Russell Oberlin, Handel Arias (DGG). Arias from Messiah, Israel in Egypt, Rodelinda, Radamisto, and Muzio Seevola, sung by the most perfect countertenor voice ever to be overheard by a microphone. Precious little of Oberlin’s priceless recorded legacy has made it to CD, and this amazing 1959 album is among the most glittering jewels (TT).
Archives for April 16, 2007
Clive James, Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts (W.W. Norton, $35). An uncategorizable, unputdownable, utterly frank nine-hundred-page stroll through the bloody history of modernity, in which James serves up pithy, quote-driven miniature essays about key and not-so-key figures ranging from Anna Akhmatova to Stefan Zweig, skewering countless hypocrites along the way. A splendidly readable exercise in cultural reclamation (TT).
Songs of Ned Rorem (Other Minds). The fabulously rare 1964 Columbia LP of Rorem’s best songs, now on CD for the very first time. They’re all here: “Early in the Morning,” “My Papa’s Waltz,” “Visits to Saint Elizabeth’s,” “The Lordly Hudson,” and two dozen others, selected and accompanied by the composer and sung by Charles Bressler, Phyllis Curtin, Gianna d’Angelo, Donald Gramm, and Regina Sarfaty. Get this one right now (TT).
Talk Radio (Longacre, 220 W. 48). Eric Bogosian’s 1987 play about the coke-snorting host of a call-in show is now a period piece, but it remains an effective vehicle for a charismatic actor, and Liev Schreiber fills the bill to overflowing in this Broadway revival. His performance is slicker than the one Bogosian gave twenty years ago at the Public Theater, but it’s no less remarkable in its own polished way (TT).
Neil Young, Live at Massey Hall 1971 (Reprise). The oft-bootlegged 1971 concert, now available legitimately and in excellent sound. No band, just the man himself singing seventeen of his best early songs, including “Cowgirl in the Sand,” “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” “Helpless,” “I Am a Child,” and “On the Way Home.” I’m not especially nostalgic about the late Sixties or early Seventies, but Young’s shivery voice and uncomplicated acoustic-guitar playing remain as mysteriously involving today as they were all those years ago (TT).
H.L. Mencken, A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources. Published in 1942 and still in print, this million-word behemoth, organized by topic instead of author, is wrongly remembered for its eccentricities, including a suspiciously extensive selection of nasty remarks about Jews and an assortment of anonymous “proverbs” that sound as though they came straight from the mouth of the editor himself. In fact, Mencken’s New Dictionary contains a vast number of well-chosen, precisely attributed quotations on every imaginable subject, ranging widely among both familiar and obscure sources. It’s that rarity of rarities, a reference book with a personality, and the passage of time has done little to diminish its usefulness–or charm (TT).
Béla Bartók, Concerto for Orchestra/Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta (BMG). Virtuosic, incisive, commandingly shaped performances by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony of Bartók’s two orchestral masterpieces, digitally remastered so immaculately that no apologies of any kind need be made for the superlative early-stereo sound. If you find the great Hungarian modernist intimidating, this desert-island CD is likely to change your mind (TT).
“I found it hard to shake off the disquieting sensation that Ms. Didion, for all the obvious sincerity of her grief, was nonetheless functioning partly as a grieving widow and partly as a celebrity journalist who had chosen to treat the death of John Gregory Dunne as yet another piece of grist for her literary mill…”