REVIEW POTPOURRI – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: The Rainy Day

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Rainy Day

Maine’s own Henry Wadsworth Longfellow achieved in one poem, very simply titled “The Rainy Day,” a harrowing depiction of the gray days we all face in more ways than meteorological:

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Because of his belief in the hope of eternity, Long­fellow did call for his readers to “cease” weeping and came close to being predictable and stupidly cheerful in “Behind the clouds is the sun still shining.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Respighi: Fountains of Rome; Pines of Rome

by Peter Cates

Respighi: Fountains of Rome/Pines of Rome

Franz Andre conducting the Belgian National Radio Orchestra; Telefunken TC-8002, vinyl budget-priced LP from the late 1950s.

Ottorino Respighi

For people starting to listen to classical music, I would more readily recommend the Respighi Pines and Fountains of Rome over most Beethoven and Brahms Symphonies. These two pieces have the most colorful sounds, the loveliest strands of melody, and a very vivid sense of location.

The fountains are four spread around the historical city and musically evoked at different times of day, while four different rows of Rome’s magnificent pine trees are treated the same. The Fountains were premiered in 1916 during World War I, while the Pines received their debut in 1924. Both demand extraordinary virtuosity from a full symphony orchestra but have become immensely popular, receiving numerous recordings since then.

Franz André

I have several different ones but, for some mysterious reason, was particularly drawn to Franz Andre (1893-1975), who was arguably the most prominent and busiest conductor in Belgium’s cultural life for almost 40 years, yet not that well-known in the United States. He delivered exceptionally exciting renditions that stand alongside those of Arturo Toscanini, Fritz Reiner, Eugene Ormandy Riccardo Muti, Seiji Ozawa, to mention a few. Several of Andre’s recordings of other works can be heard on YouTube but not the Respighis. However, E-bay and other vendors have copies of the LP for sale.

Some facts about the composer, Ottorino Respighi (1879-1956) – He had a fascination with languages as well as music and collected dictionaries.

He took piano under his father’s tutelage but was quite undisciplined in his habits. However, his father was startled one day to find his son playing the very difficult piano work, Symphonic Etudes, with total mastery.

He suffered from narcolepsy and would suddenly and frequently fall asleep.

He married one of his composition students in 1919 when she was 25 and he was 40. She outlived him by 60 years and died at 102, in 1996.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Movie: The Highwaymen (2019)

Woody Harrelson and Kevin Costner in Netflix’s The Highwaymen (2019).

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The Highwaymen

starring Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, Kim Dickens, William Sadler, Kathy Bates etc.; 2019 film. Can be seen on Netflix.

One of the more disturbing elements of cinema, and contributing a little to society’s desensitizing during the last 50 years, has been the stylizing of violence with humor, sophistication, exquisite cinematography etc.

Arthur Penn’s 1968 Bonnie and Clyde, with its transformation of these two cold-blooded killers into likable Robin Hood media stars, could arguably be considered a starting point. Since then, movie audiences have been subjected to such viewing experiences as Marathon Man, Nightmare on Elm Street, Pulp Fiction, the Kill Bills and such cable series as The Sopranos, and Dexter.

Now maybe things have come a little full circle with The Highwaymen. Starring Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson and a most distinguished supporting cast, this film depicts the historical pursuit and awarding of ultimate justice to the pair by former Texas Rangers, Frank Hamer and Maney Gault. It was released this past March 15 to cinemas only for two weeks and then to Netflix on March 29.

Kim Dickens

The film begins with Bonnie and Clyde helping a few of their associates escape from the Eastham, Texas, Prison Farm, thus spurring Governor Ma Ferguson to reluctantly agree to calling in two “retired” Rangers Hamer and Gault to pursue the gang. It tracks the parallel, and often contentious, investigations between the two men and other forces of law, including J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. It also dramatizes their own inner personal issues and relationship with each other most vividly. And the close calls with the gang itself, particularly one high speed chase in a very dusty newly-plowed field, driving around in circles!

Two other performances stand out – Kim Dickens as Hamer’s wife, Gladys, pleading with her husband to return safely to her after it is all over and William Sadler as Clyde Barrow’s father, Henry, who talks about the kid his son used to be before he changed his character. Finally, the cinematography of the southwest Texas landscape that I got to know, during my 16 years of living in Houston, was very evocative in its spacious vistas and details .

Highly recommended!

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Handel’s Messiah, Frank De Vol and The Irishman

Martin Scorsese (Credit: Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Handel’s Messiah

Donald Neuen conducting the Eastman Chorale and Philharmonia, Word, SPCN 7-01-892910, three lps, recorded 1984 at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.

Donald Neuen

Handel’s Messiah has been recorded numerous times with choirs and orchestras ranging from huge to very small. I have a number of these sets and found at least something good in each of them, because, like so many other masterpieces, it is infinitely and inexhaustibly rich in its musical and spiritual content.

Donald Neuen, still living in his early 80s, worked with the great choirmaster Robert Shaw, taught at Eastman School of Music and UCLA, and led choral groups and workshops all over the country.

For this recording, Neuen took the unusual step of rotating eight different soloists for various arias instead of the usual quartet of soprano, contralto, tenor and bass. This approach gave an extra freshness to this performance with different singers on various numbers. The bass Thomas Paul’s Thus Saith The Lord was quite the nice dynamic contrast to baritone James Courtney’s The Trumpet Shall Sound.

Both the performance and recording make this one of the better Messiahs and it can be recommended, along with ones conducted by Eugene Ormandy, Sir Thomas Beecham, William Christie, Harry Christopher, Neuen’s colleague Robert Shaw and several others. It is also available through various internet outlets and tracks can be auditioned on youtube.

Frank De Vol

and the Rainbow Strings

The Old Sweet Songs of Christmas; Columbia CL 1543, lp, recorded 1960.

Frank De Vol

Frank De Vol (1911-1999) was not only an arranger/conductor for Capitol, Columbia and other record labels, but also appeared in films and on TV as an actor. Fans of Martin Mull’s very funny short-lived late ‘70s series, America 2-Night, might remember De Vol as the poker-faced bandleader Happy Kyne.

The album contains 26 famous Christmas carols and popular songs in sweet string arrangements bordering on the syrupy and best taken in small doses.

The Irishman

The new Martin Scorsese film, The Irishman, is 210 minutes of swiftly moving drama starring Robert De Niro as a ‘house painter’ (pseudonym for hitman) for mobster businessmen, Joe Pesci, as one of the bosses and Al Pacino as Teamsters leader, Jimmy Hoffa. Each of the three gentlemen delivers the kind of performance in which every glance and movement of the character he plays communicates. And every other detail of this brilliant and, of course, violent movie repays close study.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Some Christmas music!

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Some Christmas music!

Bing Crosby-Merry Christmas; Decca DL 8128, mono vinyl LP, released 1955 and consisting of selections recorded 1942-51.

Decades before the term came into use, Bing Crosby (1903-1977) was a true ‘multimedia star’ with his very many successful records, radio shows and films. His major talent was being one of the finest singers who ever lived and who influenced so many other major singers who came after him.

Bing Crosby

I was exposed to his singing very early in childhood but my appreciation of the depths of his talent didn’t kick in until after I was 50. And practically every record of his that I have heard has quality.

What stood out was simply the following. Crosby knew how to use the microphone, to connect with the listener and to convey the heartbeat of whatever he sang, whether it was Lecuona’s sweetly hypnotic Siboney, the old standards Home on the Range and Galway Bay, a Cole Porter or Gershwin number, and World War II’s patriotically wistful A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.

The history of this album in its different releases, from the original 1942 Decca 78 of Irving Berlin’s megahit, White Christmas, to a 2014 re-packaging, is covered with exhaustive fascination in the Wiki piece, Bing Crosby Merry Christmas; Crosby’s recording of that song alone has sold 50 million copies. The album’s mere 15 million sold copies is second only to Elvis Presley’s Christmas album.

Carol Richards

The above mono edition is a pink label Decca with very clean surfaces and the most natural sound , and I speak as one with the least interest in different masterings of the same record.

In addition to White Christmas, 11 choice selections are presented here – the seasonal hymns Silent Night, Adeste Fideles and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen;Faith of Our Fathers, which he made his own; I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Jingle Bells, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas, Christmas in Killarney, Mele Kaliki­maka and my special favorite, the best rendition of Silver Bells that I have ever heard that he recorded in the exquisitely honed harmonizing with Carol Richards on July 8, 1950.



REVIEW POTPOURRI: Two live links from the Met at the Waterville Opera House

Anthony Roth Costanzo

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Saturday, November 23: Philip Glass’s 1983 opera, Akhnaten, deals with the Egyptian pharaoh of that name who launches monotheism as the country’s faith upon replacing his late father, Amenhotep III, on the throne. He marries Nefertiti, throws out the pagan polytheism and its priests, lives in a very insulated world with his Queen and family and is eventually overthrown via a rebellion by the former subjects and murdered. His son, King Tut, restores the old pagan order.

Zachary James

Having watched this well-produced, directed, conducted and performed new Met production, I found it a very good example of dance, narration, acting and juggling – and a smaller than usual amount of opera singing. Certain musical melodies and rhythms take on a repetitious quality at a sometimes monotonous level yet a wonderful beauty and vibrancy is communicated, too.

J’Nai Bridges

Anthony Roth Costanzo gave a fine performance in the title role with good work by J’Nai Bridges as Nefertiti, Zachary James as the narrating ghost of Akhna­ten’s father, Amenhotep, and others. Guest Maestro Karen Kamensek directed the orchestra brilliantly, being already experienced in conducting this work abroad and other Glass compositions.

The original 1983 re­cord­ing on CBS Sony can be heard on youtube, along with other excerpts.

Karen Kamensek

Sunday, November 24: Puccini’s Madame Butterfly was postponed from the live November 9 broadcast due to projector problems here. The opera is one of the most frequently produced in the entire repertoire. Its story of the tragically deluded geisha girl, Cio-Cio-San or Butterfly, and the jerkish Lieutenant Pinkerton was colorfully produced, directed and staged with generally captivating results as theater.

Contralto Elizabeth DeShong sang Butterfly’s maid Suzuki warmly while baritone Paulo Szot was good as the American consul Sharpless. Soprano Hui He handled the middle and lower notes of Butterfly and gave a very convincing portrayal of her hopes and anguish, really building to her heart-breaking suicide. Her high notes were not good. Tenor Andrea Care’s Pinkerton was bland.

Pier Giorgio Morandi’s conducting was quite good in balancing the tragedy and lyricism.

The next link, Alban Berg’s opera, Wozzeck, will be January 11, 2020.


REVIEW POTPOURRI – Poet: Edward Lear; Band: Jefferson Airplane

Jefferson Airplane

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Edward Lear

From Edward Lear, 1812-1888, the gifted poet of nonsense verse from London:

There was an Old Man of Three Bridges
Whose mind was distracted by midges;
He sate on a wheel, eating underdone veal,
Which relieved that Old Man of Three Bridges.

A record has been left of the first Thanksgiving in New England being held in Popham Colony on October 4, 1607, with local Native-American tribes who later survived the brutal Maine winter that year in the forest with better results than the colonists living by the coast. More info on Google and other sources.

Highly recommended listening, if not previously heard:

Marshall Dodge

The first Bert and I mid-’50s release with speaker Marshall Dodge and Robert Bryan doing sound effects with his voice.

My favorite Jefferson Airplane album, After Bathing at Baxter’s, and still available on CD since its 1968 release. Its music has a sustained balance of ‘60s rock and beauty few others have maintained from then.

Eugene Ormandy

Conductor Eugene Ormandy, 1899-1985, led the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1938 to 1980 and left 900 or more recordings with it and more composers in them than all other conductors. His birthday anniversary is November 18. I highly recommend his recordings especially of Rachmaninoff’s music. The composer recorded HIS Piano Concertos 1, 3, and 4 with Ormandy and the 2nd one with Ormandy’s predecessor, Leopold Stokowski in 1929.






Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Met Opera Links at WOH

Philip Glass

Recently I mentioned the live Met Opera links being seen at the Waterville Opera House. This past Saturday, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly was scheduled there, starting at 12:55 p.m., as were October 12’s Turandot and October 26 Massenet Manon, both of which I attended.

Giacomo Puccini

Not googling its website before walking a mile there, I found all the doors locked and later found out it was postponed to be seen recorded Sunday afternoon, November 24, also starting then at 12:55 p.m., the reason being problems with its projector.

Meanwhile, the Met’s next live link, Philip Glass’s opera, Akhnaten, is scheduled Saturday afternoon, November 23. For further details, the House can be reached at 873-7000 or on Google. This column will be covering both operas in the November 28 issue and the links are still highly recommended. Also, anybody can call the number to be put on the broadcast notification list.

Carey Mulligan

Netflix has a four-episode BBC TV series, Collateral, starring actresses Carey Mulligan as detective Kip Glaspie, and Jeany Spark as British army captain Sandrine Shaw. The story concerns the murder of a pizza delivery driver in London and its quite ominous repercussions.

I have watched this program at least three times and find it a simply brilliant depiction of people caught between rocks and hard places and their evil antagonists. Mulligan and Spark become their characters as do the ensemble cast members. It was first shown on the BBC in February 2018, and became available as a DVD soon after. A word of caution – it does have a few nude scenes and curse words but still sustains its rocks and hard places.

Quote from Giacomo Puccini: “I lived for art, I lived for love.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Herb Alpert: Magic Man

Sergio Mendes

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Herb Alpert

Magic Man
A&M records, SP-3728, LP, recorded 1981.

Now 84 years old, trumpeter Herb Alpert staked his claim to fame back in the early ‘60s with the series of Tijuana Brass albums that sold in the millions as vinyl LPs and continue to do well in CD formats. His A&M label has been home to Sergio Mendes and HIS Brazil ’66, Procol Harum, the Sandpipers, the Carpenters, Burt Bacharach, Janet Jackson, etc.

Magic Man is best described as soft jazz/pop. Alpert utilized a full rhythm section; synthesizers; conventional piano, and Rhodes, and other electric pianos; harp, guitars; his own trumpet and other brass; special percussion instruments including marimbas, vibes, bongos and congas; strings; and vocalists, including himself.

This album consists of eight selections, including the title song, itself a huge hit. All of them are captivating in some fashion; my particular favorites are Secret Garden, with its bass/guitar weavings; the vintage pop classic, Besame Mucho, which contains hypnotic bongo/conga sounds; and a lovely ballad, I Get It from You, sung by Alpert. All of them can be heard on YouTube .

Since 1973, Herb Alpert has been married to Lani Hall, former lead singer for Brazil ’66; its leader, Sergio Mendes, married her replacement, Gracinha.

From E.B.White’s 1942 book, One Man’s Meat, about November on his farm in Maine: ”The wind blew from the South­east and brought rain and the dreariest landscape of the fall. For several hours after arising, everything went wrong; it was one of those days when inanimate objects deliberately plot to destroy a man cleverly ambushed, and when dumb animals form a clique to disturb the existing order.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6

Muir Mathieson (1911 – 1975), Scottish conductor, film score composer and director of musical documentaries, pictured while conducting, 1954. (Photo by Baron/Getty Images)

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6

“Pathetique”; Muir Mathieson conducting the Sinfonia of London. Camelot CMT 102, stereo LP, recorded 1958.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony was given its world premiere on October 28, 1893, nine days before he died at 53. He wrote a letter to his nephew that year describing his feelings about what would be his last work :

“It would not surprise me in the least if this Symphony meets with abuse or unfavorable criticism. It would not be the first time. I myself regard it as the best and most sincere of all my works. I love it as I have never loved any other of my musical offsprings before.”

As in so many of his major works – the 1st Piano Concerto, Violin Concerto, Swan Lake and Nutcracker ballets, Romeo and Juliet, 4th, 5th and Manfred Symphonies etc.; – the composer so brilliantly poured his entire heart and soul into the Pathetique Symphony (his own meaning of the word vaguely hinted at as ‘private and personal’.). He also utilized the entire range of dynamics from softest to loudest.

The Symphony has been performed and recorded infinitely countless times; I have scads of different performances ranging from A-plus to bad. It has never gone sour for me and even the worst performance has something interesting.

Muir Mathieson (1911-1975) was best known for composing soundtracks for English movies and conducting those of other composers. This recording is superb and stands out in a very distinguished catalog; it can also be heard on YouTube but the Symphony’s four movements are posted separately.

WOH to host live Metropolitan Opera

The Waterville Opera House is hosting live links from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. The next one is Puccini’s Madame Butterfly on November 9. I attended Puccini’s last opera Turandot on Saturday, October 12, and Massenet’s Manon this past Saturday, October 26.

Highly recommended. Check the Waterville Opera House website for times.