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Athens Philharmonic Enchants in Carnegie Hall Debut

Photo by Fadi Kheir Photography
An excellent concert could be heard at New York’s Carnegie Hall—on the evening of Thursday, October 10th—with the appearance of the fine musicians of the newly founded Athens Philharmonic under the admirable direction of Yiannis Hadjiloizou.
The program opened with a delightful work by the conductor’s father, Michael Hadjiloizou, a leading Greek Cypriot composer: the U.S. premiere of the Ballet from his opera, 9th of July 1821–The Song of Kyprianoswhich has a libretto after the poetry of Vasilis Michaelides, a major Greek poet from Cyprus of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The influence of Greek folk music is palpable throughout the piece.
Also enchanting was the U.S. premiere of the conductor’s Cyprus Dance No. 1, Servikos, which draws on the Greek folk tradition of Cyprus, and which the program note describes as “the most popular work of symphonic repertoire on the isle.”
The bulk of the concert, however, was devoted to an accomplished reading of Gustav Mahler’s magnificent Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection.” The opening movement was somber but punctuated with lyrical passages as well as several highly dramatic ones. Sprightlier was the ensuing slow movement while more eccentric was the remarkable Scherzo, an instrumental adaptation of a poem from the 19th-century anthology, Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Another poem from that collection is the basis for the setting that comprises the gorgeous fourth movement, “Urlicht,” beautifully sung by Greek-American mezzo-soprano, Daveda Karanas. For the transcendent finale, the musicians were joined by the impressive singers of the NY Choral Society—directed by David Hayes—and the exquisite soprano, Larisa Martinez. The artists received an enthusiastic ovation—let’s hope that they return to the New York concert stages before long.

October '19 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week 



Benjamin Christensen's’s 1922 silent, a one-of-a-kind classic that remains innovative and modern nearly a century after its creation, depicts the linking of witch hunts and hysteria with an unorthodox marriage of unsettling visuals and documentary-like detachment.


Criterion’s hi-def transfer is miraculous; extras include the director’s 1941 intro; outtakes; music from the original Danish premiere, arranged by specialist Gillian Anderson and performed by the Czech Film Orchestra in 2001; 2001 commentary by film scholar Casper Tybjerg; a 76-minute version of the film, Witchcraft Through the Ages (1968), narrated by author William S. Burroughs and with a soundtrack featuring violinist Jean-Luc Ponty; and Bibliothèque Diabolique, a photographic glimpse at the film’s historical sources.


3 from Hell 


In this belated sequel to his own House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005), director Rob Zombie returns to his trio of murderers for one last go-round, prefacing it by showing that they were survived the previous installment to ruin another two hours of our lives.


In his increasingly desperate attempt to create another “shocking” horror show, Zombie again mistakes blood and crudeness for art, and after awhile is content to show off his wife Sherri Moon Zombie’s carefully crafted body tattoos in lieu of anything close to character development or insight. The film looks solid on Blu-ray; extras include a director’s commentary, four-part making-of and the even more sadistic unrated cut.






3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg 


This necessary boxed set upgrade collects a trio of the best of the early Hollywood director’s silent-era movies—the gritty Underworld (1927), the engrossing The Last Command (1928) and the often stunning The Docks of New York (1928)—and even includes two separate music scores for each film.


Criterion’s magnificent hi-def transfers make these 90-plus year-old features look the absolute best that they can, and the audio is equally impressive. Extras include a 1968 von Sternberg interview covering his entire career and two video essays about the director’s visual style and legacy.


The Toys That Made Us—Seasons 1 & 2 


In this entertaining Netflix series, nostalgia is on permanent display in these overviews of some of the biggest children’s toys from the decades of the ‘60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, comprising Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Barbie, Lego, Hello Kitty, Transformers, He-Man and Star Trek.


Each 50-minute episode contains new and old interviews, lots of archival footage—including shots of stores being deluged by excited kids and their less-than-happy parents—and a lighthearted attitude toward the whole enterprise, even if these items threatened to ruin our childhoods almost as much as phones and other far more expensive gadgetry do today. The Blu-ray image looks good; extras include several featurettes, extended interviews and nine deleted scenes.






4K of the Week 

Wonders of the Sea 

(Screen Media)

Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the legendary oceanographer Jacques, is the center of this stirring documentary—which he codirected with Jean-Jacques Mantello—that displays the astonishing beauty of our underwater civilization, bringing to vivid life the sea’s amazing colors and diversity that most of us never get to witness.


Narrated by Arnold Schwarzenegger—also a producer— Wonders of the Sea is a Cousteau labor of love that takes full advantage of the ultra hi-def process, but some may be disappointed that a 3D option is not included, since that’s how the film was originally seen. The 4K image is spectacularly rendered; extras include a Cousteau interview.




CDs of the Week

Mieczysław Weinberg—Weinberg 1945 


Weinberg—Chamber Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3 


Russian composer Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-96), whose music has been having a renaissance over the past decade or so, has an intensity that speaks to listeners, especially the works that are inspired or directly influenced by his experiences during the Second World War, as the works on these two discs show. 


1945 compiles a selection of chamber pieces that were composed around that time, including the often dark, emotionally direct piano trio and first cello sonata, all passionately performed by the Trio Khnopff. On the second disc, the East-West Chamber Orchestra—under conductor Rostislave Krimer—gives explosive performances of Weinberg’s Chamber Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3, which both originated as string quartets that also addressed the dramatic world war era. 

October '19 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 

At War 

(Cinema Libre)

Stéphane Brizé reunites with Vincent Lindon for another forcefully argued exploration of the French working class, with Lindon as one of the leaders of a striking workforce at a factory (with German owners) trying to remain afloat in difficult times.




Brizé sets up some astonishing one-take sequences in which the workers and owners do verbal battle—and these segments have a documentary-like authenticity that is unfortunately undermined by the film’s melodramatically tragic ending. Still, with the always persuasive Lindon front and center, the film is never less than fascinating to watch. The film looks superb on Blu.


Der Fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman)

Orphée et Eurydice 


Olivier Py’s abstract 2015 Vienna staging of Wagner’s earliest mature opera The Flying Dutchman juggles the original libretto rather than sabotaging it; also impressive are the leads, Samuel Youn as the Dutchman and Ingela Brimberg as Senta, the woman who tragically loves him. Marc Minkowski conducts his own period-instrument Musiciens du Louvre in a most persuasive performance.




Similarly, Aurélien Bory’s visually stunning production of Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice (at Paris’ Opéra-Comique last year) beautifully complements the tragic music—elegantly arranged by Hector Berlioz—and story, enacted by a trio of formidable performers: Marianne Crebassa as Orphee, Hélène Guilmette as Eurydice and Lea Desandre’s Amour. Both operas’ hi-def video and audio are exemplary.







My Son 

(Cohen Media)

A desperate father looks for his missing son in Christian Carion’s occasionally enervating but mostly entertaining thriller, in which the writer-director’s conceit was to not allow his lead actor Guillaume Canet to read the script his reactions to the twists and turns of the labyrinthine plot are real.




It works, to an extent—but the film’s thinness is underscored by the wildly implausible finale, in which all of the intriguing subplots are forgotten to turn our protagonist into a superhero a la Liam Neeson in Taken. The film looks great on Blu; extras include an hour-long making-of and a short featurette.



(Cohen Film Collection)

James Ivory’s 1981 costume drama, which looks ravishing like all Merchant-Ivory productions, has an accomplished cast to keep us engrossed in this familiar story of decadence and disloyalty in 1920s golden age Paris. Alan Bates and Maggie Smith are excellent as a middle-aged British couple living it up in Paris, and Isabelle Adjani is sensational as a young wife who comes to them—and becomes the man’s lover—after her Polish husband (a fine Anthony Higgins) is imprisoned.




Adjani’s sorrowful countenance as a woman teetering on the edge of sanity is the rightful focus of this somber adaptation of a Jean Rhys novel. The hi-def transfer is sharp and grainy; featurettes include several Ivory interviews.


CD of the Week 

Pascal Dusapin—Penthesilea 


Heinrich Kleist’s classic verse play, about the Amazon queen whose romance with victorious Greek general Achilles ends in an orgy of gore-filled violence, was once turned into a sweepingly dramatic opera by Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck in 1927. So this new work by French composer Pascal Dusapin—which premiered in 2015 in Brussels—has a lot to prove.




But Dusapin realizes the coruscating tragedy in the material and has composed a subtle and expressionistic score that makes for 90 minutes of edge-of-your-seat theater. The performance itself, led by the extraordinarily compelling soprano Natascha Petrinsky in the title role, makes a good case for Dusapin’s opera gaining a foothold onstage, unlike Schoeck’s 1927 version, which has had a few recordings but is rarely seen live.

The Cleveland Orchestra & an Evening of Classics at Carnegie Hall

Franz Welser-Möst with the Cleveland Orchestra Photo ©2019 Chris Lee.
A new season of orchestral music at Carnegie Hall began auspiciously on the evening of Friday, October 4th, with the appearance of the extraordinary musicians of the Cleveland Orchestra, under the superb direction of Franz Welser-Möst, one of the finest contemporary conductors. The ensemble had performed at the gala concert on the previous night, featuring the celebrated virtuosi: violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, cellist Lynn Harrell, and pianist Yefim Bronfman.
The first half of the program was devoted to the Carnegie Hall premiere of a recent piano concerto, Trauermarsch, by the prominent contemporary Jörg Widmann—who has had a long association with the Cleveland Orchestra—with Bronfman as soloist, for whom the work was written. The piece was originally conceived as a conventional concerto with a funeral march as the opening movement but in writing that section, the composer eventually developed it to comprise the entire work. Even so, the concerto has a surprisingly variegated texture and is characterized by impressive orchestrations, although I am not competent to judge the ultimate merits of a work in this idiom.
The remainder of the evening consisted of a compelling account of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, which opened arrestingly with the majestic funeral march movement. More turbulent and more grandiloquent, if also more eccentric, was the adventurous second movement, while the ensuing Scherzo was even more wild. The incomparable Adagietto was as haunting as ever and Welser-Möst led the musicians to an exhilarating climax in the finale.
The artists received an exceedingly enthusiastic ovation with the conductor returning to the stage multiple times. I look forward to their return to this venue.

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