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The Orchestra of St. Luke's Concert This December

On Thursday, December 9th, 2010, the Orchestra of St. Luke's gave another very fine concert at Carnegie Hall, this time under the direction of Edo de Waart.
The program opened with a transparent, resonant reading of Franz Liszt's  haunting, mysterious, and evocative late piano work, The Black Gondola -- which, in the brilliant, modernist orchestration by John Adams presented here, approached the quasi-Sibelian qualities of a late Romantic tone poem.

Following this, the extraordinary mezzo-soprano, Susan Graham joined the orchestra for a terrific performance of Alban Berg's arresting lyrical masterwork, Seven Early Songs. The ensemble, again, was here a model of clarity and precision, yet not failing to project the requisite ardent dynamism of this moving score. Graham is an exquisitely versatile and sensitive interpreter and soared here even as her voice sounded less lush and powerful than usual. (Graham was last heard in the concert hall in New York last June in a magnificent account of Ernest Chausson's lovely Poème de l'amour et de la mer with the New York Philharmonic under Sir Andrew Davis at Avery Fisher Hall.)

The concert closed with Felix Mendelssohn's melodious, elegant "Scottish" Symphony, here given in a characteristically balanced rendition but not devoid of the passionate inflections which course through this beautiful work.

(The ensemble's previous appearance in New York, in late October, was also reviewed here.)

Korean War Veterans Memorial Concert

On the evening of August 26th, 2010, numerous Korean War veterans turned out for a memorial concert at Avery Fisher Hall held in their honor. The concert was introduced by Congressman Charles Rangel.

The music began pleasantly with a couple of Korean songs and a Schubert work sung by the Korean Women's Chorus of Germany clothed in colorful traditional dress. This was followed by G.F. Handel's great aria, "Ah, mio cor!" from Alcina, sung forcefully by soprano, Kyoung-ran Kim accompanied by the New York Symphony Orchestra.

Pianist Carissa Kim joined the orchestra in an appealing rendition of Mozart's exceedingly popular Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major. After this, celebrated countertenor Sae-jin Kim received an enthusiastic response for his performance of Handel's "Lascia h'io pianga" from Rinaldo. The Korean Women's Chorus of Germany then returned to sing several, beautiful Korean folksongs.

After intermission, another traditional song was performed on the Korean oboe. The oboist was then joined by the charismatic Bohemian Singers who ebulliently sung popular arias by Bizet, Puccini, and Verdi as well as "Beautiful Dreamer", "Danny Boy", a Zambian folksong, and -- unforgettably -- "Hava Nagila"!

Tenor Dong-Ho Shin took the stage to offer skilled renditions of another Korean song and Donizetti's "Una furtiva lagrima" from L'Elisir d'amore. The irrepressible Bohemian Singers returned with two more Korean songs and, remarkably, with "When The Saints Go Marching In" and "Oh Happy Day!".

The concert closed on a triumphant note as Shin joined the Singers in a version of Puccini's ever-popular "Nessun Dorma" from Turandot.

Screening Eric Rohmer At The Walter Reade Theater

The Film Society of Lincoln Center has just completed a comprehensive retrospective devoted to the films of Eric Rohmer at the Walter Reade Theatre where all of the director's narrative features were screened in 35-millimeter prints along with several other titles.

Several years ago, New York's Film Forum hosted a similar retrospective which featured almost all newly-struck prints, many of which had been newly acquired by the now-defunct Winstar (later Wellspring). Regrettably, none of the prints in the Film Society's retrospective were newly struck, and with the notable, recent exception of the Walter Reade's extraordinary retrospective survey of Swedish cinema, the Film Society has typically been bested of late by Film Forum and some other local venues, in finding the best prints. (The recent Clint Eastwood retrospective was a notable disappointment, in this respect.)

The prints of the Six Moral Tales screened here were all from the Winstar collection and, despite some dirt and wear, were mostly excellent. Three of these, however, were compromised. First, the print of La boulangère de Monceau, although photographed in black-and-white, was inexplicably printed on color stock. The print of La carrière de Suzanne was too dark as was that of several reels of Ma nuit chez Maud.

The print of Perceval le Gallois was clear with some wear but very badly faded while the color was well-preserved in Die Marquise von O....

Several prints in the series, Comedies and Proverbs, had outstanding color -- Le beau mariage, Pauline à la plage, and Les nuits de la pleine lune -- while La femme de l'aviateur was presented in a pretty good blowup from the 16-millimeter camera-original. However, Le rayon vert was presented in a poor-quality, grainy blowup. L'ami de mon amie was diminished by what looked to be a (less-than-lustrous) original release print. The prints of the Tales of the Four Seasons were generally, similarly disappointing, with that of Conte d'hiver being outright poor but at least Conte de printemps was an uncut archival print.

One of the highlights of the series was the gorgeous print of Le signe du lion from a British archive. The print of Triple Agent also appeared to be from a British archive and had outstanding color.

Another highlight was an intriguing shorts program where the programmer, Scott Foundas, enterprisingly unearthed a rare, excellent 35-millimeter print of Véronique et son cancre along with the equally rare Présentation ou Charlotte et son steak, also presented in 35-millimeter. After these, it was dismaying to encounter a poor-quality video-transfer of the ultra-rare short, Nadja à Paris, but two other rare shorts, Entretien sur Pascal and Une étudiante d'aujourd'hui were presented in decent video-transfers.

Paris vu par... was screened in an inadequate blowup while the blowup of L'arbre, le maire et la médiathèque was even grainier and scratchier. The blowups of 4 aventures de Reinette et Mirabelle and Les rendez-vous de Paris were also disappointing. L'anglaise et le duc was screened in a good quality video-to-film transfer but this, like Les amours d'Astrée et de Céladon (shown in a less satisfactory transfer and a more worn print), must surely be superior in the original video format.

Two other screenings were welcome discoveries: Rohmer's Kleist adaptation for televison, Catherine de Heilbronn and the interesting documentary from the series, Cinéma, de notre temps: Eric Rohmer - Preuves à l'appui.

Ken Russell Retrospective is Long Overdue

The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Ken Russell retrospective, Russellmania, -- which ran from Jul. 30 - Aug. 5 -- was both long overdue and a missed opportunity. Savage Messiah, Lisztomania, and Mahler were all screened in faded prints and those were not the only disappointments of this series. Some of the good news, however, is that Russell has been present at every evening screening.

On Friday night, Russell confirmed that he is a devout Roman Catholic and took umbrage at the suggestion that his extraordinary The Devils is an unflattering portrait of the Church. He appeared onstage with Vanessa Redgrave who was a very moving presence and looked fabulous. The Devils, directed at the height of Russell's powers as a filmmaker, features amazing sets designed by Derek Jarman and bold, widescreen compositions shot by the incomparable David Watkin. (I am told that Jarman had designed the sets for a version of Gargantua and Pantagruel that Russell was set to direct and which was abruptly cancelled, one of many interesting Russell projects that were never produced.) The film was screened in the American release version in an original IB Technicolor print from the Harvard Film Archive but archive rules permit only one screening; subsequent screenings were from a DVD.

Harold Bloom described D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love as a candidate for the "inescapable" novel in the English language; Russell's adaptation is effectively cinematic. However, the film was screened in a disappointing print; photographed and printed in the DeLuxe color process, there was some color-fading, typical of the process.

Russell's subsequent The Music Lovers, however, represents a quantum-leap -- bravura filmmaking from the first shot to the last, also in widescreen, with mesmerizing long-takes and arresting, staccato editing. The film was screened in a beautiful 35-millimeter print although some of the original vividness of the color appears to have been lost in this printing.

The Boy Friend
, after Sandy Wilson's stage musical, and also shot by Watkin in widescreen, represents the peak of this retrospective along with The Music Lovers and The Devils. The film is an homage to the English music hall, to Busby Berkeley, and to Stanley Donen's Singin' in the Rain and features a charming performance by Twiggy and some wonderful dancing by Tommy Tune.

Tune, looking splendid, appeared with Russell at Sunday evening's screening and ascended the stage to perform a brief set of dance moves from the film. He also thanked Russell for changing his life and Russell replied in kind. The film was screened in the long version in a very good 35-millimeter print from a British source, marred by a burn mark -- unfortunately present for much of the film's duration -- toward the center of the screen.

Valentino, the latest film screened in this retrospective, is not one of Russell's more distinguished efforts -- indeed it was a great, lost opportunity. The strongest element here is Peter Suchitzky's beautifully lit photography, also in the DeLuxe color process, shown off in this print to excellent effect, despite some very slight color fading in some reels.

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