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.
British Piano Concertos (6 20th C. wks by 6 cmpsrs); Callaghan/Brabbins/BBCWalna O [Lyrita]
This recent Lyrita release gives us six short but sweet piano concertos written between 1920 and 1959 by British composers. Five of them are world premier recordings, which are so indicated by a "WPR" after their titles.

First off, we get a selection by John Addison (1920-1998), who was best known for his film and television scores. However, he also wrote a few pieces for the concert hall like the one here, which is his Wellington Suite scored for two horns, piano, timpani, percussion and strings (1959; WPR).

The first of its five movements is a venatic "Allegretto con brio (Lively with spirit)" [T-1], which is followed by a pensive "Andante, un poco pomposo (Slow, a little pompous)" second [T-2] and "Allegro vivace (Fast and spirited)" third [T-3]. After that there's a charming, dancelike "Moderato, tempo di valse (Moderate, waltz speed)" [T-4] having a jazzy piano tidbit [03:34-03:50]. Then a jubilant "Allegro con brio (Lively with spirit)" [T-5] ends the work with a festive final coda [03:11].

Pianist-composer-conductor Arthur Leslie Benjamin (1893-1960), who was also a renowned pedagogue and could count Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) among his students, left a significant oeuvre. One of them is next, namely his Concertino for Piano and Orchestra (1927).

In a single movement having four conjoined sections, it was apparently inspired by George Gershwin's (1898-1937) Rhapsody in Blue (1924). That said, the first "Allegro non troppo e ritmico (Lively but not overly so and rhythmical)" [T-6] is a spirited number. It's followed by an "Andante poco lento, con il sentiment ed il tempo d'un 'Blues' (Slow, a little pompous, with a feeling of the 'Blues')" [T-7], having passages for a saxophone.

Subsequently, there's a "Scherzo, presto scherzando sempre pianissimo e leggero (Scherzo, very playful, but always soft and light)" [T-8] that's as billed. Then a "Come primo ma mano Allegro (With the same feeling as the Allegro)" [T-9] brings things full circle with wisps of past ideas and a jazzy, timpani-pounding passages [03:52].

The next selection is by Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994), who was of Irish heritage and studied with Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). One of England's most highly regarded composers in the last half of the 20th century, she's represented here by her three-movement Concertino for Piano and String Orchestra (1949; WPR).

An "Allegro molto (Very fast)" [T-10] gets things off to an attention-getting, vivacious start. It's followed by an anguished "Lento, serioso (Seriously slow)" [T-11]. However, worry turns to whimsy in the scampering "Allegro con brio (Lively with spirit)" [T-12], which ends things on a lighter note.

After that there's a short, one-movement piece by Humphrey Searle (1915-1982) titled Concertante for Piano, Percussion and Strings (Op. 24, 1954; WPR) [T-13]. Stylistically, this is quite different from the previous selections. More specifically, it's a sassy, twelve-tone-tinged number that reflects his exposure to the dodecaphonic music of the Second Viennese School. And in that regard, he was at one point a private student of Anton Webern (1883-1945).

Then we get a selection that began life as an orchestral tone poem by Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986), who was one of Gustav Holst's (1874-1934) students and would leave a substantial oeuvre covering all genres. The one of interest here was written at the tender age of nineteen (1920), and based a poem of his own titled "Nature's Call" (see the album booklet), which in essence urges "Man" to heed "God".

The original work was thought lost until fragments of it recently surfaced. These have been reconstructed by Simon Callaghan (b. 1983), who's our soloist here, into what's called Tone Poem for Orchestra, Organ and Pianoforte (2021; WPR) [T-14]. This piece has an insistent opening [00:01] that waxes and wanes into a rhapsodic section [03:17-06:02]. Then spirited passages [06:03] die away into remembrances of more tranquil ones, thereby ending the work with a feeling of pacific piety.

Turning to the music of Geoffrey Bush (1920-1998), we have another British composer who left a considerable body of works in almost every genre. These include six operas, many other voice-oriented pieces and a number of orchestral works, one of which closes this CD.

Titled A Little Concerto on Themes of Thomas Arne (1939; WPR), it's scored for piano and string orchestra. More specifically, Bush borrows material from some of English composer Thomas Arne's (1710-1778) pieces featuring the harpsichord. Incidentally, Arne also wrote the melody for that ever-popular, British patriotic song "Rule, Britannia!" (1740).

Stylistically, Bush's four-movement piece is in keeping with Arne, who lived during those transitional years spanning the Baroque and Classical periods of music. The odd movements, which are respectively marked "Andante (Slow)" [T-15] and "Siciliana" [T-17], are both restrained as well as rather melancholy. On the other hand, the "Allegro (Fast)" [T-16] and final "Vivace (Spirited)" [T-18] come off as articulate, frisky episodes, with the latter ending the work cheerfully.

British pianist Simon Callaghan (b. 1983) delivers technically accomplished, committed yet sensitive accounts of these selections. He receives strong support from his fellow countryman, Conductor Martyn Brabbins and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, thereby making a strong case for six undeservedly forgotten pieces.

These recordings were made 29-30 June 2021 at BBC Hoddinott Hall located in Cardiff, which is the capital of Wales, and lies some 150 miles west of London. They present an appropriately sized sonic image in pleasant surroundings with Mr. Callaghan centered just in front of the orchestra.

His piano is beautifully captured, while the orchestral timbre is characterized by lifelike highs, a lucid midrange and clean transient bass. Soundwise, this disc is state-of-the-art as far as conventional CDs go, thereby earning it an "Audiophile" rating.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y220930)

Amazon Records International

The album cover may not always appear.
Hartmann, T. de: Orch Wks V1 (Koliadky…, Sym-Poeme No 4, Conc Andaluz…, Une…); Evcil/Kuchar/LvivNPOUkr [Toccata]
Thomas de Hartmann (1885-1956) was born in Khoruzhivka, Ukraine, about 200 air miles north-northeast of Odesa (aka Odessa), to a family of Russian aristocrats. A musically precocious child, he was improvising melodies on the piano before the age of five.

Unfortunately, his father died when he was only nine, and in keeping with family tradition, the lad was sent off to a military academy in Saint Petersburg, some 800 miles north of Khoruzhivka. However, the institution's director recognized Thomas's musical gifts and allowed him to also pursue coursework in that field.

At age twelve (1897), he began studying composition with Anton Arensky (1861-1906), who was then director of the Imperial Chapel at Peterhof Palace in Saint Petersburg. Then after Anton's death, de Hartmann took counterpoint from Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915; see 31 December 2015). Subsequently, he'd leave a considerable body of works across all genres.

The album booklet has prolix commentary regarding the composer's life, but the bottom line is that besides Russia he spent considerable time in Germany, Turkey, France and New York City, where he died. That said, it also contains detailed analyses of the four selections presented here. Consequently, we'll just hit their musical highpoints.

Our concert opens with Koliadky: Noëls Ukrainiens (Ukrainian Christmas Carols) (Op. 60; 1940), which is in nine movements. The first "Chant spirituel (Sacred Song)" [T-1] is a modally tinged, pious, hymnlike number featuring the strings. It's followed by "Viens, Koladá, Viens (Come, Koliada, Come)" [T-2] that's a festive, invocational piece for the winds.

Then there's an andante misterioso (slow and mysterious) "Les Roi mages (The Wise Men or Biblical Magi) [T-3]. This is succeeded by a bucolic, tuneful "Les Chalumeaux des bergers (The Shepherds' Pipes)" [T-4] and vivacious "L'arrivée de Koladá (The arrival of Koliada)" [T-5] with some pizzicato string spicing.

Subsequently, we get an infectious, scampering "Ovsén (Russian Peasant Song)" [T-6] and largo (slow), reverent, chorale-like "La vielle de l'Epiphanie (The Eve of Epiphany)" [T-7]. Then de Hartmann serves up a wistful "Adieu, Koladá (Farewell, Koliada)" [T-8] and brilliantly scored, frenetic "Goussack (Cossack Dance)" [T-9], which ends the work in spirited fashion.

The next Symphonie-Poeme No. 4 (Op. 90; 1955) [T-10] would be de Hartmann's last orchestral one. It's also the concluding movement of his fourth symphony (currently unavailable on disc), which the composer once described as "a suite of three or four short Poems united through a common theme". The stridently scored piece here certainly reflects another remark he made about the parent work; namely, "Sorrow gambols, sorrow dances, sorrow sings and sings its song".

Moving back six years, we get his Concierto Andaluz for Solo Flute, Strings and Percussion (Op. 81; 1949). The scoring for this three-movement work recalls that of Béla Bartók's (1881-1945) Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (Sz. 106, BB 114; 1936).

Here an initial "Entrada y Romanza (Introduction and Romance)" [T-11] begins with strumming ensemble passages [00:00], followed by cadenza-like ones for the soloist [00:19]. Then both play a romantic, flowing idea [00:59] with a couple of solo flute segments [01:52 & 02:57]. This invokes a fortissimo chord for all [03:04] that ends the movement definitively.

The next is a ternary, A-B-A structured "Juego Scherzino (Playful Scherzo)" [T-12]. Here scampering "A"s [00:00 & 01:42] bracket an andante (slow), pious "B" [00:53-01:41] of orientalist coloring with what sound like tolling bells. Then the last "A" has a brief coda [02:34], which hints at "B", but closes the movement with a fortissimo chord for all [02:43].

It's succeeded by a "Cante y Juerga (Chant and Spree)" [T-13] that starts with a larghetto (rather slow) pensive, dialogue between the ensemble and flute. Subsequently, there's a vivo (lively) marked episode [01:33], where the soloist cavorts above a colorful accompaniment, and plays an Andalusian folksong-like melody over more tolling bells. Then this section becomes increasingly energetic with some flute fireworks, after which the work ends in haughty fashion with a spirited flourish for all [03:58].

The closing Une fete en Ukraine (A Feast in the Ukraine) (Op. 62; 1940) is a suite for large orchestra drawn from the composer's earlier, eponymous one-act ballet. Suffice it to say the parent work's underlying scenario concerns Catherine the Great (1729-1796), who was last Empress of Russia (1762-1796), and you'll find more details in the album booklet.

In eleven movements, the opening "Ouverture (Overture)" [T-14] gets off to a stirring start with martial passages [00:00]. Then more reserved ones [01:10] bridge into an animated section [01:43] having a lovely, sinuous, Slavic-sounding theme [02:31-03:03]. This bridges into a somewhat related, comely, winding thought [04:01]. But the latter is suddenly interrupted by rousing memories of the opening measures [05:56], thereby ending things triumphantly.

The following "Fanfare" [T-15] is a pugnacious tidbit that gives way to a dignified "Allemande" [T-16] and frolicsome "Courante" [T-17]. Then there's a two-part "Fanfare et Sarabande (Fanfare and Sarabande)" [T-18], whose marchlike first [00:00] is succeeded by a leisurely second [00:43]. And after that the composer serves up an engaging "Gavotte" [T-19].

Subsequently, he gives us two rarities, the initial one being a proud "Matradour" [T-20] modeled after a dance done during the 18th and 19th centuries by Saint Petersburg's high society. Then there's a flighty "Canari" [T-21], which mimics something from the Canary Islands that was popular during the Renaissance.

These are followed by three programmatic ones, starting with "Incantation et danse du Chamane (Invocation and dance of the Shaman)" [T-22]. This Eastern-sounding number has mystic woodwind passages [00:00] succeeded by an exotic, cyclical dance [00:35], where whirling dervishes come to mind.

Then there's a restful Nocturne [T-23], and last but not least, de Hartmann gives us a vivacious, Slavic-seasoned caper titled Danilo Couper (Daniel Cooper) [T-24]. It was inspired by an old English dance mentioned in Leo Tolstoy's (1828-1910) War and Peace (1869), which became popular with Russian nobility during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). This ends the work and CD in jubilant fashion.

The Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine (LNPOU) under its "Conductor Laureate", American-born Theodore Kuchar (b. 1963) delivers committed performances of music by one of its native sons. A big round of applause also goes to Turkish flautist Bülent Evcil (b. 1968) for his superb playing in the Concierto... [T-11].

The recordings were done 11-13 September 2021 at the National Philharmonic Hall located in Lviv, Ukraine, some 500 miles east of Khoruzhivka. They present a generous sonic image in pleasant surroundings with Mr. Evcil placed center stage and well balanced against the LNPOU for the Concierto... [T-11, 12 & 13].

His flute is beautifully captured as are all the many other instrumental soloists and groups called for in Thomas's colorful scores. On that note, the overall instrumental timbre here as well as in Koliadky... [T-1 thru 9], Symphonie... [T-10] and Une fete... [T14 thru 24] is characterized by pleasant highs, a rich midrange and lean, clean bass. Taking everything into consideration, this release is as good as conventional CDs get.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y220929)

Amazon Records International

The album cover may not always appear.
Wranitzky, Paul: Orch Wks V4 (Das Waldmädchen, Pastorale and Allemande); Štilec/CzPard ChPO [Naxos]
Naxos continues their invaluable, ongoing survey of Paul Wranitzky's (1756-1808) orchestral music (see 31 January 2022) with a fourth volume. What's more, both selections are world premiere recordings!

By way of reminder, he was born Pavel Vranický in what's now Nová Říše, Czechia (Czech Republic), around 100 miles southeast of Prague, and first studied music in his native country. However, Pavel then moved permanently to Vienna, where he Germanized his name, thereby becoming Paul Wranitzky.

He was friends with Haydn (1732-1809), Mozart (1756-1791) and Beethoven (1770-1827), so it's not surprising his music is stylistically similar to theirs. In any case, Wranitzky left a large oeuvre across all genres, and this release features his three-act ballet Das Waldmädchen (The Forest Maiden) of 1796, which presages later, romantic ones of the 1800s.

The album notes have a detailed scenario of the story underlying it, so we'll just hit the high points in the following commentary. That said, things get underway with a ternary, A-B-A overture [T-1], where vivacious "A"s [00:02 & 02:45] bracket a Polonaise-like "B" [01:37-02:44].

Then the first-act curtain rises to a dainty number [T-2], revealing a dressing room in Polish Prince Floresky's castle, and the arrival of his consort, Princess Floresca with her chamber maids. She soon begins dressing, but venatic passages [T-3] announce the arrival of Floresky, who tells her he's going bear-hunting with her brother, Polish Prince Lovensky. The latter soon appears [T-4], and she cautions them not to be too daring. However, other hunters, some being Cossacks, one of whom is named Petrushka, then join the group [T-5].

Subsequently, there's some transitional music [T-6] as the scene changes to a forest, where a young maiden named Azémia is sleeping on a bed of moss. And by way of background, we're told she was abducted from her parents as a baby and grew up alone in the forests of Lithuania.

Azémia wakes, says her morning prayer and goes to pick some fruit for breakfast. But hearing the approach of Florensky along with Lovensky and some other hunters that include a Cossack named Petrushka, she hides in a nearby cave.

Then Florensky's hunting party appears, and a bear chases Petrushka up a tree. However, the other hunters fend it off, and Lovinsky drives the beast away, allowing Petrushka to climb down, whereupon he discovers Azémia in that cave. But this scares them both, and they run off in opposite directions.

Next, Petrushka returns with Florensky, saying he encountered a two-legged beast that wanted to eat him. Then Azémia is chased in by a hunter and Florensky, who's taken with her beauty, successfully earns her trust. What's more, Petrushka finally admits to himself that the beast he encountered was a gorgeous girl, and shortly thereafter Lovensky returns. He's killed the bear, which some other hunters are carrying on a litter.

The foregoing frightens Azémia, but she soon becomes more confident and develops a liking for Lovinsky. Then some other hunters arrive with food as well as wine, and Azémia partakes of both. This is cause for Floresky to suggest that Lovensky should spike her wine with a sleeping potion, so they can take her back to his castle.

Then those Cossacks do a spirited dance [T-7], which Azémia finds intriguing but a tad intimidating. However, the wine soon quells her reservations to the point where she even joins them. However, Levinsky's soporific potion soon takes effect, and she dozes off in Lovensky's lap to some engaging music [T-8]. After that, Floresky and his companions take her back to the castle, thereby ending this act.

The second one opens in Florenska's chamber, where her maids dance a charming number [T-9] as they wait for Floresky's return. Shortly thereafter a squire enters to somewhat flighty music [T-10] and announces his arrival. Subsequently, the music becomes laidback [T-11] as all move to another room with an alcove where Azémia is sleeping on an ottoman.

But when she wakes up the others hide themselves, and pensive passages [T-12, 00:01] reflect Azémia's wonderment over the beautiful mirrors as well as a pendulum clock in her surroundinqs. But the music becomes animated [03:16] as the two Princes and Princess ask her how she likes her new digs. Azémia expresses great satisfaction with them and tries to win Floreska's favor since she sees her as a future benefactor.

After that, a Dancing Master (Monsieur Cisonne) enters to a genteel number [T-13]. He's been summoned to instruct this feral child in one of court life's more refined social aspects. However, the lesson goes poorly, so Lovensky takes over.

Here the music becomes a captivating theme-with-variations [T-14], during which Azémia admires Floreska's dress and tells her she'd love one like it. Consequently, the Princess promises to honor her request, and Azémia follows Floreska to her room. Then this act closes as the two Princes depart to issue orders for an upcoming, festive ball.

As the curtain goes up for the third and final one, we see a great ballroom with the Cossacks doing one of those vivacious, leg-stretching dances [T-15]. While it's in progess, Floresky and Floreska arrive, followed by their court. Then the ball begins with high-stepping passages [T-16, 00:00] and Azémia enters in a resplendent, Polish outfit, which is cause for compliments from the Princess and her ladies-in-waiting.

Lovinsky, who's attraction for this fair damsel has been ever growing, tells her she'd be even more attractive with a greater air of nobility. Although, Azémia initially rebuffs him for his remark, she then tries to emulate Floreska's noble bearing. This leads to a pas de deux with him, where he apparently reveals his affections for her.

That's succeeded by another Cossack dance [T-17], and then the ball continues with a proud Polonaise [T-18]. Subsequently, there's a pensive segment [T-19, 00:00] where Floreska gives a necklace to Azémia. This is followed by a pensive segment [T-19, 00:00], during which she accepts it and takes out a medallion of her own. Then in adjoining, busy passages [T-19, 00:37] Azémia tells the Princess she got it as a child and it's her most valued possession.

Subsequently, there's a lively segment [T-20], presumably where she gives it to Floreska. But then the medallion flips open revealing a miniature picture, which to quote the album notes, "discloses that Azémia is a Princess of the house of Floresky, abducted in her childhood."

This revelation dispels any lingering doubts Lovinsky might have had about her, and is cause for a joyous, closing number [T-21]. Here he proposes to Azémia, who gladly accepts, and everyone celebrates their upcoming betrothal.

One of Wranitzky's short, divertimento-like creations titled Pastorale und Allemande (early 1800s) [T-22] fills out this release. It was apparently written for Empress Maria Theresa (1772-1807), who was the second wife of Holy Roman Emperor Francis II (1768-1835). This lady was an important musical patron in Vienna around the turn of the 19th century and Wranitzky was one of her favorite composers.

That said, she frequently requested pieces from him for court celebrations as well as her own musical soirées, and the selection here was apparently one of them. More specifically, it's a delightful ternary, A-B-A number with bucolic "A"s imitating a hurdy-gurdy [00:00 & 05:07]. They're on either side of dancelike "B" [02:21-05:06] and end the piece as well as this release in tuneful fashion.

The performances are by the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice (CCPOP), which is based some 70 miles north of the composer's home town. Under their native conductor Marek Štilec (b. 1985), the CCPOP delivers committed, enthusiastic accounts of music that in lesser hands could be quite ordinary fare.

These recordings were made during July 2020 at The House of Music in Pardubice, Czech Republic, and project a generous sonic image in affable surroundings. The orchestral timbre is characterized by pleasant highs, a rich midrange and clean lows. Consequently, the sound is about as good as it gets on conventional CDs. However, the selections here are scored for Classical-period-sized orchestral forces, so don't expect any pants-flapping bass.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y220928)

Amazon Records International