by Peter Cates
My Favorite Overtures
Sir Thomas Beecham conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Capitol, G 7251, mono edition of LP also released in stereo, recorded 1961.
The Overtures contained herein are Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra and La Cambiale di Matrimonio – itself composed when he was 18; Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and Fair Melusina; and Berlioz’s Corsaire. Gazza Ladra, translated as Thieving Magpie, is based on a story in which a servant girl is charged with stealing a silver spoon. She is caught between a rock and a hard place because she is hiding her father who is a deserter while the real thief is a magpie.
The Corsaire Overture was written by Berlioz in a tower on a cliff in Nice, was initially titled Le Corsaire Rouge because the composer really liked the American novel Red Rover by James Fenimore Cooper, but was shortened to just Corsaire when he feared confusion of the many listeners not particularly well read. The novel also had one scene depicting its own tower on a cliff, inspiring some speculation as to why Berlioz might have sought and found such a place on his vacation trip to Nice.
The performances are very good but more recent performances with even better sound exist that are also very good. Finally, Overtures by these three figures and others such as Dvorak, Brahms, Suppe, etc., are a wonderful source of listening, like the composers and pieces I have recommended in previous columns, for beginning one’s classical collection. And for anyone who does want the above LP, vinyl and cassette copies are listed on Amazon for under ten bucks.
The Best of Booker T. and the MG’s
Atlantic- 7 81281-2, CD, released 1984.
The classic Memphis record label Stax had the gifted personnel of Booker T. and the MGs as its house band for most of the 60’s. Organist Booker T. Jones, 1944; guitarist Steve Cropper, 1941; bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1941-2012; and drummer Al Jackson, Jr. provided top notch support for such artists as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam and Dave, the Staple Singers, Carla Thomas and her father Rufus, Albert King and Bonnie and Delaney.
With the two whites, Cropper and Dunn, it was one of the very first racially mixed musical groups in the U.S. as of 1962 when they released their only megahit, Green Onions. This selection and 15 others comprise the CD above, some of the most well-honed, nuanced and funky instrumentals that make for excellent background music and focused listening.
Detroit’s Motown label has an outdoor marquee reading, “Hitsville USA,” while Stax in Memphis has “Soulsville, USA.” Prices for the CD on Amazon start with a very exorbitant one penny.
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