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May '18 Digital Week IV

CDs of the Week

Béla Bartók—Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 (Ondine) 

The violin concertos of Béla Bartók (1881-1945), separated by 30 years, are the works of first a youthful virtuoso gaining his footing and then of a sublime master.

That’s not to say that the first concerto (1908) is in any way inferior; in soloist Christian Tetzlaff’s dazzlingly capable hands, it’s a beguiling, buoyant piece of music (Bartók wrote it for a young woman violinist he was head over heels for), while the second concerto (1938) is, simply, a mesmerizing masterpiece. Both are played with great feeling by Tetzlaff and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Hannu Lintu.


William Walton—Viola Concerto and Other Works (Chandos)

William Walton (1902-1983) has a reputation as a facile composer who penned Laurence Olivier’s Shakespeare scores and royal coronation marches, but his output was far more wide-ranging and substantial than that. The works on this disc combine his facility for memorable melodies with his skill for equal parts darkness and light.




The impassioned Viola Concerto, despite being revised twice—the second time more than 30 years after it was first composed in 1929—manages to retain a completeness all its own, buoyed by soloist James Ehnes’ lovely playing. The Sonata for String Orchestra—a transcription of his own A Minor Quartet—and Partita for Orchestra alternate between verve and lyricism; conductor Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra bring out the works’ musicality.










Mieczyslaw Weinberg/Dmitry Kabalevsky—Concertos (Capriccio) 

The remarkable renaissance continues for Russian composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1918-1996), who has gone from nearly unknown to towering genius thanks to a flurry of recordings and performances over the past decade or so. This disc pairs his striking and lyrical Violin Concerto (1959)—played with apt vigorousness by Benjamin Schmid—with two attractive concertos by another under-the-radar Russian, Dmitry Kabalevsky (1904-1987), Weinberg’s contemporary in the Soviet music sphere. 

Claire Huangci dispatches the lively 1961 Piano Fantasy (after Schubert’s solo piano classic) with tuneful ease, while Harriet Krijgh makes the most of the melodious Cello Concerto No. 1 (1948-9). Cornelius Meister sensitively leads the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra in all three works.


"Giselle" Dazzles at American Ballet Theater

Hee Seo in Giselle. Photo: Gene Schiavone

The new season at American Ballet Theater opened strongly with its very first performance on the evening of Monday, May 14th, a marvelous presentation of the beloved Giselle —one of the oldest surviving ballets—set to the immortal, melodious score by Adolphe Adam, with a libretto by the esteemed French writer, Théophile Gautier, after a retelling of a Slavic legend by the great German poet, Heinrich Heine. The ravishing choreography is after that of Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa and the current staging is by the company’s director, Kevin McKenzie, with unusually attractive scenography by Gianni Quaranta, appealing costumes by Anna Anni, and effective lighting by Jennifer Tipton.
This performance featured an outstanding cast, impressively led by the lovely Hee Seo, supremely touching in the title role, confidently partnered by the remarkable Roberto Bolle as the dashing Count Albrecht. Rounding out the principals was the extraordinary Gillian Murphy in an unforgettable turn as Myrta, the magnificent queen of the supernaturalwilis.
The secondary cast was also brilliant, including the dynamic Thomas Forster as Hilarion, the village huntsman that unrequitedly loves the heroine—he was thrilling in the concluding act, where he meets his tragic end. Skylar Brandt and Joseph Gorak—two jewels of the company—were delightful in the extended peasantpas de deuxin the first act. Also exquisite were Katherine Williams as Moyna and Zhong-Jing Fang as Zulma, while th ecorps de ballet were in superb form. I excitedly anticipate the remainder of the season.

NYC Theater Review—Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville in Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night”

Long Day’s Journey into Night
Written by Eugene O’Neill; directed by Sir Richard Eyre
Performances through May 27, 2018

Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville in Long Day's Journey into Night (photo: Richard Termine)
Long Day’s Journey into Night, Eugene O’Neill’s greatest play, is an epic-length exploration of a self-destructive family—the father, retired stage actor James Tyrone; his morphine-addled wife Mary; and their sons, alcoholic Jamie and poetic but sickly Edmund (the author’s self-portrait)—in which  the four characters take turns psychologically and emotionally pummeling one another and themselves, building into a dramatically potent accumulation of vitriolic acid that, in the right hands, makes for a shattering theatrical experience.
O’Neill himself went to a sanatorium for TB around the time the play is set (1912), which lends credence to the notion that this incriminating but insightful glimpse into the disastrous effects of a family’s self-destruction helped lead to his own successful playwriting career. (Ironically, although he wrote this play in 1941-2, it wasn’t staged until three years after his 1953 death, for which he posthumously won the Pulitzer and Tony Awards.)
Sir Richard Eyre’s London production, in the cozy confines of the Harvey Theater at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, has many faults, led by Rob Howell’s angled and expressionist set, which though it generously allows for Peter Mumford’s gorgeously textured lighting, is too refined and elegant for what should be a semi-rundown Connecticut summer cottage. Although aware of the broken music in O’Neill’s painful, at times melodramatic words, Eyre too often overemphasizes the tragic aspect of these people bumping up against one another like small craft in a tempest-tossed harbor, allowing wincingly overdone moments among the capable cast. 
While Rory Keenan makes an aggressively cynical Jamie, Matthew Beard’s Edmund is a lanky, blurry portrait of a would-be artist; neither actor either acquits himself admirably or embarrasses himself. Similarly, Jeremy Irons is too boisterous as James, with overly hammy line readings and gesticulations getting in the way of his performance—that despite the fact that James Tyrone is an actor…and an elderly, hammy one at that.
Lesley Manville’s Mary should be the heart of this Journey, and despite a distractingly flat American accent, she often has searingly dramatic moments as the drug-addicted wife and mother in denial about everyone, including herself. It’s too bad, then, that Eyre coaxes her into forced or overstated histrionics, which end up giving her final, poignant lines of dialogue far less resonance than they—and O’Neill—deserve after 3-1/2 hours of unparalleled emotional devastation. 

Long Day’s Journey into Night
BAM Harvey Theatre, 651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY

Encores! Closes 25th Season with "Me and My Girl"


EncoresMeAndMyGirlLeadsJMarcusHello, Dolly! at the Shubert may have audiences humming up the aisles, but Encores! 25th Season closer Me and My Girl at City Center, through May 13, has the cast dancing in the aisles and everyone doing the infectious “The Lambeth Walk.” This revival, with Tony winner Warren Carlyle directing and choreographing, of the show that was the 1937 toast of the West has a great score by British hit maker Noel Gay [real name: Richard Armitage] and enough wise-cracking one-liners to keep you laughing for weeks.

The musical was unwrapped out of moth balls in 1984 on the West End, and arrived two years later on  Broadway (Tony nomination, Best Musical). The book, part slapstick antics, part stinging commentary on the British upper class, and lyrics, are by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber. Gay’s score pays high tribute to the British Music Hall tradition. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Two-time Tony winner Christian Borle (Falsettos, Something Rotten) literally seems born to the manor his character, cockney East Ender Bill Snibson inherits. His adroit comic timing and dancing are impeccable (Tony winner, After Midnight; currently Hello, Dolly!) has well chosen Olivier Award-winning Laura Michelle Kelly (Finding Neverland) as the girl of the title.

EncoresMeAndMyGirlCBorleJMarcusShe and Borle, reunited after their Mary and Bert well into the run of Mary Poppins, have great chemistry. She’s the one “Me” won’t let go of when he inherits millions and a title – in spite of the determined machinations of Duchess Maria, brilliantly portrayed by Harriet Harris, to get him to choose a suitable mate; and the temptations of lascivious (She’s No) Lady Jaqueline, played by long-legged beauty Lisa O’Hare (Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder).

Bill has a lot of help from Sir John, Chuck Cooper (Tony winner, The Life; Prince of Broadway), and, thanks to 1984 script revisions by Stephen Fry and director Mike Ockrent for the West End revival, his friend Henry Higgins. golden-voiced Cooper gets ample opportunity to strut his rarely seen comic skills.

Co-starring in the cast of 31, Bill Buell, Mark Evans (The Play That Goes Wrong – who knew he could sing and dance?), John Horton, Simon Jones  (Farinelli and the King, many more), and, stealing scenes as his DNA seemingly demands, the irrepressible Don Stephenson as the family solicitor.       

EncoresMeAndMyGirlLOHareCBorleJMarcusCarlyle’s has created a stunning sequence, a tribute to the style of Gene Kelly, that showcases Borle’s debonair side in “Leaning on a Lampost”; and generates huge laughs with Borle and Cooper’s duet, “Love Makes the World Go Round.” Kelly’s big moment comes by way of the poignant ballad “Once You Lose Your Heart,” which became a massive hit for the composers.

The choreography boasts ballroom, tap, and, why the heck not, some contemporary high-kicks courtesy of O’Hare. As always, Carlyle has assembled a winning dance ensemble. There are two memorable show-stoppers: the Act One finale “The Lambeth Walk” [which launched a 30s craze], with Busker costuming and spoons and anything else he could pull out of his hat (including having his dancers have way up the aisles and across center orchestra); and the Act Two opener, “The Sun Has Got His Hat On,” led by dashing Evans.

This Encores!, with the cast off book, is so polished it feels like a true Broadway production. As with all the City Center concert stagins, it was assembled with less than two weeks of rehearsal, so kudos to Carlyle, assistant choreographer Sara Edwards Butler, and assistant director Kasey Graham.

One of the joys of any Encores! is the nearly-30 strong orchestra under the direction of music director Rob Berman. They certainly don’t disappoint with the rousing overture, entr’acte, the Act One finale and the Act Two opener.

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