The Busch Quartet, Beethoven: The Late String Quartets (EMI Classics, three CDs). If you read my recent Wall Street Journal column about Adolf Busch and the Nazis and want to hear how this courageous artist made music, the place to start is EMI’s collection of the Busch Quartet’s legendary 78-era recordings of Beethoven’s last six string quartets, which is available on CD or as a digital download. The playing may strike contemporary listeners as less than ideally polished, but the interpretations are uniquely penetrating, and Busch’s violin playing combines forthrightness and Innigkeit in a way that no one has rivaled, before or since. Warning: don’t expect state-of-the-art sound (TT).
Archives for December 12, 2010
Robert Shaw Chamber Singers, Songs of Angels: Christmas Hymns and Carols (Telarc). Had it up to here with super-slick holiday musical fare? Then allow me to direct your attention to this 1994 CD, in which America’s most celebrated choral conductor remade the much-loved a cappella arrangements of traditional carols that he first recorded on 78 in 1946. The singing is lovely, the arrangements tasteful. Guaranteed to cleanse your ears of Christmastide commercialism (TT).
Rumer Godden, In This House of Brede. (Simon & Schuster, $25). In this quietly absorbing 1969 novel, the author of the book on which Jean Renoir’s The River was based tells the story of a well-heeled British civil servant of a certain age who renounces the world, gives away her earthly possessions, and enters an abbey to become a cloistered nun. Whatever your religious views, if any, my guess is that you’ll be impressed, not least because Godden portrays the social life (so to speak) of a tightly-knit religious community with absolute candor (TT).
Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (Scribner, $30). An extraordinarily compelling history of a disease that once was unmentionable and is now a national obsession. Mukherjee’s theme is the way in which the preternaturally stubborn resolve of generation after generation of cancer researchers has led them to make great scientific discoveries–then prevented them from seeing the flaws in their theories that are discovered by their successors. Sobering and splendidly well written (TT).
Play Dead (Players, 115 MacDougal). An off-Broadway spook show concocted by Teller (Penn Jillette’s silent partner) in collaboration with Todd Robbins, who tells the more-or-less true stories of a serial killer, two phony mediums, a geek (look it up) and a murder victim whom Robbins knew in real life. During and in between these narratives, things…happen. The nature of these grisly occurrences can best be summarized by saying that the white suit worn by Robbins grows steadily redder throughout the evening. Great fun for anyone who likes magic and stage blood, and ideal for kids who are not–repeat, not–highly impressionable (TT).
Coleman Hawkins, To Be or Not to Bop (Wnts). The first great jazz saxophonist was also one of a handful of swing-era giants who successfully embraced bebop, both on and off record. This new mp3-only downloadable collection contains twenty-two of the bop-and-bop-flavored 78 sides that Hawkins recorded in the mid-to-late-Forties with such then-youngsters as Dizzy Gillespie, J.J. Johnson, Hank Jones, Howard McGhee, Fats Navarro, Oscar Pettiford, and Max Roach, including the premiere recordings of “I Mean You,” “Salt Peanuts” and “Woody’n You.” It’s the first time that Hawkins’ key bop recordings have been released in a single-source anthology. Listen and marvel at his ability to ride the wave of a radically innovative new jazz style (TT).
Sargent and Impressionism (Adelson Galleries, 19 E. 82, closes Saturday). Two dozen-plus paintings and watercolors in which John Singer Sargent, who befriended Monet and looked closely at his work, dabbled in the then-revolutionary language of French impressionism, almost always to striking (if not quite idiomatic) effect. Guaranteed to open the eyes of those who think of Sargent purely as as a high-society portraitist (TT).