31 DECEMBER 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.
Americascapes (4 orch wks by US cmpsrs; see Cowell, H.Hanson, Loeffler & Ruggles); Treviño/Basque NaO [Ondine]
On the heels of that outstanding Chandos "American Quintets" release we told you about last summer (see 31 August 2021), Ondine now gives us this CD with orchestral fare from four other US composers. They're the only recent, readily available versions of these works on disc. What's more, the one by Howard Hanson (1896-1981) is a world premiere recording.

The program begins with music of Charles Martin Loeffler (1861-1935), who was born in Berlin. Young Charles studied violin there, where one of his teachers was Woldemar Bargiel (1828-1897; see 31 May 2019), and then took composition courses in Paris. On that note, he always referred to himself as being Alsatian.

The year 1881 saw Loeffler emigrate to America, where in the fall of 1882 he joined the recently formed Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) as its assistant concertmaster. Subsequently, Charles become a US citizen (1887) and retired from the BSO in 1903. Two years later (1905) he moved to Medfield, Massachusetts, some 20 miles southwest of Boston, where he lived out his years teaching and composing.

Consequently, he left a significant body of works across most genres. The one here is his middle period tone poem La mort de Tintagiles (The Death of Tintagiles, Op. 6; 1897), inspired by Belgian writer Maurice Maeterlinck's (1862-1949) bizarre, eponymous play for marionettes (1894). It's about an evil queen who's killed the family of the main character named in the title, and then proceeds to do him in.

Lasting almost half an hour, stylistically the music is a late-romantic synthesis of Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) and Richard Strauss (1864-1949), while there's a clarity about the scoring reminiscent of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1804-1908). It begins [T-1, 00:01] with brass flourishes and drumrolls immediately followed by a sinister theme [00:08]. This bears a strange resemblance to the tune for that old harbinger of doom, the Dies Irae, and we'll accordingly refer to it as SD.

SD pervades the work, where a viola d'amore is frequently featured, thereby adding a sense of poignancy to the music. Maybe the composer played it when the BSO presumably premiered this piece. In any case, SD is masterfully manipulated and the basis for final passages that bring this moving tone poem to a subdued, sorrowful conclusion.

Then it's on to three American-born composers, the first being Carl Ruggles (aka Charles Sprague Ruggles, 1876-1971). His music is characterized by what fellow countryman and colleague, Charles Seeger (1886-1979) referred to as "dissonant counterpoint".

Born in Marion, Massachusetts, about 50 miles south of Boston, the album notes tell us Carl "was a notoriously salty New Englander modernist who alienated admirers and would-be disciples alike with his caustic remarks, casual racism and steady use of profanity". A real curmudgeon, he'd leave only a small body of works.

His Evocations started life as a solo piano creation (1934), which the composer orchestrated in 1943, giving us the version presented here. In four movements, the initial Largo ("Slow") [T-2] is a broad, stately piece. It begins with a rising, ominous motif (RO) [00:01] that builds in intensity and then wanes away ending the movement despairingly.

After that there's an Andante con fantasia ("Flowing with spontaneity") [T-3] where a peripatetic RO [00:01] meanders about. This is followed by a Moderato appassionato ("Moderately spirited") one [T-4] in which a commanding RO [00:01] asserts itself. Then an Adagio sostenuto ("Slow and sustained") [T-5] based on an inverted, wistful version of RO [00:01] waxes, and after a dramatic pause, wanes bringing the work to an uneventful conclusion.

The son of Swedish immigrants, Howard Hanson (1896-1981) hailed from Wahoo, Nebraska, around 1500 miles due west of Ruggles' hometown. A prize-winning composer-conductor-teacher, Hanson was and still is regarded as among America's most highly distinguished musical personalities. Moreover, back in 1924 he became director of the Eastman School of Music, which during his 40-year tenure became one of America's greatest Conservatories.

Howard left a considerable body of works across all genres, and one of his earliest makes its commercial recording debut here. Titled Before the Dawn (Op. 17; 1920) [T-6], this is a short, symphonic poem (no underlying story readily available), which has a dramatic introduction and is based on a delicate comely melody (DC) that soon surfaces [03:13]. DC brings to mind the theme opening his Romantic Symphony's (No. 2, 1930) second movement, which some may remember accompanied the end credits for that award-winning film Alien (1979).

This release closes with a selection by a third, indigenous American composer, namely Henry Cowell (1897-1965), who was born in Menlo Park, California, another 1600 miles farther west of Hanson's boyhood town. The son of an Irish immigrant father and a former school teacher from Iowa, Henry was a precociously gifted youngster who started playing the violin at five and began composing in his mid-teens. During 1914 he was admitted to the University of California at Berkeley, where he became a protégé of Charles Seeger (1886-1979; see above).

A man of many talents, Cowell is probably best remembered by music aficionados for those tone clusters in his earlier piano pieces. These were massive secundal chords requiring the use of fists and forearms. However, Henry's later music was a bit more restrained.

His Variations for Orchestra (1956) [T-7] is a brilliantly scored work that opens with a headstrong main idea (HM) [00:01]. This undergoes a number of inventive treatments, the first one being rather contemplative [00:25]. Then a percussively spiced, flighty second [02:12] is succeeded by a lachrymose third [03:16]. The latter has Hibernian overtones that seemingly reflect Cowell's love for Irish music, which is something he apparently picked up from his father.

Subsequently, there's a spectral fourth [05:15] with eerie ponticello-like effects, followed by a commanding treatment [06:31]. Then there's a march-like one [07:50] having bizarre percussive effects that include piano embellishments as well as timpanic resonance glissandos.

A cantabile number is next [09:57], featuring singing winds and some "tuned-percussion" spicing with another Cowell speciality, i.e., strummed piano strings [10:421. This gives way to a pause succeeded by a brass-introduced, pixilated variant [13:29] adjoining an agitated one [15:00].

The latter gives way to a chorale-like variation [16:19], which sets the stage for a vivacious, fugal treatment [16:40] having HM as its main subject. This builds to a tremendous climax with howling brass [17:36] and pounding percussion [18:58]. Then there's a tension-building caesura and strident, fff passages [19:03] for full orchestra that end the piece in blazing fashion.

These performance by the Basque National Orchestra under their Music Director, American conductor Robert Treviño (b. 1984) couldn't be more committed. Together they give beautifully played, enthusiastic, yet sensitive accounts of all four selections.

Made a little over a year ago, these recordings were done at the Kursaal Auditorium in Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain, around 250 miles north-northeast of Madrid. They consistently present a recessed sonic image in spacious surroundings. Moreover, the orchestral timbre is characterized by highs with occasional steely spots in the violins' upper registers, while the midrange and bass are both generally good.

That said, the overall audio image would have benefitted from closer miking, thereby giving a more focused soundstage. Everything considered this CD may not be demonstration quality, but those loving romantic American orchestral fare will soon forget any sonic shortcomings.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P211231)

Amazon Records International

The album cover may not always appear.
Catalan Concertinos and Fantasias (5 20-21st C. wks by 2 cmpsrs; see Manén & Migó); Soloists/Sirenko/Ukr NSO [Toccata]
Here's another adventurous release from the Toccata label. It features music by two composers who were born in Barcelona, which is the capital of that northeastern corner of Spain known as Catalonia. What's more both use melodies from songs indigenous to the area.

Two of the selections were written by Joan (aka Juan) Manén (1883-1971), while the other three came from the pen of his younger colleague Marc Migó (b.1993). All five are world premiere recordings.

Violinist-composer Joan Manén was a wunderkind who started playing the piano at three, and then the violin by age five. He began concertizing on both instruments as a nine-year-old (1892), and at his father's urging, taught himself composition by reading scores.

Consequently, Joan was writing when only thirteen (1900) and even conducted a concert of his own pieces in Barcelona. Subsequently, he soon gained a worldwide reputation as a violin virtuoso and spent time in Germany, where he was greatly impressed by Wagner's (1813-1883) music, as well as that of Richard Strauss (1864-1949). In that regard, their influence color both of his selections on this disc.

Manén was very prolific and would leave works across all genres. The two here are in the concertante realm, the first being his Violin Concertino (Op. A-49), which probably dates from the middle to late 1930s. Lasting almost half an hour, it's a full-blown, three-movement concerto.

The opening one [T-6] begins with a "Moderato energico" ("Moderately energetic"), recitative-like introduction featuring the soloist. However, the music becomes "Un poco più mosso e deciso" ("A little more lively and determined") [02:05] as the violinist plays a winsome melody (WM) [03:13] based on the Catalan song "Els Estudiants de Tolosa" ("The Students of Toulouse"). This is explored and gives way to a curt cadenza [09:34] that invokes "Animato" ("Animated") martial remembrance of the opening measures [09:52].

These wane attacca into a lovely "Andante espressivo" ("Expressively flowing"), WM-tinged, middle movement [T-7], which commences with a tender variant of WM (WT) [00:00]. Then a "Moderato coma prima" ("Moderate as before") repeat [02:06] of its opening makes an animated bridge [03:42] into the concluding, rondoesque third movement [T-8].

This gets off to an "Allegro" ("Fast") start with some fancy fiddling and a gorgeous, delicate version of WT (WD) [01:03]. Then there's an "A tempo" ("Return to the previous speed") remembrance of the foregoing [02:31] and highly demanding, extended "Cadenza" ("Cadenza") for the soloist [06:05-08:16]. The latter gives way to a fiddle-fireworks-filled Allegro ("Fast") [08:17] coda for all that ends the work definitively with a couple of WM-suggestive forte orchestral flourishes [10:03].

Turning from violin to piano, there's Manén's thirteen-minute Rapsòdia catalana (Op. A-50; 1954) [T-12]. It's a delightful piece built on melodies from three Catalan songs, the first of which known as "Els dos camins" ("The Two Paths") is the subject of an opening "Moderato cantabile" ("Moderate and songlike") contemplation [00:00]. Then the music turns "Allegretto mosso" ("Faster") with a reference to another called "Els contrabandistes" ("The Smugglers") [03:58], soon followed by suggestions of one titled "Quan el pare no té pa" ("When Father has no Bread") [06:11].

All this leads to a respectful pause and piano-dominated "Moderato" ("Moderate") transition [07:26] into a spirited "Allegro ("Fast") episode [08:14]. This inspires thoughtful, "Doppio più lento" ("Half as fast") passages [09:35] that wane into a tension-building break, followed by scurrying "Allegro vivace" ("Fast and spirited") ones [11:33]. These call up merry memories of those Catalan tunes, which end the work in jolly fashion with festive flourishes [12:46] for soloist and orchestra.

Composer-pianist Marc Migó became very interested in serious music when his grandfather gave him some classical CDs for his sixteenth birthday. This led to his 2012 enrollment at the Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya (ESMUC; Catalonia College of Music), where he studied composition. Then 2017 saw him move to New York City and get his Masters Degree at the Juilliard School of Music, where he's now earning a Doctor of Musical Arts under famed American composer John Corigliano (b. 1938).

Marc's Fantasia popular began as a piece that included a children's chorus (2016; not currently available on disc), but he soon revised it just for orchestra (2017), giving us what's presented here. That said, the composer reputedly has a fascination with long melodic lines, and in that regard, he borrows three from different Catalan songs.

In five adjoining sections, there's an initial festive "Overture" [T-1] that starts with brass fanfares [00:00], followed by scampering passages [00:44]. These evoke a lovely "Pastoral" [T-2] setting of the tune for "El rossignol" ("The Nightingale") [00:00].

The latter wanes into a snare-drum-introduced "Processó" ("Procession") [T-3] featuring the melody from "La dama d'Aragó" ("The lady of Aragó") [00:02]. This comes to a rousing martial climax that bridges via waltzlike passages [03:41] into a "Scherzo" [T-4], drawing on the theme for the song "En Pere Gallerí" ("In Pere Gallerí") [00:06]. Then there's a hymnlike "Coda" [T-5] where all three Catalan ideas are magnificently integrated, thereby bringing the work to a glorious conclusion.

Migó's Piano Concertino (2016) is also included here. The first of its two movements [T-9] is basically a theme with variations that has a "Moderato" ("Moderate") opening, where the soloist soon plays a flowing, cantabile main subject (FC) [00:00] with delicate support from the orchestra. Then piano arpeggios [00:50 & 01:05] and repeated xylophone notes [01:01] call up a dramatic version of FC [01:26], which subsides into a "Poco meno mosso" ("A little less lively") one [01:51], followed by an "Andante" ("Slow"), clocklike treatment [03:24].

Subsequently, delicate "Tempo primo" ("Tempo same as first") [04:25] hints of FC flow attacca into the concluding, "Allegro" ("Fast") marked Perpetuum Mobile movement [T-10]. This is a rondo-like cavort with a catchy, recurring ditty [00:07] that brings to mind those jazzy tunes often heard in Broadway shows as well as Hollywood film scores of the 1920s and 30s. The composer is quoted in the album notes as saying that it reminded him "of my pianistic references from when I was around 22: Ravel, Gershwin, Prokofiev". That said, there's never a dull moment, and it ends the work in frolicsome fashion.

Not long ago we told you about Hans Rott's (1858-1884) Symphony No. 1 in E major (1878-80; see 31 March 2021). This work motivated Marc to write the next selection titled Epitafi a Hans Rott (Epitaph for Hans Rott; 2015) [T-11], which honors a little-known, Austrian composer, who's time seems to have finally come with the emergence of silver discs.

It's an affecting, sixteen-minute, heartfelt tribute to someone whose orchestral works rate with those of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). That said, Migó's piece is of romantic, late nineteenth century disposition with references drawn from the symphony's scherzo and ending.

The Ukrainian National Symphony Orchestra (UNSO) under their Artistic Director and Chief Conductor Volodymyr Sirenko give us more superb accounts of rare repertoire (see 30 June 2020). They're joined by Polish violinist Kalina Macuta as well as Spanish pianists Segei Pacheco Portalés and Daniel Blanch, who respectively deliver technically accomplished, magnificent performances of the Violin Concertino [T-6, 7 & 8], Piano Concertino [T-9 & 10] and Rapsòdia catalana [T-12]. These will probably be the definitive disc renditions of all five works for some time to come.

The recordings were made during early October 2018 at the National Radio of Ukraine's Great Concert Studio located in Kyiv (also spelled "Kiev"), some 250 miles north of Odesa (also spelled "Odessa"). They project a wide sonic image in a reverberant venue with the soloists centered, well captured and balanced against the UNSO.

The overall instrumental timbre is characterized by generally pleasant highs with occasional strident spots, a good midrange and bass that goes down to rock bottom. While this release falls a bit short of an "Audiophile" rating, it'll have great appeal for those seeking out unusual romantic repertoire.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P211230)


The album cover may not always appear.
Różycki: Vn Concerto w 3 Vn & Pno Works; Nowicka/Lazar/Krężlewski/Rychert/PolNaRSO [CPO]
Born in Warsaw, Ludomir Różycki's (1883-1953) father was a professor at the local conservatory, which is now known as the Chopin University of Music. He'd go on to study there, subsequently graduating with a gold medal in 1904. Then at the invitation of celebrated composer Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921), who was on the faculty of the Royal Music Institute of Berlin (RMIB), young Ludomir would further his education with him (1904-07).

After that he moved to Lviv in what's now Ukraine, some 500 miles east-southeast of Berlin. Here he began a highly successful career as a composer-conductor-pedagogue, but 1912 saw him return to Berlin and make artistic excursions to neighboring European countries.

Subsequently, during 1918 Różycki returned to his hometown, where he undertook conducting, journalistic, administrative as well as teaching duties. However, the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 resulted in many of his manuscripts being destroyed, and forced him to take refuge in Osieczany around 150 miles south-southwest of there.

Then shortly after World War II (WWII, 1939-45), Ludomir settled permanently in Katowice, some seventy miles northwest of Osieczany. The years 1945-46 saw him become acting Dean of the local National Higher School of Music's Department of Theory, Composition and Conducting, after which he devoted his last years to reconstructing lost scores.

Różycki left a significant oeuvre across most genres, and now thanks to some restorative efforts on the part of our performing artists, here's a small sampling of his instrumental fare. These are all world premiere recordings and the only versions currently available on disc.

This release begins with his two-movement Violin Concerto, Op. 70. Dating from 1944, only a piano reduction and 90 bars of the orchestral score have come down to us. However, back in 2000 our Polish conductor, Zygmunt Rychert, worked these fragments into the colorfully scored realization presented here.

The opening Andante ("Slow") [T-1] has a lovely preface [00:00] hinting at an attractive, dreamy thought (AD) soon spun out by the soloist [00:54]. AD is the underlying idea for a gorgeous rhapsody that brings to mind more romantic moments in Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) tone poems (1886-1945). Towards the end, winsome violin and tutti [07:21] passages bring the movement to a tranquil conclusion.

Then the music turns festive in the next Allegro deciso ("Fast with determination") [T-2], which is at heart a theme with variations. Moreover, the initial, rousing, mazurkaesque number (RM) proclaimed by the orchestra [00:00] and violin [00:07], undergoes a variety of treatments laced with virtuosic passages for the soloist.

The first ones range from discursive [01:32] to comely [02:36], pastoral [03:53], "folksongish" [04:27], march-like [06:09], yearning [06:43] and cantabile [08:51]. Then RM returns [10:49], after which there are nostalgic [12:41] and scampering [14:19] afterthoughts. They invoke a cadenza-laced, codatic episode [15:03] that ends the work in a blaze of glory.

Next, there's Dwie melodie ("Two Melodies") Op. 5 (1904-09) as well as Dwa nokturny ("Two Nocturnes") Op. 30 (1909), dating from the composer's RMIB days (see above). Thanks to our Polish violinist, Ewelina Nowicka, these long-forgotten miniatures make a welcome return to the concert hall.

While the former two are quite brief, the latter ones are more substantial, ternary pieces. More specifically, the first "Melody" is a wistful "Adagio" ("Slow") [T-3], and its companion, a fetching "Tempo di Gavotta) ("Like a Gavotte") marked Allegretto [T-4]. Then the sun sets as the composer serves up a sublime "Adagio" ("Slow") "Nocturne" [T-5], followed by a somewhat more questioning "Andantino" ("Leisurely") one [T-6].

We have Ms. Nowicka to thank for the concluding selection on this CD. Bearing the lengthy title Transcriptions for violin and piano from the ballet Pan Twardowski op. 45, it's a set of four pieces she came up with based on melodies found in the aforementioned Różycki work.

By way of background, the scenario for Pan Twardowski (1921; currently unavailable on disc) centers around the folkloric character Sir Twardowski. He might be thought of as a Polish counterpart of Faust (see German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's eponymous, tragic play of 1806-31). Be that as it may, Ludomir's ballet was the first large-scale, Polish one to achieve international success, and became very popular during the years before WWII.

The initial ternary-structured Polonaise tragique ("Tragic Polonaise") [T-7] is as billed, while the following Apparition de Lucifer ("Apparition of Lucifer) [T-8] is an impish, diabolical number. Then a flowing tuneful Les ondines ("The Undines") [T-9] and vivacious Danse entre les poignards ("Dagger Dance") [T-10] with some final, fiddle fireworks [01:53-02:47] end things in lively fashion.

Violinist Ewelina Nowicka delivers superb accounts of all these selections. She receives enthusiastic support for the Concerto from conductor Zygmunt Rychert and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (NOSPR) located in Katowice. Then Polish pianist Pola Lazar provides highly sensitive accompaniment for the Melodies [T-3 & 4] and Nocturnes [T-5 & 6]. The same can be said of Polish pianist Michał Krężlewski with respect to those Transcriptions [T-7, 8, 9 & 10].

The Concerto recording was done during February 2001 at the Fitelberg Concert Hall in Katowice, Poland, and projects a somewhat distant sonic image of the NOSPR with the soloist positioned a bit left of Maestro Rychert, but adequately highlighted. The overall instrumental sound is generally pleasant. More specifically, it's characterized by an acceptable highend and midrange having glassy moments in the strings' upper registers. As for the bass, with the conservative forces called for here, it's lean and clean.

Those other violin and piano recordings were made nine years later (2010) by Radio Gdańsk. Presumably done in one of its studios, both performers are centered, well captured and properly balanced against one another in warm surroundings, where there's no feeling of that confinement frequently associated with smaller venues. Taking everything into consideration this release falls a bit short of an "Audiophile" rating. However, with engaging music like this, any sonic shortcomings will soon be forgotten.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P211229)