“When Donald E. Westlake died unexpectedly last New Year’s Eve, thousands of people who’d never met him, myself included, felt as if they’d lost a friend. We knew him only through his novels, of which there are more than a hundred, none of them, so far as I know, obviously autobiographical. He almost always wrote about crime, and more often than not he wrote about it with the express intention of making his readers laugh. Small wonder that we loved him so…”
Archives for December 5, 2009
Fritz Kreisler: The Charming Maverick (EMI, ten CDs). Kreisler’s playing exuded the spirit of turn-of-the-century Vienna, and this magnificent set, which includes digitally remastered versionf of his classic 78-era recordings of concertos by Beethoven, Brahms, Bruch, Mendelssohn, and Mozart, the complete Beethoven violin sonatas, and a dozen of his own delectable encore pieces, belongs in the collection of every serious music lover. The price is as right as it could possibly be, so break out the Sachertorte and prepare to smile (TT).
Arlene Croce, Writing in the Dark, Dancing in The New Yorker (University Press of Florida, $24.95 paper). After Edwin Denby’s Dance Writings and Poetry, this 2000 anthology of Croce’s New Yorker reviews is the best single-author collection of dance criticism in print, a volume indispensable to anyone who wants to understand ballet and modern dance in the Seventies and Eighties. Comprehensively informed and passionately, sometimes exasperatingly opinionated, these pieces are now part of history. They’re also sumptuously well written, and I can testify from personal experience that even if you’ve never seen a ballet, they’ll make you want to go right out and discover George Balanchine and Paul Taylor and Mark Morris. I did (TT).
Rosanne Cash, The List (Manhattan). Everybody loves this CD, as well they should, so I’ll just add my two cents’ worth: Johnny Cash’s daughter, who has long been one of the best country-pop singer-songwriters around, blasts the bull’s-eye out of the target with this collection of twelve songs chosen from a list of “essential country songs” that was drawn up by her famous father many years ago. The singing is poignant, the band immaculate. No matter what your favorite kind of music may happen be, The List belongs in your CD player (TT).
Stephen Calt, Barrelhouse Words: A Blues Dialect Dictionary (University of Illinos Press, $26.95). An amazingly thorough, dryly witty glossary of the argot used by blues singers who recorded between 1923 and 1949. If you ever scratched your head over the meaning of such phrases as “alley baby” or “monkey woman,” scratch no more–the answers are here (TT).
The Starry Messenger (Acorn, 410 W. 42, closes Dec. 19). After an eight-year absence from the New York stage, Kenneth Lonergan has made a decisive return to form with his new play about a middle-aged teacher of astronomy (Matthew Broderick) whose life has gone sour. That Lonergan should have taken that most hackneyed of subjects, the midlife crisis, and turned it into a play of breathtaking subtlety and honesty is a not-so-minor miracle. The New Group’s production is beyond praise (TT).
Il Trittico (Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, performances on Dec. 9 and 12). Patricia Racette, who starred in The Letter, is now playing all three of the soprano leads in Puccini’s triptych of one-act operas. I’m prejudiced, needless to say, so instead of singing her praises, I’ll merely report that the audience burst into very loud shouts of approval after her aria in “Suor Angelica” when I saw the production last week. Jack O’Brien’s staging is decidedly Broadwayish, with megabuck sets to match. Great, great fun (TT).
Biography (Theatre 3 at the Mint, 311 W. 43rd St., closes Dec. 19). S.N. Behrman’s sparkling 1932 boulevard comedy about an impecunious portrait painter with a past who decides to write a tell-all memoir has been revived to brilliant effect off Broadway, with Tracy Shayne giving a bewitching performance in the starring role. The theater is tiny, the set small, the staging impeccable, the cast right on the money. You won’t see a funnier show this season (TT).