Constant Lambert Conducts Ballet Music (Somm). In addition to being a brilliant critic, a gifted composer, and a provocative personality, Constant Lambert was the best ballet conductor who ever lived. The proof is on this imported CD, which contains the never-before-reissued suite from Sleeping Beauty that he recorded in 1939 shortly after leading the Sadler’s Wells Ballet in the first complete production of Tchaikovsky’s ballet given outside of Russia. Lambert and the company’s pit orchestra perform this nine-movement suite with a breathtaking blend of poise, elegance, and rhythmic lift–exactly what it takes to bring a stageful of dancers to swirling life. Would that Somm had also included the equally rare excerpts from Sleeping Beauty that Lambert recorded with the Covent Garden pit orchestra after World War II, but this recording, coupled here with other ballet suites by Boyce, Meyerbeer, and Rossini, is more than precious enough in its own right (TT).
Archives for February 21, 2009
Robert Casadesus, George Szell, and the Cleveland Orchestra, Mozart Piano Concertos, K. 467 and 491. French pianism can be superficial, but it can also be irresistibly cool, clear, and limpid. Casadesus filled all three bills, never more fully than on this budget-priced CD. Yes, there are other ways to play Mozart, just as there are those who think that George Szell was a cold fish, but these performances of the C Major and C Minor Piano Concertos seem to me to be as close to definitive as a classical recording can get (TT).
Wolf Kahn’s America: An Artist’s Travels. I love Kahn’s paintings and pastels, in which the utterly distinctive palettes of Bonnard and Mark Rothko are miraculously blended into a no less individual style that wanders fruiltfully from abstraction to representation and back again. I’m embarrassed to admit, though, that I knew nothing of this 2003 volume, which consists of miniature essays by Kahn in which he talks about the real-life settings for a hundred of his canvases and works on paper, until I interviewed the artist last week at his Manhattan studio. It turns out that Kahn is also a marvelously blunt and funny writer with a knack for pungent anecdotage. Rarely has a modern artist written so unpretentiously yet vividly about his art (TT).
A.J. Liebling, The Sweet Science and Other Writings (Library of America, $40, in stores Mar. 19). This omnibus, edited by Pete Hamill, is very nearly the best single-volume collection of Liebling’s domestic writings that could possibly be put together. (His World War II journalism has already been collected here.) It contains The Sweet Science, The Earl of Louisiana, The Jollity Building, Between Meals, and The Press, which between them cover all the bases. The New Yorker never had a better staff writer: Liebling’s prose was an exuberant, extroverted alloy of uptown and downtown, more or less what H.L. Mencken might have sounded like had he stuck to reporting instead of switching to the editorial page. If you don’t know his work, this is a very, very good place to start (TT).