Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A brilliant gala for a brilliant composer

From July 24, 2015:


When Gustavo Dudamel takes the microphone towards the end of this LA Philharmonic concert at the Disney Concert Hall, his tribute to John Williams as one of the top 20th century composers seemed to ring true with the audience, as I’m sure it will to many watching this Blu Ray at home. The audience is surprisingly enthusiastic, considering the many tuxedoes and designer gowns at this gala concert. Let’s just say this is more a Golden Globes crowd than an Academy Awards one.

There’s so much to be enthusiastic about. Soundings, a piece Williams wrote to focus attention on the special qualities and capabilities of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, is a serious and always interesting showpiece for orchestra. The orchestra and Dudamel are definitely up to the task. But it’s two of Williams’ strongest film scores that provide what I feel are the best works in the concert. Three Pieces from Schindler’s List is a short but intense suite for violin and orchestra. Itzhak Perlman plays the beautiful, inventive violin part in a tasteful fashion, never maudlin but with just the tiniest bit of “schmalzig”. This is the way, perhaps, that Fritz Kreisler would have played "Theme", one of the saddest and most beautiful pieces of music ever written. Incidentally, I much prefer this order of the movements, rather than the version sometimes played where “Theme” comes first. I loved the bit of stage business before this piece. Dudamel carries Perlman’s violin as he follows the violinist slowly making his way to the podium on his crutches. When he hands Perlman the violin, he gets a wink, a funny face, and his baton in return.

Escapades from Catch Me If You Can, one of Spielburg’s most under-rated films, is a hugely entertaining piece that the otherwise excellent liner notes by Jon Burlingame mis-identifies as “a miniature alto saxophone concerto.” In fact, this is a jazzy miniature concerto for three instruments which deserve equal billing. Billing, I’ve heard, is important in Hollywood! The piece is played here by three expert, charming instrumentalists. They are saxophonist Dan Higgins, vibraphonist Glenn Paulson, and bassist Michael Valerio. This is a piece that deserves to be programmed much more often, though good luck finding three musicians at this level, especially by plucking them out of the orchestra!

Spoiler alert: hijinks! Spoilers don’t usually loom large in classical music reviews, but lots of fun happens during the encores. This, and the substantial bonus interviews with Williams, Dudamel and Perlman, are enough on their own to buy this disc. The Blu Ray, with its excellent sound and beautiful HD picture, is very highly recommended.

Here is a substantial excerpt from the DVD: the Throne Room music and Finale from Star Wars:

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