REVIEW POTPOURRI – TV: NCIS; Conductor: Andre Cluytens; Film: Dark Eyes; Music: Liszt

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

NCIS

Current Netflix 15th season

Mark Harmon

This program featuring naval intelligence stories is one that keeps on giving. I am convinced some viewers watch it for the facial expressions of Mark Harmon alone. The balance of humor and suspense is another factor. The addition of Maria Bello as special agent Jack is a third factor. The series is one special in ways beyond description. Try the first five episodes of the 15th season. They are entertaining.

Andre Cluytens

The Complete Concerto and Orchestral Recordings
Erato. 65 CDs.

Andre Cluytens

The conductor Andre Cluytens (1905-1967) was one very gifted individual. I have been collecting his recordings for about 20 years. They are the gift that keeps on giving as far as I am concerned. Beethoven Concertos with Solomon and Oistrakh. Debussy, Ravel, Franck, Bizet, Gounod, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rossini, etc…

The best approach would be to sample the various YouTubes and decide if he is for you. There are videos as well.

Dark Eyes

Nikita Mikhalkov

Dark Eyes is the 1987 film of Nikita Mikhalkov. Francis Lai’s soundtrack is a mixture of Mozart, Strauss, Rossini, Lehar and Francis Lai himself, most famous as the composer of A Man and a Woman. It is a mix most suitable for pleasant ambiance at dinner parties and very listenable. The soundtrack is on the DRG label, a cassette with the catalog number SBLC 12592. The actor Marcello Mastroianni.

Liszt

Piano Concerto No. 2; Sonata in B minor.

Franz Liszt

The Concerto has Walter Susskind conducting the Philhar­monia Orchestra and the Angel lp is from the ‘50s – Angel 35031. Again this Polish pianist, Witold Malcuzynski, knew how to make the kind of music making that wore well, much like the conductor Andre Cluytens. His Liszt recordings had the combination of musicality and virtuosity that elevated my fondness for this composer, the 2nd Concerto and Sonata being cases in point.

YouTube is a good place to sample these selections mentioned above.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Singer: Laura Nyro; Director: Yannick Nezet-Seguin

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Laura Nyro

Laura Nyro

Smile, Columbia AL 33912 LP ,1975.

The late Laura Nyro was one very gifted singer, songwriter and pianist. A number of songs, Stoney End, Stoned Soul Picnic, Wedding Bell Blues, etc. have been covered by such artists as Barbra Streisand and the Fifth Dimension.

The 1975 Smile is a sterling example of the searing beauty and power of her on-going themes – life in the Bronx. Sexy Mama, Children of the Junks, Money, I am the Blues, Stormy Love, The Cat-song, Midnite Blues, and the title song mirror the drug addictions, needs to survive, and the moments of joy and love that preoccupy and sustain us. An album highly recommended.

Yannick Nezet-Seguin

Yannick Nezet-Seguin

The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra Collection
Deutsche Grammophon 4835345, 6 CDs, live concerts 2008-2018.

Presently the music director of the Metropolitan Opera and other orchestras, Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducts the Rotterdam Philhar­monic in works by Beethoven, Shosta­kovich, Mahler, Tchaikov­sky, Bruckner etc. The performances are good, especially the Bruckner 8th Symphony, and would fit the needs of anyone wanting a set of choice basic repertoire.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Yellow Rolls Royce/Umbrellas of Cherbourg Excerpts

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Yellow Rolls Royce/Umbrellas of Cherbourg Excerpts

Cinema Sound Stage Orchestra, Somerset records, LP, 1965.

Rare photo of D. L. Miller

The 1964 films, Yellow Rolls Royce/Umbrellas of Cherbourg generated original musical sound tracks. The above release had no connection with the originals. The Cinema players were hired by D.L.Miller, a fascinating businessman worthy of a biography while the group consisted of Hamburg Philharmonic musicians.

The Ray Charles Singers

Miller created Somerset because of the huge demand and success of of other labels’ low priced LPs. He then scouted for talent among a variety of superb musicians – conductors Sir Adrian Boult, Horst Stein, Hugo Rignold, singing group the Ray Charles Singers etc. His arguably most well known 101 Strings, recorded a pile of albums that sold millions and are still popular.

Riz Ortolani

Film composers Riz Ortolani (1926-2014, Yellow Rolls Royce) and Michel Legrand (1932, Umbrellas) have left sizable legacies. Their music on this record is imbued with charm and carefree gaiety. Interestingly, Ortolani plagiarized a passage from Alexander Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances for one of the Yellow RR tunes. While I generally like Le­grand’s music better for its consistently beautiful qualities, I was eager to hear Ortolani’s excerpts because of my previous lack of any familiarity with him. What I heard was okay but with a few bland moments.

Michel Legrand

All in all though, the record can be heartily recommended to film music connoisseurs and any other interested collectors.

It has been out of print for many years yet copies are listed for sale on Amazon.

 

 

 

 

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Bizet: Carmen excerpts

A couple of Remington Records colorful album jackets

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Georges Bizet

Bizet

Carmen excerpts
Remington RLP-199-15, mono LP, recorded in 1950.

Remington records was started in 1950 and stayed in business until 1957. The records themselves often had noisy surfaces; they also had very beautiful and colorful album covers, which makes them often collectible and also very expensive on different Internet sites. Finally, they had a catalog featuring both standard and unusual repertoire, artists familiar to classical record connoisseurs, and its share of pseudonyms or phony names.

The opera excerpts are beautifully sung, so many of the melodies – examples such as the Toreador Song, Habanera, etc. – appearing in everything from TV shows to ads. The names of the singers and conductor are unfortunately nowhere to be found, even on the Sound Fountain website, which otherwise contains so much fascinating info on the label and lots of photos of its album covers, including this release. Just type in the following on Google: Remington records, Jean Allain – Bizet Carmen and/or soundfountain.com, which is listed under Remington records on the Google site!

Musically, every Remington record on my shelves has something interesting, despite its faults otherwise.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: The World’s Greatest Cellists

Janos Starker

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The World’s Greatest Cellists

Sine Qua Non-SQN-112X, three LPs, released 1973.

Pablo Casals

The set contains an assortment of truly great masterworks performed by three of the greatest practitioners of the cello. Each individual and his offering(s) will be considered:

Pablo Casals (1876-1973) did more than any previous player to expand appreciation of the cello and its musical depths. A live performance of Beethoven’s very beautiful Archduke Trio, with his very dear friends and phenomenal players in their own right- pianist Mieczyslaw Horszowski (1892-1993) and violinist Sandor Vegh (1912-1997), is moderately paced but phrased with some of the most soulful detail I have ever heard!

Pierre Fournier

Cellist Pierre Fournier (1906-1986) developed a more suave, elegant style that became his endearing trademark for more than 40 years, as opposed to Casals’ soulful depths. The 1955 record of the Brahms’ 2 Cello Sonatas, with pianist Wilhelm Backhaus (1884-1969), captures the wonderful wide-ranging beauty of dignity, passion, joy and reserve in both works.

At an early performance of the 1st Sonata, Brahms played so loud that the cellist , himself an amateur, complained about not hearing his own instrument. “Lucky for you, too,” roared Brahms as he pounded away at the keyboard.

I met Janos Starker (1924-2014) in 1983 when he performed the Elgar Cello Concerto with the Houston Symphony under Sir Alexander Gibson. He exuded a most compelling aura of confidence and performed the work with ease and eloquence. Afterwards in the green room, he was the embodiment of cordiality and good humor when sharing a story of his days as principal cellist in the Chicago Symphony under the legendary Fritz Reiner.

His playing was characterized by a slashing, biting intensity that threw one into the heart of the music. Thus, his recordings of the charming 18th century Concerto in B-flat Major of Luigi Boccherini and the very exciting 1915 Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello further enrich this week’s set of historic recordings, all of which are posted from YouTube on my own Facebook page!

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Singer: Sarah Vaughan

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Sarah Vaughan

Sings the Mancini Songbook
Mercury, 61009, stereo LP, recorded 1965.

Sarah Vaughan

Billy Eckstine

This very fine album, a bringing together of one of the finest singers and composers in American music history, was a collaboration that never got the attention it truly deserved. Singer Sarah Vaughan (1924-1990) brought thorough professionalism, exquisite taste, and vibrant heart and soul to her vocal art; if she made a bad record, I don’t know of it. Her early jazz sides during the mid-forties, some Columbia singles with arranger Percy Faith released after 1950, the mid-’50s Roulette LPs and ten years of Mercury vinyl beginning in 1957 that had duets with Billy Eckstine, and other entries too numerous to mention add up to a priceless legacy. After 1980, two personal favorites were the South Pacific CBS CD with Kiri Te Kanawa and Mandy Patinkin and the extraordinary Mystery of Man, a song cycle recorded in Germany and based on the poetry of a young man who later became Pope John Paul II.

Percy Faith

Henry Mancini

Henry Mancini produced a large, largely superb body of work noted for its own special beauties – soundtracks for Peter Gunn, Mr. Lucky, the Pink Panther, Romeo and Juliet, Charades, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, etc. forever; jazz and mood music arrangements; and the songs – Moon River, Dear Heart, Days of Wine and Roses, just three of the dozen songs on this week’s album, one most highly recommended.

Several selections can be heard on YouTube!

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Mendelssohn Violin Concerto Part 2

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

(Read part one here.)

Zito Francescatti

Zino Francescatti had a style of playing that was elegant, vibrantly alive and communicative and recorded an early ‘50s Columbia mono LP with Dimitri Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic in which this style truly shined. A late ‘50s second recording of the firebrand Jascha Heifetz paired him and Charles Munch conducting the Boston Symphony, a performance that was slightly tamer than the earlier Beecham but an excellent example of the RCA Victor Living Stereo process during the mid and late fifties into the early sixties.

Dimitri Mitropoulos

Jumping ahead to the early ‘80s of digital sound, violinist Uto Ughi and the very underrated Georges Pretre conducting the London Symphony recorded a larger than life, grandly romantic performance for RCA that was so communicative I listened to it several times in a week. Jean Jacques Kantarow recorded a Denon cd in the early 2000s, featuring a smaller scaled, reserved approach, perhaps more suitable for Bach and Vivaldi but delectable in its musical charm; Emmanuel Krivine and the Nether­lands Chamber Orchestra provided superb accompaniment.

Jascha Heifretz

Due to limited time and space and an overwhelming multitude of violinsts and their contributions to the catalogs, I could not cover very worthwhile interpretations by Milstein, Stern, Oistrakh, Martzy, Perleman, etc., but I recommend that those who love this music follow their own instincts in picking violinists, scrolling through numerous YouTubes as a start.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Composer: Felix Mendelssohn, Part 1

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Felix Mendelssohn

This week I am focusing on the recordings of the Violin Concerto of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), conceived in 1838 and completed and first performed by the composer’s concertmaster, Ferdinand David, of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, where Mendelssohn was music director from 1835 to 1847. David also proved invaluable with his advice on many as­pects of scoring.

The Concerto has been performed and recorded innumerable times. This week, I would like to briefly comment on recordings that have given much pleasure over the decades and particularly emphasize the work’s rich catalog of different individual violinists who have their own styles, yet have conveyed the beauties of the Concerto itself.

Ferdinand David

Several historic recordings are worth searching out. Fritz Kreisler recorded a Victor 78 set back in the ‘30s, with the very competent Sir Landon Ronald, that was warmly expressive in its aristocratic framework. During the same decade, Joseph Szigeti gave a reading with the most exquisite bowing and phrasing, with Sir Thomas Beecham’s elegant, vibrant conducting of his own carefully formed and meticulously rehearsed London Philharmonic, then at its peak as possibly the finest recording orchestra in the world and creating a catalog of pristine Columbia

Fritz Kreisler

Mischa Elman did an RCA Victor album in the mid-’40s with the Chicago Symphony, under the Belgian conductor, Desire Defauw, in a style best described as that of tasteful reserve and nicely matching Defauw’s own interpretive worldview . Within a couple of years, Beecham’s elegant, vibrant conducting, provided for Szigeti more than ten years earlier, would rev up his recording with the then newly-formed Royal Philharmonic into a riveting collaboration with the dashing Jascha Heifetz, also an RCA Victor release.

To be continued next week!

(Read part 2 here.)

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Book: The Fifties by David Halberstam

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

David Halberstam

The Fifties
Villard Press, 1993, 733 pages

A maxim that underscored journalist David Halberstam’s work ethic was that being a professional meant doing the work one loved on the days one didn’t feel like doing it; this combination of passion and painstaking self-discipline resulted in roughly 22 books and countless articles.

David Halberstam

Born on April 10, 1934, in New York City and raised in Connecticut, he was a classmate of consumer advocate Ralph Nader. In 1955, he graduated from Harvard in the bottom third of his class and was hired as a reporter by newspapers in Mississippi and Tennessee, being the only one to cover the Nashville sit-ins. On a lighter note, I remember reading his liner notes for an LP of country pianist Floyd Cramer.

Beginning in the early ‘60s, Halberstam’s books on Vietnam, the media, big business and sports occupied him for over four decades. His gifts for story telling characterized the 1979 The Powers That Be, a riveting study of Time magazine’s Henry Luce, CBS’s William Paley and the Washington Post’s Phil Graham. The Post chapters contained one very good account of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s news investigation leading to the Watergate trial.

The Fifties is a massive-sized narrative panorama of a continually fascinating decade. Halberstam’s mastery of the character sketch shines in his portraits of Presidents Truman and Eisenhower; Red-baiting Wisconsin Democratic Senator Joseph McCarthy,”shrewd, insecure and defensive,” as tellingly and understatedly described by the author; mystery writer Mickey Spillane, creator of the vigilante lone detective Mike Hammer who went after Communists instead of gangsters and the politicians; the McDonald brothers, whose hamburger stand was transformed by Ray Kroc into a multi-billion dollar empire; Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Milton Berle, and Sid Caesar, who brought low-brow slapstick comedy to the mass television audiences, who clamored for more; nuclear scientist Edward Teller and his hydrogen bomb; Elvis Presley; sex researcher Alfred Kinsey and publisher Hugh Hefner, with their launching of the insidious sexual revolution; and a huge range of other personalities in as many spheres of influence who contributed so much to the decade’s perpetual interest. For me, the quiet seamstress Rosa Parks is arguably the central figure of monumental interest – her refusal to move to the back of the bus was a significant contribution to spurring the long-needed and awaited Civil Rights movement.

David Halberstam was killed in an automobile crash near San Francisco en route to interview football legend Y.A. Tittle for one of two books he had in preparation. He was 73 years old.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Beethoven’s 5 Piano Concertos

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Something a little different this week:

Beethoven’s 5 Piano Concertos were a very significant body of work because they both consolidated the best of what the composer learned from his predecessors — Haydn, Mozart etc. – and broke new ground on the expansion of the piano’s technical possibilities and musical depths. These two considerations, as edifying as they are, cannot be explored more, due to limited space. What will be done instead is to touch briefly on the merits of each Concerto and to offer one recording that is quite special in and of itself from the shelves of duplicates in my possession.

Ludwig von Beethoven

Ludwig von Beethoven

Concerto no. 1 has a jubilant yet graceful beauty in its assertive rhythms and rich melodic writing. A performance of exceptional quality is the mid-’50s, nicely transferred radio broadcast featuring Sviatoslav Richter, with the gifted but very unknown Bratislav Bakala on the podium, one not to be confused with later Richter releases conducted by Karel Ancerl and Charles Munch. The pianist’s often larger than life virtuosity found a captivating vehicle in this work while Bakala’s astute care for every note matched Richter’s own. A CD is available through Berkshire Record Outlet with the pair’s Beethoven 3rd.

Concerto no. 2, actually composed before the 1st but published after it, is very headstrong in its feisty exhuberance. Rudolf Serkin made three recordings; the first one, from the early ‘50s for Columbia and with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, is my favorite of them. Serkin gave a headstrong performance and a very exciting one, both rhythmically and musically. It is available on a Sony CD through Amazon.

Concerto no. 3 is on a grander scale and one beautiful, powerful creation. The 1949 recording with the relatively unknown Eduard Erdmann and conductor Helmut Muller-Kray shows an especially eloquent, deeply moving understanding of its content. It is part of an inexpensive two-CD set on the historical Tahra label, also containing one of the Schubert Sonatas, and can be found via the above-mentioned Berkshire.

Concerto no. 4 is a masterpiece of sublime introspection. The 1962 collaboration between Van Cliburn and Fritz Reiner leading the Chicago Symphony was the result of several months worth of the most detailed preparation between the pianist and conductor and shows in the gripping performance available on a nicely remastered BMG CD, again available through Amazon.

Concerto no. 5, better known as the “Emperor,” was conceived on a heroic scale never before experienced in the piano repertoire. In addition, it may be the most frequently played of the five works in concert hall and recording studio, due to its very appealing musical scoring. One highly recommendable live performance from 1995 showcases the then 17-year-old Mihaela Ursuleasa, winner of first prize at the Clara Haskil competition in Switzerland, whose much too early 2012 death remains one inexplicable tragedy. Her rendition, with the late conductor, Jesus Lopez-Cobos, has a quality of newly-minted freshness and is a formidably distinctive entry among a large number of distinctive entries. The Claves CD contains a very engaging Mozart 9th Piano Concerto as its discmate and can be bought through Amazon.

Pianist Wilhelm Kempff considered these five Concertos inexhaustibly rewarding for both performer and listener!