30 NOVEMBER 2023


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.
Clarke, N.: The Prophecies of Merlin (Symphony for Violin and Orchestra); Skærved/Thomson/Vienna RSO [Naxos]
With this enterprising Naxos release, we welcome British composer Nigel Clarke (b. 1960) to these pages. He was born in what was then known as Calcutta (now Kolkata), India, but grew up in the coastal, English town of Margate, some 70 miles east-southeast of London.

Nigel started learning and playing brass instruments as a youngster. Then at age 16 he joined the Royal Marines Band and went on to serve with those of the Royal Army Medical Corps as well as Irish Guards. All this led to his taking courses at the Royal Military School of Music, and studying composition at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) in London.

Subsequently, he's had a highly successful professional career, which has included teaching at RAM and being Head of Composition for the London College of Music. He's also held academic-associated positions in several other countries.

Clarke has written a significant body of works across all genres, including film scores, and here we have the world premiere recording of his The Prophecies of Merlin. This is a symphony for violin and orchestra that was written in 2021 for violinist Peter Shepperd Skærved (b. 1966) and conductor Neil Thomson (b. 1966), both of whom are featured here. Incidentally, the picture on the album cover is by Skærved.

The work is based on Welsh cleric-historiographer Geoffrey of Monmouth's (c. 1095-1155) De gestis Britonum (On the Deeds of the Britons) also known as Historia Regum Britannaie (History of the Kings of England) (c. 1136), as well as his Vita Merlini (Life of Merlin) (c. 1150). These tell about a mythical figure known as Merlin, who was prominent in the late 5th and early 6th century legend of King Arthur.

It's in five movements that the composer says simulate medieval musical tapestries, each of which is named after a location mentioned in Monmouth's writings. Clarke also tells us he's cast the violin as the maddened Merlin. Consequently, this music is quite programmatic.

"Tapestry I - Calidon Wood" [T-1] blazons a once large forested area of northern Britain (Caledonian Forest), where a grief-stricken Merlin took refuge during a war with the Scots. This begins with foreboding orchestral passages [01:01] from which the violin emerges [04:00], thereby depicting a crazed Merlin, who's distraught over the many fatalities among his comrades. He then becomes a hermit, and winter finds him starving and mentally deranged.

Accordingly, the music wanes and then becomes increasingly maniacal [06:00] with frenzied violin moments, one of which is cadenza-like [09:30]. Subsequently, the foregoing ebbs [11:21], but turns feverish [12:09], only to suddenly quit. Then moving afterthoughts [13:23] conclude things tranquilly.

"Tapestry II - Calaterium Forest" [T-2] depicts the site for one of Merlin's dire predictions, where he said there'd be a terrible famine that would kill many people. The music here gets off to a subdued start [00:00], but becomes increasingly querulous for both orchestra and soloist. It's somewhat like a Danse Macabre and comes to an ominous, quiet ending.

"Tapestry III - Severn Sea" [T-3] limns a location now known as Bristol Channel, where Merlin said the waters would burn for seven months, thereby killing all the fish, whose carcasses would turn into terrible serpents. Consequently, this is a harsh, dissonant, percussively-laced number for all. There is a somewhat pensive segment [01:25]; however, turmoil returns [03:24] and it ends with a shriek [05:23].

"Tapestry IV - Canute's Wood" [T-4] presumably refers to an area associated with King Cnut. This takes its inspiration from a Merlin prophecy about a river that divides into three poisonous streams. Then some woman dries them up, becomes cursed for doing so, and gets impaled on the horns of a stag.

It begins softly with a lengthy solo for the bassoon [00:00], which is then joined by the violinist [03:59] and orchestra [04:30]. The music here becomes increasingly frenetic, but eventually wanes [06:42], bringing the movement to a tranquil conclusion.

"Tapestry V - Daneian Forest" [T-5] seemingly connotes a Danian location. It probably represents a segment of another Merlin prophecy, which said in essence that this area would become stirred up and cry in a human voice, "Come Cambria, join Cornwall, and say to Winchester that the earth will swallow it up."

It gets off to a wild start [00:01] with pounding drums and a frenzied soloist. Then the foregoing just quits, only to resume [02:19] with manic violin passages. But then there's a pause and the mood turns rather dicey [03:45] with waltzlike moments [06:34], followed by bellicose ones [07:32] having an excited soloist [08:22]. These turn triumphant [08:47], only to suddenly ebb [09:00] into a final, fortissimo last cry [10:02].

Violinist Skærved (see above) and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra under conductor Thomson (see above) deserve a big round of applause for this outstanding performance. That also holds for bassoonist Alexandru Cozma [T-4]. Together, they make a strong case for a Clarke concert piece, which will win him many new friends.

The recording was made 29 [T-1, 2], 30 [T-3, 4] and 31 [T-5] August 2022 at the ORF's Studio 6 in Vienna, Austria. It presents an acceptably sized sonic image with the soloist centered and well captured against the orchestra.

The overall instrumental timbre is characterized by highs and mids that are as good as they get on conventional discs, while the bass is lean and clean. Clarke's colorful scoring will test the finest audio systems. However, this being a studio recording, the overall sound may be somewhat dry for those liking wetter sonics.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P231130)


The album cover may not always appear.
Ichmouratov: Piano Concerto, Viola Concerto No. 1; Sylvestre/Misbakhova/Ichmouratov/LonSO [Chandos (Hybrid)]
Three years ago we told you about a conventional Chandos disc (see 30 September 2020) with some orchestral works by Montreal-resident, composer-conductor Airat Ichmouratov (b. 1973), who was born in Tatarstan. Now he makes a welcome return with this recent Chandos hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0) release that has the world premiere recordings of two, three-movement concertos.

His Piano Concerto (Op. 40) was written in 2012-13, but put aside. Then in 2021 our soloist, Canadian Jean-Philippe Sylvestre (b. 1982), who's its dedicatee, edited the piano part, thereby giving us the revised version presented here. It's of late romantic temperament and may remind you of Rachmaninov's (also spelled Rachmaninoff; 1873-1943) works in this genre (1889-1941).

The first movement [T-1] has an "Andante affettuoso (Slow and tender)" beginning [00:02], soon followed by three ideas that are respectively proud (P1) [00:10], vivacious (V2) [00:58] and stately (S3) [01:31]. These are food for a thrilling exploration [02:52], which adjoins an extended, highly demanding cadenza [08:39]. Then the orchestra returns [13:19] with memories of P1 [13:26], V2 [14:16] and S3 [14:48]. The latter becomes increasingly intense and is spiced with snippets of V2 [15:41] as well as P1 [15:58], thereby ending things forcefully.

A middle "Grave solenne (Slow and solemn)" [T-2] opens with a gloomy chorale for strings (GC) [00:01] reminiscent of Mahler's (1860-1911) darker symphonic moments. Then the soloist, harp and winds begin a contemplative section [02:37], where the piano becomes increasingly predominant to a GC-based orchestral background. However, the foregoing wanes into some hushed, closing thoughts [11:01] having a last, very soft chord for the piano [12:14] that simply fades away.

Subsequently, the mood becomes more sanguine in the final movement [T-3]. This gets off to an "Allegro moderato (Moderately fast)" start with blazing orchestral passages [00:00], which call up the soloist, who plays a lighthearted ditty (L1) [00:25]. L1 is then explored and followed by the oboe intoning an "Andante (Slow)", wistful second idea (W2) [01:43].

After that reminders of L1 [02:43] with virtuosic flourishes for the piano wax and wane into a "Presto impetuoso (Very fast and impetuous)" segment [04:03]. Here the soloist's parts are marked "con sarcasmo (with sarcasm)", and consequently may remind you of more cynical moments in Prokofiev's (1891-1953) piano concertos (1911-53).

Then the strings conjure up a lush, C-major version of W2 [05:30]. This is succeeded by ecstatic passages that suddenly give way to more introspective ones [06:12]. But L1 returns [07:10] parenting some merry offspring that wax and wane into an ebullient coda [08:40], which ends the work triumphantly.

The Viola Concerto No. 1 (Op. 7) dates back to 2004 when Airat was studying conducting at the Université de Montréal. He wrote it for his wife, Tatarstan-born, violist-violinist Elvira Misbakhova (b. 1975), who was concurrently getting her PhD there, and wanted a new work for her doctoral performance. Incidentally, she edited the version presented here.

Its first movement [T-4] has an ominous, "Andante (Slow)" orchestral preface [00:01] that conjures up a dire idea (D1) [00:20] with martial moments [00:59]. Then the viola enters playing D1-based virtuosic passages [01:21]. These bridge into sorrowful ones for the orchestra [02:34] and soloist [03:31], who launches into a cadenza-like tidbit [03:52]. Then drum thumps [04:29] and wood block knocks [04:32] trigger an "Allegro moderato (Moderately fast)" episode where the viola plays an antsy number (A2) [04:37].

A2 is the basis for an exciting conversation between soloist and orchestra [06:20], which turns into a D1-reminiscent, songful episode [07:37]. Then the music becomes somewhat martial with snare-drum-rolls [09:03], thereby waxing and waning into lyrical passages. But D1 makes a forceful orchestral return [12:51], and the viola launches into staccato memories of A2 [13:39]. These invoke dramatic tutti passages [14:36] that bring this movement to a dramatic conclusion.

Then the next one [T-5] opens with a melancholy "Recitativo (Recitative)" for the soloist [00:01] having a bravura tidbit [01:45] followed by sorrowful passages [02:39]. Subsequently, the orchestra makes a "Largo (Slow)" entrance [03:53] and along with the viola delivers an episode that becomes "Pił mosso (More agitated)" [07:01] and even "Alla marcia (Like a march)" [08:09]. This builds to a colossal culmination with harp glissandos [11:07] and tubular bells [11:13], which ebbs into some serene thoughts [12:32, 13:43] that end the movement quietly.

The third movement [T-6] is an impish perpetuum mobile. It gets off to an "Allegro (Fast)" start with a harp glissando [00:00] and quirky passages for all [00:01], where the viola plays a mercurial number (M1) [00:04]. After that M1 is asserted by the tutti [00:26], thereby becoming the subject of several variational treatments (VTs). These range from tuneful [00:37] to scurrying [01:42], explosive [02:19] and bellicose [02:34].

Then another harp glissando [03:57] initiates a compressed recap of those VTs [00:58]. It's followed by "Presto (Very fast)", M1-based passages spotlighting the soloist [05:43]. They bridge into forceful ones [06:35] that bring the work and disc to a powerful conclusion.

These superb performances by the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) are arguably definitive as they're conducted by the composer. Both of the soloists (pianist Jean-Philippe Sylvestre and violist Elvira Misbakhova) deliver superb, technically accomplished, yet highly sensitive accounts of their respective works.

The recordings on this hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.1) disc couldn't be better, and the album booklet has detailed technical as well as equipment specifications regarding them. These took place on 19-20 April (T-1 thru 3) and 5 May (T-4 thru 6) 2022 in LSO St. Lukes, London.

They present consistently generous sonic images in ideal surroundings with the soloists centered and beautifully captured as well as highlighted against the orchestra. The overall instrumental timbre is characterized by pleasant highs (particularly on the SACD tracks), a rich midrange and clean bass.

Both stereo tracks put the music in front of you. However, the multichannel one will give those having home theater systems a front-row, center seat. Taking everything into consideration, this release easily earns an "Audiophile" stripe.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y231129)


The album cover may not always appear.
Stöhr: Orchestral Music V2 (Suite No. 1 for String Orchestra, Symphony No. 1); Wilczyński/Hobson/SinfaVars [Toccata]
Not long ago we told you about a ground-breaking Toccata release of Austrian composer Richard Stöhr's (1874-1967) orchestral music (see 31 October 2022), and here's another with two more world première recordings. Since the album booklet has extensive details regarding his fascinating life, as well as musical analyses of both selections, we'll just hit the high points. On that note, he left a large body of works across all genres, and once said, "I am not a modern composer". Consequently, his music is of late romantic disposition.

His Suite No. 1 for String Orchestra in C major, Op. 8, was probably written in 1908-09. It's in three movements, the first being a "Presto (Very fast)" Präludium (Prelude) [T-1], which is an A-B-A, ternary-structured tidbit. Here "A"s [00:00 & 02:51] featuring a playful, scampering ditty surround a capricious "B" [00:55] and end things with a pizzicato, 🙂ing, cadence [04:09].

The following "Andante (Moderately slow)" one [T-2] has a sorrowful opening idea [00:00] that's explored [01:57]. Then there's an "A tempo, dolce espressivo (At the same speed, but expressively tender)" midsection [03:35-06:46]. It begins with a more hopeful thought, which powers a closing "Energitico (Energetic)" episode [07:36], which ends the movement tranquilly on a somewhat brighter note.

Then Stöhr serves up a consummate Fuge (Fugue) [T-3]. This is marked "Allegro grazioso (Fast and graceful)" and has a sprightly opening subject [00:00] reminiscent of J.S. Bach (1685-1750). It's soon succeeded by an engaging development [01:13] that becomes commanding [02:08] and wanes into reminiscences of the opening measures [03:08]. These parent a busy, short coda [04:22] having a fortississimo ending [04:32] with a final, fervent, fermata chord [04:35].

Those liking Austrian composer Anton Bruckner's (1824-1896) symphonies (1863-1896) will be delighted to discover the next selection. It's Richard's Symphony No. 1 in A minor, Op. 18 (1909), which is scored for a large orchestra (see the album notes for specifics). and includes some ad libitum organ in the third of its four movements.

The Initial one [T-4] is in sonata form and has an "Andante maestoso (Slow and majestic)" opening that begins with a sinister, brass introduction [00:00]. This hints at the first theme of the exposition, which is an "Allegro (Fast)", swaying thought (AS) [01:51]. It's followed by a "Tranquillo (Tranquil)" one (TR) [03:39], and the exposition is repeated [04:55].

After that, bits of TR initiate a dramatic development [06:42]. Then AS calls up a thrilling recapitulation [11:08], which has an AS-TR-based "Immer langsamer, sehr breit und sempre fff (Always slower, very broad and always fortississimo)" coda [14:09] that brings the movement to a profound ending.

The Scherzo [T-5] has "Allegro commodo (Comfortably fast)" outer sections [00:00, 08:20], each of which starts with an insistent, cocky number (IC) that brackets a "Poco tranquillo (Somewhat tranquil)" one [02:38 & 10:15]. They surround a "Quasi allegretto (Somewhat lively)" trio [05:07], featuring an eerie theme heard at its outset, and end the movement with forceful reminders of IC.

Subsequently, there's an "Andante religioso (Moderately slow and religious)" one [T-6]. It has a pious introduction (PI) [00:01] followed by a lovely hymn-like tune (LH) [01:19], which is all the more moving for that organ mentioned above. Then reminders of PI [02:45] parent a moving, reverent episode [03:30]. This waxes and wanes into more memories of PI [04:59] as well as LH [06:08]. However, the latter trigger a "sempre ff (always fortissimo)" coda [07:05] that ebbs into a pianissimo, closing fermata chord [08:04].

The "Vivacissimo (Extremely lively)" Finale [T-7] is rondo-like, and has an antsy beginning [00:00] with a captivating thematic nexus [00:05] that recurs in various guises. These range from dulcet [02:19] to martial [03:06] with a combative fugal episode [04:45].

Then things turn increasingly triumphant [07:12, 08:25, 09:44], only to make a "Poco tranquillo (Somewhat tranquil)" transition into a "Ganz kurz, aber mit vollster Kraft (Quite short but with utmost force)" coda [11:33]. This ends the work and disc with an arresting, ffz, A-minor chord [12:26].

As on that first Toccata album devoted to this composer's orchestral music (see 31 October 2022), English conductor Ian Hobson (b. 1952) and the Warsaw-based Sinfonia Varsova (SinfaVars) give superb performances of both selections. Incidentally, Polish organist Piotr Wilczyński is to be commended for his playing in the Symphony's third movement [T-6].

The recordings were made 15-16 February [T-1 thru 3] and 11-12 October [T-4 thru 7] 2023 at Polish Radio's Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio located in Warsaw. They present pragmatic sonic images in a pleasing venue where there's no feeling of that confinement sometimes felt with "studio" recordings. More specifically, the string tone in the Suite is good, while the Symphony's overall orchestral timbre is characterized by pleasant highs, a rich midrange and clean bass.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, Y231128)

Amazon Records International

The album cover may not always appear.
Tubin: "Kratt" Ballet Suite, Music for Strings (with works by Bacewicz & Lutosławski); P.Järvi/EstFest O [Alpha Cl]
Eduard Tubin (1905-1982) was born in Torila, Estonia, about 100 air miles southeast of Tallinn, which is its capital. His parents were music lovers, and as a youngster he learned to play both flute and piano. The year 1920 saw him become interested in composition and go on to study with fellow countryman Heino Eller (1887-1970; see 28 February 2020).

Then he began a very successful career, which included conducting as well composing, and in 1941 married the dancer-actress Elfriede Saarik (1916-1983). But when the Soviet Union (1922-1991) re-occupied Estonia in 1944, they fled to Stockholm, where Tubin became a Swedish citizen (1941). Here he had a very distinguished musical career, and would die after a long illness, leaving a large oeuvre across all genres.

The initial selection on this release is his "Kratt" Ballet Suite (1940/1961). The idea for its parent work first came to Eduard in 1938 after a trip to Budapest, where he met Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967). This renowned composer was known for incorporating Hungarian folk material into his works, and suggested that Tubin do the same in his, but with that of Estonia.

Incidentally, it was the first ballet written in his country, and Eduard got 30 folk songs and instrumental pieces from the Estonian Folklore Archives (EFA), whose melodies are the work's lifeblood. He also found associated EFA material that he gave to Elfriede (see above), from which she wrote its libretto. That said, the underlying story centers around a "Kratt", which is the Estonian, mythological counterpart of a goblin.

Turning to the Suite featured here, it's presented on three conjoined tracks. The first [T-1] has a vivacious "Introduction" [00:01] followed by a rustic "Peasant Dance" [01:10] and bumptious "Dance of the Goblin" [02:37]. As for the second [T-2], there's a heady "Long Dance" [00:00], engaging violin-introduced "Peasant Waltz" [02:53] plus a capricious "Buck Dance" [03:41].

The last one [T-3] gives us a pensive "Interlude" [00:00], insistent drum-pounding "Dance of the Exorcists [03:41], bleating "The Goat" [06:29] and crowing "The Cock" [08:31]. Then the latter calls up an increasingly vivacious "Dance of the Northern Lights" [09:01] that ends the work emphatically.

Tubin's three-movement Music for Strings (1962-63) is also on this release. In three movements, the "Moderato (Moderately)" marked first [T-7] is a passacaglia that begins with an austere, confident ostinato (AC) [00:00]. AC is overlaid with several pensive, AC-related variations, and simply fades away.

However, the pace quickens in the next "Allegro (Fast)", sonata-form-like one [T-8]. Here there's a fast introduction [00:00] hinting at a commanding first theme [00:16] and headstrong second [00:57]. These are the material for an engaging, fugato-initiated development [01:54], followed by an excited recapitulation [02:25] that ends the movement suddenly.

The "Adagio (Slow)" third [T-9] is a wistful serenade based on reminiscences of AC. It waxes and wanes into memories [04:29] of the opening movement's last measures, thereby bringing the work full circle.

Two selections by Polish composers complete this release, the initial one being by Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-1969), who's previously appeared in these pages (see 30 June 2018). It's her three-movement Concerto for String Orchestra (1948), which may have been inspired by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók's (1881-1945; see 30 September 2017) Concerto for Orchestra (1943).

This lady's work has an "Allegro (Fast)" beginning [T-4] that brings to mind the concerto grosso of Baroque times. Here chugging (C1) [00:00] as well as haughty (H3) [01:01] ideas for the tutti surround a proud one (P2) played by the concertino [00:38]. Then H3 is explored [01:26] and wanes into P2 [02:17]. It calls up C1 [02:56] followed by a vivacious H3 [03:32], which ends things in plucky, pizzicato-spiked fashion.

An "Andante (Slow)", berceuse-like movement is next [T-5]. It opens with the tutti intoning ethereal passages [00:01] over delicate ones for the concertino. Then they switch roles [01:26], thereby giving us music that waxes and wanes into memories of the opening measures [03:47], which conclude this in the same spirit as it began.

The "Vivo (Lively)" third [T-6] has spirited segments [00:00, 01:55, 03:43]. They alternate with pensive ones [01:19, 03:07] and ends things abruptly.

A more somber piece by her compatriot Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994) fills out this release. It's his prize-winning Musique funèbre (1954-58), which is scored for string orchestra and was commissioned by Polish composer-conductor Jan Krenz (1926-2020) to honor Béla Bartók (1881-1945; see 30 September 2017). What's more, it smacks of that great Hungarian composer's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936).

This is in a single movement having four distinct sections that are each presented on a separate track. The opening "Prologue" [T-10] begins with a despondent, twelve-tone idea (DT) played by the cellos [00:00], which is the subject of a funereal rumination. Then there's a "Metamorphosis" [T-11], where an onerous DT [00:00] is braided with a couple of other versions of itself [00:16, 00:39, 00:51], all of which undergo a dozen transformations.

These become increasingly agitated and proceed attacca into "Apogeum (Apogee)" [T-12] that's 32 successive, twelve-tone chords [00:00]. Then they merge attacca with "Epilogue" [T-13]. This is based on the first section and slowly wanes away, ending the work with a feeling of nothingness.

All four selections are performed by the Estonian Festival Orchestra (EFO) under conductor Paavo Järvi (b. 1962). He founded it in 2011 as the resident orchestra of the Pärnu Musical Festival, which takes place annually some 80 miles south of Tallinn. They deliver banner accounts of these works, and EFO concertmaster Florian Donderer (b. 1969) gets a big hand for his superb violin playing, particularly in "Kratt".

These live recordings were made in the Pärnu Concert Hall during July 2021. However, adept postproduction touch-ups and editing have eliminated any extraneous audience noise or applause. Careful microphone placement as well as skillful mixing assure a good sonic image of these colorfully scored housed in pleasant surroundings.

The orchestral timbre is characterized by highs that would have fared better on an SACD, but the midrange and low end are both good. While this release is highly recommendable for the selections presented here, it falls a bit short of an "Audiophile" rating.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (, P231127)