REVIEW POTPOURRI: Conductors Bruno Walter and George Szell

Bruno Walter, left. George Szell, right.

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Back during eighth grade in 1964, I was hungrily eager to hear every record of classical music that I could beg, borrow, buy, barter for; and one neighbor was kind enough to loan the Arturo Toscanini/NBC Symphony RCA Victor Red Seal LP of Beethoven’s 5th and 8th symphonies, that I auditioned on another neighbor’s hi-fi which was quite superior in sound to the $32 manually operated phonograph I owned.

I was already quite familiar with the 5th Symphony via an old Columbia Masterworks set of five 12-inch 78s, conducted by Bruno Walter (1876-1962) with the New York Philharmonic.

I remember the black and white photo of Walter raising his arms in the air and conveying, in his stern eyes, that he meant business; Leonard Bernstein called him one of the great saints of music with a sweet gentle spirit and wearing silk gloves but beneath those silk gloves was an iron fist and a sneaky snakiness in Walter’s ability to look out for number one.

But Walter was a truly great conductor on the same level as his close friend Toscanini (1867-1957) and his recording of the 5th had a combination of dramatic power and nicely contrasting poetry while Toscanini’s performance had the excitingly riveting volatility of a sledgehammer.

Back to my first encounter with the 8th Symphony. Toscanini and his players tore into the first movement and fully communicated its growling jubilation, Beethoven being a 100 percent manic depressive.

This symphony had its first performance in 1812 in Linz, Austria, where the composer was visiting his brother Johann, enjoying his hospitality and, at the same time, trying to break up a relationship Johann was having with a woman whom Beethoven considered a lowlife. The situation and how it was resolved makes for hilarious reading.

The second movement is a perky dance with the bassoon taking center stage with its staccato notes.

The third movement is labeled as a Menuet but its beauty is a passionate outpouring of the heart, as opposed to a graceful elegant dance, with some very eloquent, almost heavenly writing for the strings.

The final movement is a vivacious highly spirited romp for the entire orchestra.

A similarly exciting performance of the 8th was an early 1960s one conducted by the arch perfectionist, SOB, taskmaster George Szell (1897-1970) with the Cleveland Orchestra while another one from 1957 with Andre Cluytens (1905-1967) conducting the Berlin Philharmonic has a more relaxed sedate quality that works beautifully, this Maestro being one who was quite underrated during his own lifetime.

While the 7th Symphony is a colossal masterpiece with the much shorter 8th seeming to a number of listeners anticlimactic, Beethoven himself considered the 8th immensely superior to the 7th.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: First Lady Elizabeth Monroe

Elizabeth Monroe

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

First Lady Elizabeth Monroe

Former 5th First Lady Elizabeth Kortright Monroe (1768-1830) was one of the most anti-social FLs to live at the White House during her eight years (1817-1825) while her husband James Monroe (1758-1831) ushered in what was known as the Era of Good Feelings, that period of “happiness” sometimes referred to by cynical misanthropes as the Era of Good Stealings, that story for another week.

One of the most lively chapters in Christine Sadler’s 1963 America’s First Ladies concerns the quiet Mrs. Monroe:

“She was forty-eight years of age when her husband became president and she had lived in Washington as a Cabinet wife for seven years without, it was said, making neither friends nor enemies. ‘The Monroes are perfect strangers, ‘ wailed Margaret Bayard Smith, the capital city’s most ardent note taker during the period and the one most often quoted, ‘not only to me but to all the citizens.

“The story of Elizabeth is almost entirely the story of her husband, on whom she was unusually dependent. It was an arrangement which apparently suited him perfectly and which he perhaps had fostered. She was only seventeen when he married her in New York City on February 16, 1786, while he was a member of the Continental Congress. He was twenty-seven and a veteran of the Revolutionary War, with a scar to prove it, and had studied law under his idol and mentor, Thomas Jefferson. One of his Virginia colleagues in the Congress described Elizabeth as ‘the smiling little Venus’ when she and her tall husband departed for a week-long honeymoon on the outer reaches of Long Island. ”

Pres. James Monroe

One very noble deed of Mrs. Monroe occurred when her husband was George Washington’s Minister to France in 1794. Adrienne Lafayette, wife of the Marquis who had provided much help with French troops during the last years of the American Revolution, was in prison with her two daughters and awaiting execution by the guillotine (She had already lost her mother, grandmother and sister to the blade.).

All Americans in France were under strict orders to maintain strict neutrality, even though Washington himself cherished Lafayette like a son. The Monroes decided otherwise and devised a plan.

Dressing in the finest apparel and the carriage decorated in full U.S. insignia, Elizabeth arrived at the prison with her entourage in all innocence to pay a visit to her dear friend and so charmed those powers that be that Madame Lafayette and her daughters were released from prison within a few days and given passports out of the country.

Upon the Monroes replacing the Madisons in the White House, they lived a very quiet life and pretty well shunned most Washington society, entertaining very small groups of family and friends.

Their older daughter Eliza and her husband George Hay (He was the prosecutor in the trial of Thomas Jefferson’s former vice-president Aaron Burr for treason) came to live with them at the White House and, with her mother’s blessing, she assumed most of the responsibilities for the limited social calendar in a most unfortunately arrogant manner. Furthermore, the First Lady was suffering from poor health.

Meanwhile the President had expensive tastes for finely crafted furniture from France and was granted $30,000 from Congress to decorate the newly-rebuilt White House. He also sought the most costly linen, china and silverware, running up the kind of bills which caused a previously supportive Congress to take notice.

After leaving the White House when Monroe’s Secretary of State John Quincy Adams assumed office in 1825, they retired to their country estate, Oak Hill, near Leesburg, Virginia, where Elizabeth Monroe died in 1830 at the age of 62 followed a year later by her husband at 73.

A couple of footnotes:

Elizabeth Monroe’s father served as a captain for the British during the American Revolution, a fact slyly concealed by Monroe from his family and friends.

In 1814, Monroe was riding on horseback near Baltimore Harbor when he saw several thousand British troops arriving by ship but, since nobody believed they would invade, it was too late for any advanced warning.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Five LPs from my youth

Arlo Guthrie

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Arlo Guthrie

During my senior year at Kent’s Hill boarding school the spring of 1969, I lived in Wesleyan Hall dormitory and was acquainted with a fellow whose father was a wholesale record distributor.

He provided me with five LPs for sale at $2 each and gave me several days to audition them.

They were as follows:

Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant devoted an entire side one to his satirical account of an environmental incident which, for purposes of space, will not be recounted here, while the flip side had five songs of very minor charm.

His father was folk singer Woody Guthrie whose most famous song was This Land Is Your Land.

It was also the basis for a movie.

In recent years, Guthrie announced that he was retiring, at 74, from performing and touring, aptly stating that it was time to hang up the “Gone fishing” sign.

He also scored a hit with the beautiful Steve Goodman folk ballad The City of New Orleans 50 years ago.

Rod McKuen

Rod McKuen

The second LP was one by singer/poet songwriter Rod McKuen (1933-2015) whose recordings and books sold hundreds of millions of copies. His singing was not exactly beautiful after he all but des­troyed his vocal chords as a much younger man working in night clubs.

His most famous songs are Seasons in the Sun which was a hit for the Kingston Trio; Love’s Been Good to Me covered by Frank Sinatra who devoted his LP, A Man Alone, to McKuen; and the English lyrics for Jacques Brel’s If You Go Away.

I am particularly fond of If You Go Away while my father enjoyed Stanyan Street. Glenn Yarborough of the Limelighters devoted several albums to McKuen .

McKuen lived in a large Spanish-style house on Southern California’s Pacific coast and owned a humongous record collection.

Burt Bacharach

Burt Bacharach

Number three was the original Broadway cast recording of Burt Bacharach’s Promises Promises. Jerry Ohrbach and Jill O’Hara did top notch starring and singing roles, Ohrbach with She Likes Basketball, A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing and the title song which was a megahit for Dionne Warwick while Jill O’Hara’s Knowing When to Leave was and remains to this day a show stopper.

Bacharach recently celebrated his 94th birthday.

Ray Coniff

Ray Coniff

The 4th album was one of the Ray Conniff (1916-2002) Singers performing mid ‘60s hits such as My Cup Runneth Over and Winchester Cathedral.

Conniff was one of the finest jazz trombonists during the ‘30s and ‘40s and can be heard in quite a number of old recordings of small combos from those years, especially with clarinetist Artie Shaw.

During the 1950s, Conniff worked side by side with Mitch Miller at Columbia records producing numerous discs by such singers as Tony Bennett, Marty Robbins, and Johnny Mathis.

Along about then, he formed the Ray Conniff Singers as a means of providing sophisticated easy listening albums for its huge market, as did Andre Kostelanetz, Percy Faith, Paul Weston, Nelson Riddle, Hugo Winterhalter, etcs.

And he utilized a number of the same men who were part of Mitch’s Sing Along Gang because every one of them could sight read music.

Mary Hopkins

Mary Hopkins

The last album was a solo LP featuring the wonderful Mary Hopkin singing her classic Those Were the Days and covers of other vintage hits-examples being Ray Noble’s Love is the Sweetest Thing, Inch Worm and There’s No Business Like Show Business. It was released on the Beatles’ own label, Apple records. She is still living at 74.

My friend was one happy camper when I handed him a $10 bill.





REVIEW POTPOURRI: Former First Lady Dolley Payne Todd Madison

Dolly Madison

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Former First Lady Dolley Payne Todd Madison

Former First Lady Dolley Payne Todd Madison (1768-1849) grew up under very strict Quakers in Virginia chafing at their authoritarianism, and, needless to say, would fall very, very far from that denominational tree. She was the third of eight children born to John and Mary Payne who moved the family to Philadelphia in 1783.

In 1790, Dolley married a lawyer John Todd, with whom she had two sons. It was a happy marriage but short-lived.

In 1793, a yellow fever epidemic broke out in Philadelphia. Within four months, it caused over 5,000 deaths, including those of her husband, his parents and their youngest son.

However, in 1794, Dolley was introduced to a 43-year-old Congressman, James Madison Jr., who was a very shy 5-foot 4-inch bachelor but had the help of a mutual friend, the smooth talking reprobate and later Thomas Jefferson’s vice-president Aaron Burr (Both of these gentlemen were discussed in a previous column.).

Pres. James Madison

Unlike her staid predecessors Martha Washington and Abigail Adams, Dolley was one live wire whose personality, consummate charm, flamboyant clothes and generosity of spirit would leave its imprint on the political life of the nation’s capital for decades.

Dolley knew just how to talk to people and put them at ease. While her husband preferred to be by himself in the study and had few social graces, let alone the willingness to learn any, she was the first to have bi-partisan social gatherings; she also held firm to the rule that partying and political shop talk do not mix.

James’s second term may have been made possible by Dolley’s ability to win friends and influence people.

In 1814, the British invaded Washington and burned down the White House and other buildings, but Dolley did remove the painting of George Washington and other valuables in the nick of time.

By 1815, after living in rented houses, the Madisons moved into a newly-rebuilt White House.

One very early photo exists of James and Dolly Madison during their dotage in the 1830s and of her with others towards the end of her life. A quite fascinating daguerreotype has her with the 11th President James Knox Polk and the 15th President James Buchanan at an 1849 social gathering. These can be viewed on Google.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Soprano: Frances Alda; Cellist: Beatrice Harrison; Conductor: Victor Herbert

Frances Alda

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Frances Alda

Born in New Zealand, soprano Frances Alda (1879-1952) became a big star at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC, recorded a batch of Victor acoustic discs including duets with Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) and was married to Met manager Gatti-Casazza for several years.

A two sided , ten inch Victrola (527) features her very sweet singing of two longtime favorite selections, the native American love song, By the Waters of Minnetonka and the spiritual Deep River.

Both sides can be heard via Google.

Beatrice Harrison

Beatrice Harrison

A blue label ten inch Victor from 1924 (45072) features English cellist Beatrice Harrison (1892-1965) playing two charming pieces, David Popper’s Spanish dance To My Guitar and Nicolai Rimsky Korsakov’s Slumber Song from the opera May Night.

Harrison came from an incredibly talented musical family; one sister being a pianist, the other a violinist.

Beatrice attracted the attention of elite musical figures in English society- composers Sir Edward Elgar, Frederick Delius and Arnold Bax, each of whom composed works with her in mind; and conductors Sir Henry Wood, Sir Thomas Beecham (he called Harrison “That talented English lady”) and Sir Adrian Boult.

She recorded Elgar’s Cello Concerto in 1920 and 1928 with the composer conducting and did concerts with Sir Henry Wood several times at the Queen’s Hall in London, including the night before it was destroyed by the Luftwaffe.

Many of her recordings can also be heard via the internet.

Victor Herbert

Victor Herbert

Another blue label Victor record, 45170, has the composer/conductor/cellist Victor Herbert (1856-1924) leading Victor Herbert’s Orchestra in Charles Wakefield Cadman’s At Dawning and Poupee Valsante’s The Waltzing Doll. The ensemble consisted of very gifted musicians who gave beautiful performances on a sizable number of very fragile shellacs under Maestro Herbert.

In 1924, he died suddenly of a heart attack while at the doctor’s office.

Radiex was one of several dime store record labels which sold for a quarter per disc. A 1926 78 release contained a Great American Songbook classic staple, the Harbach/Hammerstein /Jerome Kern “Who” and the obscure but nicely composed “I’m Glad You’re Happy Again” sung the pseudonymous Mister X, whom research has determined to be any one of several singers.





REVIEW POTPOURRI: Years without a first lady

Thomas Jefferson

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Years without a first lady

Christine Sadler’s delightfully gossipy, but well-researched 1963 book America’s First Ladies tells us the following about the years of Thomas Jefferson’s occupation of the White House:

“Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and the country, too, apparently, rocked along quite well without a First Lady for the eight years beginning in March of 1801. The third President, however, did have to call on Dolly Madison, the wife of his Secretary of State [and later 4th President James Madison (1751-1836)], to ‘assist with the ladies.’

“Jefferson was a widower of nineteen years standing when he moved into the President’s house with his exotic flower plants, his fiddle, and his mockingbird so tame that it hopped up the stairs behind him to sing during his midday siesta.”

His daughter Martha Randolph did step in at times and she and her husband Congressman Thomas Mann Randolph lived with her father at the White House, as did his other daughter Maria Eppes, also married to a member of Congress, John Wayles Eppes.

Martha gave birth to five sons and seven daughters, making Jefferson the President with the most living descendants. Her oldest son Thomas Jefferson Randolph would be the joy of his grandfather during old age while the youngest, James Madison Randolph, was the first baby born in the White House. The other three boys were also named for prominent Americans.

Jefferson courted controversy because of what was perceived as his tendencies to play politics and his worldliness. Unlike Washington and John Adams, he was not a committed Christian and, when he was elected President, there were rumors of elderly women in Connecticut burying their Bibles in the backyard.

In addition, Gore Vidal’s very colorful historical novel Burr, which is told from the point of view of Jefferson’s vice-president Aaron Burr, recounts how Jeff­erson, who preferred hosting dinner parties of one to five guests, would converse about subjects of interest to the guests.

Aaron Burr

In the interest of providing context for these dinner party conversations, I need to mention the following items.

Burr was the grandson of the famous preacher Jonathan Edwards, whose sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is a classic of early American literature and still frequently taught in college courses.

The vice-president was also a notorious womanizer who commented that his grandfather sought glory in heaven while he sought it on earth (Burr was tried for treason when he attempted to gather an army to invade Mexico and declare himself Emperor but was miraculously acquitted. And, of course, his most famous act of notoriety was killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel.).

Thus, when Burr himself was invited to dine with the President, Jefferson wanted to hear about Burr’s escapades with the women. In Burr’s words, “If my grandfather Jonathan Edwards was the guest, Jefferson would have been talking about the Book of Samuel.”

Jefferson also amassed a collection of 6,000 books, which became the basis of the Library of Congress.

Finally, after Abigail Adams died in 1818, her husband John Adams and Jefferson began a correspondence in which a range of subjects, including the comparisons of translations of Greek and Roman classics, would become the Adams/Jefferson Letters; pony express riders were making very quick trips on a weekly basis between Quincy, Massachusetts, where Adams lived and Monticello, Virginia.

And both men died July 4, 1826. On his death bed, John Adams expressed his hope that Jefferson was okay, not knowing that the latter had died three hours earlier.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Prague Spring Festival

Yevgeni Mravinsky

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Prague Spring Festival

Since 1946, the Prague Spring Festival has been a renowned annual gathering of top notch classical artists in the Czech Re­public. The An­dante label re­leased a nicely packaged set of four CDs and a hardcover book consisting of broadcasts from 1947 to 1968 featuring 11 great conductors with the extraordinarily accomplished Czech Philharmonic. I offer one anecdote of a fascinating guest Maestro and, due to space, brief comments on the others:

A 1957 Tchaikovsky 4th Symphony had the longtime conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic, Yevgeni Mravinsky (1903-1988), delivering an especially riveting performance of what has become my favorite symphony by this composer, even more than his Pathetique or 6th.

YouTubes of Mravinsky reveal a poker-faced gentleman using the tiniest hand and finger gestures while drawing the most exciting playing. Just about every other conductor in the profession admired him.

Mravinsky also had the ability to make a piece always sound fresh, no matter how many times he had conducted it before. One player told of participating in 113 performances of the Tchaikovsky 5th under Mravinsky and each one was different from the others in some special way.

Mravinsky also had the longest tenure of any conductor, serving over 50 years as music director in Leningrad, before it changed back to being the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic after the early ‘90s collapse of the Soviet Union.

Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) collaborated with pianist Lev Oborin (1908-1974) in a dazzling 1961 Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto. The charismatic Stokowski contrasted vividly with the jovially obese and bespectacled Oborin, who partnered in concerts and recordings with violinist David Oistrakh (1907-1974).

Longtime Boston Symphony Maestro Charles Munch (1891-1968) conducted a powerful rendition in 1967 of the captivating 6th Sym­phony of Czech com­poser Bohuslav Martinu, which Munch recorded ten years earlier in Boston for RCA Victor.

Munch preferred minimal rehearsals so as to give the players and himself greater reserves of energy and excitement during the concert itself. His YouTube videos reveal a man who could dance and jump like his younger colleague Leonard Bernstein.

The remaining conductors:

Igor Markevitch (1912-1983) with a blazing 1959 Stravinsky Rite of Spring and who was married to an heiress whose family made millions in the French perfume industry.

The irascible perfectionist George Szell (1897-1970), of Cleveland Orchestra fame, in a gripping Beethoven Coriolan Overture also from 1959. Somebody once commented that Szell was his own worst enemy to which Metropolitan Opera general manager Rudolf Bing retorted, “Not while I’m alive!”

Next, my personal favorite of the Maestros assembled here as one to collect recordings of, Belgium born Andre Cluytens (1905-1967) spent most of his adult years in Paris. He was a radical contrast to Szell, being a very kind man whose death from lung cancer because of his chain smoking saddened so many friends.

He was also incredibly brilliant at drawing exquisite performances and a 1955 Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique is one of five he left us, and all of them on my shelves.

Former Czech Philharmonic Music Director Vaclav Talich (1883-1961) recorded some fine 78 sets of Dvorak and Smetana that were released by Victor Red Seal here in the U.S. and conducts a lovely 1954 performance of Dvorak’s tone poem The Wood Dove.

He was wrongfully thrown into jail just after World War II for so-called “unpatriotic conduct” during the Nazi occupation but was released and exonerated by former Czech President Benes.

Another former CPO Music Director Karel Ancerl (1908-1973) conducts the 1968 very ravishing Smetana piece From Bohemia’s Meadows and Forests.

Ancerl was an emaciated Holocaust survivor when the camps were liberated. Not long after this 1968 concert, he and his wife and children emigrated to Toronto, Canada, just as the Russian tanks were rolling into Czechoslovakia.

Russian conductor Kirill Kondrashin (1914-1981) collaborated with pianist Sviatoslav Richter (1914-1998) in an elegant 1950 Mozart 20th Piano Concerto, although interestingly Richter detested most of Mozart’s music while much preferring the music of his teacher Franz Josef Haydn.

Kondrashin defected to the west during the late 1970s and was forging a wonderful relationship with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam but tragically died of a sudden heart attack on his 67th birthday just after conducting a concert with them.

The most well known Russian violinist David Oistrakh (1908-1974) delivered a powerful 1947 Prokofiev 1st Violin Concerto with Rafael Kubelik (1914-1996) conducting. Kubelik first conducted the Czech Philharmonic at the age of 19. Later he would be music director of the Chicago Symphony, the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden and the Bavarian Radio Orchestra of Munich.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: First Lady Abigail Smith Adams

First Lady Abigail Smith Adams

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

First Lady Abigail Smith Adams

Former First Lady Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818) fearlessly felt little concern about the opinions of others and was a true Massa­chusetts Puritan at heart.

Her father William Smith (1707-1783) was a Congregationalist minister in the Boston suburb of Weymouth and a man of importance there as was his father before him, while Abigail’s mother Elizabeth (1721-1775) was a Quincy.

A shy girl by nature, she was also precocious and absorbed every detail of life around her. Her father, uncle and both grandfathers allowed her to listen in whenever they had gentlemen of standing visiting. She was the little crown princess royal; her maternal grandfather John Quincy taught her about all the boats in Boston Harbor while Grandmother Quincy thoroughly educated her in the ways of the world.

Abigail read voraciously in the libraries of her father and an aunt and particularly enjoyed the plays of Shakespeare and Moliere and the Greek and Roman historians. But the family was worried that she was more interested in reading than in being a good Congregationalist Christian.

John Adams

John Adams (1735-1826) was a 27-year-old country lawyer from nearby Braintree when he first saw her in the parsonage at Weymouth and within two years they would be married before she was 20, although the family considered most lawyers then lowlifes. (Calvin Coolidge faced similar resistance 140 years later as a Northhampton lawyer courting Grace Sprague from her upper class mother but Grace also knew what she wanted in a husband.).

Abigail proved to be a wonderful help mate to her husband in the managing of their farm, finances and the rearing of children while John and his more radical fire brand cousin Samuel Adams took a pro-active role during the events leading up to and including the American Revolution and afterwards.

Hubby would serve eight years as George Washington’s vice president after various diplomatic posts abroad, and then one term as president with the duplicitous Thomas Jefferson as his own vice president. Among the many letters exchanged between Abigail and her husband were several that bordered on the endearingly very intimate, which shall remain unquoted here.

Like Martha Washington, Abigail Adams missed her husband’s inauguration and received the following account of that day in relation to George Washington in one of his letters:

“A solemn scene it was indeed, and it was made effective to me by the presence of the General, whose countenance was as serene and unclouded as the day. He seemed to me to enjoy a triumph over me. Methought I heard him say, ‘I’m fairly out and you fairly in! See which of us will be happiest.’ ”

Abigail suffered from frail health much of her life and died at the age of 74 in 1818. Her husband died at 91 on July 4, 1826, the same day as Thomas Jefferson and exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence.

Their son John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) became president in 1825 and also served a single four-year term.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Actor: Peter Falk

Peter Falk

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Peter Falk

Peter Falk will always be best-remembered as the cigar burning homicide detective Lt. Columbo and rightfully so. His characterization of a man whose persona was that of a socially awkward bungler who was so easily distracted by the most insipidly trivial, useless pieces of information and yet would fool murderers time and again into thinking they would never get caught with his standard “Oh, I apologize for bothering you but just one more question!”

I have been watching the several available episodes on Amazon Prime, starting with season 2 and its very impressive guest star murderers row line-up:

John Cassavetes as a conductor who disposes of his pianist girlfriend after she’s pressuring him to divorce his wife. Cassavetes and Falk were very close friends who collaborated on several films, one of which was the harrowingly powerful 1974 A Woman Under the Influence, which Cassavetes directed and Falk played the emotionally insensitive construction worker and husband of a woman on the brink of a nervous breakdown (Cassavetes’s wife Gena Rowlands gave an award-winning performance as the main character).

Ray Milland as a murderous uncle who sends his spoiled brat of a nephew to his eternal reward.

Leonard Nimoy as a surgeon who commits three murders in violation of his Hippocratic oath.

English actor Lawrence Harvey as a world class chess champion who murders a rival he perceives as a threat to his world class status and which was one of Harvey’s last roles a year before his death as the age of 45, in 1973.

Martin Landau as twin brothers who electrocute a rich uncle in his bathtub with a blender. This episode also featured the positively brilliant actress Jeannette Nolan as the uncle’s perfectionist housekeeper.

Vera Miles as an entrepreneur in the cosmetics business who cracks a former boyfriend, portrayed by Martin Sheen, on the skull when he refuses to hand over an anti-aging formula he stole from her.

One most memorable episode featured the wonderful Anne Baxter as the murderess who ignites the gasoline explosion of an automobile being driven by a man who gossips too much. Her portrayal of the murderess ended up being a tearfully sympathetic one.

My first experience of Peter Falk’s acting was in 1962 when he appeared as a killer on the short lived TV series The Aquanuts, starring Ron Ely and Jeremy Slate. Falk conveyed very low key ominous presence vividly.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Conductor: Herbert von Karajan

Herbert von Karajan

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Herbert von Karajan

Herbert von Karajan’s 114th birthday anniversary is April 5. He may have been arguably the most powerful conductor to emerge in the entire world of classical music after World War II, around 1947, following de-Nazification proceedings (in order to work during the Hitler years, he had to join the Nazi party, like several million others, but he was not a war criminal and did have a Jewish wife whom he kept protected).

In the immediate aftermath of World War II and living in a very low profile manner (and from hand to mouth) in a shabby apartment in Vienna while it was still occupied by the Russians, an Englishman came visiting with bottles of brandy and several rolls of sausage. He was Walter Legge and he was in charge of recording at EMI in London. BTW, if Legge had been caught by the Russians with the brandy and sausages, he would have been thrown in prison several years for smuggling, if not shot.

Walter Legge

Legge had created the world-renowned Philharmonia Orchestra primarily for studio recording and had recruited the finest musicians for its ranks. He also had a hard and fast rule in which each musician had to re-audition each year to maintain the Orchestra’s incomparable standard, unlike other major orchestras in which its members could rest a bit more comfortably on their backsides.

Legge had already hired such brilliant conductors as Walter Susskind, Alceo Galliera , Paul Kletzki, Rafael Kubelik and a few others as drillmasters but he wanted a more permanent music director. Karajan had already recorded several extraordinary 78 sets with orchestras in Ger­many, Holland, Italy and Vienna for such labels as Polydor and Columbia (Highly recommended are the Polydor recordings of Beethoven’s 7th, Brahms 1st, Dvorak’s New World and the Tchaikovsky Pathetique Symphonies, each of which Karajan left at least five different recordings. The Polydors were released in a CD set by Deutsche Grammophon a few years ago and are frequently available via the internet sources or accessible on youtube. ).

Until 1955, Karajan recorded a pile of distinguished recordings with the Philharmonia Orchestra and was Music Director during most of the 50s of the La Scala Opera House in Milan, Italy.

Karajan unfortunately aroused the enmity of Germany’s then more powerful conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler (1886-1954) who was also an interpretive genius on a different, possibly more sublime level. And Furtwangler reigned supreme as the music director of the Berlin Philharmonic. The older conductor did everything he could to make Karajan’s life difficult in blocking the younger man’s ability to work. The two had one huge personality conflict.

However, after Furtwangler’s death in 1954, the story is related that that orchestra was feeling demoralized, its management appointed Karajan, he came to the first rehearsal and he stated to the players that, “We will play great music as we always did in the past.”

Karajan also made millions of dollars for the orchestra and himself over the next 30 years through the recordings and videos, few of which have gone out of print.

Out of the many Karajan recordings on my shelves, I recommend the 1982 live Mahler 9th Symphony, the 1961 Puccini Tosca with Leontyne Price, the mid ‘60s Mascagni Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncovallo Pagliacci, any one of his Beethoven Symphony cycles and his gripping performance of the Sibelius 4th Symphony.

Herbert von Karajan died in 1989 at the age of 81.