REVIEW POTPOURRI: Met Opera Links at WOH

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.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Elizabeth Coatsworth

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Elizabeth Coatsworth

“Outwardly I am 83, but inwardly I am every age, with the emotions and experiences of each period.”

Elizabeth Coatsworth

Born in Buffalo, New York, the writers Elizabeth Coatsworth (1893-1986) and her husband, Henry Beston (1888-1968), lived in an early 19th century farmhouse, Chimney Farm, alongside Damariscotta Lake, in Nobleboro, Maine. She wrote over 90 books but her most famous one was the children’s novel, The Cat Who Went to Heaven, which won the 1930 Newbery Medal. I am most familiar with her 1976 autobiography, Personal Geography, in which she shares her experiences such as living on the farm with her husband and her world travels during her youth. Her writings, whether for children or adults, celebrate the majesty and mystery of life, especially in Maine, and very compassionately about cats and other similar creatures caught in a storm in her poem, This Is a Night, here in its entirety:

This is a night on which to pity cats
hunting through dripping hedgerows,
making wet way
through grasses heavy with rain,
Their delicate stepping
tense with distaste,
their soft and supple coats
sodden, for all their care.
This is a night
to pity cats which have no house to go to,
no stove, no saucer of milk, no lowered hand
sleeking a head, no voice to say, “Poor kitty.”
This is a night
on which to weep for outcasts, for all those
who know the rain but do not know the shelter.

Henry Beston was a mentor to my late Uncle Paul Cates and they all visited back and forth between Chimney Farm, in Nobleboro, and the Cates’ one, in East Vassalboro. I met them twice, 1960 and ’65, and was charmed by their kindness and warmth. Being then a record collector, I asked them if they had records and a record player. Elizabeth replied with such effusive happiness that they had acoustic 78s and a player they cranked and, quoting her, “it has a wonderful simplicity.” Her expression of those words has always stayed in my memory.

More about them in later columns.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: The Headliners

The Headliners, Volume 3

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The Headliners, Volume 3

Columbia Record Club, GB 11, LP, released December, 1962.

A number of record collectors with very long memories, including myself, joined the now-extinct Columbia Record Club which started in 1955 and was based in Terre Haute, Indiana. Every year around Christmas starting in 1960, it would send a free limited-edition album to its members as its way of saying thank you for their continued spending and good standing.

There were two series of titles — The Sound of Genius for members in the classical division and The Headliners for those in the four non-classical categories; listening and dancing, country and western, jazz and Broadway musicals. Each record was an anthology of complete tracks from current releases on Columbia and its subsidiary labels.

Headliners, Volume 3, contained 14 selections from 14 musical artists, each one very pleasant listening:

Steve Lawrence – Tell Her That I Said Hello.
Dave Brubeck with strings – Kathy’s Waltz.
Marty Robbins – Never Look Back.
Jerry Murad’s Harmonicats – Chiquita.
Bobby Vee – Tenderly Yours.
Andre Previn Trio – Lose Me Now.
The Banjo Barons – Hello My Baby/Red River Valley.
Ray Conniff and His Orchestra and Chorus – To My Love.
Andy Williams – The Wonderful World of the Young.
Ferrante and Teicher – Theme from “Goodbye Again.”
Les Paul and Mary Ford – Go on Loving You.
Roger Williams – Greensleeves.
Brook Benton – Revenge.
Andre Kostalanetz – Cielito Lindo.

Steve Lawrence, Marty Robbins, Bobby Vee, Andy Williams, Mary Ford and Brook Benton were singers; Dave Brubeck, Andre Previn, Ferrante and Teicher and Roger Williams, pianists; Jerry Murad’s Harmonicats, The Banjo Barons and Les Paul, instrumentalists; and Ray Conniff and Andre Kostelanetz, orchestral conductors. Information about their lives are more than likely to be found on Wikipedia while their records, including these, could be heard on YouTube.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

In last week’s column, I wrote about the pianist Glenn Gould and mentioned his classical hit record, the 1955 Bach Goldberg Variations for Columbia Records but failed to mention another million seller, his 1981 remake of the same work, of which many of his fans, including myself, also consider basic to any collection.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Born and raised in Portland, Maine, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) was arguably the most well-known American poet of the 19th century. Many one-room schoolhouse children memorized such poems as Paul Revere’s Ride and Psalm of Life, a learning experience that is, unfortunately, not part of most curriculums these days.

Longfellow had a gift for evoking the sense of wonder behind everyday life. Its reality could be boring, routine-ish, sad, almost unbearable, yet, if a person had an open mind and heart, life had its silver linings and rainbows.

One of his contemporaries stated, when the poet was still living, “There is something so tender, so gentle, in the nature of Mr. Longfellow that his poems imbibe it bountifully and it brings them home to the heart, not the mind alone, and what the heart loves and admires will linger long before time can obliterate it.”

One of his poems, A Passing Thought, is a nice example of his tender, gentle nature in dealing with life’s challenges :

“O what a glory doth this world put on
For him who, with a fervent heart goes forth
Under the bright and glorious sky and looks
On duties well performed and days well spent!
For him the wind, ay, and the yellow leaves
Shall have a voice and give him eloquent teachings.
He shall so hear the solemn hymn, that Death
Has lifted up for all, that he shall go
To his long-resting-place without a tear.”

The Longfellow House is a well-known tourist attraction, in Portland, Maine.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Glenn Gould

Glenn Gould

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Glenn Gould

(1932-1982)

Glenn Gould would have been 87 this past September 25 if he had not died of a stroke October 4, 1982, at the age of 50. A world-fa­mous pianist at a rarely achieved level of success as was Vladimir Horowitz, Artur Rubinstein and Sviatoslav Richter, and still Yuga Wang, Martha Argerich and Murray Peraiha, he was also a man of other gifts – writer, TV personality, documentary film maker, and a character in the truest sense of the word.

My knowledge of him began nearly 60 years ago through a sampler of recently released classical records. It contained Brahms’s very tender 2nd Intermezzo from his Opus 118 set. I have heard other fine performances of this piece but Gould played it with extraordinary dynamics of softness, a sense of structure and of sheer beauty. And it can be heard on youtube.

Gould recorded Bach’s Goldberg Variations for Columbia Masterworks in 1956 and it has sold several million copies, becoming one of the 10 or 20 greatest classical recordings of the 20th century; it has similar qualities to the Brahms Intermezzo mentioned earlier in its brilliance. Other favorites of mine would include his recordings of the Beethoven five Piano Concertos and the broadcast from 1962 of the Brahms First Piano Concerto.

Glenn Gould’s interests were very intriguing, both in their limitations and broad-mindedness. When it came to composers, he recorded his favorite Mozart Piano Sonatas but felt that the composer died much too late at 35. He wavered between love and hate of certain works and rejected many of the 19th century composers, especially Chopin.

Barbra Streisand

He disliked most pop music yet loved singers Petula Clark and Barbra Streisand. During the 1960s, he wrote an essay about listening to Petula Clark on pop radio while driving through the Canadian countryside .

As for Streisand, Gould reviewed her LP, Classical Barbara, for the now-extinct High Fidelity magazine in 1976. Streisand also recorded for Columbia and was known to watch his recording sessions through a window.

The pianist’s OCD eccentricities were the stuff of legend:

When rehearsing with conductor George Szell, Gould took so long adjusting his piano seat that the Maestro remarked, “Perhaps if I were to slice 1/16th of an inch off your derriere, Mr. Gould, we could then begin!” Later, Szell commented, “That nut’s a genius!”

He also wore a thick winter coat, scarf, gloves and hat during heat waves in July and August!

 

 

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Budapest String Quartet

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Budapest String Quartet

Op. 59, No. 3
Budapest String Quartet, Columbia MM-510, 4 12-inch 78s, recorded September 15, 1941.

The Budapest String Quartet began in 1917 when Budapest, Hungary, was a major center for classical music education with composers Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly and violinist Jeno Hubay and others. Four unemployed instrumentalists founded it and gave its debut concert in December of that year.

Previous personnel issues, finances and other such obstacles of living confounded the group. The life stories of every member in the lengthy Wikipedia article make fascinating reading.

After years of just barely escaping destruction at the hands of evil governments in war-torn Europe, the quartet members were finally able to settle in the United States and achieve much success with their concerts, recordings and teaching that would last for the remaining years until they disbanded as a group in 1967. They had already recorded discs for RCA Victor since 1932 but left that company in 1940 to record for Columbia Masterworks with greater success in worldwide fame, record sales and spreading chamber music gospel.”

The Budapest String Quartet for its last three decades consisted of first violinist Josef Roisman, 1900-1974; second violinist Alexander Schneider, 1908-1993; his older brother, cellist Mischa Schneider, 1904-1985; and violist Boris Kroyt, 1897-1969.

The Beethoven String Quartet listed above, like the composer’s other works, has a concentration of power, beauty, harmonic development, and rhythm and, above all, a range of human emotion that is unique . The string players were in peak form in this 1941 78 set and I have listened to it often in recent days,

A large number of other performances are available to hear on YouTube and elsewhere and free for auditioning.

The sixth season of Black List just became available on Netflix. I have already watched three episodes in a row.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Graham Greene: The Paradox of a Pope

Pope Pius XI

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Graham Greene

The Paradox of a Pope, from his Collected Essays
Originally written in 1951.

Eugenio Pacelli (1876-1958) later became Pope Pius XII upon the death of Pope Pius XI, in 1939, during very evil years of the last century and, upon his own death, would be succeeded by the even more famous Pope John XXIII. His own leadership of the Catholic Church, particularly with respect to Nazism and the Holocaust, still continues as a subject of controversy with enough material to last several lifetimes and well beyond the scope of these few paragraphs.

One of my top five favorite writers, Graham Greene (1904-1991) wrote Paradox while the Pope was still living and he included it in the 1969 volume, Collected Essays, without changing a single word. It is a fascinating study of the complexities in human character, a subject Greene was so good at in everything of his I have ever read and re-read. He also became a Catholic during his early 20s and his faith would always resonate in his writings.

Graham Greene

Greene’s opening comments of how “strange to come on a monument to a living man, for even the greatest usually appear only on tablets and tombstones after death,” are interesting because of the reasons for these monuments while Pius was still living. A few of these examples included his visits with soldiers from the allies and axis powers at the Vatican and receiving all of them as pilgrims; his words to a grieving father whose son had been killed during World War II and had no faith to sustain him in his loss (after Pius convinced the man there was an afterlife and the father and his son would be re-united, he left the Pope very happy); and finally the Pope’s unrelenting efforts in saving countless lives of Jewish people and other refugees in war-torn countries, while maintaining the Vatican’s neutrality publicly during these war years.

When I first saw a photo of Pius XII presiding at a Mass decades ago, he exuded an aura of both mien and mean, which started my interest in him as a historical figure. Little did I know of his real character!

A quote of this man: “To live without risk is to risk not living.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Composer: Maurice Ravel

Maurice Ravel

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Ravel

Bolero, Pavane for a Dead Princess, and La Valse

William Steinberg conducting the Pittsburg Symphony; Capitol SP 8475, stereo lp, recorded October 29, 1958, at Pittsburgh’s Syrian Mosque.

One of the most gifted conductors to have emerged in the last century, William Steinberg (1899-1978), led the Pittsburgh Symphony from 1952 to 1976 , until he resigned because of heart problems. During his lifetime, he was music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic before Pittsburgh and the Boston Symphony from 1969-72, while juggling his time with Pittsburgh. And he had guest engagements with most of the distinguished orchestras and opera houses as well. His Wiki biography provides a number of interesting details about the Maestro’s career.

He recorded a sizable amount of repertoire for Capitol records from the beginning of his tenure in Pittsburgh until he left that label in 1960. Among his recordings is the above program of French composer, Maurice Ravel, 1874-1937, consisting of three works – Bolero, Pavane for a Dead Princess and La Valse.

Bolero was composed for the ballet dancer Ida Rubinstein, after she commissioned Ravel when he returned from a successful tour of the United States during the mid-to-late ‘20s. Its debut on November 22, 1928, elicited nasty comments from certain ‘thinkers,’ but also became an overnight sensation and has remained a much-recorded classic. It is still dismissed as bombastic trash by a number of listeners but, for myself and others, a perennially captivating work for its fascinating build-up of dynamics from the barely audible pianissimi of the snare drum, plucking strings and flute to the rip-roaring conclusion at the same unvarying tempo. Steinberg pulled off these challenges with exactitude and achieved exquisite phrasing of the melodic line from the strings and woodwinds. Other very good recordings include those of conductors Anton Nanut and Paul Paray.

Pavane for a Dead Princess was first written as a piano piece in 1899 and scored for orchestra in 1910. When somebody asked Ravel why he picked the title, he replied that, ‘he liked the sound of the words and put them there.’ He also insisted on very slow tempos yet, when hearing a plodding rendition, admonished the performer that ‘it was not a dead pavane for a princess.’ Steinberg, as did other conductors like Charles Munch, Fritz Reiner, Andre Cluytens etc., observed these slow tempos with very sublime results, particularly the writing of the harp and woodwinds.

La Valse’s world premiere in December, 1920, drew the comment by one individual as ‘people dancing on a volcano.’ Ravel blended the rhythms of Johann Strauss Jr.’s Viennese Waltzes and, no relation, Richard Strauss’s opera, Der Rosenkavalier, into a piece of virtuosity uniquely his own and Steinberg’s recording is very exciting.

A CD set of most of Steinberg’s Capitol recordings was released in 2011 and copies may be still available through Internet sources.

William Steinberg was much loved by his colleagues and had quite the sense of humor. He granted interviews if the subject was one of interest, “for instance, myself.”