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Film and the Arts

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra Performs Mahler & More at Carnegie Hall

Michael Tilson Thomas, photo by Richard Termine
A superb season at Carnegie Hall continued magnificently on the evening of Wednesday, March 6th, with the extraordinary appearance of the terrific musicians of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the illustrious direction of Michael Tilson Thomas, in the last of four concerts in close succession.
The program was devoted to a masterly reading of Gustav Mahler’s incomparable, valedictory Symphony No. 9—a not unexpected selection given that Tilson Thomas is probably the conductor of the current moment who is most prominent as an interpreter of the composer, alongside Simon Rattle. The concert proper was preceded by an informative talk given by Marilyn McCoy, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music at Columbia University and Barnard College.
The haunting first movement was at times ominous, but punctuated by appropriately tumultuous episodes. In the ensuing scherzo, sprightliness was successfully fused with irony. More rambunctious was the eccentric but dynamic Rondo-Burlesque, which had a gorgeous, song-like interlude in the Trio. The rapturous and mysterious Adagio, which closed the work, issued into an ethereal, but powerfully affirmative, coda. The artists received an enthusiastic ovation. I look forward to the next local appearance of these outstanding musicians.

The Music of Karol Rauthus Rediscovered by Orchestra Now

Daniel Wnukowski, photo by Claudia Zadory
On the afternoon of Sunday, February 24th, at the Lefrak Concert Hall at Queens College, I attended a notable program—featuring the impressive artists of The Orchestra Now, under the direction of Leon Botstein—devoted to the music of the lesser-known composer, Karol Rathaus, as part of a festival dedicated to his work, sponsored by the Aaron Copland School of Music, the Queens College Center for Jewish Studies, and the American Society for Jewish Music.
Rathaus was a student of Franz Schreker who became the first Professor of Composition at Queens College. The festival featured chamber music, a couple of talks, as well as a screening at Film Forum of the 1936 film version of Broken Blossoms—by the still underrated director, John Brahm—for which Rathaus composed the score. (According to a note in the program, the great Bernard Herrmann commented that the music Rathaus had composed for the 1931 film, Der Mörder Dimitri Karamasoff, was “the first full film score.”)
The concert I heard opened promisingly with the New York premiere of The Louisville Prelude, which was commissioned by the Louisville Orchestra but “never performed in the United States after its initial premiere in 1954.” The piece began evocatively and plaintively, although eventually became more agitated and concluded abruptly. The interesting instrumental texture included employment of the piano.
Soloist Daniel Wnukowski then took the stage for the composer’s spikier Piano Concerto, a more self-conscious expression of High Modernism, “last performed 34 years ago in 1984 by the Queens College Orchestral Society.” The moody first movement was by turns introspective and turbulent, while the second was even more inward, if no less emotional. The closing movement was perhaps the most tempestuous of all, which, for all its volatility, ended not without a note of triumph. As an encore, the pianist graciously performed an arrangement by Egon Petri of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze,” which was a highlight of the afternoon.
The second half of the concert started with what was by far the most pleasurable and accessible work on the program, the world premiere of Russian-Israeli composer Ariel Davydov’s arrangement of the colorful and charming Merchant of Venice Suite, “incidental music composed for the performance of the play by Habima (now The National Theater of Israel), which took place in 1936 in Palestine.” The fourth movement, entitled Prince of Morocco, was especially memorable for its bewitching exoticism.
The event concluded with an accomplished account of the U.S. premiere of the imposing Symphony No. 2, which “was premiered at a Frankfurt Festival of New Music in 1924 together with excerpts from Alban Berg’s opera "Wozzeck.” An unfavorable reception led Rathaus to withdraw the work and it was not performed again until 2002 by the Frankfurt Brandenburg State Orchestra. The organizers of this festival deserve praise for securing the realization of a program of such unfamiliar repertory.

March '19 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 

Creed II 

(Warner Bros)

In this sequel-to-cum-remake-of Creed I and Rocky IV, the son of Ivan Drago—the Russian from Rocky IV—faces off against Adonis Creed, who wants to avenge his father Apollo (who was killed in the ring by Ivan), but his trainer, our old friend Rocky, wants no part of it.




Sylvester Stallone co-wrote the clever if draggy script, Michael B. Jordan is a fine Adonis, Tessa Thompson again has little to do as his fiancée—who discovers she’s pregnant and the couple worries over whether the child will be born hearing-impaired, as she is—and Dolph Lundgren and Brigitte Nielsen return as the humorless Dragos (Florian Munteanu plays their gargantuan boxing son). It’s entertaining enough but predictable and…well, who cares, because when Creed III appears we’ll do it all over again. The Blu-ray looks quite good; extras are deleted scenes and featurettes.



(Film Movement Classics)

Martin Sherman’s forceful play about homosexuals in a Nazi concentration camp has been adapted into an intermittently absorbing drama by Sean Matthias—featuring Mick Jagger as a cross-dressing Berlin nightclub singer—with powerful sequences of young men being hunted down like dogs and being brutalized in the camps.




Still, it plays out more efficiently than devastatingly, even if Clive Owen is well-cast as Max, the protagonist. The 1997 film looks good and grainy on Blu; extras include cast and crew interviews, music video and on-set footage.






Bernstein at 100 

(C Major)

For last summer’s celebration of the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, a star-studded list of performers descended on Tanglewood in the bucolic Berkshires of western Massachusetts to perform his own music and music he advocated like Mahler and Copland.




Best performances are Nadine Sierra singing Bernstein’s Kaddish 2 and Isabel Leonard and Tony Yazbeck singing excerpts from West Side Story; host Audra McDonald leads the entire cast—and musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma and John Williams—in a rousing finale of Bernstein’s “Somewhere.” There’s superior hi-def video and audio; extras are brief featurettes and appreciations.


Starsky and Hutch 

(Warner Archive)

One of the most unnecessary of all reboots has the unlikely and unfunny duo of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson doing what Stiller and Wilson always do while around them more interesting personalities—like Snoop Dog and the original Starsky and Hutch, David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser—do more entertaining things.




The 2005 movie has a fine hi-def transfer; extras include an audio commentary, deleted scenes, making-of featurette and the ubiquitous gag reel, which shows that they had more fun making the movie than we do watching it.






Wild Rovers 

(Warner Archive)

In Blake Edwards’ overlong “modern” western, William Holden and Ryan O’Neal are cowboys who become bank robbers and find they’re in way over their heads. There are some funny and memorable moments scattered throughout—especially colorful is Karl Malden as their ranchman boss—but this 1971 effort plays as a Butch Cassidy knockoff that tries to capitalize on its jokey camaraderie, and only fitfully achieves it, although Holden is a particular delight.




The widescreen drama—which includes an overture and exit music, as it did when it was originally shown in theaters—looks ravishing on Blu.


CD of the Week

Viardot—Le Dernier Sorcier 

(Bridge Records)

Nineteenth century French composer-pianist Pauline Garcia Viardot's Romantic chamber opera (with a libretto by Russian author Ivan Turgenev) was pretty much forgotten until it was recently unearthed. Hearing it in the composer's original form, for piano, narrator and soloists—where it sounds more like an extended song cycle than a through-composed musical theater work—might blunt its musical power (I'd love to hear the chamber orchestration), but it's still lively and often stirring throughout.




Trudie Styler narrates gracefully, the accomplished pianists are Liana Pailodze Harron and Myra Huang, and the strong soloists are led by Eric Owens, Jamie Barton, Camille Zamora and Adriana Zabala.

Musical Review—“The Scarlet Pimpernel” in Concert

The Scarlet Pimpernel 

Music by Frank Wildhorn; directed by Gabriel Barre; conducted by Jason Howland

Performed on February 18, 2019


Laura Osnes and Tony Yazbeck in The Scarlet Pimpernel (photo: Synthia F. Steiman)

Filled with swashbuckling derring-do, The Scarlet Pimpernel is Frank Wildhorn’s most sheerly entertaining musical, and for its recent concert version, Manhattan Concert Productions presented it with pomp and circumstance—and a guillotine set up at the back of center stage, surrounded by the chorus. Hearing this musical live with a huge chorus was a treat in itself!


The Scarlet Pimpernel (from Baroness Orczy’s famous novel) is set during the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution: British fop Percy, married to French singer-actress Marguerite, leads a band of his countrymen who rescue citizens from execution, with the evil French envoy Chauvelin on his trail. There are shades of Les Miserables in the story and the setting, but Wildhorn has a few musical aces up his sleeve. Alongside rousing choruses are pretty duets for Percy and Marguerite (“Believe” and “When I Look at You”) and defiant battle-cry numbers for Chauvelin (“Falcon in the Dive” and “Where’s the Girl”). All these—and more—were dispatched with aplomb by the starry cast, led by Laura Osnes’s delightfully appealing Marguerite, Tony Yazbeck’s hilariously brash Percy and Norm Lewis’ charismatically nasty Chauvelin. And setting the pace was the large and versatile orchestra under music director Jason Howland.


Norm Lewis, Laura Osnes and Tony Yazbeck do battle (photo: Synthia F. Steiman)

The most fun of the night was late in the evening, when Yazbeck did a soft-shoe, implored Lewis to do one, then duked it out with him in a short sword fight: Osnes joined in, wielding her weapon even more impressively than the men. Under Gabriel Barre's savvy direction, the whole evening made The Scarlet Pimpernel feel more like an authentic Broadway musical than it did 20 years ago.


The Scarlet Pimpernel 

Manhattan Concert Productions, David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY

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