b. 1952) and the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston. In that regard, the composer tells us the inspiration for it came from a collection of anonymous Navajo poems Kim had sent him. Apparently, he found these of wildly different character, but with a common supernatural sense of nature, and written in an extremely evocative, often terse vocabulary.

Consequently, each of the work's four movements have poetic titles, the first being "Black Dancer, Black Thunder" [T-4]. This starts with Indian drum beats [00:01] and a fitful, three-note motif for the soloist (FT) [00:14]. The foregoing is fuel for a development that the composer refers to as "Spartan but volatile", and it's apparently meant to invoke two of the four, ancient astrological elements, namely "Fire" and "Earth".

Be that as it may, the music initially conjures images of a war dance [01:07]. However, this wanes into intermittent drum beats [05:14], which call up a chant-like episode [05:47] that ends the movement uneventfully with a sigh from the viola.

Next, there's "In the Questioning" [T-5], where seemingly the soloist is the earthbound voice of humanity, while the orchestra represents the surrounding universe. More specifically, this plaintive movement finds the former asking the latter about the meaning of existence -- shades of Charles Ives' (1874-1954) The Unanswered Question (1908, rev. 1930-35), but with that trumpet replaced by the viola. It also features a demanding, lengthy cadenza for the soloist over shimmering strings [04:45-06:37].

This quietly fades away, and then we get "The Center of the Sky" [T-6], which requires a word of explanation to be fully appreciated. Moreover, the composer tells us the "9/11" terrorist attacks against the US occurred while he was writing the Concerto. What's more, Theofanidis was in Manhattan, when those planes struck the World Trade Center Towers. He then attended a memorial service commemorating the event, where a Sikh participant delivered a song whose melody is the basis for this movement.

In essence, Christopher describes the tune as having positive as well as negative qualities that are perfectly balanced. Accordingly, we'll call it "PN", and after a brief, rising orchestral phrase [00:00], it's spun out by the soloist to a chromatic, chugging bass accompaniment [00:15]. Then there are a couple of contemplative episodes [00:59 & 01:56] with a scurrying tutti bridge [03:22] into an agitated version of PN intoned by the viola [03:29].

This triggers a chorale-like response from the orchestra [04:07] with hints of PN, which give rise to a weeping cadenza for the soloist [05:24-07:31]. Then a PN-based afterthought for all [07:46] ends the movement on a more hopeful note, and proceeds attacca into the concluding one.

Marked "Lightning, with Life, in Four Colors Comes Down" [T-7], this is a busy, rondoesque piece of work, which begins with a PN-derived, skittering ditty for viola and orchestra (PS) [00:03]. PS undergoes several treatments of differing temperament, including a hymnlike one [02:44]. Then after an anticipatory pause, PS returns in a more lyrical guise [03:23] and becomes a big-tune [04:23]. This ends the Concerto joyously with some avian twitters from the woodwinds [beginning at 05:05], and a couple of perfunctory, plucked notes for the soloist [05:38].

Worldwide-acclaimed, Korean-American, violist Richard Yongjae O'Neill (b. 1978) is featured here, and apparently worked very closely with the composer in the production of this recording. Along with the Albany Symphony Orchestra (ASO) under their Music Director David Alan Miller, he gives what will probably be the definitive account of this Concerto for some time to come.

That said, violinist Chee-Yun with the ASO, again under Maestro Miller, deliver an equally outstanding performance of the previous work. Mr. Theofanidis is very fortunate to have both of his scores so well represented on disc.

As for the sound, these recordings were made at different times and places in Troy, New York, some eight miles north-northeast of the ASO's hometown. More specifically the Violin Concerto was done in June 2017 at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. Then the companion work was laid down during January 2018 in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.

They present serviceable, robust sonic images in cavernous venues with the soloists positioned just left of center and adequately balanced against the ASO. The sound is characterized by pleasant highs, a somewhat dense midrange, and a convincing low end with a boomy bass drum in "Black Dancer, Black Thunder" [T-4].

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P210226)



The album cover may not always appear.
Tcherepnin, N.: Le Pavillon d'Armide (Fantastic Ballet); Shek/Moscow SO [Naxos]
Originally released in 1995 on the now defunct Marco Polo label, every balletomane who didn't get that CD will want this Naxos reissue. What's more, it costs considerably less than back then, and by way of reminder, Nikolai (sometimes spelled Nikolay; 1873-1945), who's not to be confused with his better-known son Alexander (1899-1977), left a significant body of works across all genres.

He began studying music as a child and went on to get an advanced diploma from the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1898. His composition teacher was Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (R-K; 1844-1908), who strongly influenced his music, and became a close friend.

After graduation he joined the nearby Mariinsky Theater and would became one of its most highly esteemed conductors. Consequently, R-K requested he lead performances of his works staged there. This resulted in Tcherepnin's journeying to France during 1908 to conduct Rimsky's The Snow Maiden (1880-95) as well as The Golden Cockerel (1906-07) when they were done by the Paris-based Opéra-Comique.

This was most fortuitous as it brought him to the attention of that great Russian ballet impresario, Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929). Moreover, Serge had been impressed with a suite he'd heard from Le Pavillon d'Armide (Armida's Pavilion; 1907), and decided to program Tcherepnin's complete work as one of the three offerings for the first Paris season (1909) of his Ballets Russes. Incidentally, as regards the "City of Light", after some twelve years back in Russia (1908-21), Nikolai would move and live out his years there.

Returning to the work at hand, the album notes provide a wealth of information regarding the original production and underlying scenario. Accordingly, we'll just discuss the music in general terms. That said, it's considered a highly significant 20th century ballet, whose underlying story involves a Gobelins tapestry and a mysterious haunted pavilion on the grounds of some imaginary French chateau.

The "Introduction et Scène première ("Introduction and First Scene") [T-1] begins with a drum roll [00:01] and gentle, wavelike passages. These build, giving way to a lovely compassionate melody (LC) [01:20], which waxes and wanes, evoking a wistful version of itself (WC) [04:03]. WC then undergoes a captivating treatment and turns into a delicate march-like number [06:57] that ends this segment of the work with hints of LC [07:59].

Next, it's on to "Courante. Danse des heures" ("Courante. Dance of the Hours") [T-2], which is a dainty offering with a tick-tock beat. It's followed by "Scène d'animation du Gobelin" ("The Gobelins Tapestry Comes to Life") [T-3] that opens with mysterious passages. These dramatically bridge with hints of WC into a gorgeous, rhapsodic episode [02:52].

However, the mood turns lachrymose in "La Plainte d'Armide" ("Armida's Lament") [T-4], which is a moving, harp-accompanied plaint, soon offset by another scene titled "Grand pas d'action" ("Big Dramatic Dance") [T-5]. The latter is an "Adagio" ("Slow"), pantomimic number that has sweeping LC-references [02:28], and comes to a thrilling climax.

Then a "Grande Valse noble" ("Grand and Noble Waltz") [T-6] that's as billed and finds Tcherepnin at his tuneful best. It sets the stage for the following "Variation" [T-7], which begins "Allegro" ("Fast") with a few introductory bars [00:00} and a playful, celesta-enhanced, main idea (PM) [00:05].

PM is followed by four thematically related dances, the first three being a proud "Allegro" ("Fast") [01:03], flirtatious "Moderato tranquillo ("Moderately tranquil") [02:08] and prancing "Vivace" ("Spirited") [03:21]. Then there's a fourth "Grave" ("Serious") [05:12] that brings to mind Bach's (1685-1750) "Air on a G String" from his Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major (BWV 1068; 1729-31). It has trumpet-highlighted passages [beginning at 06:03] and ends this segment of the ballet majestically.

Subsequently, there's a divertissement consisting of seven numbers. The initial one titled "Danse des gamins (de petits escalaves éthiopian)" or "Dance of the Boys (Little Ethiopian Slaves)" [T-8] is a music-box-like offering reminiscent of naïve moments in Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) Nutcracker (Op. 71; 1891-92).

It's succeeded by "Danse des confidentes" ("Dance of Armida's Ladies") [T-9], which is a lilting waltz. Then there's a garrulous "Bacchus et les bachanntes" ("Bacchus and his Revelers") [T-10] that's a boisterous bacchanale, along the lines of fellow-Russian composer Alexander Glazunov's (1865-1936) one in The Seasons (Op. 67; 1899).

Revelry turns to sorcery with "Entrée des magicians et Danse des ombres" ("Entry of the Magicians and Dance of the Shades") [T-11], which starts enigmatically and features a PM-like, bewitching melody [01:05] with a necromantic countersubject [02:03]. But prestidigitation becomes tomfoolery in the subsequent "Danse des bouffons" ("Dance of the Clowns") [T-12].

Then Nikolai gives us a captivating "Pas d'écharpe" ("Scarf Dance") [T-13], based on a PM-reminiscent, tender idea (PT) [00:15], which turns quite playful [01:05]. This is succeeded by a sweeping "Pas de deux" [T-14] that seems melodically derived from PT, and brings this divertissement portion of the work to a dramatic conclusion.

It sets the stage for the "Grande Valse finale" ("Big Waltz Finale") [T-15], which begins with inklings of a WC-reminiscent, big-tune (WB) that soon follows [00:59]. WB then undergoes a series of enthralling treatments and returns [04:04], powering a coda-like episode [05:35] that brings this wonderful ballet to a thrilling conclusion.

Chinese-born, award-winning and internationally acclaimed Conductor Henry Shek led the Moscow Symphony Orchestra (MSO) for this recording. He along with the MSO's magnificent musicians delivered what was and still is the definitive account on commercial disc of this choreographic masterpiece.

Made during 1994 at Mosfilm's Moscow Studio, it presents a wide, somewhat recessed sonic image in pleasant surroundings. However, the instrumental timbre is a mixed bag! Moreover, there are those steely sounding, upper string passages, which typically characterized Russian recordings of this vintage. On the other hand, the midrange is acceptable, if a bit compressed, and the lows are good with some, boomy bass drum strokes.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P210225)

Amazon Records International