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Under the baton of the indefatigable Valery Gergiev, the Mariinsky Orchestra presented an amazingly ambitious series of six of Gustav Mahler's symphonies in five concerts spread over eight days beginning on October 17th, 2010, at Carnegie Hall. Gergiev will return in February to conduct the balance of the Mahler symphonies -- the Third, the Seventh, and the Ninth -- with the London Symphony Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall. I was unable to attend the first program, Mahler's majestic Sixth Symphony, although I was fortunate to hear this work a couple of weeks before, played by the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Alan Gilbert. Despite considerable unevenness in the playing, I appreciated all these concerts very much.On Wednesday, the 20th, the Orchestra performed the monumental Second Symphony, the "Resurrection", heard at Carnegie Hall last spring in a powerful account by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas. Wednesday's performance had an astonishing opening but some subsequent roughness compromised the total impression of the first movement.Similar difficulties diminished the second movement as well, but there were many beautiful passages. The effect of third movement was more forceful while in the fourth, I would have liked more assurance from the mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina. However, Gergiev did achieve a stupendous finale aided by the forces of two choirs, the Choral Arts Society of Washington and Orfeón Pamplonés, along with Borodina, more impressive here, and the soprano Anastasia Kalagina, also excellent. However, the deployment of offstage horns was less effective in this hall than at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine last spring, where I heard the same work played by the orchestra of the Manhattan School of Music -- improbably enough, on the day before the San Francisco Symphony performance. On Thursday, the same two choirs returned with the Orchestra assisted by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus Academy and eight vocal soloists to undertake the gargantuan Eighth Symphony, the "Symphony of a Thousand". Part One was played with admirable restraint and fluency while Part Two balanced robustness with grace.Friday's concert consisted of the relatively smaller-scale Fifth Symphony and was possibly the most satisfyingly played in the series. The first movement was wrenching but controlled while the second achieved great force. After a vibrant Scherzo, the Adagietto proved haunting. The finale was perhaps too violent but not without character.The final concert in the series was devoted to the shorter Fourth and First Symphonies. The playing of the Fourth was inconsistent throughout with delicate accentuation periodically undercut by awkwardness; Kalagina sang with poignancy but fell short of the gorgeous renditions of the same music sung by Miah Persson and Susan Graham, both heard at Lincoln Center recently.The First Symphony was an improvement. The first movement was less cohesive than the tuneful second, while the celebrated third movement had an admirable clarity. The boisterous finale was memorable.I look forward to Gergiev's arrival in February.
Rock ‘N’ RollJohn Lennon(Capitol)2010 marks both what would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday and, tragically, the 30th anniversary of his senseless murder outside his apartment building on Manhattan’s West Side. To mark these milestones, the Weinstein Company has just released in theaters the critically acclaimed Nowhere Boy, about Lennon’s Liverpool childhood with Aaron Johnson playing the lead. BBC Films is about to release Lennon Naked on DVD, a chronicle of his peak years with the Beatles; British actor Christopher Ecclestone plays John. And Capitol Records has remastered Lennon’s entire solo career album catalog. One album that's been reissued is Rock ‘N’ Roll which was originally released in 1975. At the time, critics hoped for fresh songs, so they panned the LP because it was comprised entirely of covers of Lennon’s personal favorite 45 rpm singles. Rock ‘N’ Roll was far from a masterpiece. Lennon clearly phoned it his draggy renditions of Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” and Larry Williams’ “Bony Moronie.” On the other hand, he clearly gave his all on Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop-A-Lulla,” Lloyd Price’s “Just Because,” and Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” When Lennon recorded it in 1974, “Stand By Me” was just another golden oldie and had not yet become the pop chestnut it's now considered. And Lennon’s update on Ben E. King’s fine work 14 years earlier helped cement the song in the public’s mind. Going BackPhil Collins (Atlantic)Like a lot of us, Phil Collins always had an affinity for Motown songs. His take on the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” was a Top 10 hit in November 1982 and he has enjoyed throwing in a Motown song or two at most of his concerts. Freed from the pressure of making a hit album of new songs, Collins returned to the studio for the first time in years and turned out his latest album, appropriately titled, Going Back. As expected, Collins relies quite a bit on the Berry Gordy catalog as he puts his stamp on Martha & the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave,” “Jimmy Mack,” and “In My Lonely Room;” the Temptations’ “Papa Was A Rolling Stone;” Stevie Wonder’s “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” and “Uptight,” which sounds as if Phil stole the Motown Funk Brothers orchestration; the Miracles’ “Going To A Go-Go;” the Four Tops’ “Standing In The Shadow Of Love”; and Kim Weston’s “Take Me In Your Arms (And Rock Me”), a tune that the Doobie Brothers made their own. Ironically the only Supremes song here is “Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone.” Just as Michael McDonald did a few years ago, Phil Collins shows why these Motown tunes are ageless.Not every song on Going Back hails from Detroit. Collins also channels another Phil -- Spector that is -- on his faithful effort on the Ronnettes’ “Do I Love You,” and his salute to Dusty Springfield with “Some Of Your Lovin’” may be the best cut on the album. Collins' long player is a very pleasant ride on the Nostalgia Express.Listening Booth: 1970Marc Cohn(Saguaro Road)Marc Cohn is yet another victim of the “Best New Artist” Grammy Award jinx. As has happened all too many times with “Best New Artist” recipients, Cohn never had another Top 40 hit after winning the award in 1991 for his delightful song “Walking In Memphis.” Despite his failure to come up with another big record, Cohn remained a popular concert performer over the years. But in August 2005, it was shocking to learn that he had been shot in the head as the victim of a carjacking after a concert in Denver. Happily, Cohn made a full recovery, and his new album, Listening Booth: 1970, is ample proof of that. The first reaction when reading the song lineup is tat no way has been 40 years since these tunes debuted on AM radio. Hearing these old friends makes me think that I should be reporting to Russell Sage Junior High tomorrow! Cohn sounds remarkably like Cat Stevens on “Wild World” while his relaxed take on “Maybe I’m Amazed” is a vast improvement on Paul McCartney’s early post-Beatles hit. Cohn’s throaty vocals mesh nicely with John Leventhal’s acoustic guitar playing on Bread’s “Make It With You,” Badfinger’s “No Matter What,” and Joe Cocker’s “The Letter.” Let’s hope that Cohn can transport his listening booth to another great year.
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