REVIEW POTPOURRI: Adolph Hitler; Composer: Otto Klem­perer

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Adolph Hitler

Adolph Hitler

In the interest of getting a few columns ready a few weeks ahead of time, I am writing this one on April 20, the 135th birthday anniversary of one of the two most evil dictators of the 20th century (the other being Joseph Stalin), namely former German chancellor Adolf Hitler (1889-1945).

William Shirer

My earliest exposure to Hitler’s life came via a short paperback, The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler, by William L. Shirer (1904-1993) which I bought for 25 cents through the TAB Book Club when I was in sixth grade during the 1962-63 school year. John Kennedy was still president and his father, who was appointed Ambassador to Great Britain in the late 1930s, for some mysterious reasons by FDR, was one of Hitler’s biggest fans, much to the disgust of FDR who eventually fired him, and of son Jack who would quietly leave the room whenever his father was spouting politics.

Shirer’s book was based on the much longer 1961 Rise and Fall of the Third Reich which has sold millions of copies and was a Book of the Month Club selection. Much of the material was based on the author’s years as a journalist in Berlin from 1934 to 1940. More than any other correspondent during those six years, Shirer personally witnessed the triumph of evil in its various manifestations and brought to his writing an immediacy most others lacked.

He authored several other books on these experiences – Berlin Diary, End of a Berlin Diary, The Nightmare Years, Twentieth Century Journey, etc.

In 1934, once Hitler was establishing himself after being “democratically voted in by the people,” Shirer wrote in the Nightmare Years what he was witnessing in Berlin:

“Platoons or companies of brown-shirted storm troopers of the S.A. and black-coated guards of the more elite S.S. were constantly marching through the streets, their jackboots echoing on the pavement. I was warned that anyone on the sidewalk who did not pause to salute their standards and flags was liable to be beaten up on the spot. I soon learned to duck into a shop when they passed.”

In 1940, Shirer received word that the Gestapo was planning to arrest him on trumped up charges of espionage and execute him, and got out in the nick of time.

Spencer Tracy

Most highly recommended is a viewing of 1961’s Judgment at Nuremberg dealing with the trial of four Nazi judges by an American military tribunal and starring Spencer Tracy as the presiding chief justice, Burt Lancester as one of the Nazis and an all star cast that includes Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, William Shatner, etc. Spencer Tracy stole the show.

A particularly disturbing aspect of the film was the several Germans who denied knowing about the death camps. And other pertinent historical issues were referenced – the beginnings of the Cold War, the temporary closing of Berlin by the Russians and the Berlin Airlift of 1948 in which food and other necessary supplies were parachuted by American planes.

And finally a haunting scene of Tracy as the Judge walking by himself through the outdoor amphitheater where Hitler had his rallies communicated powerfully.

Otto Klemperer

Otto Klemperer

Werner Klemperer

I have been listening to an eight CD set of the great Otto Klem­perer’s 1960s studio recordings of Bach’s B minor Mass and Saint Matthew’s Passion, Handel’s Messiah and the Beeth­oven Missa Solemnis, each of which is a masterpiece. Klemperer (1885-1973) was already in his 80s and still conducting at a peak level. Warner Classics 9 93540 2.

Klem­perer’s son Werner portrayed Colonel Klink on Hogan’s Heroes.

These recordings can be heard via YouTube.

 

 

 

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REVIEW POTPOURRI – Novelist: Gerard Robichaud; Singer: Tony Williams; Movie: White Heat; Violinist: Fritz Kreisler

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Gerard Robichaud

Gerard Robicaud

Novelist Gerard Robichaud (1908-2008) was born in Québec, moved with his parents to Lewiston as a child, returned to Québec at 18 to study for the priesthood and practice writing stories during his spare time, but then left the priesthood to return to Lewiston in 1928 and over the next twenty years began developing further as a writer .

Maine Speaks contains a chapter, The Bad One, from Robichaud’s 1961 novel Papa Martel which easily stands on its own as a short story. The setting is a 1920s mill town, Groveton (strongly resembling Lewiston) and depicts a French Canadian family living in a very crowded apartment.

A local priest talks the parents into taking in a 17-year-old orphaned girl who’s been very difficult to manage. What gives this story a special quality is how the situation unfolds in a most unusual manner; how again people are so seldom what they seem; and how clouds have surprising silver linings.

The orphan Bad One Sophia ends up engaging the family and community in a most endearing manner while there are the elements of sly humor, local color, snappy dialog and unspoken attitudes that are the meat and potatoes of any good story.

In an interview, Robichaud summed up his own approach as a writer- “I wanted people to be better than they were after they read the story.”

A choice four lines of dialog between the family patriarch Louis and the priest Father Lebois before the parents make any decision:

“And this little girl?” Louis asked. “How old is she?”

“Just seventeen,” said Father Lebois sadly, “and already the boys chase her. It’s a pity, but she’s also very beautiful. “

“At seventeen,” Louis murmured, “everybody is beautiful.”

Tony Williams

Tony Williams

Tony Williams (1928-1992) was lead singer for the Platters from 1953 to 1959 and contributed to the group’s extraordinary success with such hits as The Great Pretender and Jerome Kern’s Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.

In 1957 as a solo singer, he recorded a seven-inch 45 (Mercury 71158) of two selections – Let’s Start All Over Again; and When You Return, its melody being that of Danny Boy/Londonderry Air. And they were vocally top notch doo wop style arrangements.

White Heat

James Cagney

White Heat is a 1949 film noir classic starring James Cagney (1899-1986) as the psychopathic gangster Cody Jarrett, Margaret Wycherly (1881-1956) as the equally formi­dable Ma Jarrett and a superb supporting cast that included Virginia Mayo, Steve Cochrane, Edmund O’Brien, Fred Clark etcs. and astutely directed by Raoul Walsh.

Fritz Kreisler

Fritz Kreisler

Two acoustically recorded 12-inch shellacs present two violinists who shared the same birthday of February 2 and ex­changed greeting cards.

Fritz Kreisler (1875-1963) recorded Dvorak’s Humoresque (Victor Red Seal 74180) in 1919 and played with his justly famed unique delicacy and exquisite lyricism. In 1947, he closed his violin case for good.

Jascha Heifetz

Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987) recorded Sarasate’s splendid virtuoso piece Introduction and Tarentelle (Victrola Red Seal 74626) the previous year at the age of 17 and even then displayed the total technical and musical supremacy as possibly the greatest violinist who ever lived. Itzhak Perlman once commented that Heifetz again and again could do bowings and phrasing that he and other violinists could never do.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Streisand’s “Highlights”; Tenor: Charles Harrison; & Creatore’s Band

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Highlights

Barbra Streisand

Highlights (Columbia CT 52849) is a 1992 cassette of 24 selections from the massive 1991 four CD set, Just for the Record, of almost 40 years of Barbra Streisand’s singing with a few vocals from composers Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers, and Michel Legrand, and singers Judy Garland, Neil Diamond and Ray Charles.

Streisand has consistently given magnificent performances of so many Great American Songbook classics and contemporary selections.

Here is You’ll Never Know via both a 1955 recording when she was 13 at the beginning of side 1 and a duet from 1987 at the end of side 2 with herself in 1955. Other classics include Cry Me a River, Get Happy, Happy Days are Here Again, People, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out, Come Rain and Come Shine, etc.

It is a very good musical textbook for young voice students on what to choose for material and how to develop their technique.

Charles Harrison

Charles Harrison

Tenor Charles Harrison (1878-1965) recorded many shellacs for various labels including Columbia, Edison, Victor, Vocalion, etc., and did many of the classic pop standards of the day – I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, Peggy O’ My Heart, Avalon as well as sacred and opera selections.

A 12-inch acoustic shellac record (Columbia A5348), from November 4, 1911, featured him performing an aria Lend Me Your Aid, from Charles Gounod’s opera The Queen of Sheba.

Harrison didn’t have what one might call a beautiful voice, like Caruso, Mario Lanza and Luciano Pavarotti, etc., but he did sing with intelligence, conviction and a naturalness of phrasing that was very enjoyable.

Charles Gounod (1818-1893) wrote one masterpiece, Faust, among his dozen operas, the others being for me uneven in quality but having some charming arias.

The Queen of Sheba (La Reine de Saba) was premiered in a magnificently opulent production at the Paris Opera in 1862 but rarely performed since then; the first recording of the complete opera was a live Italian production in 2001 while the U.S. premiere occurred in 2018 via a concert presentation in Boston by Odyssey Opera.

Creatore’s Band

Guiseppe Creatore

Columbia A5364 is another 12 inch shellac with Creatore’s Band giving very expressive performances of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus from the Messiah and the hymn Nearer My God to Thee. The two sides were recorded in 1908, originally released as one-sided discs and, around 1918, as the two-sided record.

The leader Giuseppe Creatore (1871-1952) organized the Band in the early 1900s after moving to the United States from Italy. Due to his musical gifts and flamboyant personality, he and the Band experienced incredible success and got $5,000 for each concert.

A son Luigi Creatore (1921-2015) partnered with Hugo Peretti as Hugo and Luigi and they did numerous arrangements during the ‘50s and ‘60s for pop artists, including Peter Nero and Perry Como, at Roulette and RCA Victor.

All of the above recordings can be heard on the Internet.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: the Gingersnaps & Alfred Tennyson

Gingersnaps

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Gingersnaps

A 1956 seven-inch 45 (Kapp K-226X) features the Gingersnaps, four women from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, who had been friends in high school. They perform two novelty bubblegum pop songs, Gingerbread; and Lenny! Lenny! This record was for me an intriguing historic curiosity because, having been born in 1951, the ‘50s have remained an immensely fascinating time warp.

The father of one of the women was friendly with the Chordettes, also from Sheboygan, whose megahit records Mister Sandman; and Lollipop Lollipop each sold over a million copies in 1953-54 and helped these singers get bookings for concerts and recording sessions, although only this record and two or three other discs were released.

Musically speaking, the vocals and arrangements weren’t half bad, the women singing with sincerity, but the results were derivative and sounding too much like their fellow Sheboygans, the Chordettes.

Two other groups with the name Gingersnaps need to be mentioned to avoid confusion. One is an African-American blues group of singers from the Deep South who signed a contract with RCA Victor in 1945 and recorded a few 78s, the second consisting of musicians from Ukraine who started performing as an electronic rock group in New York City in 2019.

Alfred Tennyson

Alfred Tennyson

Alfred (Lord) Tennyson (1809-1892) published a book length poem In Memoriam in 1850 as a tribute to a close friend Arthur Henry Hallam who died from a stroke in 1833, at the age of 22. The poem was not only a powerful elegy about the loss of a friend but also a critique on the “modern age” in England during the age of Queen Victoria (1819-1901) when religious faith was increasingly seen as being replaced by hard cold materialism, prosperity and scientific progress. Thus a certain cynicism and despair among more sensitive souls was on the rise.

This cynicism and despair is touched on quite brilliantly and astutely in some verses on the life of a couple who have been married for decades and these verses just might resonate in the world we live in today:

“These two-they dwelt with eye on eye,
Their hearts of old have beat in tune,
Their meetings made December June,
Their every parting was to die.

“Their love has never passed away;
The days she never can forget
Are earnest that he loves her yet,
Whate’er the faithless people say.

[But then this note of marital happiness is pretty much destroyed by the next verse in which there is so often one spouse who loves still and is no longer loved in return, just co-existing, and getting the raw end of the deal. The cold fish husband in the marriage is still living with the loving wife, he still loves her, but he’s just not showing it any longer. ]

“Her life is lone, he sits apart,
He loves her yet, she will not weep,
Tho’ rapt in matters dark and deep
He seems to slight her simple heart.”

Tennyson implied a certain sarcasm about the oafish husband being “rapt in matters dark and deep” and seeming “to slight her simple heart.” This poet conveyed a tough yet needed realism about marriage among our ancestors, the perils of living under the same roof for decades and the suffering so often occurring between husbands and wives having to live under that same roof. And he articulated these thematic concerns with power and eloquence.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Sarah Orne Jewett

Sarah Orne Jewett

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Sarah Orne Jewett

The October 1904, Atlantic Monthly, out of Boston, Massachusetts, had an article, The Art of Miss Jewett, on South Berwick Maine’s own Sarah Orne Jewett (1849 – 1909) , via which Charles Miner Thompson (1864-1941) stated the following:

“…I always think of her as of one who, hearing New England accused of being a bleak land without beauty, passes confidently over the snow, and by the gray rock, and past the dark fir tree, to a southern bank, and there, brushing away the decayed leaves, triumphantly shows to the faultfinder a spray of the trailing arbutus. And I should like, for my own part, to add this: that the fragrant, retiring, exquisite flower, which I think she would say is the symbol of New England virtue, is the symbol also of her own modest and delightful art.”

Thompson’s statement might be encrusted by a bit too much purple scrub brush prose but he did show a discerning appreciation of a writer for her gifts at endowing the “bleak land…gray rock…[and] decayed leaves ” of our Pine Tree State and conveying its own special beauties and truths in this at times very scary universe.

As with William Faulkner’s hot dusty roads in Mississippi and Willa Cather’s Nebraska wheat fields, Jewett’s Southern Maine was transformed into a microcosm that resonated with so many readers.

In her short story collection The Country of the Pointed Firs, one story in particular, The Flight of Betsey Lane, has an opening paragraph that conveys in its simple narrative just how much Miss Jewett absorbed into her “little piece of dirt” in Southern Maine (She lived in South Berwick most of her life and, as a child, traveled with her father on his rounds as a country doctor.); since it’s too long to quote in its entirety, I offer a few sentences that hopefully will convey the spirit of the author :

“One windy morning in May, three old women sat together near an open window in the shed chamber of Byfleet Poor-house. The wind was from the northwest, but their window faced the southeast, and they were only visited by an occasional waft of fresh air.

“There was a cheerful feeling of activity, and even an air of comfort, about the Byfleet Poor-house. Almost every one was possessed of a most interesting past, though there was less to be said about the future.

“There was a sharp-faced, hard-worked young widow with seven children, who was an exception to the general level of society, because she deplored the change in her fortunes. The older women regarded her with suspicion, and were apt to talk about her in moments like this, when they happened to sit together at their work.”

Faulkner wrote, “A writer needs three things – experience, observation and imagination, any one or two of which can supply the lack of the others.”

Willa Cather, who was a friend, wrote of Sarah Orne Jewett, “She early learned to love her country for what it was. What is quite as important, she saw it as it was. She happened to have the right nature, the right temperament, to see it so- and to understand by intuition the deeper meaning of all she saw.”

Edvard Grieg

Edvard Grieg

An RCA Victor cassette contains Edvard Grieg’s a minor Piano Con­certo and two of his solo Lyric Pieces; and the Con­certo of Robert Schumann, also in a minor, as performed by Artur Rubinstein, with Alfred Wallenstein conducting a studio pickup orchestra for the Grieg and Carlo Maria Giulini directing the Chicago Symphony in the Schumann.

Rubinstein played with his wondrously expressive musicianship that he brought to a wide range of composers from Mozart and Beethoven to Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff and they can be heard via YouTube. He could at odd moments smother the music with his personalized individuality but in general he conveyed the spirit of each composer in his many recordings.

 

 

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REVIEW POTPOURRI: A childhood memory

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

A childhood memory

Among my many childhood memories were the innumerable Sunday drives, when gas was inexpensive, down to Pemaquid, Rockport, Port Clyde, Belfast, Owl’s Head, St. George.

One particular memory is of the humongous rock quarries in St. George and it was brought to mind when I was browsing in Maine: The Pine Tree State from Prehistory to the Present (1995, University of Maine Press) and came across a paragraph on the beginnings of the quarry industry during the early 19th century:

“Maine’s granite quarries were first opened by local companies using local capital. These were usually small firms with fewer than twenty-five employees. The business was fiercely competitive, as was the construction industry generally, and wages and profits fluctuated widely. In the second half of the century, the industry was stabilized through two developments. During the 1870s, the federal government issued lucrative contracts for public buildings, known as “fifteen percent contracts” because they guaranteed that amount of profit to the builders and, by extension, to the suppliers. Several large quarry owners gained a monopoly over these contracts and profited heavily. ”

Needless to say, greed increased with the wealth and relations between management and labor deteriorated.

Dean Martin

Dean Martin

Dean Martin recorded two quietly wistful ballads – Dreamy Old New England Moon; and Three Wishes – on a ten-inch Capitol 78 that was released in April 1949. What particularly enhanced Dino’s decently professional singing was the exquisitely crafted arrangements of Paul Weston who directed a studio orchestra consisting of some of the best strings and woodwinds session players to be found on the west coast and a backup group of harmonizing women.

NCIS Hawai’i

Vanessa Lachey

Though not quite on the same level as the Mark Harmon original, NCIS Hawaii’s first seven episodes for season one have proven entertaining. Vanessa Lachey as Jane Tennant, the lead agent for the Pearl Harbor branch of the Navy Criminal Investi­gation Service, had conveyed commendable presence.

Madeline Zima

Episode 5, Gaijing, which deals with the murder of a visiting Japanese officer, has an unusual plot twist. A woman who was close to both the victim and his girlfriend who had been murdered the previous year is the prime suspect because of what seems to be a psychopathic personality disorder. It’s the surprising plot twist that gave this episode unusual merit.

Madeline Zima’s performance as the suspect was quite extraordinary in her development of this character.

Leopold Stokowski

Leopold Stokowski

A 12-inch acoustically recorded shellac of the concluding part three of the Overture to Wagner’s opera Tannhauser had Leopold Stokowski conducting the Phil­adel­phia Orchestra in one of the most exciting performances to be heard when the horn was used for recording instead of the microphone. Stokowski not only drew extraordinary playing from the orchestra but achieved the most vivid sound from the still crude horn technology.

Stokow­ski’s other discs from before 1924, when Victor developed the electric microphone system, were also quite vivid in sound. And he would live long enough to record with stereo and four channel microphone set ups before he passed away in 1977 at the age of 95, and with a recording contract until he reached 100.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Singer: Hal Lone Pine; TV: Have Gun Will Travel; Movie: Amadeus; Author: Anne Bronte

Harold Breau

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Harold John Breau

Born in Pea Cove, Maine, Harold John Breau (1916-1977), better known as Hal Lone Pine, was a popular country singer for almost 40 years, especially throughout Maine, New Brunswick and the Canadian prairies, and recorded several songs for RCA Victor during the early 1950s with his wife Betty Cody (1921-2014) . For several years, the couple was a regular on radio and TV in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

After the couple divorced in 1960, Lone Pine formed a partnership with Winnipeg singer Jeannie Ward; the two recorded an LP, Hymns and Heart Songs, in 1964 for the Toronto label Arc. As an example of the sacred music genre, the album is quite good and has a mix of such familiar hymns as Beyond the Sunset and Abide with Me, and some lesser known hymns.

Lone Pine and Betty had two sons who became successful jazz guitarists – Lenny Breau (1941-1984) and younger brother Denny, who is still performing in Maine venues.

Have Gun Will Travel

Richard Boone

I have started to watch episodes of Have Gun Will Travel, a popular western TV series that ran from 1957 to 1963. Richard Boone (1917 starred as Paladin, a man who was quick on the draw yet would not use his revolver for any gun-slinging purposes. He would simply have it handy if needed on his various good Samaritan trips.

Paladin is wealthy and lives at a luxury San Francisco hotel. He is also well read – in one episode he quotes the naturalist of ancient Rome, Pliny.

Guest stars have included Hawaii 5-O’s Jack Lord, Charles Bronson of Death Wish fame, and Claude Akins and Leo Gordon (both of whom portrayed cold-blooded villains in movies and television on numerous occasions) in somewhat ominous character roles, a couple of whom change for the better by the end of the episode.

Highly recommended for unpredictable storylines and morally uplifting situations.

Amadeus

The 1985 movie classic Amadeus centered on the relationship between the great composer Mozart and the not so great composer Salieri. One particularly memorable scene, and one which might not be true, has Mozart on his death bed, singing notes for his final masterpiece, the Requiem, as Salieri writes them down.

A 1986 CBS Masterworks cassette of the Requiem featuring a French early music ensemble conducted by Jean-Claude Malgoire (1940-2018) is a good one, but not as good as ones conducted by Davis, Giulini and Karajan with larger orchestras.

Back in 2000, a community chorus in Thomaston gave a very enjoyably spirited performance of the music.

Anne Bronte

Anne Bronte

The youngest of the three super talented sisters, Anne Bronte (1820-1849) published her 1848 novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, using the pen name Acton Bell be­cause of the condescending attitude then against women writers, as with sister Charlotte’s Currier Bell and Emily’s Ellis Bell.

The novel depicts a woman, Helen Huntingdon, who is fed up with the detestable behavior of her husband and abandons him to live the life of independence she finds well worth living.

As with Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights, this novel has a searing power and originality that challenges the conventions of society during the mid-1800s.

In a July 22, 1848, preface to the second edition, the author stated:

“My object in writing the following pages was not simply to amuse the Reader, neither was it to gratify my own taste, nor yet to ingratiate myself with the Press and the Public: I wished to tell the truth, for truth always conveys its own moral to those who are able to receive it.”

Later in the novel itself, Bronte describes a countryside morning, “when roused by the flutter and chirp of the sparrows, and the gleeful twitter of the swallows-all intent upon feeding their young, and full of life and joy in their own little frames.”

When Anne was four years old, her father asked her what she most wanted. The little girl replied, “Age and experience!”

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Historian: Joyce Butler; Composer: Richard Wagner

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Joyce Butler

Joyce Butler

In an 1995 textbook anthology, Maine, the Pine Tree State from Prehistory to the Present, the late Kennebunk historian Joyce Butler provided an essay on family and community life from 1783 to 1861.

A few items:

Saco was originally Pepperelborough, “a rough lumbering town.”

The missionary Paul Coffin considered Union “a place for young men to make themselves.”

A tradesman in Falmouth bought 7,800 acres between the Saco and Ossipee Rivers in 1787 for under a thousand dollars, a purchase that later became the town of Hiram.

Dancing, Blind Man’s Bluff, and backgammon were some of the social activities enjoyed by the wealthy classes in Portland.

A 15 year old teenager from Denmark, Rufus Porter, walked the 106 mile round trip to Portland to seek his fortune.

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner

Parsifal was Richard Wagner’s last opera and given its world premiere in 1882 at Bayreuth, the opera house in Germany that was built to the composer’s specifications and to this day is a mecca for opera lovers.

It has a plot centered on a mythical King Arthurish knight, Parsifal, and his search for the holy grail (During the 1970s, Monty Python did its own version of this holy grail search, resulting in a very hilarious film.) and runs five hours, quite a lengthy evening.

The opera has provoked extreme reactions in its history – composers Gustav Mahler and Claude Debussy found it the greatest experience of their life while Igor Stravinsky and novelist Mark Twain detested it.

I myself enjoy the music in this opera and have not bothered to follow the story line, being of the belief that appreciation of the music should come before trying to figure out the plot and its characters. When the music is firmly in the listener’s mind and heart, then further study is fruitful.

During the last month, I listened to three different recordings of Parsifal, each of them of exceptional merit. The first one is from 1950, and features Vittorio Gui conducting an Italian language production at La Scala in Milan with tenor Africo Baldelli in the title role and the legendary soprano Maria Callas as the significant woman Kundry.

The second set, from 1973, presents Sir Georg Solti leading the Vienna Philharmonic with Rene Kollo as Parsifal and Christa Ludwig as Kundry. #3 from 1981 has Herbert von Karajan directing the Berlin Philharmonic, Peter Hofmann’s Parsifal and Dunja Vejzovic’s Kundry.

Good news for thrifty listeners- all three recordings can be heard on YouTube.

Al Hibbler

Al Hibbler

Jazz singer Al Hibbler (1915-2001) recorded a 1954 ten inch lp of six selections for Columbia Records House Party series with Duke Ellington and his orchestra and gave performances to be savored slowly; they included two Great American Songbook classics, Don’t Get Around Much Anymore and The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise, which was frequently heard during the dark days of World War II.

Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson (1937-2018) appeared on a memorable 1970 episode of Hawaii Five-O, Trouble in Mind, as a nightclub singer with addiction problems. Even in that role, she conveyed wonderful stage presence singing with a small combo.

A 1991 Co­lumbia cassette, With My Lover Beside Me, is an album of songs by lyricist Johnny Mercer and singer/composer Barry Manilow. As with her numerous other albums, this one comes highly recommended.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Author: Ladislas Farago

Ladislas Farago

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Ladislas Farago

A 1954 book War of Wits, by journalist Ladislas Farago (1906-1980), is an account of intelligence networks during World War II. What gave Farago’s book interest was his own work in South Am­erica and his access to many spies and agents who were eager to tell their stories.

One such incident tells of an elderly German couple who owned an inn along the Kiel Canal which connected the Baltic Sea with the North Sea.

Sailors and officers from Nazi submarines would often drop in for a glass of beer before going on a dangerous mission against the allies which the innkeeper offered free to them as a patriotic gesture. In return, these men would sign their names in a guest book as a memento of their visit.

When the coast was clear, the innkeeper would take the guest book down into the cellar and through a tunnel to a neighboring house where British agents had radio transmitters to relay information on these U boats from the names in the register.

On a different topic yet having some relevance to the hospitality industry of inns along German canals, Ten Restaurants that Changed America, a 2016 book by Paul Freedman, chose the hotel/restaurant chain of Howard Johnson’s as one of the ten topics and mentions one item dear to the appetites of so many Mainers – “The fried clams…were originally quite unusual…not an easy sell at first…Virtually unknown outside of New England…promoted…at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. It took a further concerted campaign to win acceptance – this was not a case of simply providing what people already were accustomed to consuming. The fact that the class would become a fondly regarded signature item of Howard Johnson’s was an accomplishment, not an accident.”

Scandal

I recently finished binging on all seven seasons of the ABC television series Scandal, which ran from 2012 to 2018. The most memorable character was Eli Pope, who, under the code name of Rowan, ran an off the books black ops agency known as Control.

Rio Bravo

A 1959 classic western, Rio Bravo, had Howard Hawks directing and an all star cast of John Wayne, Ricky Nelson, Dean Martin, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond and Claude Akins.

Dimitri Shostakovich

Dimitri Shostakovich had completed his 4th Symphony in 1936 just when Joseph Stalin was beginning his bloody purges of millions. That same year the dictator had attended the premiere of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth and stormed out in a rage before the presentation was finished.

Given the circumstances, the composer held off on the world premiere of the 4th Symphony until 1961.

The work is scored for more than 100 instruments , including extra brass and percussion. It is powerful music with some very loud climaxes but it ends with about 5 minutes of the quietest , most exquisitely heavenly notes scored for hushed strings, muted trumpet and the celeste which looks like a small piano but sounds like chimes.

A 2005 youtube video features Semyon Bychkov conducting the WDR Orchestra in Cologne . It is a very exciting performance.

Since 2017, Maestro Bychkov has been Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic . Born in 1952, he grew up in the former Soviet Union but, due to the growing anti-semitism of the government – Bychkov is Jewish- he left the country in 1974 with 100 dollars in his pocket, settling in Vienna to further his musical studies.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Dylan and Vee; Conductor: Lorin Maazel

by Peter Cates

Dylan and Vee

Bob Dylan

At a 2013 concert in St. Paul, Minnesota, Bob Dylan paid tribute to Bobby Vee (1943-2016), who was in the audience. Dylan played piano as part of Vee’s backup band for two gigs in 1959 and the two singers had remained friends and performed together on occasion over subsequent decades.

Dylan, who had performed with so many legends in concerts, described Vee as “the most beautiful person I’ve ever been on the stage with.”

One could point out a world of difference between Bobby Vee’s Rubber Ball and Bob Dylan’s Mister Tambourine Man; it would also be a waste of time and space. Instead one admires the tribute from one American music statesman to another.

The interest in Bobby Vee came after recently listening to a Liberty seven-inch 45 record of two of Vee’s megahits back in the very early ‘60s when he and two other Bobbys, Rydell and Vinton, were bombarding the Billboards and airwaves.

The songs, Run to Him; and Walkin’ with My Angel, were written by Gerry Goffin and his ex-wife Carole King, they being famous for But Will You Love Me Tomorrow. And both songs were given superb production work by the Liberty records founder Snuff Garrett (He signed to the label singer Julie London and Alvin and the Chipmunks) with some of the finest session players in the business and the Johnny Mann Singers doing backup.

Bobby Vee

Even more impressive was Vee’s singing with a beautifully projected vocal register, clear articulation, characterful phrasing and vibrant warmth. Not only did I listen to my very good copy of the 45 but also to the remastered sound, derived from the original source material during later decades, to be heard on YouTube which had outstanding sound lacking in the old 45s.

I also listened to Youtubes of Vee’s very captivating hits, Rubber Ball, and the classic The Night Has a Thousand Eyes and several others that weren’t quite as good as material but were still given top notch arrangements.

At the 2013 concert, Bob Dylan sang an early hit of Bobby Vee, Suzie Baby, and it can be heard on YouTube, along with Vee’s original recording. I actually liked Vee’s better. Dylan’s own singing at the age of 72 just wasn’t what it used to be but it was an important historical moment.

The two singers did critique each other’s musicianship in a pithy manner:

Dylan – Vee “had a metallic, edgy tone to his voice and it was as musical as a silver bell.”

Vee- Dylan “played pretty good in the key of C.”

Bobby Vee died in 2016 at the age of 73 from Alzheimer’s which he had been suffering from for several years. His wife died the previous year from a kidney ailment.

Lorin Maazel

Conductor Lorin Maazel (1930-2015), for good or bad, has been one of the most fascinating individuals who ever directed a symphony orchestra. He succeeded George Szell (1897-1970) as music director of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1971, staying ten years before becoming director of the Vienna State Opera and, as far as I am concerned, successfully followed perfectionist Szell’s very hard act.

In 1976, Maazel and the Clevelanders recorded a set of the Brahms 4 Symphonies, Haydn Variations and Tragic and Academic Festival Overtures. It was reviewed in high fidelity along with another set of the Symphonies and 2 Overtures but lacking the Haydn Variations that was released the same year and featured Eugen Jochum (1902-1987) leading the London Philharmonic.

Both sets were trashed by the record critic whose ears, as far as I was concerned, were screwed on wrong. I own shelves of different Brahms Symphonies and I have found that both Maazel and Jochum conducted very exciting performances that brought out the balance of rip-roaring romantic emotions in Johannes Brahms’s own psyche and the sternly crafted architecture that this composer imposed, based on his admiration of the 18th century examples of Bach, Handel and Haydn.

The sets remain among my favorites. Both Jochum and Maazel conveyed a love of this composer’s inspired music but brought a differently personalized individuality to the performances, unlike some conductors of recent years who copy cat each other with dull performances and wouldn’t let themselves go emotionally if their lives depended on it.

There are, however, some annoying quirks in Maazel’s conducting of these pieces – a ridiculously fast tempo in the last movement of the 1st Symphony, some limp phrasing in the first movement of the 2nd movement that drags it out and, at odd moments, a ho-hum manner with phrasing and detail.

But these annoying moments are few. All in all, a set worth seeking out for the curious listener.

During Maazel’s Cleveland years, he recorded prize-winning sets of Prokofiev’s complete Romeo and Juliet ballet and Gershwin’s complete Porgy and Bess, along with a really good Beethoven 9 Symphonies that was pretty well ignored by the critics.