14 MAY 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.
Austin, F.: Sym in E, "Sea..." Ov, "Spring" Rhap, "Richard II" Ov; Bostock/Corp/Various Os [Dutton]
We're happy to welcome British composer Frederic Austin (1872-1952) to these pages with this recent magnificent release of his orchestral music from those enterprising folks at Dutton. A man of many talents who began as an organist, he would pursue a teaching career during the first and last years of his life.

In between these academic stints he would take up singing, and became one of the foremost baritones of his time! He had a vast repertoire with Wagner's (1813-1883) operas one of his specialties, and would go on to introduce many new English vocal works, including Delius' (1862-1934) Sea Drift (1903-04).

In addition to all this he found time to write a significant number of works, four of which are included here. They fall into the category of rarely performed late-romantic English symphonic music once again deserving to see the light of day. Austin’s love of big orchestras is apparent in all, which have an instrumental opulence equal to that found in the music of his good friend Arnold Bax (1883-1956).

The program begins with an overture subtitled The Sea Venturers from 1934, which is meant to honor British seamen. The tempestuous opening complete with lightning and thunder is followed by a "Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage" episode, whose main attraction is a gorgeous groundswell theme (GG) [track-1, beginning at 02:13]. The music then becomes agitated once again with GG eventually returning as the big tune ushering in the thrilling final coda.

The rhapsody Spring from 1907 comes next in its revised version of 1939. Although it has no ostensible program, it's a knockout English pastoral tone poem in which it's easy to envision dancing peasants and gentle vernal breezes caressing flower-filled meadows. Hearing it, you'll understand why Austin's good friend Cyril Scott (1879-1970, see the newsletter of 28 February 2010) praised it to the skies.

The world premiere recording of an overture made of sterner stuff follows. Entitled Richard II and dating from 1900, this was the composer's first orchestral effort, and a very impressive one at that! Granted the influences of Wagner and Richard Strauss (1864-1949) -- whose operas he'd sung in -- are evident, but there's a transparency and structural finesse that's all Austin.

A dramatic opening portending King Richard's untimely demise is followed by an alternately subdued and agitated midsection, which suggests political intrigues and armed conflicts. The overture then ends tragically, presumably connoting Richard's death in prison, which was according to some accounts from starvation.

The CD closes with the composer's one and only symphony in E major dating from 1913. Austin casts it in four connected movements, which together last about half an hour, and have characteristics in common with Richard Strauss' longer tone poems. Moreover the thematic material introduced in the first movement is developed throughout the next two, and recapped in the last.

The first movement [track-4] has a mysterious opening in which thematic motifs with occasional whiffs of Elgar (1857-1934, see the newsletter of 15 September 2007) are introduced. These are subjected to a dramatic development, ending in quiet wind and string passages that transition into the second scherzoesque movement [track-5]. Further thematic metamorphoses occur here as well as in the cojoined andante [track-6]. Those in the former are whimsical as opposed to the lyrically romantic ones which populate the latter.

The fourth and final movement [track-7] follows directly by way of an initially subdued horn and celesta-decorated passage. This builds with campanological overtones to a powerful climax that ushers in the stately conclusion based on motifs heard at the symphony's outset. The closing measures take the form of a magnificent triumphal march that ends the work in Edwardian elegance.

Except for Richard II, these selections appeared in the dim distant past on another label that's no longer readily available. So Dutton has done everyone a great service by reissuing them here! This also explains why three orchestras under two conductors are represented.

More specifically Ronald Corp (see the newsletter of 8 February 2012) directs the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in a supercharged performance of Richard II. While Douglas Bostock gives us splendid renditions of the other works, conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in The Sea Venturers as well as the symphony, and Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) Symphony Orchestra for the remaining Spring selection.

Made on four different occasions at three separate locations, the recordings are a mixed bag. The Sea Venturers and symphony were done at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in 2000 and 2001 respectively. They sound quite consistent projecting a wide deep soundstage in a reverberant acoustic. The orchestral timbre is bright at the top end, but a trifle muffled in the midrange and bass.

The RNCM Concert Hall, Manchester, was the venue for Spring. The recording made in 2001 presents an extended soundstage in slightly more reverberant surroundings. The orchestral timbre is delightfully musical, making this what many may deem the best sound here.

Richard II was done just last year in the Lighthouse Concert Hall of the Poole Arts Center in Dorset, England. It projects a spacious soundstage in a reverberant acoustic that should appeal to those liking wetter sonics. This is the best focused, most transparent sounding selection, but there are hints of upper-end digital grain in massed forte violin passages.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P120514)


The album cover may not always appear.
Brian: Orch Extracts fm 4 Operas (Tigers, Turandot, Faust & Cenci); Walker/BBCScot SO [Toccata]
Toccata Classics revival of British composer Havergal Brian's (1876-1972) orchestral music (see the newsletter of 31 August 2011) continues with this second volume. It features a collection of symphonic extracts from four of his five operas, none of which have ever been staged. While he's best remembered for his thirty-two symphonies (1919-68) -- twenty-one of them written after his eightieth birthday! -- he once referred to his operas as having "the best in me." This seems fair commentary judging from these selections, which contain some of his most individual music. All are world premiere recordings except the first.

Before proceeding any further, it should be noted that most of the commentary below is based on the superb album notes by Brian authority Malcolm MacDonald (b. 1948). Make sure you read them to fully understand and get the most enjoyment out of this music!

The program begins with a 1921-22 orchestral reworking of the opening part from the prelude to his first opera The Tigers (1917-29). Called Symphonic Variations on "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?", it's based on the 1908 British music hall song named in the title. Interestingly enough it was premiered back in 1924 by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under conductor Sir Dan Godfrey (1868-1939), whom we told you about not long ago (see the newsletter of 8 February 2012).

It's a remarkably sophisticated work in nine connected spans, which are more than just a set of simple variations. Moreover they're a series of transformations in which fragmentary bits of the original melody (FBs) are cleverly developed. Highlights include an animated introduction [track-1] followed by a statement of the tune's main refrain [track-2, beginning at 00:08], an amusing elephantine fourth variation [track-4], and an exciting finale [track-9] that’s a concretion of those FBs.

Between 1949 and 1951 Brian composed his second opera Turandot, Princess of China based on Friedrich Schiller's (1759-1805) German translation (1801) of Carlo Gozzi's (1720-1806) similarly named play (1762). In three acts it's more along the lines of Busoni's (1866-1924) Turandot (1905-17) than Puccini's (1858-1924) unfinished effort of 1924, which was later completed by Alfano (1875-1954, see the newsletter of 31 July 2009) in 1926. Curiously enough there are parallels with Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) South-Eastern fairy tale Die Frau ohne Schatten (1914-17), which Brian greatly admired (see the album notes).

In 1962-63 Brian extracted music from the opening scenes entitling it simply Three Pieces from "Turandot", which comes next. All are brilliantly orchestrated, the first being the prelude to Act I, which establishes the Chinese setting of the drama. There's something humorous about the antsy percussion-laced second with imitations of neighing horses. While the third seems like a robustious afterthought.

He turned to the first part of Goethe's (1749-1832) Faust (1806) in 1955-56 for his fourth opera. And what we have here is another orchestral excision known as Night Ride of Faust and Mephistopheles, which begins at a gallop and ends in the spooky confines of Hell.

Shelley's (1792-1822) tragedy The Cenci (1819) was the subject of Brian's third operatic undertaking (1951-52). He subsequently came up with a concert version of the overture, calling it Preludio Tragico (1952). It begins with a menacing motif representing the evil Count Cenci, and a chromatically sad idea associated with his ill-fated daughter Beatrice. These form the basis for this amazingly inventive symphonically structured prelude, which as MacDonald points out resemble Brian's ninth (1951) and tenth (1953-54, see the newsletter of 31 August 2011) symphonies.

The disc closes with a suite arranged in 1975 by MacDonald himself, drawing on music from the last two acts of Turandot.... In six sections the first is based on the festive brass and percussion accented music for the court scene at the beginning of the second act. A delicate minuet that lies somewhere between Liadov's (1855-1914) Musical Snuff Box (1883) and Ravel's (1875-1937) Menuet antique (1895) follows. Then there's the stately yet mysterious entry of Princess Turandot.

The nocturne which opens the third act is next. Unlike any other you've ever heard, it's one of those magic Brian moments, and followed in the penultimate section by some dramatic change of scenery music. MacDonald's compilation ends with a mournful march signifying Turandot's sadness over her loss of autonomy now she must marry the man who solved her riddles. Oddly enough there are moments in the suite that seem to anticipate Bernard Herrmann's (1911-1975, see the newsletter of 31 March 2011) later film scores. Do you suppose he knew Brian's music?

As on volume one (see the newsletter of 31 August 2011), the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Garry Walker play this music with a spontaneity and rambunctiousness ideally suited to the unpredictability of Brian's creations. His multifaceted orchestration gives these pieces a concerto-for-orchestra aspect where an endless variety of solo instruments are constantly popping up. Walker's adept highlighting of these, along with his sensitive dynamic shading and attention to the composer's fickle rhythms make for authoritative performances.

Also done in City Halls Concert Hall, Glasgow, this time around the recordings are superb, projecting a wide suitably deep soundstage in a nourishing acoustic. The sonics are characterized by crystal clear, occasionally bordering on brittle highs, and a rock-bottom tight bass end. The balance between the many solo instruments and groups is ideal, making this a demonstration disc that's a challenging test of your system's ability to reproduce almost any instrument in the orchestra.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y120513)


The album cover may not always appear.
Catoire, G.: Pno Conc; Sherwood, P.: Pno Conc 2; Takenouchi/Yates/ RScotNa O [Dutton]
On the basis of their names alone, those not familiar with composers Georgy Catoire (1861-1926) and Percy Sherwood (1866-1939) would probably guess their piano concertos belong to the French and English schools respectively. Not!

Georgy did indeed come from a French family, but they'd relocated to Russia by the time he was born. And at Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893, see the newsletter of 31 October 2009) urging, he studied with Liadov (1855-1914) as well as Arensky (1861-1906, see the newsletter of 16 August 2010).

As for Percy, although he had an English father, the family lived in Germany, where his mentor was Felix Draeseke (1835-1913, see the newsletter of 15 April 2009), and he would go on to teach Dora Pejacevic (1885-1923, see the newsletter of 26 October 2011. So the works on this disc are of Russian and German persuasion! Both are world premiere recordings.

As our pianist here points out in the informative album notes, Catoire's only concerto (1909) is more of a sinfonia concertante where the soloist is frequently subordinate to the orchestra. In three movements, the complex first is longer than the last two combined, and somewhat of a structural novelty.

Its emotive opening [track-1], which recalls the "Interludium" from Nikolai Medtner's (1880-1951) third piano concerto (1940-43), introduces a striking big tune (SB) in typical romantic piano concerto fashion. But then after a brief cadenza, an entirely different idea [track-2] with an uncanny resemblance to the lyrical second theme in César Franck's (1820-1890) Symphonic Variations (1885) appears. This becomes the subject of six imaginative variations that then fill out the movement.

The fleeting first of these [track-3] is followed by a dreamy second [track-4] and gorgeous lyrical third [track-5] -- Rachmaninov (1873-1943) roll over! Then we get a perky virtuosic fourth [track-6], melancholy fifth [track-7], and anguished sixth [track-8] that concludes the movement somberly. This sets the mood for the following andante [track-9], which is a chromatically delicate reverie based on a subdued variant of SB. It will grow on you with repeated listening!

The concluding allegro [track-10] opens with the orchestra playing a sparkling fragment of SB, which smacks of those explosive moments in Alexander Scriabin's (1872-1915) symphonies (1899-1910). A sophisticated development recalling more and more of SB follows, and concludes with a glorious peroration based on it. This ends the concerto in thrilling fashion, making you wonder where it’s been hiding all these years!

Next up, the second of Sherwood's two piano concertos dating from 1932-33. It's also in three movements where the first is again considerably longer than either of the others. The opening allegro begins just like most romantic piano concerto with a boisterous orchestral preview of a theme soon proclaimed in full by the piano with great bravura.

A more lyrically subdued second subject follows, and then a development characterized by all the Germanic rigor of a Beethoven (1770-1827) or Brahms (1833-1897) concerto. The movement closes with virtuosic remembrances of the previous two ideas, and a pensive piano cadenza that builds to a thrilling climactic coda for soloist and tutti.

Strings and winds dominate the lovely andante with the piano playing a supporting role, except for one brief dramatic outburst. There's an innocence and restfulness here, particularly in the closing measures, that may remind you of moments in Humperdinck's (1854-1921) Hansel and Gretel (1893).

The final allegro is a high-energy virtuosic romp with a couple of attractive themes. These recur in various clever developmental guises, where there's a lightness of touch recalling the more flirtatious passages in Saint-Saëns' (1835-1921) piano concertos (1858-1896). A final flurry of finger work and ff orchestral chords provide a jubilant ending to a rewarding concerto discovery.

Besides offering a couple of significant additions to the concerto repertoire, this new Dutton release will also introduce you to a relatively new, up-and-coming Japanese pianist, Hiroaki Takenouchi. Known for championing lesser known music, his technically accomplished, insightful renditions of these two works make it hard to understand why they've disappeared. Conductor Martin Yates and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra couldn't be more supportive of him.

Made in the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, the recordings are crystal clear projecting a moderately wide soundstage in a neutral acoustic. The piano tone is percussively rounded and on the lean side, while the orchestral timbre is pleasing, but tinged with some high-end glitter. This CD should appeal to those liking brighter sonics, but may fall short of demonstration quality for listeners preferring a more subdued sound.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P120512)


The album cover may not always appear.
Graener: Orch Wks V1 (Comedietta, Vars über..., Musik..., Sinf breve); Albert/HanNDR RP [CPO]
This is the third CD to appear in the past eighteen months devoted entirely to the music of German-born composer Paul Graener (1872-1944, see the newsletters of 6 January and 10 May 2011). A CPO release marked "Orchestral Works Vol. 1," it gives us the only currently available recordings of four additional symphonic selections with the promise of more to come.

It opens with a ten-minute symphonic sketch from 1927 called Comedietta. The name is also the word for a theatrical farce, which seems in keeping with the lightness of touch and whimsicality that characterize this brilliantly scored piece. There’s a Gallic freshness here with passages that at one point [track-1, beginning at 03:29] recall the familiar "Fauns' School" episode in Gabriel Pierné's (1863-1937) ballet Cydalise et le chèvre-pied (1923). Others may remind you of Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) 1918 incidental music for Moliere's (1622-1673) play Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670, see the newsletter of 11 July 2007).

Remember the old refrain "Yo, heave ho!"? It begins "The Song of the Volga Boatmen," which is the subject of the next offering, Variationen uber ein russisches Volkslied (Variations on a Russian Folk Song, 1926). Noted down by Mily Balakirev (1837-1910, see the newsletter of 28 October 2008) in his 1866 collection of folk songs, Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936, see the newsletter of 20 August 2009) would be the first to popularize it in his tone poem Stenka Razin (1885).

Graener's treatment of it begins with a commanding drumroll and timpani-accented statement of the main theme [track-2]. Ten inventive variations follow, the first two being respectively melancholy [track-3] and assertive [track-4]. The pastoral third [track-5] and sixth [track-8] surround a mischievous fourth [track-6] and funereal fifth [track-7].

There's a harmonic density about the expansive seventh [track-9] recalling Brahms (1833-1897), while an energetic eighth [track-10] is the most Slavic-sounding of all. A penultimate chorale-like variant [track-11] sets a reverential tone for the towering romantic finale [track-12].

The concert continues with the three-movement Musik am Abend (Music in the Evening) written between 1911 and 1914 while the composer was director of the Mozarteum University of Salzburg. Warm nocturnal breezes seem to characterize the exquisitely scored opening andantino, while solo passages for cello, oboe and clarinet invoke wistful feelings in the lovely larghetto. The work closes with a captivating allegretto where sinuous winds and strings make it easy to imagine early morning bird calls and the first rosy fingers of dawn.

His Sinfonia breve of 1932 concludes the disc. There's a neoclassical stylistic severity throughout this piece that probably reflects increasing demands by Nazi-oriented cultural authorities for composers to write conservative, purely German-based music.

In three movements the opening allegretto could pass for a modern day transcription of an as yet undiscovered J.S. Bach (1685-1750) prelude. The somber contrapuntally tinged central adagio, which is just for strings, sets the mood for the dirge-like finale. Alternately lethargic and manic, this builds to a powerful tragic climax.

You may remember Werner Andreas Albert as the conductor who introduced us to some little known works by German composer Hermann Bischoff (1868-1936, see the newsletter of 18 December 2008). And now he does the same for Paul Graener, but this time at the helm of the Hannover NDR Radio Philharmonic. One couldn't ask for better performances of music which requires restraint and an extremely delicate touch in order to blossom.

A coproduction of CPO and North German Radio (NDR), the recordings were made at NDR's large studio in Hannover, and project an appropriately wide, well focused soundstage in a warm acoustic. The balance between the many instrumental groups that appear in Graener's intricate scores is ideal. The instrumental timbre is completely musical with shimmering highs and rock solid bass. Audiophiles will find much to their liking on this release.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y120511)


The album cover may not always appear.
Kochurov: Macbeth Sym, Suvorov..., Solemn..., Heroic...; Petrova/Titov/StPeteStAcad SO [N Flowers]
Russian composer Yuri Kochurov (1907-1951) grew up in a musical family with parents who were both opera singers. A talented pianist by age fourteen, he'd go on to study at the Leningrad Conservatory, and eventually write a number of song cycles, film scores and incidental music for several plays.

His Macbeth Symphony for large orchestra (1940-48) [track-1] is drawn from music he composed for a 1940 Pushkin Academic Drama Theater production of the Shakespeare play. In a single span consisting of several connected episodes that last about thirty minutes, it's a highly programmatic tone poem much along the lines of those by Richard Strauss (1864-1949).

In the opening allegro [00:01] Macbeth is introduced by a heroic idea and then a theme of impending disaster. Both are whipped up into a Straussian frenzy that gradually subsides into an adagio [04:09], whose wily melodies characterize the scheming Lady Macbeth.

This suddenly transforms into a dramatic scherzo-like section [08:43] reflecting Macbeth's falling in with his wife's evil machinations. It presages his downfall [10:56] and brilliantly scored death scene [14:39], which are followed by a moving epilogue [19:24] where the forces of evil are vanquished. The symphony-poem then ends in a glorious piano-accented march of right over wrong [25:51] that's very much a Kochorov creation!

Three war-related selections are next, beginning with The Suvorov Overture of 1944. This is a festive remembrance of the Russian general by that name (c. 1730-1800) who never lost a battle. The album notes tell us marches and military songs of the time are worked into the score.

Solemn March (1945) is a patriotic offering commemorating the heroism and eventual triumph of Soviet forces over those of the Third Reich (1933-45). It's a worthy light-hearted follow-on to Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) Marche slave (1876) and Glazunov's March on a Russian Theme (1901).

During World War II (1939-1945) a small group of composers, including Kochurov, stayed in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) turning out patriotic songs. They were designed to build morale, and performed by touring theater companies for Soviet soldiers along the front lines.

One such number, Kochurov's Heroic Aria for mezzo-soprano and orchestra (1942, see the album notes for the lyrics in Russian and English), closes out this disc. Captivating melodies and colorful orchestration make up for the turgid text. One passage [track-5, beginning at 05:03] may bring to mind the "Dawn Over the Moscow River" introduction to Mussorgsky's (1839-1881) Khovanshchina (1872-80).

As with their previous "Wartime Music" releases for Northern Flowers, conductor Alexander Titov and the St. Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra (see the newsletter of 20 January 2012) give us totally committed, superb performances of this music. Mezzo-soprano Olesya Petrova is blessed with an exceptional voice, and delivers an impassioned rendition of the aria much in keeping with its fervid words.

Done at St. Catherine Lutheran Church, St. Petersburg, Russia in the fall of 2009, the recordings project a soundstage which suffers somewhat from "tunneling," but the reverberant acoustic adds a smoothing romantic aura to the music. The instrumental timbre is agreeable, if a bit on the metallic side. The balance between soloist and orchestra is good, but Ms. Petrova's exceptional voice would have probably been better captured with a different microphone.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P120510)


The album cover may not always appear.
Norman, Lud.: Constk (pno, w Rangström & Wiklund); Verbaite/Andersson/NLandsOp SO [Sterling]
This new release from Sterling features the only modern day recordings of some romantic rarities for piano and orchestra by three different Swedish composer-conductors, all of whom studied in Germany. Originally conceived early in their careers, they would later revise them giving us the well crafted pieces included here.

First up, a concertstück by Ludvig Norman (1831-1885) [track-1] that first saw light of day in 1850 when he was a student in Leipzig. Revised in 1875 and 1880, the composer's love of Robert Schumann (1810-1856) is preserved throughout.

It consists of a brief introductory andante with a rapturous recurring idea (RR) [00:20], followed by a fiery sonata form allegro [03:07]. The piano dominates the latter, taking a virtuosic role and offering some memorable new material. There are also reminders of RR at beginning of the development [05:30] and recapitulation [10:09]. The work concludes with a cadenza that's more an extension of the music than a piano showpiece, followed by an exciting interplay between soloist and orchestra.

The concert continues with Ture Rangström's (1884-1947) ballad [track-2], which was originally composed in 1909, but kept under wraps until he reworked it in 1937. Consequently it's really a late piece by a composer whose stylistic idiosyncrasies are as pronounced as Janácek's (1854-1928), making it the most progressive music here.

It opens with the piano playing a theme having an initial repeated six-note motif (RS). This is quite hypnotic, and the subject for a series of wide ranging variations which follow. Highlights include a mysterious transformation [05:45] with solo wind and violin passages that builds and subsides in waves. These wash up a couple of brooding variants for solo piano [10:22, 11:19], and then a spirited march with orchestra [12:40], ending in what amounts to a cadenza.

There's also a haunting variational sequence [14:16] with more of that mesmerizing Rangström ocean motion [15:55], followed by a bravura outburst for piano and orchestra [17:42]. The piece then ends atypically with additional keyboard musings [18:19], three forte orchestral chords, and the soloist reprising RS with subdued timpani support. Needless to say you'll have to hear this several times to appreciate all its subtleties.

The disc closes with another concertstück, this time by Adolf Wiklund (1879-1950) [track-3]. Composed in 1903, presumably it's his revised version of 1906 that's done here. Similar in construction to the Norman above, the slow introduction begins with an engaging panoramic theme (EP) played by the orchestra, and then the piano with much bravura [01:20]. A romantic dialogue between the two involving EP soon follows [03:54].

The music then transitions into the sonata form main body of the work, which opens with an optimistic lyrical idea (OL) on the piano [06:56]. This is taken up by the orchestra, which soon proclaims a heroic version of EP [08:31], and launches into a developmental discourse with the soloist about both themes. The work then ends in a virtuosic exchange between piano and orchestra recapping EP and OL [13:25], where there are moments [17:16] reminiscent of the first movement in Anton Bruckner's (1824-1896) Romantic Symphony (No. 4; 1874, revised 1878-80 and 1886-88).

This intriguing music is well served by an outstanding all Swedish cast. It includes pianist Maria Verbaite, who plays these demanding scores with an enthusiasm and commitment that make them significant contributions to the piano concerto canon. She receives magnificent support from conductor B. Tommy Andersson and the Norrland's Opera (NOP) Symphony Orchestra.

Done in the NOP Concert Hall, Umeå, Sweden, the recordings present a wide soundstage in a highly reverberant acoustic that makes it seem somewhat recessed. The piano is well captured, however Ms. Verbaite's sensitive performances would have sounded even better had the balance between soloist and tutti been more in her favor. The orchestral timbre is musical, but with a slight upper edge.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P120509)

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