Van Cliburn, My Favorite Brahms. Middlebrow America’s favorite pianist got a bad rap from the critics, and on occasion he deserved it–but not this time. Cliburn’s 1973 collection of the solo-piano miniatures of Brahms is one of the outstanding piano recordings of the postwar era, a masterpiece of selection, execution, and interpretation. Nobody, not even Wilhelm Kempff, has played these broodingly autumnal cameos more sensitively or comprehendingly. The CD version contains five bonus tracks, all comparable in quality to the ones on the original LP (TT).
Archives for December 1, 2007
The Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald. The number-one book on my super-short grab-in-case-of-evacuation list is this Viking Portable edition of Fitzgerald’s Greatest Hits, published in 1945 and, so far as I know, never reprinted. Dorothy Parker chose the selections and John O’Hara wrote the self-important but nonetheless oddly touching introduction: “He was elusive in life, God knows, and all through the writing of this piece he has refused to stay put, but the ectoplasm or the artist need not bother the reader or even me. For after all the stuff is here. The stuff is very much here, and it’s mellow.” The stuff in question is The Great Gatsby, Tender Is the Night, and nine of the very best short stories, all packed into a light but sturdy hardcover volume that will just about fit in the palm of your hand. More used copies are available here (TT).
New York City Ballet, The Nutcracker (New York State Theater, Lincoln Center, closes Dec. 30). A half-century after it first knocked out New York audiences, George Balanchine’s verison of Tchaikovsky’s perennial family favorite remains the best of all possible Nutcrackers, above all for its letter-perfect opening scene, in which the greatest choreographer of the twentieth century put on stage the home-for-the-holidays Christmas of everybody’s dreams. It’s a permanent masterpiece of Western art–but don’t tell that to your kids (TT).
Jonathan Carr, The Wagner Clan: The Saga of Germany’s Most Illustrious and Infamous Family (Atlantic Monthly, $27.50). Even if you’re not one of those who think Richard Wagner’s music is better read about than listened to, my guess is that you’ll find this crisply, engagingly written study of the Wagners and what they wrought to be full of interesting things you probably didn’t know. Carr tells the tale fairly, but with just enough acid to keep it tart (TT).
Rock ‘n’ Roll (Bernard B. Jacobs, 242 W. 45). With the end of the stagehands’ strike, Tom Stoppard’s latest play, a study of the last days of Communism in Czechoslovakia and England, has returned to Broadway. Yes, it’s way too long, but that doesn’t make Stoppard’s reflections on philosophical materialism and its emotional discontents any less stimulating or perennially relevant, and Sinead Cusack’s performance in the tricky double role of a mother and her daughter is the stuff Tonys are made of (TT).
Greta Gertler and the Extroverts, Edible Restaurant. Fresh, quirky indie pop by a singer-pianist with the bicontinental sensibility of an Aussie in New York, accompanied by a deliciously rough-hewn backup band whose deep-throated tuba and Salvation Army-style drums add a touch of Kurt Weill to the recipe. Check out “If Bob Was God” for a taste of Gertler’s smart songwriting (TT).