26 OCTOBER 2011


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.
Cowen: Cnstk (pno; w Somervell); Roscoe/Brabbins/BBCScot SO [Hyperion]
The fifty-fourth volume in Hyperion's "Romantic Piano Concerto" survey gives us first recordings of three concertante works by late romantic British composers Sir Frederic Cowen (1852-1935, see the newsletter of 30 September 2006) and Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937). Both had German teachers at one point in their lives, and anyone partial to the music of their colleagues Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918, see the newsletter of 26 March 2010) and Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924, see the newsletter of 17 August 2011), who had similar academic backgrounds, will cherish this CD.

Cowen's Concertstück was written in 1897 for the great Polish pianist Ignacy Paderewski (1860-1941), and must have showed him off to great effect. In a single twenty-minute modified sonata form span, it begins with a languid clarinet solo and gentle piano musings hinting at the big-boned main theme (BM) soon to come. The music then builds to an exciting climax with some keyboard fireworks and BM proclaimed in grand manner [track-1, beginning at 02:54].

This is followed by a cadenza and some lyrically light passages reminiscent of Sibelius (1865-1957) [track-1, beginning at 05:02]. Additional memorable thematic ideas are introduced next, including a catchy rhythmically antsy one (RA) [track-1, beginning at 07:37] that we'll hear more of later. Cowen then proceeds to cleverly develop these, spicing them up with several knuckle-busting displays for the soloist.

The work concludes with a crescendo that turns into a thundering recapitulation [track-1, beginning at 15:54] recalling RA [track-1, beginning at 16:33], and finally BM in all its glory [track-1, beginning at 17:39]. The latter is fashioned into a thrilling final coda that ends the piece with a flurry of finger work enhanced by an ecstatic orchestral accompaniment. Paderewski must have loved it!

Somervell's Normandy of 1912 is a twenty-minute theme and variations for piano and orchestra based on a folk tune from that French province. Although the piece is in one continuous arch, it's roughly divisible into four contiguous sections. And as the album notes point out, these might be construed as the movements of a symphony. The opening one is a combination introduction and allegro in which we first hear the rather somber subject material (SS) [track-2, beginning at 00:00], followed by some variations of brighter countenance [track-2, beginning at 04:08] that end the section optimistically.

A lovely lyrical variant of SS for piano and winds begins the equivalent of an adagio [track-2, beginning at 08:33]. But some upward runs on the piano soon transform it into what might be considered a scherzo [track-2, beginning at 12:23]. You'll find this melodically as well as rhythmically catchy section most appealing.

A syncopated SS variation for soloist and orchestra, plus more arpeggios on the piano announce the fourth and final "movement" [track-2, beginning at 17:06]. In a series of alternated pp and ff passages this accelerates and builds into a jubilant peroration for orchestra with bravura interjections from the soloist. Finales of Romantic piano concertos don't get any more exciting than this!

The program closes with Somervell's only piano concerto from 1921. In the usual three movements, it's subtitled "Highland" after that region of Scotland. And while it doesn't actually quote any folk songs or dances from there (see the newsletter of 8 September 2008), the composer borrows stylistic elements from them to come up with his own very authentic sounding Highland melodies.

The initial allegro begins with a short orchestral introduction, after which the piano gives us the composer's own invigorating version of what could be a "Highland Fling" (HF) [track-3, beginning at 00:25] with those inevitable "Scotch Snaps." A slower more lyrical melody (SL) soon follows [track-3, beginning at 02:25], and then both ideas are subjected to a variational based development. The movement ends in a spirited reprise of SL decorated with tidbits of HF.

The restful adagio [track-4] is notable for a couple of comely tunes, some with pentatonic coloring, and several attractive solo wind passages. It's immediately followed by a closing allegro [track-5] that's a double rondo with two recurring themes distantly related to HF and SL respectively.

The first of these ideas is proud and strutting (PS) [track-5, beginning at 00:00], while the second is of a more sentimental nature (SN) [track-5, beginning at 01:33]. Both are introduced by the soloist, and pop up again after a lyrically drop-dead central passage [track-5, beginning at 03:13] based on a variant of PS.

Somervell then brings everything to a thrilling conclusion with snatches of HF, SL, PS and SN tossed about by soloist and tutti. Those liking this work and not familiar with his one and only violin concerto are advised to check it out on another Hyperion release from their continuing series devoted to the "Romantic Violin Concerto."

One couldn't ask for a better soloist than Martin Roscoe who delivers virtuosic performances of this material tempered with great sensitivity for the music's more introspective moments. He's given outstanding support from conductor Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, which understandably seems particularly at home in the "Highland" concerto.

Done at City Halls Concert Hall, Glasgow, the recordings are superb. They convey a wide as well as deep soundstage in an ideally reverberant acoustic that keeps this expansive romantic music in sharp focus. The piano is perfectly situated and balanced with the orchestra. The instrumental timbre is bright but pleasing, and the piano tone well captured and poignantly percussive.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y111026)


The album cover may not always appear.
Fuchs, R.: Pno Trios 1 & 2; Gould Pno Trio [Quartz]
In the past we've sung the praises of the Gould Piano Trio for their ongoing survey of rarely heard chamber music (see the newsletters of 28 February 2010 and 17 August 2011), and now they treat us to some by Austrian-born Robert Fuchs (1847-1927, see the newsletter of 18 April 2011).

Known more in his day as a distinguished pedagogue, he was also a composer greatly admired by Brahms (1833-1897). And when you hear this new release from Quartz with the first two of his three piano trios you'll understand why. These are the only recordings of them in the current catalog, and those liking the ones of Brahms and Dvorák (1841-1904) will find much to enjoy.

Written in 1879 and dedicated to Brahms, the first of Fuch's trios is in four movements. It begins with an allegro featuring a gorgeous romantic theme (GR). It's the subject of an elegant development and recapitulation that ends in an inventive GR-derived coda. This finely honed movement shows Fuchs practiced what he must have preached in the classroom.

A lachrymose moonlit adagio is next, and then a contrasting scherzo. The bubbly outer sections of the latter surround a more profound trio based on an attractive stately melody.

The allegro finale is another beautifully wrought sonata structure with a couple of engaging angular ideas Schumann (1810-1856) would have loved. The movement ends in an intricate affecting coda, and once again demonstrates the composer's mastery of musical form.

The second trio of the early 1900s (no specific date given) is also in four movements, but more concise and chromatically adventurous than its predecessor. The opening allegro has a couple of memorable ideas, which are subjected to another one of the composer's masterful developments. The movement ends in a glowing recapitulation and abrupt jubilant coda.

The following scherzando is notable for an occasional bagpipe-like drone bass, and some lively tunes that might well be folk-related. It contrasts nicely with the meditative andante that spins out a heart-rending melody.

The trio concludes with a whimsical allegro, which is a labyrinth of melodic twists and turns. It's the perfect ending to a disc of discovery that romantic chamber music fans will cherish.

The members of the Gould Piano Trio once again work their magic, giving us invigorating, technically accomplished performances of these trios. Their attention to phrasing and dynamics turn what could easily be mundane fare from lesser ensembles into something extra special.

Done a year apart at Champs Hill, West Sussex, England (see the newsletter of 22 June 2011), the instrumental timbre for both trios is consistently pleasing with velvety strings and a well rounded piano tone. The soundstage for the first trio seems a bit compressed compared to the second, which consequently achieves a better balance between all three instruments.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P111025)


The album cover may not always appear.
Pejacevic: Pno Trio, Vc Son; Bielow/Poltéra/Triendl [CPO]
Last summer we told you about some orchestral works by Croatian composer Dora Pejacevic (1885-1923, see the newsletter of 22 June 2011), and here's some of her chamber music. You'll find the piano trio and cello sonata included on this recent CPO release show she was equally accomplished when it came to writing for small ensembles.

The concert begins with the second of her two piano trios, which dates from 1910 and is in four movements. The beginning allegro features a couple of appealing themes with maybe a dusting of Slavic folk influence. They're subjected to a chromatically itinerant development, and finally emerge in an amorous recapitulation with an enthralling concluding coda.

The jaunty outer sections of the following scherzo prance about a slower soaring central trio with some haunting harmonic leaps. The mood changes to one of nostalgia in the adagio, which alternates a gently rocking motif with a dramatically intense theme in rondo fashion. The overall effect is totally captivating (see the informative album notes for more details).

The final allegro is in sonata form, and opens with a wonderfully manic melody (WM) followed by a more subdued subservient idea (SS) [track-4, beginning at 01:26]. For the most part the development and recapitulation involve WM with SS appearing like a recurring thought. The movement then ends in a virtuosic coda, bringing the trio to an exciting close.

Dora's one and only cello sonata from 1913 (revised 1915) concludes the program. Also in four movements, the initial allegro is in sonata form with an extended rhapsodic opening idea (ER) soon followed by a whimsically tentative one (WT) [track-5, beginning at 01:11]. A skillful modulatory development ensues, and then a trick recapitulation where WT appears before ER, which fuels the fiery conclusion.

Twitchy outer sections surround a lovely cello aria in the scherzo. Its vibrancy couldn't be farther removed from the disconsolate adagio that follows. This is an ingenious theme and variations on a mournful subject, and has the severity of a dark passacaglia.

But the clouds roll by for a sunny final sonata form allegro. With a couple of attractive themes, arresting harmonic structure, and enlivening rhythmic temperament, it ends the work on a real high capped with a hyper concluding coda.

Violinist Andrej Bielow was lauded here just a couple of months ago as the soloist for those striking Sinding concertos (see the newsletter of 17 August 2011). And here he is again making some equally stunning music with cellist Christian Poltéra and pianist Oliver Triendl. Their take on the Pejacevic trio would seem definitive, while Bielow’s associates give us a superb account of the sonata.

A German Southwest Radio studio recording, the sonics are generally good. However, the soundstage would have benefitted from being more forward and a bit wider. Also the string sound is occasionally gritty in the high end, but the piano is well captured with a pleasing rounded tone.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P111024)


The album cover may not always appear.
Pettersson: Sym 1 (rlz Lindberg), Sym 2; Lindberg/Norrk SO [BIS]
For those of us who are fans of Swedish composer Allan Pettersson (1911-1980) this release from BIS is indispensable! It includes the world premiere recording of his first symphony as realized by trombonist-composer-conductor Christian Lindberg (b. 1958) from uncompleted sketches. The second symphony is also here, along with a complimentary must-see hour-long DVD documenting the preparation of its predecessor.

During 1951-52 Pettersson studied in Paris with Arthur Honegger (1892-1955) as well as dodecaphonist René Leibowitz (1913-1972), but rejected the latter's serialism in favor of conventional tonality. Like Debussy (1862-1918, see the newsletter of 10 March 2011), Delius (1862-1934, see the newsletter of 27 July 2011) and Rachmaninov (1873-1943, see the newsletter of 3 July 2008), he's a composer with a style so individual as to be instantly recognizable. And the major element making it so is his propensity to express himself in short, highly chromatic thematic passages of constantly varying rhythmic and dynamic intensity. His music seethes with emotional energy, and must be appreciated over the long-run rather than measure by measure, lest one not see the forest through the trees.

Pettersson began seventeen symphonies, never completing the first and last of them. And while his sketches for the seventeenth are insufficient to allow any attempt at reconstruction, those for the first, which he worked on between 1951 and 1952, are extensive and beg realization. Enter Maestro Lindberg and associates, who undertook this Rubik's Cube of a puzzle to give us what's presented here (see the informative album notes and bonus DVD for details).

In a connected thirty-minute span, you'll find it convincingly Pettersson, and roughly divisible into four sections. The opening one begins with several stringent cellular motives (SS) so typical of the composer. He subjects these to some fascinating harmonic as well as rhythmic developmental contortions, and then transitions via subdued passages into a second more intense dance-like episode [track-1, beginning at 07:50].

This leisurely fades into a third hybrid largo-scherzo [track-1, beginning at 14:30] with bizarre brass effects. Some contrapuntal machinations then begin the concluding fourth section [track-1, beginning at 19:44], which is the most interesting of all! It could well be described as a whimsical mini-concerto for orchestra. Its closing measures recall SS, and it ends enigmatically along the lines of Shostakovich's (1906-1975) fifteenth symphony from twenty-years later (1971).

The second symphony of 1952-53 is again in a single span, but it’s more progressive and longer than the first, clocking in at almost forty-seven minutes. Structurally speaking it generally falls into six sections, which could be grouped in pairs corresponding to the exposition, development and recapitulation of a behemoth sonata form movement.

The two-part exposition consists of an introduction followed by a statement of thematic ideas. The former is brooding and reminiscent of dark Bartok (1881-1945) with a jagged three-note riff (JT) [track-2, beginning at 00:16] that will infect the entire symphony. A string pedal point then transitions into the latter [track-2, beginning at 06:41], which is more lively. It presents several of those strident fragmentary Petterssonian motifs, as well as a lovely lyrical theme (LL) [track-2, beginning at 09:16].

The first section of a convoluted binary development involving all of these is next [track-2, beginning at 11:31]. With frequent emotional outbursts that typify the composer, it gradually lapses into a subdued passage for strings and winds that ends in a brief pause. The second part of the development, which is even more intense than the first, follows [track-2, beginning at 19:17], and gradually subsides into remembrances of JT.

These initiate a final two-part recapitulation made up of a restatement and final epilogue. The former is an animated parade of past motifs punctuated by more allusions to JT [track-2, beginning at 28:57]. There's also a peaceful reminder of LL [track-2, beginning at 35:45] eventually followed by a drum roll announcing the epilogue [track-2, beginning at 38:47].

This is a deranged coda that could well be interpreted as a musical mental breakdown. All semblance of rationality vanishes with isolated psychotic violin notes, and a final dying chord on the strings as the symphony fades into oblivion. You'll need a shot of akvavit after this one!

Christian Lindberg hangs up his trombone to conduct the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra in rousing accounts of both symphonies. Currently this is the only recording of the first, and will probably remain so for some time in view of the considerable effort, and presumably extensive proprietary rights involved in its production. As for Lindberg's rendition of the second, he has a feel for Pettersson's emotionally torn, convoluted music second to none, making it the preferred version as of this writing.

What's more, BIS gives us two of their finest symphonic recordings! Done at a concert hall in Norrköping, Sweden, they project a generous soundstage in a reverberant venue. The warm acoustics make Pettersson's complex music all the more approachable by smoothing out his sometimes violent outbursts. The orchestral timbre is naturally bright in the high end with rock solid bass. Audiophiles will find Pettersson on Bis a great source of demonstration discs!

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y111023)


The album cover may not always appear.
Wagner, R.: Meistersinger Sym, Faust Ov, Columbus Ov, etc; N.Järvi/RScotNa O [Chandos (Hybrid)]
You've probably never heard of Henk de Vlieger (b. 1953), but he's a Dutch composer-arranger who over the past few years has given us symphonizations of several better-known Wagner (1813-1883) operas. Chandos has already released three of them on hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0) discs (see 5060, 5077 and 5087), and now they give us a fourth based on Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1861-67). Also included on this all Wagner program are A Faust Overture, the rarely heard Columbus Overture, and only currently available recordings of two early entr'actes.

Far from just an informal suite of the opera's greatest hits, De Vlieger's almost fifty-minute Meistersinger arrangement of 2005 is a stand-alone, tightly structured symphonic compilation. Those ubiquitous recurring leitmotifs in Wagner's music unify the work all the more. And what better way to start than with the overture, which is one of the most perfect to ever come out of the romantic period.

The arranger bridges this right into ten connected mini-movements [tracks-2 through 11], which follow the opera's plot line (click here for a synopsis). Highlights include the uplifting St. John's Eve music [track-3], and tender third act prelude [track-5]. Then there's the thrilling, leitmotif-laced Mastersingers' entry and march [tracks-7 and 9], surrounding the youthful dance of the Apprentices [track-8].

The symphonization ends in grand fashion with Walther's soaring prize song [track-10], and a glorious transition into a final coda [track-11], where the work comes full circle with references to the overture's opening measures. It all goes to show Wagner's later operatic music can easily stand on its own.

Like many of his musical contemporaries, Wagner was taken with Goethe's (1749-1832) Faust (1806-31), and as early as 1831 wrote seven songs drawn from it. Then in 1840 he completed A Faust Overture (revised in 1855) [track-12]. With no opera associations, it's the Wagnerian equivalent of a Liszt (1811-1886) tone poem, and relates to some unidentified aspect of Goethe's tragedy. You'll find all of the composer's later stylistic traits in this dramatic program music.

A couple of early Wagnerian curiosities are next in the form of Two Tragic Entr'actes from 1832. Probably intended as incidental music for Ernst Raupach's (1784-1852) play König Enzio (King Enzio, 1832), for which Wagner also wrote an overture, they never got beyond the sketch stage.

Then in 1996 De Vlieger came up with the symphonic performing versions presented here, basing them on the few passages Wagner had managed to orchestrate. Sounding like a cross between Beethoven (1770-1827) and Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826), this is skillfully written music that points the way towards the massive operatic masterpieces to come.

The disc concludes with another overture, this time from 1835 and for Theodor Apel's (1811-1867) play Columbus of that year. Oddly enough the sinister opening measures anticipate those towards the end of act-one-scene-one in Prokofiev's (1891-1953) ballet Romeo and Juliet of one hundred years later (1935)!

Swelling strings and brass flourishes follow, introducing a heroic more lyrical central section. The work then concludes with an explosive crescendo and a youthfully impetuous Wagnerian melody like those that would soon appear in Rienzi (1838-40).

At seventy-four and still going strong with over 400 recordings to his credit, Neeme Järvi delivers another winner here. The superb performances he gets from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra make a strong case for De Vlieger's symphonization, and surpass many versions of the two overtures. The entr'actes are frosting on the cake!

All this is clothed in some of Chandos' most resplendent sonic attire. Made over three days in the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, the stereo tracks project a spacious soundstage in a reverberant acoustic, for which the music is all the richer. The violins are even more velvety on the super audio one, which also has more airiness and instrumental detail.

The multichannel track is a guaranteed center orchestra seat, where you'll be engulfed by a Wagnerian sonic tsunami. Definitely a demonstration disc no matter what track your on, the opening overture is an ideal orchestral test selection.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y111022)


The album cover may not always appear.
Weinberg, M. (Vainberg): Stg Qts Cpte V5 (1, 3 & 10; Capriccio, Aria); Danel Qt [CPO]
This fifth volume in the Danel Quartet's continuing exploration of Polish-born composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg's (1919-1996) seventeen string quartets (see the newsletter of 13 December 2010) leaves only three unaccounted for (2, 12 and 17). Two shorter occasional pieces fill out the CD for a generous seventy-seven minutes of music.

Forced by the Nazis to leave Poland at the outbreak of World War II (1939-1945), the composer fled to what was then the Soviet Union, where he would spend the rest of his life. He became a close associate of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), and this is quite apparent in his string quartets (1937-87) which have stylistic commonalities with Dmitri's fifteen (1938-74). However, far from being just clones of the latter, they have something distinctly different to say!

Incidentally, the composer's Russian residency has lead to confusion over the English spelling of his name, which transliterated from the Cyrillic alphabet becomes "Moisey Vainberg," or even "Vaynberg." Consequently, it's advisable to try these variants in addition to "Weinberg" when searching for his music online.

His first quartet was written in 1937 when he was a student at the Warsaw Conservatory (now The Fryderyk Chopin University of Music). But he wasn't satisfied with it as evidenced by an original manuscript so marked up as to be beyond reconstruction. And by 1985 he’d thoroughly revised it, giving us what’s here. Accordingly it’s a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing with an early adventurousness wrapped in a later more sophisticated style.

The first of its three movements is an angst-ridden sonata form allegro, which is highly chromatic. And as the informative album notes point out, it may remind you of Karol Szymanowski's (1882-1937) two impressionistically tinted efforts in this genre (1917 and 1927, see the newsletter of 18 February 2009). Then the mutes go on all four instruments for the phantasmal andante that’s like some bird gliding on chromatic air currents in search of a tonal resting place.

The concluding allegro begins energetically, anticipating the last two movements of Shostakovich's first quartet (1938). Initially it provides that bird with a C major perch, but ends in tonal limbo with some bold pizzicato and four barely audible, bowed chords. Despite later refinements, the claws of youthful genius still show through in this reconstituted version.

Next we have the third quartet of 1944, which is in three contiguous movements, and structurally more sophisticated than number one. The arresting initial presto is rhythmically aggressive, tonally peripatetic and has several terse motifs that compete with one another. But there's no apparent winner among the latter as the movement ends in similar fashion to the closing measures of the first quartet.

It's followed almost immediately by a dark andante with morose outer sections bracketing a more lyrical inner one, and then a final allegretto. The latter is a gossamer creation that’s a theme with textural and temporal transformations. The last of these becomes increasingly disembodied as the music sublimes into nothingness.

It leaves one wondering whether this quartet was in ways a psychological response to the horrors of war. Incidentally, he would later rework it into his second chamber symphony for strings and timpani of 1987.

Completed in 1964, Weinberg's tenth quartet is in four connected, alternately slow and fast movements. The first is an ominous adagio that begins with a jagged anguished motif (JA). Some fleeting pizzicato notes on the cello, which are more percussive than tonal [track-7, 02:10-19], follow. Could they be fate knocking on the composer's door?

The movement ends with a cello pedal point (CPP) that also serves to introduce the following allegro [track-8]. It’s an airy haunted scherzo, where all four instruments remain muted, and after a brief pause goes right into a second adagio [track-9]. Here the listener is jolted back to reality with forte chords that stab at an agonized remembrance of JA. They slowly dissipate into another CPP that leads directly into the final allegretto [track-10].

This takes the form of a spooky waltz, where one can imagine vaporous apparitions floating about in Ghostbusters (1984) fashion. The movement then ends much like the opening one, bringing the quartet to an ectoplasmatic conclusion. Try playing this on Halloween with the lights out!

As an encore the disc ends with two short works for quartet. Capriccio from 1943 finds the composer in a whimsical mood, and might best be described as a waltz fantastique. The mutes go on once more for Aria of 1942, which is a moving autumnal offering with a nostalgic melody undulating over a burnt sienna accompaniment. Hearing it one wonders if Weinberg knew Samuel Barber's (1910-1981) Adagio for Strings (1938), which began life as the second movement of his one and only string quartet (1936).

The Danel Quartet is one of today's finest specializing in outstanding lesser known repertoire, which has included works by Ernst Toch (1887-1964, see the newsletter of 20 May 2006) and Ahmed Adnan Saygun (1907-1991). But Weinberg's quartets have become a specialty as evidenced by their committed, stirring performances of this Polish expatriate’s music for CPO (see also 777313, 777392, 777393 and 777393). Bring on the remaining three!

Involving the same personnel and studio as the previous volume, the recordings are superb and project a modest soundstage. There's just enough reverberation to allow the music comfortable breathing space without masking any of its subtle detail, particularly in those muted passages. CPO has again faithfully captured the Danel’s exceptionally rich ensemble sound, making this a CD that should appeal to modern music lovers and audiophiles alike.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y111021)