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Film and the Arts

March '21 Digital Week III

VOD/Virtual Cinema/Streaming/In Theater Releases of the Week 
The Courier 
(Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)
This true story of Greville Wynne, a businessman recruited by the CIA and MI6 for duty as a go-between for a Russian spy slipping secrets to the Americans and British, doesn’t break new ground, but it is absorbing and even—when the stakes are high and lives are at stake—becomes tense and involving.
Benedict Cumberbatch, best playing ordinary men caught up in events beyond his ken, is excellent as Wynne; matching him are Merab Ninidze as Oleg Penkovsky, his Russian counterpart, and Jessie Buckley as Sheila, his dutiful but beleaguered wife. Dominick Cooke directs unobtrusively but without the artistry needed to elevate this above “decent thriller.”
The Father 
(Sony Pictures Classics) 
Florian Zeller’s intimate play—which won Frank Langella a best actor Tony Award in 2016—has been extensively and, for the most part, successfully rejiggered for the screen, anchored by Anthony Hopkins’ heartbreaking performance as a man in the throes of senility who is unwilling—but unable—to concede that he has little control over his aging mind.
Zeller smartly because straightforwardly visualizes his protagonist’s shifting mental state, sometimes thinking his daughter is present, and at other times, surprised that she’s there. As the women in his life (daughter? caretaker? both? neither?), two Olivias—Colman and Williams—are superb foils for Hopkins, who hasn’t been this affecting since The Elephant Man 40 years ago.
(Saban Films/Paramount)
This black comedy’s setup—a happily married, still lustful couple of 14 years annoys their friends enough to lead the pair to suspect them after a visit to the couple’s house by a strange man leads to a dead body—is rich with humor and sharp observation, but when the stranger’s identity is (sort of) revealed and the friends are all trapped in a rented house, the second half stumbles badly and limps to a risible, even nonsensical finish.
Joel McHale and Kerry Bishe are terrific as the couple and, in a fine supporting cast, Natalie Zea stands out as McHale’s ex, but writer/director BenDavid Grabinski cops out and ends up trading uneasy but genuine laughs for eye rolls.
Quo Vadis, Aida? 
(Neon/Super Ltd)
When the Bosnian War was at its height in 1995, the village of Srebrenica became ground zero for the Serbian Army, which massacred hundreds of male villagers, both men and boys. Director Jasmila Žbanić’s shattering drama recreates that awful moment in history through the eyes of Aida, a local woman acting as translator who desperately but futilely tries to get her husband and sons to safety out of town.
Jasna Đuričić’s richly expressive performance is the moral center of Žbanić’s film, which matter-of-factly and depressingly shows how evil is perpetrated with unwitting complicity from those nominally in charge (the toothless UN peacekeepers).
4K Release of the Week 
(Warner Bros)
This 2014 reboot of the classic Japanese film series about a prehistoric monster regenerated by nuclear radiation, has been directed by Gareth Edwards with a lack of crudeness that is most appreciated, at least occasionally; at other times, one yearns for scenes that are more slam-bang and action-packed.
Still, the special effects—except in the big creature-battle finale, which unfortunately is too darkly lit—don’t overwhelm the human characters, and the cast, led by Bryan Cranston, David Strathairn, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Juliette Binoche (who’s gone far too early), doesn’t embarrass itself. The movie looks vividly tactile on UHD—there’s also a Blu-ray disc of the film—and the extras include several on-set and behind-the-scenes featurettes. 
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
The Cellist 
(Opus Arte)
What sounds like a preposterous idea for a ballet—dramatizing the tragically short life of the British cellist Jacqueline du Pré, who died in 1987 at age 42 of multiple sclerosis—becomes quite affecting in the hands of the Royal Ballet choreographer Cathy Marston, who ingeniously pairs Lauren Cuthbertson as Jackie with Marcelino Sambé, who personifies her cello, and their dances together (and apart) are incredibly moving; the one-act ballet is scored to music by Elgar, Faure and Schubert associated with du Pré’s performances and recordings.
Another one-acter is the beguiling Dances at a Gathering, a set of Jerome Robbins’ wonderful dances to Chopin solo piano music (played by Robert Clark). As always, the hi-def video and audio are excellent.
The Undoing 
(Warner Bros)
Based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s novel You Should Have Known, this six-episode miniseries about a murder that threatens to tear apart a wealthy Upper East Side family trods familiar ground—even its unsurprising denouement—with supreme assurance, thanks to Susanne Bier’s detailed direction and David E. Kelly’s fastidious script.
Of course, none of these characters is in the least sympathetic: as the suspicious wife and suspect husband, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant are accommodating in that department, while Donald Sutherland gleefully chews the scenery as Kidman’s arrogant father. The series looks quite impressive on Blu; extras are several short featurettes and interviews.
CD Releases of the Week
Bluebeard’s Castle 
In one of the greatest of all operas—I won’t even use the qualifier “20th century”—Hungarian master Béla Bartók distills the dramatic, romantic and tragic essence of Charles Perrault’s terrifying fairy tale into a hair-raising and chilling hour. Bartók’s masterly music score is filled to the brim with thrilling moments: for example, even though I know it’s coming, the radiant organ chords when wife Judith opens Bluebeard’s fifth door always amaze.
The Helsinki Philharmonic, led by conductor Susanna Malkki, certainly delivers on this new recording, with bass Mika Kares (Bluebeard) and mezzo Szilvia Voros (Judith) giving perfectly pitched vocal performances.
Orson Rehearsed—An Operafilm 
American composer Daron Aric Hagen already wrote an opera about an American arts master—Shining Brow, about architect Frank Lloyd Wright—and now tackles another genius: Orson Welles. Orson Rehearsed is an often convoluted but dramatically compelling one-acter set at the moment of Welles’ death at age 70 in 1985, as three Orsons hash out the many highs and lows—both real and imagined—in the great director’s life and career.
The problem with Orson Rehearsed stems from its subtitle, An Operafilm—surely this strange, disjointed work would benefit greatly from visuals that fill in the cracks in the clever soundworld Hagen has conjured.
Zappa—Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Deluxe 
(Zappa Records)
Alex Winter’s excellent documentary Zappa is crammed with bits of the wide-ranging music Zappa composed and performed during his astonishing and eclectic 30-year career, much of which is heard on this three-CD set: everything from mid ‘60s pop tunes “Everytime I See You” and “Memories of El Monte” through minor hits “Dancing Fool” (1978) and “Valley Girl” (1982) to the challenging late work, Overture.
Also included is music that inspired Zappa, from Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite to Edgard Varèse’s Ionisation. And rounding out the set is the film score by John Frizzel with Nick Cimity and David Stal, which is evocative and atmospheric in its way, but not as memorably original as Zappa’s own work.

March '21 Digital Week II

VOD/Virtual Cinema/Streaming Release of the Week 
Center Stage 
(Film Movement Classics)
Taiwanese director Stanley Kwan made this intelligent 1991 biopic about Chinese silent-era actress Ruan Lingyu, who died by suicide at age 24.
Kwan fascinatingly pieces together the remnants of her life, career and legacy by layering his film with interviews with former colleagues, lush recreations of scenes from her films—including some which are lost—and discussing her artistry with Maggie Cheung, who commandingly plays her. It’s challenging and lengthy (2-1/2 hours) but utterly absorbing, with an emotionally shattering final sequence that merges sorrowful film and personal history.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
The Beggar’s Opera 
(Opus Arte)
British composer John Gay’s opera, which he wrote in 1728, skillfully weaved its satirical story of charismatic petty criminal Macheath around and through then-popular tunes of the day (although the best known version is Weill and Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, created two centuries later).
Robert Carsen’s 2018 Paris staging updates the street lingo—lots of f-bombs are thrown in, to no discernible effect—but unnecessarily underlines Gay’s incisive original with a rather desperate 21st century sensibility. Happily, there are fine musical contributions from conductor William Christie and his Les Arts Florissants ensemble as well as Benjamin Purkiss’ Macheath and Kate Batter’s Polly Peachum and Emma Kate Nelson’s Jenny, two of Macheath’s many conquests. There are first-rate hi-def video and audio. 
Celine and Julie Go Boating 
(Criterion Collection)
French director Jacques Rivette’s 3-1/4 hour shaggy-dog tale of two 20-something Parisian women—one a magician (bohemian), the other a librarian (straitlaced)—who find themselves in a mansion where a murder plot is reenacted again and again is loosely-structured, paper-thin and amateurish in execution—Rivette even manages to make the delightful Marie-France Pisier look ordinary! Still, many consider this a masterpiece, so obviously your mileage may vary.
Criterion’s two-disc set houses a spiffy hi-def transfer and many extras, including critic Adrian Martin’s audio commentary; Claire Denis’ two-plus hour documentary, Jacques Rivette: Le veilleur; archival interviews with Rivette, Pisier, Berto and Labourier; and new interviews with actress Bulle Ogier and actor/producer Barbet Schroeder.
Damn Yankees 
(Warner Archive)
It’s too bad that this 1958 adaptation of the hit stage musical has dated so badly, especially in the cheeky but toothless humor of the devil needing a sexpot to keep his baseball protégé in line. Ray Walston is hammy but unfunny as Mr. Applegate (i.e., the devil), while Gwen Vernon surprisingly shines only in her infrequent song-and-dance numbers, the best a really goofy but limber mambo with choreographer (and soon-to-be husband) Bob Fosse.
Otherwise, directors George Abbott and Stanley Donen’s frothy concoction may disappoint fans of both baseball and musicals. At least there’s a vibrant new hi-def transfer, but no extras.
The Great Caruso 
(Warner Archive)
Who else but Mario Lanza—the operatic voice of the mid 20th century—would play Enrico Caruso, the greatest singing voice of the early 20th century, in Richard Thorpe’s hokey but entertaining 1951 biopic that takes so many liberties with the facts that even viewers who don’t know the real story might say, “wait a minute—did it happen like that”?
Even so, Lanza singing real opera excerpts and the charming Ann Blyth as Caruso’s wife Dorothy are enough to make it watchable, even for the skeptical or uninitiated. The Technicolor visuals pop nicely in Warner Archive’s sparkling hi-def transfer; the lone extra is a 2005 documentary, Mario Lanza: Singing to the Gods.
Heart Chamber 
For Israeli composer Chaya Czernowin, writing an opera about the most heartfelt romantic coupling means minutely applying clinical notes and soundscapes to make for a disorienting if occasionally illuminating experience.
Director Claus Gluth’s 2019 Berlin production piles on visual flourishes that might have worked wonderfully in the theater (split screens, film and video, superimposed imagery) but fall flat presented on this disc, so Czernowin’s multisensory work never reaches its objective. Still, it’s expertly done by a dizzying array of singers, musicians and technicians, and there’s impeccable hi-def video and audio.
CD Releases of the Week 
Hilary Hahn—Paris 
(Deutsche Grammophon)
American violinist Hilary Hahn’s latest recording may have her usual scintillating performances of two towering violin works—Ernest Chausson’s elegant Poeme and Sergei Prokofiev’s brilliant First Violin Concerto—but the main draw is the world premiere recording of Finnish master Einojuhani Rautavaara’s final work, 2016’s Deux Serenades.
Written for Hahn—who played the first performance onstage in 2019—the Rautavaara piece plays to her strengths with its sheer emotional power. Especially when played so beautifully by Hahn and her fine accompanists, conductor Mikko Franck and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Rautavaara couldn’t have asked for a lovelier epitaph. 
John Williams Live in Vienna 
(Deutsche Grammophon)
John Williams has written so many iconic scores for dozens of films—mostly Steven Spielberg’s but also the Star Wars and Harry Potter series, among many others—that it would seem a fool’s errand to try and jam excerpts into a single concert.
But this two-disc recording of a Vienna Philharmonic performance Williams himself conducted in January 2020 does very well as a terrific overview of his monumental career. Williams’ music for several Spielberg films gives the musicians a chance to shine, with Close Encounters and E.T. as the orchestral highlights. Violin superstar Anne-Sophie Mutter provides exquisite, stylish soloing on several of Williams’ less well-known scores, like Cinderella Liberty, The Witches of Eastwick and Sabrina, and she effortlessly handles the yearning, fragile melodies of Schindler’s List. The finale, the exuberant Imperial March from Star Wars, rounds out an exceptional set.
Rachmaninoff—Symphony No. 2 
(LSO Live)
Russian Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) wrote big, full-bodied, unabashedly Romantic music that’s often criticized as too sentimental or—even worse—popular.
But his most enduring works are precisely in that mold, like his splashy piano concertos—with one memorable melody after another—the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and the taut, well-paced Second Symphony (1908). Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra give this marvelous symphony a vigorous workout full of lyricism and intensity.

March '21 Digital Week I

VOD/Virtual Cinema/Streaming Releases of the Week 
(Quiver Distribution)
The ongoing opioid epidemic lends itself to the multi-story thread writer-director Nicholas Jarecki uses in his first feature since 2012’s Wall Street drama Arbitrage, which shows—with alternately devastating and melodramatic effect—how America’s seemingly endless drug addiction affects everybody: the FBI agent tracking a drug lord whose younger sister is a user; the now-clean momt whose teenage son gets involved with the trade; and a scientist on the payroll of a pharma conglomerate who discovers that its new drug might be approved despite finding fatal side effects.
Of course, at time it’s too on the nose, but the sense of everything spiraling out of control is well done, and the cast—Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer, Evangeline Lilly, Greg Kinnear, Luke Evans, Martin Donovan and Lily-Rose Depp—contributes to the realism Jarecki is after.
(Kino Lorber) 
An historical curio if there ever was one, Francine Parker’s F.T.A.—a tongue-in-cheek abbreviation of “Free the Army” and “Fuck the Army”—documents the 1972 tour of American military bases by actors Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland, singers Holly Near, Rita Martinson and Len Chandler, and others, during the height of the Vietnam War.
The tour was an anti-war reaction to and parody of Bob Hope’s USO tours, but their variety shows consist of the same scattershot skits, songs, monologues, storytelling, etc. But the progressive political edge onstage seems to be accepted, at times endorsed, by those in attendance. Highlights are Chandler’s often pointed parodic songs.
Fukushima 50 
(Capelight Pictures) 
The devastating earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Japanese coast in 2011 also caused the Fukushima nuclear power plant to malfunction disastrously and release radiation into the atmosphere, and this highly watchable docudrama reenacts how the plant’s workers and management dealt with what became an almost impossible situation, which threatened hundreds of thousands of lives.
Director Setsurō Wakamatsu simply and effectively recreates the often heroic work of the “Fukushima 50” (so-called afterward by international media) but stumbles near the end, as things get mawkish.
Keep an Eye Out 
This piece of insane inanity from French director Quentin Dupieux, creator of last year’s Deerskin (which wasted the star power of Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel in a hamfisted and obvious parody of masculinity, midlife crisis and filmmaking), is, as always with Dupieux, clever but painfully unfunny.
Set in a police station during questioning by an inept detective of his prime suspect in a killing, Keep an Eye Out—whose English title, which puns on the facial appearance of another cop, is more in line with Dupieux’s juvenile sense of humor than the original French title, Au poste!—is gleefully absurd, rather than absurdist, which would make it more palatable.
The People vs. Agent Orange 
The Vietnam War introduced the herbicide agent orange as a lethal weapon, and 50 years later many Vietnamese are still dealing with its myriad effects (physical deformities, mental deficiencies)—but directors Kate Taverna and Alan Adelson unearth the grim news that agent orange was also used in the U.S. on crops and forestland with the same devastating problems to those exposed, including cancers.
In this enraging documentary, we hear from victims in Vietnam and America who are still dealing with the fallout of the disastrous chemical warfare that was waged half a century ago, complete with horrific images and memories.
(Magnolia Pictures) 
Frank Zappa’s genre-bending musical career was packed with so many achievements that it’s surprising director Alex Winter created a thorough and illuminating overview in only 127 minutes. Zappa crammed a lot into his 52 years and 11 months (he died of cancer in 1993), and Winter hits on much of it: the decidedly iconoclastic music-making, the disdain for commercial success (it’s telling that one of his simplest songs, “Valley Girl,” was his biggest hit) and the brave fight against music censorship.
Interviews with fellow musicians, friends and his widow Gail (who died in 2015) make up the bulk of the film, along with priceless vintage Zappa interviews and onstage footage. It’s interesting that none of the Zappa kids was interviewed, but that’s a small quibble.
Blu-ray Release of the Week 
Rick and Morty—Complete Seasons 1-4 
(Warner Bros)
This animated series about a mad scientist and his grandson has so much visual imagination that even if its crude toilet humor and excess juvenilia start to pall, the zaniness of what we see makes it worth watching these 41 episodes.
Granddad Rick and grandson Morty alternate between trips through the multi-verse and dealing domestically with their family (the members of which also pop up in various guises on their interplanetary journeys), all eye-catchingly animated. The series dazzles colorfully in hi-def; extras include commentaries, animatics, deleted scenes, behind the scenes featurettes, inside the episodes and an exclusive poster.
DVD Release of the Week
Miss Scarlet and the Duke 
Kate Phillips is a beguiling heroine in this entertaining Victorian-era mystery series about a young woman, Eliza Scarlet, who takes over her father’s private-eye business after he dies suddenly.
Spunky and independent, Eliza has the usual difficulties to deal with as a woman in late 19th crime fighting, and even her friendship with a Scotland Yard inspector isn’t always a plus. But she manages to solve crimes every episode, and Phillips is especially winning in the lead role. Extras include on-set interviews and featurettes.
CD Release of the Week 
Peter Heise—Drot og Maske/King and Marshal 
Danish composer Peter Heise completed his magnum opus, a dramatically absorbing musical tragedy about the murder of the 13th century King Erik of Denmark, in 1878, just a year before he died prematurely at age 49.
More than two decades ago, Chandos Records put out a fine recording of Heise’s opera, but this new release, recorded live in Copenhagen in 2019, is even better, thanks to the superb, intense singers—led by tenor Peter Lodahl as Erik, baritone Johan Reuter as his marshal Stig and soprano Sine Bundgaard as Stig’s wife Inge—and the lovely-sounding orchestra and chorus under conductor Michael Schønwaldt (who also led the Chandos recording).

February '21 Digital Week IV

VOD/Virtual Cinema/Streaming Releases of the Week 
The Mauritanian 
(SFX Entertainment)
Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s 2015 memoir about his time locked up in Guantanamo accused of recruiting the 9/11 hijackers despite never being charged is memorably if drily dramatized by writer/director Kevin MacDonald.
Tahar Rahim’s powerhouse performance as Salahi, whose humanity never wavers despite being imprisoned and tortured for more than a decade, is complemented by Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley as the lawyers working on his behalf and Benedict Cumberbatch as the officer who discovers his conscience in this at times devastating exposé of how America conducted the war on terror. 
Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung’s lovely reminiscence of his Korean family’s difficulties realizing their own American dream skirts—and at times unabashedly embraces—sentimentality while following a father, mother, their two young children and, later, grandmother arriving from Korea to help them out after they move from California to Arkansas to begin anew.
Although he gets far too melodramatic with a series of pitfalls and disasters, especially near the end, Chung has his heart in the right place, and his film is beautifully acted by all, especially Steven Yeun as dad and Youn Yuh-jung as grandma. 
(Corinth Films)
Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky—who’s made his share of duds—has a late-career renaissance underway with 2020’s Dear Comrades and this 2019 biopic of the great artist Michelangelo, made on actual Italian locations in an almost neorealist manner that recalls the Pier Paolo Pasolini’s classic The Gospel According to Matthew and the historical dramas of Roberto Rossellini.
Alberto Testone is a believably protean Michelangelo, which has the effect of making him more authentically human, even when his gargantuan artistic ego causes the death of a worker while a massive block of marble is being moved for one of his outsized sculptures. 
Test Pattern 
(Kino Lorber)
After an evening out with her friend and a couple of men whom they meet at a bar, Renesha awakes in the morning in a strange bed, which is only the beginning of her nightmare in writer-director Shatara Michelle Ford’s provocative if dramatically diffuse exploration of how the inefficient bureaucracies of the health care system and, by extension, law enforcement are a double burden for black women.
If Ford’s rage often blurs her focus, Brittany S. Hall’s electrifying portrayal of Renesha keeps the drama on track, for the most part. It’s too bad that, as Renesha’s boyfriend Mike, Will Brill gives a flat, mannered performance that mitigates the crucial sense of this interracial couple’s slowly shifting relationship despite what he sees as a sympathetic response to her assault.  
The United States vs. Billie Holiday 
Director Lee Daniels and screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks never find the proper tone for their biopic about the great blues singer Billie Holiday, whose controversial lynching song “Strange Fruit” propelled the government to repeatedly go after her for her drug use: so this 130-minute drama fluctuates wildly between intense character study and meandering montages that mute the power of Lady Day’s voice and her story.
Still, all is forgiven when Andra Day’s Billie takes center stage: Day is as captivating as Diana Ross in Lady Sings the Blues and Audra McDonald in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill were, and is also unafraid to be so emotionally—and physically—naked onscreen, which makes her Billie a uniquely memorable creation.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
My Dream Is Yours
On Moonlight Bay 
(Warner Archive)
Two of Doris Day’s earliest starring roles in lesser-known musicals are out on Warner Archive. On Moonlight Bay (1951), which finds her as a teenage tomboy in love with a college man (Gordon MacRae), soars when Day sings such tunes as “Cuddle Up a Little Closer” and the title song. 
My Dream Is Yours (1949), in which she plays an up-and-coming singer who must decide between an established—but declining—crooner (Lee Bowman) and the agent who steered her to stardom (Jack Carson), is memorable when Day performs the title song and “Someone Like You.” These Technicolor productions looks lovely on Blu; extras are period live-action shorts and cartoons.
Italian composer Franco Alfano (1875-1954), best-known for his realization of Puccini’s unfinished opera Turandot, was an accomplished opera composer in his own right: along with his adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac, his 1904 version of Leo Tolstoy’s novel Resurrection makes for a compelling experience, particularly in its bizarre but joyful ending.
This 2020 Florence, Italy, production is kept aloft by Rosetta Cucchi’s spry direction, the excellent leads—soprano Anne Sophie Duprels as the heroine Katyusha and Matthew Vickers as her love Dmitri—and the sparkling musical direction of Francesco Lanzillotta, who leads the orchestra and chorus. The hi-def video and audio are quite good.
Show Boat 
(Warner Archive)
If George Sidney’s film of the classic Kern-Hammerstein musical lacks dramatic propulsion due to deracinating the pivotal subplot (this was 1951, after all), there’s still much to enjoy: the dancing duo Marge and Gower Champion hoofing it up, William Warfield’s rendition of “Ol’ Man River” and the delightful Kathryn Grayson as the young and impressionable Magnolia.
The colors look terrific in Warner Archive’s hi-def transfer; extras comprise Sidney’s commentary, audio tracks of Ava Gardner’s own vocals on two songs (in the film, her singing voice was dubbed by Annette Warren), the 1952 radio theater version and the opening sequence from a 1946 stage production.
DVD Releases of the Week 
Alexander Nanau’s insightful and engrossing documentary recounts the aftermath of the terrible fire that swept through a Bucharest nightclub in 2015, which killed dozens and severely injured dozens more.
By showing how dogged journalists uncovered how crass and uncaring incompetence on the part of the local government and a pharmaceutical company were responsible, not for the disaster but for the fact that so many of the injured were dying despite supposedly superior medical treatment, Nanau has made a timely tribute to the need for a free and independent press.
Sun Flames 
(Marco Polo)
German composer Siegfried Wagner (1869-1930) was nowhere near his father Richard Wagner’s equal as a musical dramatist, as his Sonnenflamen (Sun Flames) shows—it has some gorgeous music but much static plotting, which end up canceling each other out, unfortunately.
The most interesting thing about Siegfried’s opera is the production, staged last summer in his father’s famed Bayreuth, Germany, during the Covid lockdown: the barebones set is filled with energetic singers and musicians, who bring this tragic tale of a deserter during the Crusades to fleetingly vivid life.
CD Releases of the Week 
British Music for Strings 
It might be a coincidence, but Great Britain has had its share of 20th-century “B” composers who are anything but second-rate. This disc collects music for string orchestra by four of them—in chronological order of composition, Frank Bridge, Arthur Bliss, Benjamin Britten and Lennox Berkeley—the latter three of which are major works, written between 1935 and 1939.
The short, mournful Lament is by Bridge, Britten’s teacher; Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, a tribute to his teacher, is stylish and witty. Both Bliss’ Music for Strings and Berkeley’s Serenade for Strings provide ample opportunities for the players to shine, individually and together; John Wilson leads the Sinfonia of London in idiomatic and attractive readings of these seminal works. 
Dmitri Shostakovich—Symphonies 9 & 10 
(LSO Live)
After living through the brutality of World War II under the thumb of dictator Joseph Stalin, Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich penned two of his greatest symphonies, the relatively compact but forceful Ninth and the long, languidly powerful Tenth.
Conductor Gianandrea Noseda’s deeply committed performances with the London Symphony Orchestra catch all the subtle nuances in these deeply personal works, from the brutality that’s never far from the surface to the often blackly humorous episodes that permeate these often dynamic scores. 

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