Archive for February, 2008
Alfred Brendel’s Farewell Recital in Boston, Symphony Hall, Boston: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert
For his Boston farewell program, Alfred Brendel chose a selective cross-section of the repertoire he has cultivated through much of his career, and a fascinating selection it was, both in terms of Mr. Brendel’s taste and the inter-relationships between these mostly classical composers. [Click here for a review of his New York farewell with James Levine and the Met Orchestra.] There was no Schoenberg, no Schumann, and Liszt only as an encore. One felt that he had concentrated on the very marrow of his repertory. On the other hand, it came as a powerful discovery to experience the various forms—the overall shapes—of these four works within the compass of a single concert. Brendel has always been especially strong in comprehending and delineating classical structure and form, and now, at the very end of his public career, he appears to have distilled it to the utmost. Haydn’s rich F minor variations, which unfold over a melancholy walking figure in the bass, preceded the musically unusual, but traditionally constructed Mozart sonata, which concludes with an introspective rondo, also set at an ambling pace, cobbled from an earlier independent work. After this, Beethoven’s concentrated Sonata quasi una Fantasia, seemed like a revolutionary outburst, although all Beethoven actually did was to pare his movement-structures down to the point where they could function in support of an improvisatory style. After the break these three strikingly different, but equally terse classical works were followed by Schubert’s Romantic expansion of classical form to encompass a wealth of drawn-out melodies, harmonic invention, and subtle changes of mood.
Henry David Thoreau meets Raymond Chandler, Two American Eccentrics, Pt. I Introduction and review of Searching for Thoreau: On the Trails and Shores of Wild New England, by Tom Slayton
As full of detail as his book is, Slayton never loses track of his purpose and his theme. He does indeed find Thoreau in the places, plants, and animals he studied. His kind of participation is not of Thoreau’s intense, totally absorbed kind, since he is basically a rationalist, but I think no one could argue with his basic tenet about Thoreau, that he was a seeker of the wild: “He was a good Romantic…but he was also a naturalist and came to understand that wildness did not have to be found only in wilderness…For him it was a pervasive quality—close to what the ancient Chinese called the Tao, the mysterious, all-encompassing force that winds the mainspring of the universe. He searched for it everywhere.” ( p. 3) Slayton constantly returns to this theme as he visits and revisits Thoreau’s haunts. whether in obvious places like the Maine woods or in heavily developed places like Cape Cod or Walden Pond. He puts it in the forefront of his conclusion, quoting Thoreau: “In Wildness is the Preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibres forth in search of the Wild…I believe in the forest, and in the meadows, and in the night in which the corn grows.” Or as Walt Whitman said in a quotation that follows hard upon it: “I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.” While some may see these statements, both confessions of belief, as pure Goethe, it is enough to ponder them in themselves.
From time to time, the American expat, no matter how unpatriotic his sentiments may be, develops a certain homesickness for his motherland. This regret may take on a gluttonous form, causing a longing for hamburgers, fried chicken, hot dogs or “freedom fries.” Being rather put off by the thought of an heart attack, I decided to feed my cravings instead by attending Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, directed by Jemima Levick.
Judith Freeman, The Long Embrace, Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved, New York, Pantheon, 2007, 368 pp.
Both the subtitle of Judith Freeman’s The Long Embrace: “Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved,” as well as its author’s stated purpose, lead us to believe that its primary subject is Chandler’s enigmatic older wife, Cissy. Freeman’s obsessive interest in Chandler led her to read selections from his letters, and from that she became obsessed with Cissy, with whom Chandler himself was clearly obsessed. Part of her fascination is the very paucity of information which has come down about her, only a handful of photographs and a few notes. However, Raymond Chandler himself comes first, both in the subtitle and in Freeman’s obsession, and, while Cissy is most prominently the leitmotiv which holds the book and its various themes together, we get more exposure to Chandler’s other love (in what was most definitely a love-hate relationship, as was the possibly other) the city of Los Angeles, since much of Freeman’s research consisted of finding and motoring to the many furnished houses and flats in which they lived over their forty mostly reclusive years together, and much of her text consists of personal, even intimate narrations of her experiences in these visits. In her work Freeman could not help becoming more deeply immersed in the city, which she and Chandler made their adoptive home.
In architecture school, the worst criticism a student can receive is an extended silence broken by the comment — “Well, I like the font you used.” That’s a snarky way to begin. There will be Blood is hardly that bad. Even if it were that bad surely it would be bad in a way that […]
Paul Taylor, Themes and Variations, and Susan kae Grant, Night Journey at The Hallmark Museum of Contemporary Photography
The Hallmark Museum of Contemporary Photography has expanded. It now boasts two state-of-the-art galleries, each in separate buildings, which it is now using to host two one-person shows, one a retrospective of Paul Taylor’simpressive photographic work, and the other a specific project by Texas photographer Susan kae Grant. Both exhibitions were inaugurated by slide lectures by the artists, making for a full and extremely stimulating evening. These were held at the equally impressive Hallmark Institute of Photography, which specializes in commercial photography and the business of photography, but, as this evening showed, it provides students with a constant flow of inspiration from the very best fine art photography. The present exhibitions are particularly sophisticated examples of this. As Paul Turnbull, the executive director and curator of the HMCP, pointedly asked the students at several points in the evening, “Are you making photographs, or are you taking pictures?” hence the lectures contained more technical considerations than those addressed to the general public. All the better.
If there is a baroque equivalent of an old-fashioned Tanglewood program, consisting of perhaps Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto, and Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, this is it. In fact, during the break, I overheard one perky female voice exclaim, “Yes, I actually know that song. That’s the Air on the…G string!” Some people may be too jaded to enjoy that imaginary program from the old days or the Handel and Haydn Society’s offering from this past weekend, no matter well performed, but the appeal of hearing this superb, if familiar music performed by a first-rate period band in Symphony Hall, is irresistible. When the results are as ebullient and musical as on Friday evening, such tried and true programming can only seem brilliant.
Emmanuel Music: Russell Sherman presents three concerts featuring the complete English Suites of J. S. Bach, Bach’s three Viola da Gamba Sonatas and Bach-Busoni Chorale Preludes
I should stress at the beginning of this review that I write it as one of Russell Sherman’s most ardent admirers. His knowledge of his extensive repertoire, his penetrating understanding of it, his technique (even at the age of 76), and his imagination and resourcefulness of expression are second to none, in my opinion. He has distilled all his sensitivity and intelligence into a highly personal, even idiosyncratic method, which is not equally palatable to all listeners, perhaps inevitably in our age of conformity. While I can respect, enjoy, and learn from an O’Conor, an Ohlsson or an Ax, Russell Sherman brings a unique insight and sensibility to his performances, which are only accessible in the unique form he has developed over many years. I have collected his recordings and travelled many miles to attend his concerts, which in recent years have focused on Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and Liszt.