31 MAY 2015


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.
Dubois, T.: Syms 1 & 2, Pno Qt, Pno Son, Messe…, 6 Voc Pcs; Soloists/Vrs Cndctrs & Os [Edic Sing (CD-Bk)]
Mainly remembered for his Good Friday oratorio Les sept paroles du Christ (The Seven Last Words of Christ, 1867), French composer Théodore Dubois (1837-1924, see the newsletter of 19 December 2011) wrote a number of other significant works. Several of them ranging from symphonic to chamber and vocal selections appear on this new music-book release from Ediciones Singulaires. Except for the piano quartet, as presented here these are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.

Dubois' background was extraordinary as he was at one time César Franck's (1822-1890) assistant (1854-1868), then Saint-Saëns' (1835-1921) successor as organist at the church of La Madeleine (1877-1896), and eventually director of the Paris Conservatory (1896-1905). An active composer throughout this period, the album begins with the second of his three symphonies.

Completed in 1912 it's in four movements, the first being an allegro [D-1, T-1] that starts off with a buzzing motif resembling the opening of Mussorgsky's (1839-1881) Night on Bare Mountain (1866). Sinister snapping (SS) and heroic ideas follow, are explored, and succeeded by two romantic melodies (TR). Then all of the foregoing undergo an intricate development reminiscent of Saint-Saëns. This leads to a lovely TR-introduced recap and SS-based coda, ending the movement dramatically with reminders of the opening measures.

The adagio [D-1, T-2] has warm graceful outer sections, surrounding a short triumphant episode, while the scherzo [D-1, T-3] is of a sunny Latin temperament. The latter would seem to reflect the composer's love of Italy, which he often visited after spending a year there when he won the Grand prix de Rome in 1861.

A Gallic-tinted combination of Schumann (1810-1856) and Brahms (1833-1897), the final allegro [D-1, T-4] is a seething thematic volcano that erupts in a couple of memorable ideas. There are also recollections of past motifs adding a Franckian cyclic touch, and then the symphony concludes in an exultant peroration.

The closing selection on the first disc is Dubois' three-movement piano sonata (c. 1908), which opens with a sonata form allegro [D-1, T-5]. The initial subject is a vivacious angular Schumanesque thought, while the second recalls Chopin's (1810-1849) more melancholic melodies. A harmonically colorful development terminates in an emotional recap and coda that end the movement dramatically.

There's a restful, nocturnal feel to the andante's [D-1, T-6] moving lyrical outer sections. They embrace a briefly agitated episode, and set the mood for the subdued opening of the finale [D-1, T-7]. This soon becomes excited with the introduction of some attractive themes. These are deftly manipulated in alternately pensive and virtuosically distraught passages that end the sonata suddenly.

We get a sampling of Dubois' sacred vocal music on the second disc, beginning with his Messe pontificale published in 1895. It's a revision of his Messe solennelle that he started in 1862 while in Rome (see above), and conforms to the traditional structure of the Catholic Mass.

The version done here, which is a modern transcription from the piano reduction, calls for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone, chorus, twelve-piece orchestra and organ. The melodious opening "Kyrie" [D-2, T-1] is followed by a moving "Gloria" [D-2, T-2], which at times recalls Verdi (1813-1901). It has delicate organ-ornamented passages, as well as dramatic moments for the soloists and chorus that include an immaculate short fugue.

A sense of conviction fills the captivating "Credo" [D-2, T-3], where there's an arresting interplay between soloists, chorus and orchestra. The brief "Sanctus'' [D-2, T-4], which begins with the same three-note riff as the previous section, is for the most part a choral glorification. After a brief pause it transitions via hushed organ chords into a lovely rendition of the Eucharistic hymn "O salutaris Hostia" ("O Saving Host") [D-2, T-5].

Rooted in Palestrina (1525-1594), it's a moving moment of reflection before the final "Agnus Dei" [D-2, T-6]. This ends the Mass in a lovely interplay between soloists and chorus, implying the promise of divine absolution.

Dubois wrote more than a hundred motets, and six of his finest (no dates given) conclude this disc. The first two are a setting of Panis angelicus (Bread of Angels) [D-2, T-7] and another O salutaris... [D-2, T-8] (see above), both scored for mezzo, chorus, and a small instrumental ensemble with organ.

The former is a seraphic piece that may bring to mind Franck's ever popular one (1872). And the other, a curiosity as this time around it's set to the opening melody of the slow movement from Beethoven's (1770-1827) second symphony (1801-2)!

Then there's Ave verum corpus (Hail, True Body) [D-2, T-9] for mezzo with organ, which like the previous motet takes its cue from an older classic, i.e., Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's (1756-1791) K 618 of 1791. After that the disc concludes with two transcendent Ave Marias (Hail Marys) [D-2, T-10 and 12] framing yet another, compelling O salutaris... [D-2, T-11], all for chorus and organ.

The third CD introduces us to Théodore's Symphonie française (No. 1, 1908), which is in the usual four movements. The first [D-3, T-1] begins forebodingly like Franck's sole effort in the genre, and after a brief pause there's an animated section with a couple of more optimistic subjects. These are enthusiastically explored, and recapped with driving reminders of the opening measures, ending the movement anxiously.

A lovely oboe solo followed by demure strings introduces the main theme of the andantino [D-3, T-2]. A French ditty (FD) popular in the composer's day, it's subjected to a series of inventive variations. These range from pastoral to triumphant with the last a delicate celesta-sequined variant that ends the movement spiraling heavenwards.

The first few notes of FD serve as a bridge into the scherzo [D-3, T-3], which is a mischievous folksy romp with a singing, FD-related central trio. Some dramatic percussion-enhanced brass pronouncements bring the movement to an exciting conclusion anticipating the jubilant final allegro [D-3, T-4].

It begins with a blusterous heroic idea succeeded by a winsome expansive theme. They're subjected to a stormy development followed by a manic recap-coda with hints of "La Marseillaise" [04:04] (see the newsletter of 6 July 2011). This brings the symphony to a jubilant somewhat nationalistic conclusion.

A sampling of the composer's chamber music fills out this album, namely his one and only piano quartet of 1907. Having told you about it some years ago (see 30 October 2007), we'll only hit the high points of this four-movement work. Generally speaking it's a masterfully constructed piece where Dubois espouses the cyclic form he learned during his years with Franck.

The initial allegro [D-3, T-5] is a sonata form chef-d'oeuvre with a couple of highly memorable subjects. In their development the composer shows his preference for harmonic rather than contrapuntal devices.

There's an undulating classic simplicity about the andante [D-3, T-6] that makes it one of Dubois' most affecting creations. Then the work closes with a fleeting featherlight scherzo [D-3, T-7], and an antsy allegro [D-3, T-8], where the main motifs come home to roost in cyclic fashion.

The Giardini Quartet gives an impassioned account of this, which many may find preferable to the version mentioned above. The performances of the symphonies by Les Siècles under François-Xavier Roth (No. 1), and the Brussels Philharmonic (BP) conducted by Hervé Niquet (No. 2) are equally fervent.

As for the vocal selections soprano Chantal Santon, mezzo-sopranos Jennifer Boghi (Messe...) and Marie Kalinine (first three motets), along with tenor Mathias Vidal and baritone Alain Buet are in fine voice. They receive splendid support from the Flemish Radio Choir and members of the BP with organist François Saint-Yves, all under maestro Niquet. Last but not least, pianist Romain Descharmes delivers a stunning rendition of the sonata.

Made in 2012 and 2014 at a number of locations in Belgium and Italy (see the album notes for details), the recordings sound surprisingly compatible. Generally speaking they present suitably sized soundstages in affable surroundings with the various soloists, choruses and orchestras well-balanced against one another. While the vocalists and pianist are convincingly captured, there is some digital edginess in denser choral and orchestral passages.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P150531)


The album cover may not always appear.
Farkas, F.: Orch Wks V3 (Old..., Piccola…, Ob Conc, Ricordanze, Aria e…, etc); Soloists/FrLiszt ChO [Toccata]
Those readers who loved Toccata Classics' previous two volumes of Hungarian composer Ferenc Farkas' (1905-2000) music (see 8 September 2014) will probably want this third installment. However, be advised he was one of those composers who loved to rearrange his previous creations. Consequently you may already own works of his having much in common with what's here. That said, three of the eight selections as presented on this release are first recordings indicated by "FR" after their titles.

As we told you before, Ferenc studied between 1929 and 1931 with Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936), who had a penchant for putting old wine in new bottles as exemplified by his Ancient Airs and Dances for orchestra (1917-32) after 16th, 17th and 18th century lute pieces. In like manner several of the pieces on the previous Farkas releases as well as this one are similarly oriented.

It begins with seven Old Hungarian Dances in a 2014 arrangement for oboe and strings (FR) of an earlier version for flute (1990). Based on material from 17th and 18th century manuscripts, they're alternately fast [T-1, 3, 5 & 7] and slow [T-2, 4, & 6]. Highlights include a sprightly Respighiesque "Intrada" [T-1], stately "Dance of the Prince of Transylvania" [T-4], and frantic Russian-sounding "Leaping Dance" [T-7]. Some of the tunes are the same as those in Choreae Hungaricae (Hungarian Dances, 1961) on the previous album (see 8 September 2014).

Musica Serena (Cheerful Music) for string orchestra (1982; FR) follows. It's a delightful three-movement work that's a modern day take on the divertimenti of Mozart's (1756-1791) day. A chugging allegro [T-8] is succeeded by a wistful andante [T-9] and a skittish finale [T-10].

The next selection seems a makeweight in that it's another version of Maschere (Masks, 1983), which appeared on the first album (see 8 September 2014). Here we get the original for oboe, clarinet and bassoon composed the same year [T-11 through 15]. Their contents are identical, and you're referred to the earlier write-up for details about the music.

Piccola musica di concerto (Small Music Concert, 1961) is an expansion for string orchestra of the composer's string quartet titled Quartetto semplice (Simple Quartet; 1961; currently unavailable on disc). Modelled after Haydn's (1732-1809) quartets (1762-1803), it's in four movements, the first two being a fleet allegro [T-16] and yearning andante [T-17]. They're succeeded by a cocky scherzo [T-18] having a central episode with some perky pizzicato. Then the work ends in a fetching folksy allegro [T-19].

Next dating from 1983 we have the fourth of his five concertinos (see 8 September 2014), this one for oboe and strings. In three movements the opening allegro [T-20] has a piquancy recalling early Martinu (see 20 June 2013). The middle andante marked "Chorale varié" [T-21] is a theme and variations, whose main subject is hymnlike [00:00].

The four following transformations are sequentially angular [00:56], serpentine [01:34], somber [02:28] and pious [03:29]. Then the concertino concludes abruptly in an allegro [T-21] that's a quirky rondo ending in a madcap cadenza [01:30-02:29],

Music for Zánka scored for string orchestra (1986; FR) [T-23 through 25] is closely related to Musica Serena above. While their thematic material is different, both have three movements that are very similar in spirit.

The program continues with Ricordanze (1984) [T-26] for clarinet or cor anglais (English horn), which is the instrument of choice here, and string trio. In a single span it begins with a theme closely related to the one opening the andante of the preceding concertino The most progressive selection here, it's a chromatic rumination in which slow morose passages alternate with fast snappish ones.

The disc closes with another Farkas retread, a second arrangement of Aria e rondo all'ungherese (Hungarian Aria and Rondo; 1994), which appeared on the previous album (see 8 September 2014). Written the same year, this time around it's for oboe, violin and string orchestra with a total time of 07:42, not 05:42 as indicated in the album notes..

Based on anonymous 18th century tunes, the aria [T-27] features a winsome flowing melody, while the rondo [T-28] opens with a ponderous motif (PM) worthy of Liszt (1811-1886). Then the oboe and violin trip the light fantastic around PM, ending the piece and this disc in high spirits.

Our oboe and cor anglais (English horn) soloist Lajos Lencsés tempers his virtuosity with a sensitivity giving added zest to music that could be quite ordinary in lesser hands. The same goes for clarinetist Lajos Rozman and bassoonist Andrea Horváth in Maschere. Violinists Emily Körner and János Rolla, as well as violist Andra Darzina and cellist Zoltán Paulich are equally commendable in the last two selections.

The Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra under their artistic director János Rolla (see above) provide the soloists with superb support. In the pieces solely for string orchestra, they generate a lush ensemble sound making their insightful performances all the more impressive.

Made last year at the Italian Institute of Culture in Budapest, these recordings like those on the second volume (see 8 September 2014) are excellent. They present a wide soundstage in a warm acoustic with the solo instruments well captured and balanced. The overall instrumental timbre is characterized by bright highs, a natural midrange, and a clean low end with none of that hangover frequently found on string orchestra recordings.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y150530)


The album cover may not always appear.
Harbison: Great Gatsby Ste, Darkbloom..., Closer… (4 songs w orch); Mackenzie/Miller/Albany SO [Albany]
Boston-based American composer John Harbison (b. 1938) returns to CLOFO (see 15 April 2008) with this recent release from Albany Records. These are the only recordings of the three selections here currently available on disc.

In 1999 the composer was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera (Met) to write something honoring music director James Levine's twenty-five years with the company. Taking as his subject F. Scott Fitzgerald's (1896-1940) ever popular 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, and acting as his own librettist, Harbison accordingly produced a music drama by the same name (not on disc at this time).

It premiered late that year to mixed reviews, one of which criticized it as "unmemorable' from the vocal standpoint. But it praised the orchestral writing, and rightfully so if the Great Gatsby Suite that begins this disc is any indication of what Met audiences heard back then.

In 2007 Harbison came up with this two-movement, brilliantly scored, symphonic compendium, and it perfectly captures the flapper spirit of the "Roaring 20s" (see 23 February 2015). The opening section [T-1] gets off to a jazzy Gershwin (1898-1937) start. This quickly shifts into "Charleston" high gear with several catchy dance numbers. Then the music turns somewhat apprehensive, ending the movement equivocally.

The next one has a metronome designation of 80 quarter note beats per minute, and is marked "frenetico" [T-2]. After a couple of sweeping phrases, the dance marathon continues with more of those 20-30s tunes à la Harbison made all the more authentic by the presence of banjo, wooden blocks, piano, tuba, saxophone and bass drum.

An anguished development with weeping strings follows. It leads to a tragic central episode with some arresting sonic effects that include an old car horn, and what sound like tuned brake drums. This suddenly ends [11:32], and shimmering strings introduce a restrained epilogue having some lovely wind solos to conclude the suite wistfully.

The year 1999 also saw the composer start work on an operatic version of Vladimir Nabakov's (1899-1977) controversial novel Lolita (1955). However, he had to abandon it when the Boston area was rocked with reported incidents of child abuse by clergy members.

But why throw the baby out with the bathwater, and Harbison distilled orchestral highlights from it into the next selection titled Darkbloom: Overture for an imagined opera (2004) [T-3]. Incidentally there's a secondary character in the story called Vivian Darkbloom, whose name is an anagram of the author's.

The piece opens with a halting, one might even say guilt-ridden, thematic nexus (TN) associated with the male protagonist [00:01]. It's followed by a slightly seductive idea (SS) representing the young female lead [00:45]. SS is extended, and suddenly interrupted by a rapacious outburst [02:21] followed by reminders of the opening measures.

These segue into an imaginative musical representation of a tennis game [03:32], which we're told is between two young women. The ball whizzes back and forth to glissando string passages, while the woodwinds imitate their laughter. Then the match ends with the return of TN [04:20].

TN is briefly elaborated and followed by SS [05:12], which diminishes in intensity, only to be ravished once again by another forte attack [06:12]. This time around there's even an irreverent Bronx cheer delivered by the brass [06:25]. Then the music quickly fades as twittering winds, piano and triangle conclude the overture enigmatically.

Apparently Canadian author Alice Munro (b. 1931) is John's favorite writer. Upon rereading her book The View from Castle Rock (2006), he was inspired to create a song cycle for soprano and orchestra in four connected parts, each based on a short story therein. Their texts (see the album notes) are reflective summarizations by the composer, and appear with the author's permission.

In her forward Munro says these are unlike her fictional stories, and while not memoirs, "closer to my own life." Accordingly Harbison calls his piece "Closer to My Life" (2011), and it begins with "Home" [T-4]. Ascending opening phrases suggest the flight of stairs referred to in the text. Then highly chromatic passages and mooing horns accompany the remainder of the paragraph telling about the death of the family cow.

The song ends with wintry references, and a chilling orchestral bridge into "Lying under the apple tree" [T-5]. The subject here is passion with sadomasochistic elements experienced through books rather than in reality. The music seems to create a feeling of unrequited love, and transitions via some vocalizing into the next "What do you want to know for?" [T-6].

This is taken from a story with breast cancer associations, and along with Harbison's music would seem to address the transitory nature of human existence. It ends dramatically and shifts via intense string passages into the final "Messenger" [T-7].

Here the mood brightens as the lines recall fond memories set to an accompaniment that brings Aaron Copland's (1900-1990) music to mind. The song ends nostalgically with a reference to the sound heard when you put a large seashell up to your ear.

Soprano Mary Mackenzie is in fine voice for these, and receives superb support from conductor David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony Orchestra (ASO). The latter deliver spectacular performances of the two orchestral works with the ASO transforming itself into a 1920-30s musical hall orchestra for those dance numbers. You'll love it!

Made on two occasions at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's EMPAC Concert Hall, Troy, New York, the recordings are superb. The soundstage is perfectly proportioned in a terrific venue where Ms. Mackenzie's voice is realistically captured and balanced against the orchestra. With scoring that includes many colorful, rarely heard dance band instruments the orchestral timbre is totally natural. It's characterized by bright clear highs, a pleasing midrange, and good bass with a hint of boom.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y150529)


The album cover may not always appear.
Loeffler: Divert Espagnol (sax), Villanelle…, Nuit de… (vn), Divert (vn); Soloists/Wildner/BBCCon O {Dutton]
Charles Martin Loeffler (1861-1935) was born in Berlin. But he turned against Germany at the age of twelve when his father got in trouble with the political authorities, and was put in prison where he died of a stroke. He subsequently claimed his birthplace was Mulhouse, Alsace, France, where he'd lived in his youth when the family moved to several locations. These also included Ukraine, Hungary and Switzerland.

Having decided on becoming a violinist, Charles returned to Berlin studying with Friederich Kiel (1821-1885, see 27 February 2008), Woldemar Bargiel (1828-1897, see 9 April 2014), and Joseph Joachim (1831-1907). Then it was on to Paris, where he took courses in composition, and finally emigrated to the United States in 1881.

There he joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), eventually becoming its assistant concertmaster, a post he held for over twenty years. All the while he was an active composer whose style reflected European traditions -- French in particular -- rather than the new American sound beginning to come from some of his U.S. contemporaries (see 18 April 2006, 28 February 2010, and 8 February 2012).

This Dutton disc gives us recordings of four works written during his time with the BSO. Three of them are the only recordings currently available on disc, and marked "OCAR" after their titles.

We introduced you to the first selection, Divertissement Espagnol for saxophone and orchestra (1900) [T-1], some years back (see 28 March 2007). And it's good to have another rendition as many will find this a more vivacious one.

A kind of tapas of tunes, it's a significant addition to the limited body of romantic sax literature. The work ends in thrilling fashion with a magnificent finale [07:34], which may remind you of the "Grand March" from Bellini's (1801-1835) Norma (1831).

Next there's the symphonic fantasy La villanelle du diable (The Devil's Round) for orchestra and organ of 1901 (OCAR). Premiered by the BSO the following year, it was inspired by French poet Maurice Rollinat's (1846-1903) eponymous poem. Generally falling into two sections, the first [T-2] is a scherzo that's a satanic concoction with melodic fragments from the French Revolutionary song La Carmagnole (1792) [01:22]. There are also allusions to the Dies Irae (DI) [01:55], which figures heavily in the last selection on this CD (see below).

Here flashes of lightning, devilish whistles and rumbling thunder erupt into a brief waltz of damnation, succeeded by a diabolical development of the foregoing thematic material. The latter gradually subsides as Hell's fires abate, and we get the concluding section [T-3].

This begins in a Lutheran hymnlike passage with organ accompaniment, and the clock striking midnight. But Lucifer is always on the prowl, and once again runs amuck to bits of DI [02:15] in a passage that reaches a thrilling climax. It then fades into an arresting lyrical, DI-tinged epilogue [03:12], which ends the fantasy peremptorily.

Undoubtedly inspired by his years in Russia, 1891 saw Loeffler write a suite entitled Veillees de l'Ukraine (Evenings in the Ukraine, currently unavailable on disc) inspired by Gogol's (1809-1852) short story collections Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka (1831-2). Each of its four movements can be played as an independent piece, and the third "Une Nuite du Mai" ("May Night") for violin and orchestra (OCAR) is next [T-4].

The composer referred to it as a rhapsody. And a lovely one it is with references to several alluring Ukrainian folk melodies that may bring Rimsky Korsakov's (1844-1908) homonymous opera (1878-9) to mind.

Lasting a little over fifteen minutes, the work adheres to a slow-fast-slow schema. It opens with horn calls succeeded by a winsome folk idea (WF) for the violin [01:05], and another on the oboe. Then both undergo an exploration that ends in a brief cadenza for the soloist.

It bridges into an animated dancelike episode [06:06] with some fiddle fireworks, and leads to a forceful restatement of WF that turns suddenly pensive. Then the music takes on a celestial aura, and a lovely reverie follows. This becomes intensely dramatic, and atrophies into a restrained closing episode that concludes the piece with wistful memories of WF.

Loeffler's three-movement Divertissement in A minor for violin and orchestra of 1894 (OCAR) closes out this extraordinary disc of discovery. A demanding full-scale, half-hour concerto in all but name, its level of difficulty scared away even the most accomplished soloists of the day. Accordingly it pretty much became an exclusive showpiece for the composer.

The opening allegro marked "Préambule" [T-5] begins with an animated episode featuring baroque-sounding flurries of notes for the soloist against a somber orchestral accompaniment. There's also a whiff of a romantic singing tune (RS) [00:55-01:24], which soon becomes the subject of a lovely succeeding slow passage. This builds dramatically to a climax that gives way to additional antsy fiddling, and another RS-based amorous outburst that ends the movement dramatically.

An andante "Eclogue" is next [T-6]. Here the violin serenades us with a lovely swaying melody set to a delicately spiced string and wind accompaniment. This finds Loeffler at his most charming, and leaves one wondering why he's not better known today.

Almost as long as the first two movements end to end, the final moderato subtitled "Carnaval des morts' ("Carnaval of the Dead") [T-7] is a diabolical dance of death. The composer tells us it's in memory of Liszt (1811-1886), whose Totentanz (1849-59) will come to mind along with the last movement of Berlioz' (1803-1869) Symphonie fantastique (1830) and Saint-Saëns' (1835-1921) Danse macabre (1874, see 31 July 2012)

After a deafening shriek from the orchestra the brass intones the DI (see La villanelle du diable above), which the soloist then plays with Satanic intonational abandon [00:22]. It's the subject for a series of clever variations that fill out the movement. At first commanding, they become melancholy [03:52-07-09], and bridge into a fiendish fugato [07:30] that gives way to a killer cadenza.

The tutti then return with a triumphant major scale version of DI along the lines of Brahms (1833-1997) [09:04]. It's followed by a manic-depressive sequence [09:58] where the soloist soars skywards only to vanish, ending the work summarily. As far as romantic pieces exploiting the DI are concerned, this ranks with the best.

Violinist Lorraine McAslan, who's no stranger to these pages (see the newsletter of 23 July 2010), gives us authoritative, enthusiastic performances of the two little known violin works. Saxophonist Amy Dickson delivers an equally superb account of the Divertissement Espagnol. Both soloists receive outstanding support from the BBC Concert Orchestra under Johannes Wildner, whose Mephistophelian rendition of La villanelle du diable would certainly have delighted the composer.

Made at famed Abbey Road Studio One in London, which is one of the world's largest recording venues, the recordings are okay. They project a wide, somewhat distant soundstage in vast surroundings where the engineers maintain an acceptable balance between soloists and orchestra.

The overall instrumental timbre is a tad edgy in the high end, while the midrange and lows are convincing with maybe a hint of hangover in the latter. Consequently those having equalization and/or tone controls may be tempted to do a little knob-twiddling, but with music as memorable as this it's easy to forget any sonic shortcomings.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P150528)


The album cover may not always appear.
Waghalter: Mandragola (Ov, Intrmzo), New… (rcn Walker), Masaryk's…; Walker/NewRussSt SO [Naxos]
After enduring a recent string of disappointing releases, it seemed like record companies were beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel. But that's not the case with this one from Naxos, which gives us more orchestral works by Polish-born, German-trained, New York émigré Ignatz Waghalter (1881-1949, see 7 November 2012). All are world premiere recordings.

Selections from the composer's years on both sides of the Atlantic are represented, beginning with two excerpts from his early comic opera Mandragola (The Mandrake, 1914) based on Machiavelli's (1469-1527) comedy of 1518. Written and premiered in Berlin to great acclaim, we first have the "Overture" [T-1] that's a bustling tuneful opener, and then a lovely lyrical "Intermezzo" [T-2]. Both show Waghalter had a melodic gift comparable to that of Puccini (1858-1924), whom Ignaz championed in his role as a conductor.

Driven out of Germany with the rise of the Nazi Party and its anti-Semitic policies, Waghalter would spend a couple of years in what was then Czechoslovakia (1934-7). There he'd compose Masaryk's Peace March (1935) [T-13] commissioned to celebrate the long career of that country's founding father and first president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937).

In the symphonic march tradition, after a curt introductory phrase [00:01] we get a chipper theme (CT) [00:05] and glowing countersubject (GS) [01:28]. They're followed by a central section with a stately tune (ST) [03:08] and martial melody (MM) [04:30] that are briefly developed. Then CT [06:48], GS [07:29], ST [08:22] and MM [09:03] reappear one after another with the march closing in a thrilling coda that's a big tune amalgam of ST and CT [09:30].

Back in 1924-5 Waghalter spent time in America as musical director of The New York State Symphony (NYSS), and with the further spread of the Swastika over Eastern Europe, he and his family sailed for "The Big Apple" in 1937. He'd make the U.S. his home for the rest of his life, and probably because of the anti-semitism he'd experienced abroad, become highly sympathetic to the American civil rights movement. In that regard he tried unsuccessfully to form an ensemble of Afro-American musicians that would have been known as the "American Negro Orchestra".

Not long after his arrival in New York he wrote the New World Suite (1939), which was never performed, and lay forgotten for almost seventy-five years. Then in 2013 the manuscript was discovered among his papers, and reconstructed by our conductor Alexander Walker.

It's a fetching thirty-five-minute, ten-movement symphonic snapshot album that incorporates elements of ballet, jazz, vaudeville, cabaret and dance hall music. The influences of Jerome Kern (1885-1945), Irving Berlin (1888-1989, see 27 November 2009) and George Gershwin (1898-1937, see 31 March 2011), whom he'd known during his NYSS years (see above), are evident. Brilliantly scored with a colorful percussion section that includes piano, great melodies abound, once again proving what an outstanding tunesmith Waghalter was.

The opening "Intrada" [T-3] begins with a catchy hippity-hoppity, syncopated motif. This grows into an endearing melody [01:57] that's elaborated, ending the movement in most appealing fashion.

A tiny flippant "Intermezzo follows [T-4], leading to a "Hymn and Variations" [T-5]. This starts with a sighing wistful subject [00:01], which undergoes a couple of instrumental transformations. Then it emerges as a melody that's striking to say the least as the first six notes anticipate the 1940 Jerome Kern (1885-1945) and Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) song The Last Time I saw Paris. Do you suppose Waghalter played it for Kern at some point?

There's something about the "Promenade" [T-6] that would make it the perfect accompaniment for one of those blackface vaudeville acts. Then we get an "Idyll and Hornpipe" [T-7] with a bucolic beginning that turns into a strutting romp [02:11]. The latter seems distantly related to Thomas Arne's (1710-1778) tune for "Rule Britannia" from his masque Alfred (1740).

A quirky "Pastorale" [T-8] has moments that seem a cross between Victor Herbert's (1859-1924) "March of the Toys" from Babes in Toyland (1903) and Gabriel Pierné's (1863-1937) "March of the Little Tin Soldiers" in his Album pour mes petits amis (Album for My Little Friends, c. 1890). Then there's something called City Dance [T-9] with a fetching Waghalter tune (FW) [00:29] that could be out of a 1930s Busby Berkeley (1895-1976) musical.

"Vaudeville" [T-10] with its repeated piano notes conjures up images of those tap-dancing numbers done in late 1800s family acts such as "The Four Cohans" (1890s). Then the composer offsets it with a graceful, swaying "Berceuse" {T-11].

The "Finale" [T-12] has a plucky banjo-piano-accented opening with Charleston overtones (see 23 February 2015). After that FW returns [03:11] and builds in intensity to end the suite dramatically.

Here British conductor Alexander Walker continues his exploration of Waghalter's music (see 7 November 2012). This time around as on his recent invaluable Havergal Brian (1876-1972) release for Naxos (see 30 April 2015) he leads the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra. Their superb renditions of these selections once again prove Waghalter to be a significant romantic discovery.

Like the Brian disc the recordings were made in Studio 5 of the Russian State TV & Radio Company, Moscow. The scoring here is more subtle than Brian's, and the soundstage projected less robust than before, but in the same ideally resonant surroundings. The instrumental timbre is characterized by brilliant highs, a pleasing midrange, and clean bass.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P150528)


The album cover may not always appear.
Great Comedy Ovs (11 by 1 Austrian, 4 French, 4 German, 2 Italian cmpsrs); Friedel/RScotNa O [Naxos]
Here's a superb compendium of overtures from eleven comic operas. While their parent stage works are rarely performed or recorded, the selections here are overflowing with loveable melodies familiar to all. Almost eighty minutes of music offered at the Naxos bargain price make this release a real find for romantic music enthusiasts

What better way to begin than with an old chestnut, French composer Louis Ferdinand Hérold's (1791-1833, see 22 March 2012) Zampa Overture of 1831 [T-1] (complete opera currently unavailable on disc). A longstanding pops favorite, click here for a somewhat different rendition.

Then it's off to Germany for Otto Niccolai's (1810-1849) Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor (The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1849) [T-2], which begins with a lovely expansive theme familiar to most. This is succeeded by a perky tune recalling one in Weber's (1786-1826) Der Freischütz Overture (1817-21). Then there's a catchy bustling episode with another couple of great melodies, one of which everyone knows [03:47]. These are explored and the overture ends in a thrilling coda.

Sunny Italy is represented next with Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari's (1876-1948) Il segreto di Susanna (The Secret of Suzanne, 1909) [T-3]. Lasting a little over three minutes, it's a Latin cavort with four themes presented in rapid succession. Respectively naughty [00:00], folkish [00:35], whistling [01:05] and pastoral [01:14], they're agilely juggled, and the overture ends recalling its opening with a sassy "So there!" Suzanne's secret -- she smokes!

Returning to France, we get Ambroise Thomas' (1811-1896) Mignon (1866) [T-4]. A blissful introduction having some delicate clarinet, flute and harp solos is succeeded by a couple of attractive melodies for horn and strings respectively. Then there's a well-known jaunty balletic episode [03:56] that concludes it with whirls and twirls.

The program continues with a goody from Austrian composer Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek (1860-1945, see 6 October 2014). It's the overture to his Donna Diana (1889-1908) [T-5], which provided the signature tune for the U.S. radio-television series familiar to most as Sergeant Preston of the Yukon (1938-58). In classic sonata form, it's as thrilling today as it ever was.

Our next stop is Germany for Friederich von Flotow's (1812-1883) Martha (1847) [T-6]. A pensive opening is succeeded by one of those melodies everyone's heard but can't name [01:47]. The accompaniment to "Lionel's Prayer" (LP) in the opera, it's followed here by a couple of spirited themes. These are explored with LP making a final big tune appearance to end the overture triumphantly.

Then it's back to France for another chestnut, this time from Daniel-François-Esprit Auber's (1782-1871) Fra Diavolo (1830). Some may recall this was the subject of that zany Laurel and Hardy film The Devil's Brother (1933). The overture [T-7] has some of the opera's best tunes, which have never lost any of their appeal.

It starts with a snare drum tattoo, and a playful episode based on an impish theme (IP) where it's easy to imagine Stan Laurel's silly grin. This is followed by churning strings and a trumpet call heralding some bellicose outbursts. These are interspersed with more antic melodies, the last of which leads to a thrilling conclusion.

The subsequent selection is German composer Albert Lortzing's (1801-1851) Zar und Zimmermann (Tsar and Carpenter, 1837) [T-8], which begins with a rustic, forte-chord-accented passage. A couple of folksy themes then appear, and are cleverly intertwined, ending the overture forcefully.

Going back a few years, we return to Italy for Domenico Cimarosa's (1749-1801, see 30 January 2008) Il matrimonio segreto (The Secret Marriage, 1792) [T-9]. The three opening ff chords bring to mind Mozart's (1756-1791) overture to Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute, 1791; see 29 October 2010). After that it's all fun and games in this rollicking selection.

Best known for the ballet classic Giselle (1841) French composer Adolphe Adam (1803-1856) also turned out thirty-six opéras comiques. His Si j'étais roi (If I were King, 1852; complete opera currently unavailable on disc) is next. Colorfully scored it abounds in merry melodies that will be familiar to most.

Last but not least there's German composer Peter Cornelius' (1824-1874) Der Barbier von Bagdad (The Barber of Bagdad, 1858). Unfortunately the composer died before he could orchestrate an extended version of the overture. So what we have here is conductor Felix Mottl's (1856-1911) arrangement of it.

With a libretto by Cornelius based on a story from The Arabian Nights, it's a bustling piece with attractive themes. By far the least familiar selection on this disc, many will be glad to make its acquaintance.

American Conductor Lance Friedel's dynamic shading, rhythmic precision and melodic phrasing make these perennials bloom anew. He seems to have instilled the Royal Scottish National Orchestra's (RSNO) members with a joie de vivre for this music that leaves you feeling everyone had a good time making this CD.

Done at the RSNO Center, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, which we've noted before as a lively acoustic (see 13 January 2014), the recordings accordingly project a capacious soundstage. The overall instrumental timbre is clear with a somewhat brittle high end, pleasing midrange, and transient bass. Those with systems that go down to rock bottom will detect occasional rumblings probably due to outside traffic.

One last comment, the jewel case version of this disc wouldn't even index on an older machine, but presented no problem for a couple of newer ones. Consequently if you know someone who has it, you may want to try their copy before getting your own. Short of that you can always download or stream it.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P150526)