Month: December 2017

Thinking Mann

I learned how to make movies from Anthony Mann: why the shots, how the shots, traveling shots, location shots, strategies and techniques in editing — he was my sense of movement. -Wim Wenders Mystery is at the heart of all that is appealing about movies; and Anthony Mann, born Anton or Emil Bundsmann in 1906 or 1907, is one of cinema’s mystery men, as well as one of its few thinking men. He remains unfairly neglected, in part because he came to prominence sometime after the shiniest years of the golden age.

A Singer’s Notes, 15: Masks

Gilbert and Sullivan is not my cup of tea. Its style wears a mask. I can be analytical, and I just can’t place it. Of course it is a send-up of everything from Bellini to the New Year’s concert. I am also convinced there is something serious there which I am not getting. It’s rather like reading The Rape of the Lock; the parody is the pathos, and when you laugh with it, you feel like you are laughing at it. C-R Productions at the Cohoes Music Hall IS my cup of tea. In their recent Mikado I saw a well rehearsed, well thought out, not over-staged production, which helped me with my dilemma.

Boston Baroque under Martin Pearlman play Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610

As a 400th anniversary tribute to Monteverdi’s Vespers, Martin Pearlman and Boston Baroque have returned to one of their signature pieces. Their history with the work goes back to their early years, and their 1997 recording remains one of the most highly respected. These performances, two at Jordan Hall and one at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York were an opportunity to hear Pearlman’s thoroughly researched and solid reading with a new crop of singers, most of whom are young performers from New England. Kristen Watson in particular I remember as one of many excellences in Aston Magna’s Purcell program two summers ago. Her rounded tone as well as her clean articulation, as well as her intelligence and wit, were truly memorable.

Mariss Jansons leads the Concertgebouw Orchestra with Janine Jansen at Carnegie Hall in Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, and Mahler

As a conductor, Mariss Jansons is not only versatile, but able to show different characters, depending on his purposes. In each of the three late romantic works in the two concerts he had a clear idea of how he wanted to apply the best qualities of his orchestra. None of these pieces, no matter how much they may be admired, are especially esteemed for their economy and structural clarity, but in each case, Jansons found a true, organic solution to the composer’s aims.

Myung-Whun Chung conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in an All-Ravel Program

For a good part of this reviewer’s life, it would seem, the world has been waiting for a truly great International French symphony orchestra. At mid-century, a general feeling was that the Boston Symphony under Sergei Koussevitzky and Charles Munch carried the torch for French music, ably assisted by Paul Paray in Detroit, Pierre Monteux wherever he could be found, and, on disc, by L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva.

Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra play Chopin and Brahms

The visit of the Leipzig Gewandhaus brings to a close the series of concerts by the great central European orchestras in Carnegie Hall. (Only the Dresdener Staatskapelle was lacking, and they are scheduled to appear next season.) It is a unique pleasure to hear a comprehensive series of these great ensembles in one hall, which also happens to possess one of the finest acoustics in the world. It is also a familiar one to me, since I have been attending concerts at Carnegie since childhood, when the New York Philharmonic still played there. The restoration has impaired its full glory somewhat, but I’ve grown used to the sound as it is—a bit too bright, but capable of embracing the grandest orchestral tutti and projecting the finest detail of a solo instrument up to the rafters. As an environment for comparison, only Symphony Hall in Boston can rival it, but the program of visiting orchestras in Boston has sadly diminished over the years. Only the Berlin Philharmonic and the Leipzig Gewandhaus have played in Boston this season. (I was only recently reminiscing with a friend about how we used to hear Cleveland and other great American orchestras, as well as Vienna and Berlin in Symphony Hall more or less annually.)

Simon Keenlyside sings Schumann, Wolf, and Schubert at Alice Tully

There could not have been a more extreme contrast between Renée Fleming’s approach to Strauss’ Four Last Songs, recently reviewed in these pages, and Simon Keenlyside’s in this recital. For Fleming, the texts of Strauss’ songs are cushioned in her gorgeous production and phrasing, while for Keenlyside the text is the beginning and end of a performance which is essentially dramatic, no matter what beautiful moments his extremely varied—and variable—voice may produce along the way, and of course these moments are entirely expressive in purpose. Acting is second nature to him. In most of his selections he created a character before he uttered a phrase.