REVIEW POTPOURRI: Vivaldi, Chopin and organ music

Peter Catesby Peter Cates


Various Concertos
Karl Ristenpart conducting the Chamber Orchestra of the Sarre; Nonesuch H-71022; stereo LP, recorded early 1960s.

Karl Ristenpart

Karl Ristenpart (1900-1967) was one of the most solid interpreters of Antonio Vivaldi’s music, along with that of Johann Sebastian Bach and others. He made a large number of recordings between the early-to-mid-’50s and his very sudden death from a heart attack on Christmas Eve 1967, during a tour with his Sarre players in Portugal.

Vivaldi wrote a huge quantity of music, also sustained by exceptional quality. There are five Concertos on the above album, the A minor and C Major ones for piccolo with Roger Bourdin; one also in A minor for violin; a D minor for two violins and an F Major for three violins, featuring the Sarre concertmaster Georg-Friedrich Hendel in all three works, Klaus Schlupp as second violinist in the D minor and F Major, and Hans Bunte in the F Major. The five Concertos are captivating, the performances top notch.

Some other recent listening experiences:

Chopin’s Opus 10 Etudes and F Major Ballade

Vladimir Ashkenazy, pianist; Hall of Fame, HOF 520, LP.

Vladimir Ashkenazy

The 82-year-old pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy is more active as a conductor for the last 30 years. This LP consists of recordings before the 1962 Second Tchaikovsky Competition, in Moscow, through which he shared first prize with the late pianist John Ogden. They have extraordinary intensity, virtuosity and color, compared to his later Decca/London recordings of the composer that were a bit more aloof .

The last of the 12 Etudes from Opus 10 (there is a later set, Opus 25), known as the Revolutionary Etude, comes from 1831 when the Russian army suppressed Poland’s revolution by attacking Warsaw. Chopin wrote, “All this has caused me much pain. Who could have foreseen it?” It was dedicated to Franz Liszt.

19th-Century Austrian Organ Music

Franz Haselbock, organist; MHS 1972, LP, released 1974.

Anton Bruckner

Side one of the above LP is devoted to the small number of organ pieces composed by Anton Bruckner (1824-1896), an organist himself, whose powerful nine symphonies are staples of the orchestral repertoire. The second side contains selected works of the lesser known organist, Simon Sechter (1788-1867), one of Bruckner’s teachers. This music, while not on the same level as Bach’s, is worthwhile and quite moving.

Franz Haselbock gave fine performances and wrote interesting liner notes. He played the Bruckner Organ of the Piaristenkirche, located in Vienna, Austria, and considered one of its finest. Built 1856-58, it was played by Bruckner several times; hence its name.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – E.B. White: The Elements of Style

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

E.B. White

The Elements of Style
(with William Strunk, Jr.), 4th edition – Longman Publishers; 1935, 1959, 1979, 1999; 95 pages.

Although Elwyn Brooks White (1899-1985), better known as E.B. White, was born in Mount Vernon, New York, the family vacations during his childhood in Maine’s Belgrade Lakes, the routines of farm life and the workings of nature, enriched his own writings. In addition, he spent many years of his adulthood living on, and working, his farm in Brooklin, Maine, near Deer Isle and Stonington. These years, with the many New Yorker contributions, added much.

I hope to devote another column or more in the weeks ahead to White. This week I am focusing on The Elements of Style, a 1935 book on writing by his English professor at Cornell, William Strunk Jr. (1869-1946). White edited and revised extensively, in 1959 and 1979, editions before his own death in 1985. Some extras were tacked on the above 1999 fourth edition by his stepson, Roger Angell, himself a noted writer on baseball and still living in his 99th year.

The 95 pages of content mirror Strunk and White’s commitment to saving teacher and student hard labor yet keeping the book concise and most helpful to anyone who writes lots of words in a week. I offer choice quotations from both men:

“‘Omit needless words’ cries the author on page 23, and into that imperative Will Strunk really put his heart and soul. In the days when I was sitting in his class, he omitted so many needless words, and omitted them so forcibly and with such eagerness and obvious relish, that he often seemed in the position of having shortchanged himself – a man left with nothing more to say yet with time to fill, a radio prophet who had out-distanced the clock. Will Strunk got out of this predicament by a simple trick: he uttered every sentence three times. When he delivered his oration on brevity to the class, he leaned forward over his desk, grasped his coat lapels in his hands, and, in a husky, conspiratorial voice, said, ‘Rule Seventeen. Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!’ ”

Actually, I have found this book in one or two earlier copies, very edifying for more than 40 years.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Observing 60th anniversary of the “Day the Music Died”

The debris field of Buddy Holly’s chartered Beech Bonanza aircraft on February 3, 1959. Internet photo

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

This past Sunday, February 3, was the 60th anniversary of the plane crash that claimed the lives of all four passengers on board shortly after takeoff near Clear Lake, Iowa – singers Buddy Holly, 22; Ritchie Valens,17; and Big Bopper, 28; and pilot Roger Peterson, 21. The details can be found via many sources, conveniently including Google, Wiki etc., of what Don McLean’s 1971 song American Pie aptly referred to as “The Day the Music Died”!

Buddy Holly

I would like to call attention to two fine records of each of the singers – one well-known and one not so well-known:

Buddy Holly recorded the riveting That’ll Be the Day and the much lesser-known love song Every Day and conveyed the most vivid immediacy in his singing. During the mid 1960s, Skeeter Davis did an RCA Victor LP of Holly’s material with his parents attending the studio sessions in Nashville.

Ritchie Valens

The Ritchie Valens La Bamba is justly classic because of its several reappearances in the public eyes and ears while the unknown Little Girl has a romantic tenderness all its own. Interestingly, although his parents were from Mexico, he learned very little Spanish because they spoke English at home.

J.P. Richardson

Big Bopper’s (editor’s note: actual name is J.P Richard­son) Chantilly Lace is one roaring example of his baritone/bass vocalism. His very first documented 45 record Beggar to a King with a higher, softer voice was a later hit for the Cana­dian country singer, Hank Snow.

Waylon Jennings

Editor’s note: Country/­western singer Waylon Jennings was also reportedly scheduled to be on that flight, but gave up his seat to the Big Bopper. The story is told that Jennings gave up his seat on the ill-fated flight in 1959 that crashed, killing Buddy Holly, J. P. Richard­son, Ritchie Valens, and pilot Roger Peterson. They were on their way to Moorhead, Minnesota, for their next concert. Band member Tommy Allsup lost his seat to Valens on a coin toss. Both Jen­nings and Allsup continued on the bus.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: A collection of great classical recordings

Pyotr Tchaikovsky

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade

William Stenberg conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; Capitol P 8305, LP, recorded 1955.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

William Steinberg had a style of conducting in which the most often recorded works (and I still persist in my fascination with duplicates of favorite pieces of music) sounded freshly minted; his LP of Scheher­azade kept me listening from beginning to end and is available on Internet sites.

Other classical recordings recently heard and worthy of attention:

Pietro Mascagni

Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana – Domenico Savino conducting the Rome Symphony Orchestra, Kapp LP, KCL-9003, recorded between late 1950s to early ’60s. Kapp released mostly popular artists such as pianist Roger Williams, arranger/conductor Marty Gold and singer Jack Jones but it did have a few classical titles including the series, Opera Without Words, featuring Domenico Savino and his Rome instrumentalists. Along with Puccini’s Turandot, Verdi’s La Forza del Destino and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, Savino did an orchestral synthesis of the ever-inspired Cavalleria Rusticana of Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945). The singing is missed but the orchestral passages still shine; I played the record twice within a week recently.

Antonio Vivaldi

Vivaldi: Four Seasons – Iona Brown as soloist and conducting the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Philips 9500717 LP, 1979. The late Iona Brown (1941-2004) delivered a more understated performance of Vivaldi’s Seasons than is usually the case but her own vibrant musicianship enlivened this recording, one holding its own among many good renditions.

Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings; Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik; Sir Georg Solti conducting the Israel Philharmonic, London CS 6066, LP, recorded 1963. Sir Georg Solti (1912-1997) delivered a surging, intense performance of Tchai­kov­sky’s Serenade, one that stands with the Eugene Ormandy Philadelphia Orchestra Sony CD as exceptional; the Mozart is good but not as distinguished as those of other conductors. But Solti’s legacy of recordings is a great one. I recommend watching a 60 minute YouTube video of him rehearsing the Vienna Philharmonic playing Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture, from 1966. It is fascinating in how he goes over details of the score and relates to the orchestra.

Quote from the late humorist James Thurber (1894-1961) – “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Composer: Anton Eberl; Broadway: Company

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Eberl Symphony in E-flat Major from 1803

Concerto Koln, YouTube

Anton Eberl

Anton Eberl (1765-1807) was an Austrian composer with 200 works, many of them now lost. He was acclaimed as a pianist and teacher, knew Mozart, was a very close friend of Beethoven and much loved by others during his lifetime.

The composer and his wife traveled to Rus­sia, living in St. Petersburg for several years. But his home was Vienna for most of his life.

Eberl died of scarlet fever in 1807 at the age of 41. Afterwards, for over 167 years, he went into obscurity for mysterious reasons until the slow-moving revival of interest, in 1971, in his legacy. Performances and recordings have peaked during the last decade.

Until hearing the highly recommended above YouTube recently, I did not know of him and his music; the Symphony’s individuality, charm and beauty are undeniable. Concerto Koln’s rendition without a conductor is a very good one.


Original Broadway cast recording, recorded May 3, 1970, Sony/Columbia, cd remastering of original LP released in 1998.

Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Company, is, for me, one of the finest classical masterpieces in existence, along with Mahler’s 5th Symphony, Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, the Brahms D minor PC, Sinatra’s Watertown, Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, the Sibelius’ 7 Symphonies, Beethoven’s own 9 and his 5 PCs, Gershwin’s Concerto in F and the Puccini Tosca and Madame Butterfly with several etceteras. This original Broadway cast recording, supervised by the composer and the phenomenally gifted producer – then employed by Columbia records – Thomas Z. Shepard, is one worth having on the shelf and worth hearing countless numbers of times by a discerning connoisseur of truly beautiful recordings of great music.

Its classics include the eloquent duet, Barcelona, sung by Dean Jones as Bobby, a bachelor living a life of quiet desperation; and Susan Browning as April, a lonely stewardess whose potential for true love keeps being unrequited. Susan Browning died in 2006 at 65 while Dean Jones passed away in 2015 at 65 – both lived good lives and are very much missed .

Others are Being Alive, The Ladies Who Lunch, Little Things You Do Together, Another Hundred People, Getting Married Today, Someone is Waiting, and the opening Overture, one riveting piece of music on its terms, played, cast- sung, and conducted by the exceptionally gifted Harold Hastings, who died of a heart attack in 1973, at the young age of 57.

After a Boston tryout, Company opened at the Alvin Theatre April 26, 1970, generating 690 performances. Mark Kirkeby’s liner notes for the 1998 CD reissue are fascinating, along with Wiki pieces on the musical and Stephen Sondheim.

A quote from the composer- “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Farther Down the Road series contains over 60 volumes

The album, Farther Down the Road

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Farther Down the Road, Volume 2

CBS Special Products, cassette, recorded 1972-1985.

The above was one of a cassette/CD series under the same title of more than 60 volumes, sponsored by Rotella, a line of lubricating products for the heavy duty engines inside extremely large trucks. As with the entire series, this week’s second volume was an anthology of country/western recordings, distributed only through gas stations and truck stops and given to any customer purchasing a minimum of three gallons of the Rotella lubricating oil. Its selections were:

Johnny Cash – One Piece at a Time
Janie Fricke – He’s a Headache
The Gatlin Brothers – Houston
Barbara Mandrell – Midnight Oil
Charlie Daniels Band – Devil Went Down to Georgia
Willie Nelson – Midnight Rider
Tammy Wynette – Another Chance
Ronnie McDowell – Watchin’ Girls Go By
Charly McClain – Men
Merle Haggard – Are the Good Times Really Over ?

My favorites are those by Cash, Nelson and Wynette, the anthology itself being a good one.

A quote from Graham Greene’s essay on Saki, but referring to the novelist who wrote Tale of Two Cities and other such books – “Dickens developed a style so easy and natural that it seems capable of including the whole human race in its understanding.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Bach selections

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Bach selections

from The Joy of Great Music, Album 15, FW-515, LP, 1980 series of records usually peddled in supermarket chains.

Johan Bach

The above album contains the following examples of Johann Sebastian Bach, 1685-1750:

Side 1, Saint Matthew Passion excerpts. Soprano Laurence Dutoit, alto Maria Nussbaumer, bass Otto Weiner, with Ferdinand Grossmann conducting the Vienna Chamber Orchestra and Choir.

Side 2, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor; Prelude and Fugue in E-Flat Major. Organist Walter Kraft.

Both originally Vox releases from the 1950s.

Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is roughly three hours long but contains incomparable stretches of beauty in its arias, choruses and instrumental writing. The singers, especially bass Otto Wiener (1911-2000), are in peak form while Grossmann’s Viennese groups do good work. The performance is a large-scaled one, as opposed to smaller ones in recent years, yet a distinctive entry on its own terms and deeply moving.

Walter Kraft

Kraft’s performances of the Toccata, and the E-Flat Prelude and Fugue are solid.

Another LP from the Vox label’s exemplary catalog; the Bartok Bluebeard’s Castle, with Herbert Hafner conducting the Vienna Symphony Symphony, soprano Ilona Steingruber, and bass Otto Weiner again. Vox, OPX 100, 1962 release.

Based on a blood-curdling legend from the Middle Ages, the 1918 opera Bluebeard’s Castle is one roaringly exciting listening experience. This performance is a haunting atmospheric one, despite some critics taking issue with the singing in German instead of the original Hungarian. The 1910-20 World War 1 decade experienced a superb roll call of first performances – Prokofiev’s 2nd Piano Concerto, Janacek’s opera Jenufa, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, Stravinsky’s Petrouchka, Rite of Spring and Soldier’s Tale and Puccini’s Trittico.

A Goethe quote pertinent to artistic creativity, “To be of all ages, be then of your own.”


Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The Odd Couple

starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau etc. Released 1968, transferred to DVD.

The zany Pigeon Sisters, Gwendolyn and Cecily.

I have known about The Odd Couple since its release 50 years ago; that it’s very funny because Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were exceptionally gifted actors in comedy roles, two personal favorites being Lemmon’s Good Neighbor Sam and Matthau’s Cactus Flower and both, unfortunately, rarely seen nowadays, if at all; and because many movie watchers have found it very funny.

But I did not realize how very funny until I watched the complete film for the very first time this past week. Jack Lemmon’s performance as Felix, the neat sociopathic control freak and Walter Matthau’s as Oscar, the scorched earth slob were the peak ones of their lifetimes. Their supporting cast as the four card-playing cronies and the two Pigeon Sisters, Cecily and Gwendolyn, contributed memorably to its constant second-by-second humor. And Neil Simon’s original was the cornerstone of all this.

Three scenes stick out – the card game antics before and after Felix shows up at Oscar’s apartment, Felix’s and Oscar’s dinner party hosting of Gwendolyn and Cecily and the ballistic confrontation between the two men when their accumulated grievances escalate to the point of no return.

Two quotes: Oscar: “Murray, lend me $20 or I’ll call your wife and tell her you’re in Central Park, wearing a dress.”

Felix: “Everybody thinks I’m a hypochondriac. It makes me sick.”

The Odd Couple: Jack Lemmon as Felix Unger, left, and Walter Mathau as Oscar Madison.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Christmas Albums

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The Joy of Christmas

Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic and Mormon Tabernacle; Columbia MS 6499, stereo LP, recorded 1963.

A Golden Treasury of Christmas Music

Sir Alexander Gibson, chorus and orchestra; Columbia Record Club P2S 5170, two LPs, recorded 1967.

Leonard Bernstein

This week’s Xmas LPs, both released in the 1960s, are very good examples of seasonal music performed with taste, intelligence and vibrant beauty. Joy of Christmas features the late Bernstein, at that time music director of the New York Philharmonic, conducting the orchestra and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in their one time collaboration.

The 16 songs include the familiar staples and a few not so well known. High points are the Animal Carol, a lovely one that is not often heard nowadays as during my childhood many decades ago; the strictly orchestral showpiece Carol of the Bells; and an a capella Away in a Manger combining two different musical settings.

Sir Alexander Gibson

Golden Treasury is a two-record set offered in its U.S. release only to members of the now-defunct Columbia Record Club out of Terre Haute, Indiana, most likely as long as they were “members in good standing.” This collection of 36 songs has the late Sir Alexander Gibson, whom I have written about in an earlier issue of The Town Line, conducting an unnamed chorus and orchestra in both carols and popular songs, utilizing traditional and unpredictable arrangements.

Examples include:

  • White Christmas, in a choir/orchestral popsy arrangement with trombones added and similar to one that might combine Nelson Riddle and Norman Luboff.
  • The Holy City, gently subdued with woodwinds, trumpet, snare drum, and double bass.
  • O Holy Night, saxophone, harpsichord and orchestra.
  • Hallelujah Chorus, orchestra only.
  • Joy to the World, a much more traditional chorus and orchestra but riveting rather than routine.
    And so forth.

The two albums have 10 selections in common. Even though their availability is spotty, they can be bought on internet sites for prices ranging from cheap to grossly overpriced.

Satirical verses from a Tom Lehrer Yuletide song – “On Christmas Day you can’t get sore/Your fellow man you must adore/There’s time to rob him all the more/The other three hundred and sixty four!”

Merry Christmas!

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Composer: Berlioz; Xmas quote from Borge; Band: Abba

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Berlioz: L’Enfance du Christ

Andre Cluytens conducts Paris Conservatory Orchestra with chorus and soloists. EMI, Recorded 1964, 2 CDs.

Hector Berlioz

André Cluytens

Composer Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) left a Christmas oratorio, the above-listed Birth of Christ and quite exceptional in its own sublime beauty. The work focuses on three episodes of the Christmas story- Herod’s dream and massacre of the innocents; the flight of Joseph, Mary and their infant into Egypt; and the hospitality provided by an Ishmaelite family in the Egyptian town of Sais.

Its vocal solos and choruses abound in melodic richness. The baritone aria, depicting the evil Herod’s dream and sung by Ernest Blanc, is an eloquent one with Berlioz’s matchless orchestral scoring. The harp and flute duet and a capella chorus; Roger Soyer’s Joseph; Victoria de los Angeles’s Mary; and Nicolai Gedda’s Narrator add up to a work that, for me, has sustained numerous rehearings throughout the years.

Andre Cluytens’s 1964 set has been nicely remastered and reissued a number of times. It is available through Amazon and its vendors at inexpensive prices .

Xmas quote from Victor Borge

Victor Borge

“Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year. “

Abba: Arrival

Polydor 2344058, LP, recorded 1976.

The quality of Abba’s songs is wide ranging, from good to sublime, as it was 40 years ago when I first heard them. Arrival is one of eight albums released before they disbanded in 1982. The marriages of the two couples comprising the group, Benny and Anni and Bjorn and Agnetha, ended becau

se of the pressures from their phenomenal worldwide popularity.

This album’s 10 songs included Dancing Queen, Money Money Money, Why Did It Have to be Me, and the title song, while the arrangements, range of musical instruments and sheer sound contributed to a major ‘70s pop classic.