Percy Grainger, The Complete 78-RPM Solo Recordings 1908-1945 (Appian, five CDs). The composer of “Country Gardens” and “Molly on the Shore” was also one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century, a marvelously idiosyncratic virtuoso whose style ranged from tender lyricism to explosive extroversion. Most of his 78s have been unavailable in any format since their original release. This much-needed box set solves that problem–and does it right. Ward Marston’s digital transfers of such classic Grainger recordings as Chopin’s B Minor Sonata, Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, and Grieg’s “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen” are crystal-clear and scratch-free. The liner notes are by Grainger biographer John Bird. I doubt there’ll be a more important classical reissue in 2011 (TT).
Archives for March 12, 2011
The Norman Conquests (Acorn Media, three discs). Now on DVD for the first time, the 1977 TV version of Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy of interlocking comedies about hanky-panky at a country house, starring Penelope Keith and Tom Conti and directed by Herbert Wise. If you missed the Broadway revival of this darkly funny masterpiece, make haste to catch up in the comfort of your living room (TT).
Modern Jazz Quartet, The Quintessence (Fremeaux & Associés, two CDs). An exceptionally well-chosen anthology of classic MJQ recordings made between 1952 and 1960, imported from France and worth every penny. If you’re in need of an introduction to one of the great working jazz groups of the postwar era, this one will do the job with plenty of room to spare (TT).
John Gielgud, Ages of Man (Entertainment One). Courtesy of the Archive of American Television, the 1966 broadcast version of the great actor’s one-man Shakespeare show, which aired on CBS on two consecutive Sunday afternoons (the network suits didn’t think anybody would sit still long enough to watch the whole show in one go) and has been in limbo ever since. Contemporary Shakespeare style has changed beyond recognition since Gielgud’s day, but his elegant delivery and exquisitely modulated voice remain as seductive–and intelligent–as ever (TT).
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Arena Stage, Washington, D.C., closes Apr. 10). Tracy Letts, the author of August: Osage County, stars in the Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s stunningly direct and unadorned production of Edward Albee’s best play, backed up by a perfect ensemble cast and directed with precision and simplicity by Pam MacKinnon. I saw it a week too late to cram it into my best-of-the-year list, but you can be it’ll be there come 2011 (TT).