Jerry Junkin and the Dallas Wind Symphony, Lincolnshire Posy: Music for Band by Percy Grainger (Reference). An exquisitely well-played collection of Grainger’s folk-flavored compositions and arrangements for concert band. Lincolnshire Posy, his six-movement masterpiece, is performed in a manner comparable in quality to the long-celebrated 1958 recording by Frederick Fennell and the Eastman Wind Ensemble. That version remains the gold standard, but it’s out of print, and this one has the advantage of being coupled with such delectable miniatures as “Shepherd’s Hey,” “Spoon River,” “The Duke of Marlborough Fanfare,” and the deservedly ever-popular “Irish Tune from County Derry” (that’s “Danny Boy” to you). Grainger’s way with a folksong was both charming and brilliantly imaginative, and what he didn’t know about scoring for concert band wasn’t worth knowing. This might just be the best Grainger album to come along since Benjamin Britten’s 1969 Salute to Percy Grainger (TT).
Archives for January 27, 2009
I never succeeded in engaging with John Updike’s work, and I’ve always assumed that the fault is mine. Throughout my lifetime he was the very model of a modern man of letters, a quintessentially professional writer pur sang who tried his hand at everything (he even wrote a play, Buchanan Dying) and was widely and impressively varied in his interests. I couldn’t help but admire his seriousness and industry, and from time to time I’d give him another try, never to any avail. His prose style in fiction struck me as unpleasingly gray and thick, his essays and reviews as fluent but essentially conventional. The only book of his I really liked was Bech: A Book, and I didn’t like it well enough to hang onto my copy when I pruned my library a few years ago. Yet time and again friends whose taste I trusted assured me that I was wrong about Updike, and insisted that I should try, try again.
In the end I finally gave up, and decided that Updike was one of those undeniably important artists, like Wagner or Dreiser, to whose virtues I would always be deaf. It’s been years since I last read a word of his. Needless to say, I regret his passing, and I have no doubt that the world of letters will be much the poorer for his absence. I only wish I understood why.
* * *
Novelist Thomas Mallon offers an alternative view:
He was deeply interested in sex and God, but more than anything he was interested in working–steadily and prodigiously. The Rabbit books, taken together, are the great American novel of the second half of the twentieth century. Even when he was through with them, he kept writing fiction as if, culturally, it still counted–as if it could still land a writer on the cover of Time….
Read the whole thing here.
The New York Times obituary is here.
The King and I. Now that TV screens are growing bigger and brighter, it’s becoming possible–just–to appreciate the glories of wide-screen musicals without seeing them in a theater. Even if you don’t much care for Rodgers and Hammerstein, the 1956 CinemaScope film of their musical version of Anna and the King of Siam is of the first importance because of Jerome Robbins’ dances–especially since Robbins personally supervised their filming. “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” his Asian-flavored retelling of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, looks cramped and illegible on a conventional TV, but to watch it on a HDTV-friendly screen is to be astonished anew by the endless ingenuity and unaffected freshness of Robbins’ choreographic storytelling (TT).
Walker Percy, The Moviegoer. Percy’s first novel, published in 1961, is a startlingly rich and unsettling portrait of anomie under the aspect of modernity, seen through the eyes of a young man from New Orleans who flees from his fear of the meaninglessness of life by going to the movies and chasing his secretaries. Alienation is to American literature what love is to Italian opera, but The Moviegoer makes something enduringly new and relevant out of the old, old story (TT).
JANUARY 19 Off to San Francisco to see John Guare’s Rich and Famous at the American Conservatory Theater. It’s both convenient and reassuring to stay in familiar places when you travel as much as I do, so I booked myself into the Hotel Diva, which is across the street from A.C.T. The Diva is a bit boutiquey, to put it mildly, but the staff is friendly, the décor amusing, and the location unbeatable, at least if you’re a professional playgoer.
JANUARY 20 I watched the inauguration of President Obama in a diner up the street, then knocked out a posting about it that pulled in a bushel of hits. Lunch with Carey Perloff, A.C.T.’s artistic director, after which I spent the afternoon writing about Flannery O’Connor for Commentary. In the evening I went to Rich and Famous with Heather Heise, whom I hadn’t seen for nearly a year.
JANUARY 21 I flew to San Diego, picked up a rental car, drove to the train station, and met Mrs. T, who’d been spending a few days in Los Angeles with a mutual friend. We proceeded directly to Park Manor Suites, our regular San Diego residence, which is as dowdy and comfy as the Diva is cheerfully chic. After unpacking, unwinding, and catching up, we drove to the Old Globe Theatre to see Six Degrees of Separation, which was terrific, then returned to the hotel, whose restaurant is exceptionally good, for a late supper.
JANUARY 22 My body still thinks it’s in New York, so I woke up at four-thirty sharp. A good thing, too, since I had to write and file my Wall Street Journal drama column by nine a.m. local time. Once it was done, I tiptoed out and ate breakfast in the hotel’s rooftop café, then returned to the room and went back to bed.
Mrs. T and I spent the afternoon driving around town. We went as far north as La Jolla, lunched on fish tacos, then made our slow way back down the coast, looking for possible places to stay next winter. (We like San Diego, which is companionable and pleasingly devoid of cutting edges.) Dinner at Café Coyote, which the hotel clerk recommended to us. “I’m Mexican, so I’m fussy about Mexican food,” he said. “This place is good.” It turned out to be the same place where we’d eaten last July, so we congratulated ourselves on having previously sniffed it out on our own.
JANUARY 23 To Kansas City, leaving Mrs. T behind in San Diego, where it’s fifty degrees warmer. I left the hotel at six-thirty in the morning and landed at Kansas City International Airport nine hours later, having spent the middle part of the day in a Minneapolis departure lounge. It started snowing as soon as I picked up the rental car.
(To be continued)
Having been tagged by Gwen Orel and Lee Ann Westover in the past two days, I decided to play this game in public. So here goes:
1. I love corned-beef hash.
2. I played Beverly Carlton in a college production of The Man Who Came to Dinner.
3. Checking into a hotel makes me feel like a grownup.
4. I don’t play piano much anymore, but I can still toss off the first chorus of Nat Cole’s “Easy Listening Blues” from memory. (In college my classical cheval de bataille was Brahms’ A Major Intermezzo, Op. 118/2.)
5. I can’t dance. Don’t ask me.
6. I wrote a play once. Alas, it wasn’t any good, a judgment that was confirmed by a well-known director to whom I showed it. This was before I became a drama critic–and yes, I’ve given the director in question plenty of favorable reviews since then. I’m nothing if not fair.
7. The thing I dislike most about myself is my chronic impatience. I try to keep it under control, but sometimes it slips out.
8. My favorite Broadway musical–not my pick for Best Musical Ever, but my personal favorite–is On the Town.
9. I don’t hold grudges.
10. All but two of my closest friends (including my best friend) are women.
11. I’m shy. My apparent gregariousness is an overcompensation…
12. …which is why cocktail parties make me acutely uncomfortable.
13. I think Gene Tierney was the most beautiful of all movie stars–but I’d have rather known Ida Lupino.
14. I prefer cold pizza. (This drives Mrs. T crazy.)
15. I almost never read poetry for pleasure, even though I’m always glad when I do.
16. It’s been a year since I last saw a movie in a theater.
17. I wish I had a deeper voice.
18. The last book I read was Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer (which I reread every year or so).
19. I played bass on two albums, both of which are out of print and neither of which I own.
20. Given unlimited funds, the first thing I’d buy (other than a Frank Lloyd Wright house, which wouldn’t be very practical) is a Cézanne watercolor.
21. I’ve seen Falstaff more times than any other opera.
22. I have a weakness for funny women with cat-like faces.
23. My all-time favorite rock album is The Band. Runners-up: Steely Dan’s Aja, The Who Live at Leeds, and Erin McKeown’s We Will Become Like Birds.
24. I look frightful in a caftan.
25. I cry easily.
“By 1938, I had read so many books that I wrote one.”
Delmore Schwartz, The Ego Is Always at the Wheel: Bagatelles (courtesy of Paul Moravec)