30 JUNE 2021


The albums below are "Classical Releases Of Current Key Significance," or "CROCKS", if you will. To purchase an album, simply click on one of the web site retail outlets given in the "AVAILABILITY" table under the write-up.

The album cover may not always appear.
Di Vittorio, S.: Sinfas 3 "Templi..." & 4 "Metamorfosi", Ode..., Fanfara..., Venere..., Overtura..., etc; S.DiVittorio/NYChO [Naxos]
Composer-conductor Salvatore Di Vittorio (b. 1967) was born in Palermo, Sicily, and began music lessons with his father. He then studied composition at the Manhattan School of Music, New York City, and conducting back in Italy.

The year 2007 saw him become founding Music Director and Conductor of the Chamber Orchestra of New York. He greatly admires his compatriot Ottorino Respighi's (1879-1936) music, and has edited, scored as well as completed several of that Italian master's early orchestral works.

Our artists here have already given us an invaluable sampling of Respighi rarities (see Naxos-8572332, 8573168 & 8573901) as well as some orchestral treats by Maestro Di Vittorio (see Naxos-5872333). Now they follow up on this recent Naxos release with more of the latter, all of which are world premiere recordings. Incidentally, the informative album notes are a joint effort by the composer and musicologist, Norberto Cordisco Respighi, who's Ottorino's grandnephew.

Things get underway with Ode Corelliana for strings and harpsichord (2016) [T-1], which as its title implies, suggests Salvatore's love for the music of his baroque compatriot Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713). More specifically, it's haunted by the ghost of those outer "Adagio" ("Slow") sections in the third movement of his Christmas Concerto (Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 8; 1708-12).

The next selection, Fanfara del Mare su un Tema di Monteverdi (Sea Fanfare on a Theme by Monteverdi; 2015) [T-2], is for organ and orchestra, where the former only has a supporting role. Its opening measures [00:00] suggest gently rolling waters, blue skies and calling sea birds.

These wane into a subdued main idea (SM) [00:40] inspired by the composer's late-Renaissance countryman Claudio Monteverdi's (1567-1643) madrigal O sia tranquillo il mare (Oh How Tranquil is the Sea; c. 1638). Then SM bridges along with some carousel-like descants [beginning at 01:47] into a festive fanfare [02:43], followed by some delightful Hispanic, dance ditties [beginning at 03:00]. These bring the work to a swaggering conclusion.

Subsequently there's the beautifully scored Venus e Adonis, pavana (Venus and Adonis Pavane; 2014) [T-3]. This is a modern day version of that stately, 16th century processional dance, and brings to mind such works as Maurice Ravel's (1875-1937) Pavane pour une infante défunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess; 1899-1910). Incidentally, it makes another appearance in the concluding Sinfonia No. 4...'s second movement [T-9], where it's heard just after a striking introduction.

Moving back a year, there's Overtura Palermo (Palermo Overture; 2013) [T-4], which honors the composer's Sicilian hometown. Initially inspired by Italian painter Pietro Fabris' (1740-1792) A View of Palermo from the Sea... (1770), this is a captivating, programmatic, symphonic essay depicting several of the city's historical landmarks (see the album notes).

It has an exotic opening section titled "Panormus! New Port of the Mediterranean" [00:00] that begins with hints of Palermo's "Cathedral Bells". There are also some pentatonic thoughts suggesting the historical "La Kalsa" quarter and its long past, Carthaginian associations. Then the music swells into a proud Hispanic number (PH) [00:43-01:18], recalling those days when the Kingdom of Sicily was under Spanish rule.

After a brief pause the music transitions into a medieval French chanson melody (FC) [01:41] meant to suggest "The Norman Palace" ("Palazzo dei Normanni"). And a subsequent, merry, folkish number [02:15] takes us on a walk through the "Ballarò Market". A succeeding deific episode [02:52] limns the "Pretoria Square Fountain" with its classic statues of Apollo, Bacchus and Venus.

These fall away into a reverent theme [03:36] that represents "St. Rosalie's Cave", where the lady in question is Palermo's patron Saint Rosalia. This adjoins forceful passages [04:23] with hints of the Gregorian chant Salve Regina. They reflect the "Villa Bonanno" with its scented palm trees and restored Roman villas.

Wrapping things up, there's "Theatres Politeama and Massimo". This begins with the return of PH [05:06] and a touch of FC [05:48] that are cause for a jolly march [05:57] where the composer apparently had the celebrated Italian Army's Bersaglieri in mind. He tells us it's spiced with tunes from Bellini's (1801-1835) I Capuleti e i Montecchi (The Capulets and Montagues; 1830) as well as Verdi's (1813-1901) Falstaff (1893), which were performed when these entertainment centers first opened. Then the foregoing gives rise to an ebullient coda [07:02] that ends the work fervently.

Crossing over to the Italian mainland, there's La Villa d'Este a Tivoli ("The Villa d'Este at Tivoli; 2015) [T-5], which is a 16th century estate located some twenty miles east of Rome. Comparatively speaking, whereas Respighi's colorful, 15-minute symphonic poem Fontane di Roma (The Fountains of Rome; 1914-16) paints musical pictures of four such "waterworks", Salvatore's six-minute piece collectively reflects at least twice as many notable fountains!

According to the composer it's a free transcription loosely based on Franz Liszt's (1811-1886) piano work Les jeux d'eaux a la Villa d'Este (Fountains of the Villa d'Este, S163/4; 1877)". This is from his Années de pèlerinage, troisième année (Years of Pilgrimage, Third Year, S.163; 1867-77].

The initial "Il Giardino" ("The Garden") starts playfully [00:00], bringing to mind the Oval Fountain's veil of falling water. Then a lovely cantilena-like theme (LC) [00:38] conjures images of beautiful gardens. It transitions tenderly into a prolonged pause seemingly followed by "La Grotto di Diana" ("Diana's Grotto") [03:03]. This is a peaceful pastoral episode, where it's easy to imagine the mammiferous Fountain of Diana.

Subsequent LC-based passages [04:29] with three stately flourishes [04:33, 04:44 & 04:56] ostensibly invoke "La Fontana di Nettuno" ("Neptune's Fountain"). Then the music becomes rousing with cymbal crashes as well as brass fanfares [05:59], after which a curt, anticipatory pause and heroic coda having upward spurts of LC [06:21] end the work triumphantly.

Next, the tone-poem-like, one movement Sinfonia No. 3 "Templi di Sicilia" ("Temples of Sicily") from 2011 [T-6]. Described by the composer as a "Voyage to the ancient world...", each of its five conjoined musical impressions was inspired by one of the island's ancient temples (see the table below).

Naxos Venus [00:00] Rhythmic, flowing, fickle
Siracusa (Syracuse) Apollo [03:07] Sunny, martial, radiant
Himera Victory (Victoria) [06:07] Warm, loving
Segesta Diana [09:53] Mercurial, dramatic
Akragas (Agrigento) Concordia [11:29] Concordant, exuberant

Subsequently we get a short, laid-back number titled Sarabanda Antica (Ancient Saraband; 2018) [T-7], which is based on a binary waltz whose components are respectively pensive [00:00] and yearning [00:50]. The composer tells us this piece first appeared in his Fanfara de Mare (Sea Fanfare) of 2015 (currently unavailable on disc). It provides a brief respite before the climactic closing selection.

The Sinfonia No. 4 "Metamorfosi" ("Metamorphoses") had a five-year gestation period (2014-19), and could be considered Di Vittorio's most important effort to date. A programmatic work, it's based on Roman poet Ovid's (43 BC-17/18 AD) 15-book Metamorphoses (Transformations; 8 AD). That said, the composer was also inspired by three Italian paintings, for which each of its movements are named.

The first marked "Il Trionfo di Bacco" ("The Triumph of Bacchus") [T-8] gets its title from Italian Baroque artist Ciro Ferri's (1634-1689) eponymous picture (c. 1675). Details regarding this are provided in the succeeding table.

I. Il Trionfo di Bacco [T-8]
1 Chaos [00:00] Ominous
1 Look Toward Heaven [00:37] Expansive
2 Flight of Mercury [01:57] Mercurial
3 Narcissus Rejects Echo [03:13] Dramatic
4 Festivals for Bacchus [05:12] Festive
5 Song and Dance of the Muses [06:45] Spirited
6 Lost Fortune of Niobe [08:53] Resigned

Turning to the second [T-9], it's called "Venere e Adone" ("Venus and Adonis") after the great Venetian artist Titian's (born Tiziano Vecelli, c. 1488-1576) painting of the same name (1518-19). The introductory measures bring to mind those of Respighi's (1879-1936) symphonic poem Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome"; 1924). However, from thereon this movement is the same as that eponymous selection we told you about above [T-3]. Additional information is in the table below.

II. Venere e Adone [T-9]
7 The Golden Fleece [00:00] Effervescent
8 Ariadne Abandoned at Naxos [00:17] Distraught
9 Tears for Lotis [00:26] Yearning
10 Venus and Adonis [00:46] Melancholy
11 Sacrifices for Neptune [03:25] Invocative
12 Achilles' Heel [05:26] Ominous

The composer took inspiration from Federico Barocci's (c. 1535-1612) "Enea che Fugge da Troia" ("Aeneas Fleeing from Troy"; 1598) for the concluding third [T-10], and more particulars can be found in the following table.

III. Enea che Fugge da Troia [T-10]
13 Doves for Aeneas [00:00] Martial
13 The Seed of Rome [00:37] Optimistic
14 Aeneas in Sicily [04:21] Fulfilling
15 Rome, the Peace of the World [06:26] Triumphant

These performances by the Chamber Orchestra of New York (CONY) couldn't be more authoritative! Moreover, CONY's highly talented musicians are led by their founding music director, who wears two hats as composer and conductor. Maestro Di Vittorio elicits superb playing from these young, up-and coming artists, and a special round of applause goes to CONY's concertmaster, violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins, for her "Festive" fiddling in "Book 4" of the Sinfonia No. 4...'s first movement [T-8, 05:26-06:44].

The recordings were made over five days during June 2019 in the Performing Arts Concert Hall at Adelphi University, Garden City, New York, some 20 miles east of New York City. They consistently project a moderately wide soundstage in warm but somewhat close surroundings.

The orchestral timbre is characterized by pleasant highs, a good midrange and clean bass that goes down to rockbottom. In regard to the latter, the percussion section gets a good workout in the overture [T-4] as well as both sinfonias [T-6, T-8, T-9 & T-10], and there are some arresting bass-drum strokes. While the sound is acceptable it would have been demonstration quality had the audio engineers been able to endow these recordings with a feeling of more breathing space.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P210630)

Amazon Records International

The album cover may not always appear.
Onslow: Stg Qnts V4 (Nos. 23 & 31 for String Quartet and Double Bass); Elan Quintet [Naxos]
André Georges Louis Onslow (aka Gerorge Onslow, 1784-1853) was the son of a British aristocrat, who was forced to flee England for France as those weren't LGBT-tolerant times. And curiously enough, this recommendation comes during June of 2021, which US President Joe Biden declared as "LGBTQ+ Pride Month".

The composer was born in Clermont-Ferrand, France, some 200 miles south of Paris, where Dad had met and married a lady who came with a considerable dowry. It allowed the whole family to live very well, and Georges never had to earn a steady income. Moreover, he was free to pursue his inherent musical interests, which initially included extended trips to London for piano studies, as well as composition classes in the French capital.

All this led to young Onslow becoming a "Gentleman" composer, who wrote for his own pleasure. However, he was remarkably talented, and his creations gained great popularity, particularly in France as well as Germany. What's more, George's efforts were highly regarded by such greats as Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) and Robert Schumann (1810-1856).

Onslow would leave a substantial body of works across most genres. More specifically, there are four operas, four symphonies and a significant amount of chamber music. The latter includes 34 string quintets, two of which fill out this fourth volume in Naxos's continuing exploration of them (see Naxos-8573600, 8573689 & 8573887). Both are world premiere recordings.

That makes for a total of eight on this label, each of which exist in alternate versions made by the composer. More specifically, they're scored for a string quartet with either an additional viola, cello or double bass, and the latter is featured on all of these. The two here are four-movement works, for which there are detailed musical analyses in the album notes. Consequently, we'll just hit their high points.

Proceeding chronologically, the String Quintet No. 23 in A minor, Op. 58 (1836) begins with a sonata-form "Allegro non tanto vivo" ("Fast, but not too lively") [T-5]. Its opening statement has a halting preface [00:00] hinting at a nervous theme that soon follows (N1) [00:12], after which the double bass introduces a songlike one (S1) [01:33].

Both ideas are repeated [02:36], and a hint of N1 initiates the tonally agitated development [05:07]. It's followed by a recapitulation [06:39] that ends with frantic fortissimo reminders of S1 [09:42], which bring things to an ominous conclusion.

The next "Adagio sostenuto" ("Slow and sustained") [T-6] opens with a tuneful number (TN) invoked by that indefatigable double bass [00:00] along with its playmates [00:05]. Subsequently the cello plays a dignified theme [01:09], which the first violin picks up [01:23], thereby launching into cadenza-like passages [01:50] laced with dotted notes from the other instruments.

Then all reiterate TN [02:12] with some pronounced support from our old friend "Mr. Double Bass" [03:28]. After that, there's a reminder of the opening measures [03:53], which is food for a captivating treatment [04:54]. It smacks of Franz Schubert's (1797-1828) more tender moments and closes the movement tranquilly.

The succeeding allegro impetuoso (fast and impetuous) marked "Menuetto" ("Minuet") [T-7] is in essence a scherzo. Here skittish, chromatically spiced scalar passages [00:00, 03:07 & 04:40] are interspersed with dancelike ones [01:12 & 04:09].

This sets the stage for the allegro non tanto vivace (fast, but not too spirited), sonata-form "Finale" [T-8], whose exposition begins with a quivering introduction [0:00], after which there's an anxious first idea (A1) [00:04], followed by a lithe second [01:13]. Then all the foregoing is repeated [02:17], bridging into an A1-triggered, nervous development [04:26] and recap [05:59]. The latter gives way to a sad afterthought [08:09] with a pensive coda [08:36] that ends the work fatefully.

Generally speaking, the String Quintet No. 31 in A major, Op. 75 (1847-48) is lighter fare and brings to mind Felix Mendelssohn's (1809-1847) works in this genre (1826-45). The initial sonata-form "Allegro grazioso" ("Fast but graceful") [T-1] starts with a lighthearted thought (L1) [00:01] succeeded by a dolce con grazia (tender with grace), yearning one [01:13].

Then the foregoing is repeated [02:29] and followed by an L1-triggered, developmental battle between the two ideas [04:55] in which L1 triumphs, thereby beginning the recapitulation [06:21]. This has a combative postscript [08:05] with big-tune snatches of L1 [08:37]. These wane into nostalgic ones [08:50] that bring the movement to a peaceful conclusion.

The allegro (fast) marked Scherzo [T-2] is an impish tidbit, which calls to mind those pixilated passages in Felix's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1826-42). Here busy outer sections [00:00 & 02:32] hug a reserved, tuneful trio [01:32-02:31], and conclude the movement candidly.

An "Andante sostenuto" ("Slow and sustained") is next [T-3] where that double bass adds a profundity right from the start of this music's fortissimo introduction [00:00]. It hints at a romantic melody (R1) soon to come, and gives way to a hushed tender tune (T1) [00:18]. T1 is succeeded by R1 played in full [01:03] and a songful version of itself (T2) [01:56].

Then T2 undergoes a searching treatment [02:49] where "Big Daddy" has a walking bass line (WL) [03:05]. Subsequently, T1 returns [03:38] parenting an agitated episode [03:47], which wanes into a remembrance of T2 [04:22]. This invokes an exploration [05:14] with some more WL accompaniment [05:31]. And after a brief pause, T1 reappears [05:47] followed by an R1-based, hushed coda [06:12] that ends things tranquilly.

The allegretto (lively), sonata-rondo-like "Finale" [T-4] opens with a gently swaying thematic nexus (GS) [00:00] having some arresting pizzicato accents. GS then gives way to a related, caressing countersubject (GC) [01:28] and returns [02:29] initiating a fetching development [02:43].

This is succeeded by a pause and GS-invoked recap [05:37] with placid as well as forceful reminders of GC [06:21 & 06:36]. Then that persistent GS [06:54] resurfaces, thereby calling up a fortissimo coda [07:24], which brings the Quartet to a vehement conclusion.

Here the Elan String Quintet (ESQ; first-violinist Alexander Nikolaev, second-violinist Carles Civera, violist Julia Hu, cellist Benjamin Birtle, double bassist Matthew Baker) resumes its survey of Onslow's music in this genre (see Naxos-8573600, 8573689 & 8573887). Formed during 2014 in Valencia, Spain, around 200 miles east-southeast of Madrid, once again the ESQ's members deliver enthusiastic, lively accounts of both works.

The recordings date from March 2020 and were made at the Rafelbuñol (Rafelbunyol) Auditorium in Spain, some 12 miles north of Valencia. Housed in a warm venue with just the right amount of reverberation, they both project a wide, well-balanced sonic image with the instruments centered from left to right in order of increasing size.

That said, the string tone is as good as one can expect on conventional CDs. It's characterized by pleasant highs, rich mids and clean bass where there's no hint of boominess in the cello or double bass's lower registers.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y210629)

Amazon Records International

The album cover may not always appear.
Vasks: Musica serena, Musica dolorosa, Musica appassionata, Vc Conc 2; Sinkevich/Palii/Repušić/MunR O [BR Klassik]
Last month's CROCKS Newsletter visited the Baltic States and told you about a couple of string quartets by Lithuanian composer Jurgis Karnavičius (1884-1941; see 31 May 2021). Now journeying north of the border up Latvia way, here are some symphonic pieces by Pēteris Vasks (b. 1946), which find him doing his string thing.

Born the son of a Baptist pastor in Aizpute, about 100 miles west of Riga, Pēteris first studied violin at the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music, and then moved on to Karnavičius's old stomping grounds, the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre (LAMT), where he took double bass lessons. Subsequently, Vasks played with several Latvian orchestras, after which he studied composition at the LAMT.

In the 1990s his fellow countryman, the great violinist Gidon Kremer (b. 1947), started promoting Vask's works, and he's since become one of Europe's most highly regarded composers. That said, stylistically speaking his music falls into two periods. The earlier has aspects of the avant-garde Aleatoricism that call to mind Polish composers Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994) and Krzysztof Pendereski (1933-2020) as well as American George Crumb (b. 1929). On the other hand, the later one is of wistful, late-romantic persuasion with folk-music-like moments and dramatic outpourings.

In regard to the four selections on this release, while they're all for string orchestras, Musica dolorosa (Sad Music) is a first period piece, whereas the others belong to the second. Incidentally, except for Musica appassionata (Impassioned Music), these are the only readily available recordings currently on disc.

The opening Musica serena (Serene Music, 2002) [T-1] lives up to its sobriquet "Song of Light". Based on a gorgeous, extended celestial melody, it's a ternary meditation with andante cantabile (flowing and songlike") outer sections hugging a maestoso (majestic) one.

Moving back about twenty years, we next get the above mentioned Musica dolorosa (Sad Music, 1983) [T-2]. Bearing the inscription "Personal Sorrow and Public Lament", Vasks says it's his most grief-stricken work. Here Pēteris takes inspiration from the Mater Dolorosa (Our Lady of Sorrows) concept to express the sorrow he felt over his sister's demise. However, this piece is also a lament commemorating those years when Latvia was what the composer refers to as a "Peoples Penitentiary of the Soviet Union".

It begins dolcissimo (tenderly) in the lower strings [00:00], and after a sighing downward glissando, there's a brief pause and the upper ones play an extended chantlike melody (EC) [00:27]. Then EC undergoes a con dolore (painful) treatment [beginning at 03:36], which is notable for col legno accents in the lower strings, pervasive chromatic spicing, frequent changes of meter that include syncopation, and weeping glissandi.

Subsequently, these passages wane into an organ-like pedal point [08:12], over which there are some sorrowful ruminations for a solo cello [08:17]. They're succeeded by subdued moments for the other strings [09:42], but these gradually intensify and are followed by a throbbing episode [11:59]. The latter closes with distraught cries [beginning at 12:25] that bring the piece to a rueful conclusion.

Next there's Musica appassionata (Passionate Music, 2002) [T-3], which bears the inscription "Abundance and Withdrawal". Somewhat along the lines of a theme with variations, its tutti opening presents an expansive ardent thought (EA) [00:00]. EA invokes several developmental treatments of varying temperament, the first [00:57] being increasingly insistent. This is followed by a subdued, somewhat mystical second [02:54], and then there are antsy [05:10], anguished [06:58], forbidding [07:18] as well as skittish [09:32 & 10:24] ones.

After that, the mood turns worried [10:39 & 11:46] and is made even more so by a sobbing, downward glissando-like phrase [12:24]. Subsequently, a resigned reworking of EA [13:34] ostensibly commences the work's "Withdrawal" phase. Here a concluding peaceful episode [14:25] seemingly reflects the music's gradual disappearance into the mists of tranquility.

This release closes with the composer's Cello Concerto No. 2 (2011-12), which is a worthy successor to his first one (1993-94). The work bears the inscription " if the soul were ascending into the cosmos", and has the Latvian word "Klātbūtne" ("Presence") written above the score.

It's in three movements, where Vasks says the cello part conveys his "perspective on life", and the album notes go on to add, "telling the story of his development as a human being on earth". Atypically the first has an initial adagio (slow) cadenza [T-4]. This starts with barely audible, pizzicato notes [00:00] hinting at a soulful, bowed theme that soon appears [00:36].

The composer describes the movement as "an opening song" about "the first steps in this world", which are full of "love and idealism". Accordingly, the music turns andante cantabile (flowingly songful) as the tutti join in [T-5], and along with the soloist offer up a moving contemplation.

Subsequently, what Vasks refers to as "negative thoughts" and "aggressions" are characterized in the next Allegro marcato (Fast and accented). Here three agitated sections [T-6 00:00-02:07, 04:05-05:44 & T-7 04:47-05:31] alternate with two pensive ones [T-6 02:08-04:04 & T-7 00:00-04:46], the second of which is a highly demanding, andante (flowing) cadenza. All of this seems to be asking, "What do I want to accomplish on earth, what direction should I give my life?"

This is ostensibly answered in the adagio (slow) third movement [T-8], whose first part is described by the composer as "like the soul ascending into the cosmos". But then a pianissimo, lullaby-like episode [07:52] has it returning to earth, and the closing measures are gilded with a soprano vocalise [10:40] that brings the work to a corporeal conclusion.

The Munich Radio Orchestra (MRO) strings under MRO's chief conductor, Croatian-born-and-trained Ivan Repušić give highly sensitive performances of all these selections. Russian-born, German-trained cellist Uladzimir Sinkevich (see 31 December 2019) joins them for the Concerto, delivering a definitive account of Vask's second foray into the genre. We should also note that when Argentine cellist Sol Gabetta (b. 1981) premiered this work, she was also the vocal accompanist. Here it's sung by soprano Anna-Maria Palii of the Bavarian Radio Chorus.

These recordings were made on several occasions during June, October and November of last year at the Bayerischer Rundfunk's (Barvarian Radio) Studio 1 in Munich, some 300 miles south of Berlin. They present consistently wide sonic images in pleasant surroundings where there's no feeling of that confinement sometimes associated with venues like this. Herr Sinkevich as well as Frau Palii are positioned just right of Maestro Repušić and well balanced against the tutti.

The cello is beautifully captured, while the tone of the accompanying strings is just about as good as it gets on conventional CDs. More specifically, the sound is characterized by agreeable highs with only occasional steely spots, and a rich midrange. As for the low end, it's very clean with no boominess in the lower registers of either the cellos or double basses. Everything considered, this release should please audiophiles.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y210628)

Amazon Records International