Weissenberg and Petrouchka

In case you haven’t seen it posted in one of a variety of places, here is the late Alexis Weissenberg playing Petrouchka in a remarkable film by an assistant to Bergman, then speaking about the piece and the film.

I only heard Weissenberg once, at Tanglewood. He played a pre-concert recital one unseasonably chilly day, and while with the passage of 28 years I have forgotten his playing, (was it a Haydn sonata?) I remember him quite reasonably complaining from the stage about how cold it was.

Upcoming in NYC and DC

– February 10 at Symphony Space in NYC, Sequitur plays pieces by Eric Moe and Randall Woolf based on texts by David Foster Wallace.

– February 12 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in DC, the 21st Century Consort plays Stravinsky, Paul Schoenfield, Jennifer Furr, Bruce Macombie, and Jacob Druckman. A brief interview with Christopher Kendall, who directs the Consort, is found here.

Thursday afternoon miscellany

A few things I have been enjoying:

-Richard Thompson’s Cul de Sac is a comic strip that gets compared with Calvin and Hobbes, partly because it centers on children, but partly because it is freshly funny, with drawings to match. Read the Cul de Sac blog here, and read Thompson’s poetic collage of George W. quotes here.

-Annie Dillard made a found poem of a different kind when she made a collage of actual deathbed utterances. The poem is included in her book Mornings Like These,  and  I set it to music in my song cycle Holy the Firm (scroll down). (While the poem I set, Deathbeds, is (pardon the expression) deadly serious, Mornings Like These includes some of the funniest texts you will ever read, poor innocent paragraphs that turn out to be hysterical when taken out of context and presented as poetry.) I was interested to read a few more final words, these from famous writers, in a list that appears on the Guardian website.

– Cathy Berberian’s recordings of Stravinsky songs – Three Little Songs, Pribaoutki, Cat’s Cradle Songs – just ooze with character and charisma. Find them as part of this set.

– Barbara at Barefoot Toward the Light has posted an excerpt from a book by James Martin S.J. that is worth pondering.

All the Stravinsky $44 can buy

I’ve been listening off and on for some months now (and it will occupy me for many more months) to the 22 CD set of Stravinsky conducts Stravinsky that Sony released a while ago – the one that Alex Ross wrote about here, and Pliable wrote about here. As of this writing it is available on Amazon here.

The set is obviously an important document of a great composer interpreting his own work. (But read today’s Allan Kozinn piece in the Times regarding the problem of taking the composer’s intention too seriously. I liked the article, though I was a bit confused by his references to Schoenberg as “contemporary music”.)  While, as a native Clevelander, I will always revere the Cleveland Orchestra/Boulez Sacre from 1969, holding it above all other versions (I haven’t heard their remake), there is a compellingly crazed intensity to Stravinsky’s own recording. Symphony of Psalms is another highlight, with the stasis of the last movement working its magic. But I have to say that a lot of these recordings just aren’t very good, with ensemble that fails to lock in (this shows up most in the note-filled allegros like the fast movements of the Concerto for Piano and Winds) and appalling intonation – try Agon, for example, where the players are having an agon of their own. The comment attributed to Schoenberg – “my music isn’t modern, it’s just badly played” – applies here.

There are some recorded bits of rehearsal included in the set, and it is disturbing to hear, in one of these, someone in the control room telling Stravinsky that a balance problem can be fixed later on. You never know with any recording just what is control room magic and what isn’t, but in a situation where the recording’s value is partly as a document of the composer’s interpretation, being reminded of the other ears that are at work is troubling. (For a recording of Stravinsky in rehearsal that is not included in this set, go here to listen to him trying out a revision of the Symphonies of Wind Instruments.)

Some intriguing details in the list of  performers in this set: the all-star infield of Barber, Sessions, Copland, and Foss playing the four pianos in Les Noces (recalling such collaborations as the Sessions/Copland/Thomson team of narrators for l’Histoire with Craft conducting Speculum Musicae – a performance that took place at the Whitney Museum early in my time in NYC (I also remember that concert because it was the last time I saw the great pianist Robert Miller before his untimely death), or the Babbitt/Harbison/Carter version of the same piece at Tanglewood a few years ago); Bethany Beardslee in Threni – a rather early document of her work, I would guess;  a number of songs done by Cathy Berberian; Joseph Szigeti and Stravinsky playing the Duo Concertant, alongside other Stravinsky piano performances by both Igor and son Soulima; Laurindo Almeida (yes, that Laurindo Almeida, from the L.A. Four) playing guitar in the Four Songs; and surely two of the more unexpected names: Sebastian Cabot and Elsa Lanchester as Noah and his wife in The Flood.

I’m glad I picked up this set, but I will be looking elsewhere for more satisfying performances.