Friday, September 28, 2012

Clifford Curzon Rediscovered

Clifford Curzon has long been a respected pianist, but not exactly household name (to the extent that any Classical performer is a household name in the post-Toscanini era). During his lifetime and in the decades since his passing, he has been on the second tier of piano fandom - except in Britain.

Click here to read my review

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Dark Side of Monticello

A recent Smithsonian Magazine article by Henry Wiencek puts to rest the idea that Thomas Jefferson was a "benevolent" slave master. 

Click here to read.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Constructive Dialogue vs. Angry Ranting

The Sun Messenger has published an article about the continuing controversy surrounding the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Library.

There is so much misinformation in this article, with opinions published as fact and uncorrected by the author. A few points need to be clarified:

The Cuyahoga County Public Library is not subject to voter referendum, and the petition circulating is symbolic at best. Why this group keeps pushing a petition which will have no effect goes beyond reasoning.

The presence of the Telling Mansion on the National Register of Historic Places does not mean it cannot be torn down. The NHRP merely regulates how the exterior is maintained and provides tax incentives for renovations that are performed in a historically informed manner. Since the CCPL pays no taxes, the latter provision would be no incentive at all. Indeed, if the CCPL wanted to, they could tear down the Telling Mansion and build their new library on the same site.

The city of South Euclid has no power over the CCPL – they are independent entities. South Euclid’s Planning Commission can approve the building plans and make recommendations for changes - such as landscaping, parking, and operational hours. The Planning Commission cannot reject the plans just because they don’t like where it’s being built. Likewise, the City Council only has the power to approve the conditional use permit - and a library is already one of the approved uses at the proposed site.

I can’t help the thought that some of those involved in this group are using this issue as yet another excuse to tweak city officials and vent their resentments regarding how the Oakwood issue turned out. I know of at least three in this group who were vocally, one could even say stridently, opposed to rezoning at Oakwood – and at least one of these doesn’t even live in South Euclid or Lyndhurst. I’ve also heard that some in this group have suggested (hopefully in jest) that the Library relocate to the Wal-Mart at Severance Center, since that will be moving to Oakwood. It’s obvious from the sign that this group hung outside the library two weeks ago that they are not interested in constructive dialogue. As for the positions of city officials, my email to Mayor Cicero was never answered, and his lack of comment on the subject indicates he simply does not care. Mayor Welo’s email to me indicates that she is lukewarm on the library’s move but knows there is nothing the city can do to stop it – but she is very concerned about the fate of the Telling Mansion.

If you’re interested in saving the Telling Mansion, as opposed to engaging in another divisive turf war, consider joining this group.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012

In Memory

My heart goes out to the families of Sean Smith, Ambassador Chris Stevens, and the other two Americans (names have not yet been released) who died in service to their country.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Karajan Reappraised – the 1960s

Even though I’ve never been a particular “fan” of Karajan, I couldn’t pass up this box – all of HvK’s non-operatic DG recordings from the 1960s with the original LP jackets and labels, a generous booklet, and facsimiles of several recording session logs.

No surprise: The high point here is the proto-typical German repertoire. One can plainly hear why the 1961-1962 Beethoven Symphony cycle is legendary: I’ve never heard a more searing funeral march from the Eroica – and it’s nice to hear a chorus that can properly pronounce the German lyrics in the Ode to Joy. The Brahms Symphonies exude a dark luminosity, a contradiction that was central to Brahms’ composing. I must confess I’ve never been a great fan of Brahms’ First Symphony, where I feel the composer overreaches in his attempt to become the next Beethoven – but Karajan makes it all work, and the Fourth Symphony is in one continuous line – as it should be. The Wagner excerpts are appropriately epic, with no sense of these being bleeding chunks lifted from great operas – but fine works on their own merit.

It’s been noted by esteemed music historian Harvey Sachs that Karajan’s “performances had a prefabricated, artificial quality” resulting from “an all-purpose, highly refined, lacquered, calculatedly voluptuous sound that could be applied, with the stylistic modifications he deemed appropriate, to Bach and Puccini, Mozart and Mahler, Beethoven and Wagner, Schumann and Stravinsky”. For the most part, the Karajan “style” worked for much of the core 19th Century romantic repertoire, from Beethoven (yes, Virginia, Beethoven was a Romantic composer) through Richard Strauss. But when HvK strays from the 19th Century, prefabrication becomes a limitation. Much of the Mozart is in the thick, syrupy style that was losing favor even by the 1960s, and the Haydn is utterly lacking in the wit and verve associated with this composer. Worst of all is Bach which becomes the ultimate wallpaper music under HVK’s baton – recordings to own for the purpose of showing how cultured one is, rather than for listening. At the other end of the temporal spectrum, HvK is clueless in anything post-Richard Strauss. Stravinsky once lambasted HvK’s recording of The Rite of Spring, describing one part as “tempo di hoochie-koochie”, and concluding that HvK’s way with this seminal work makes it sound like “a pet savage rather than a real one” leaving it as inconsequential as Stravinsky’s later works. And Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra amounts to a group of pretty sounds and harmonic piquancies without adding up to anything meaningful. The grit is missing.

Then there are the concerto recordings. For the most part, the concertos are serviceable, if conductor driven, affairs (and HvK is hardly the only conductor who high-handed soloists). The Tchaikovsky Concerto with Richter* was the most anti-charismatic recording of this warhorse ever made – until HvK repeated the trick with Kissin. But that’s the low point. The high point here is the Beethoven First Concerto with Eschenbach, where the soloist freely embellishes as would have been heard in the composer’s time. For violin concertos, HvK was content to stick with Christian Ferras – a pairing that produced some of the most anonymous concerto recordings in history.

Sound quality/remastering: the documentation does not make clear which recordings have been newly remastered and which are using existing transfers. But all are acceptable, and demonstrate the sound DG typically gave Karajan in the 1960s: well-judged microphone placement (without obvious spot-miking), with plenty of hall ambience, adding up to a clear if slightly gauzed sonic picture.

The book provides recording dates and locales. There are three essays, one sycophantic, the others perceptive.

*Richter reportedly despised the recording

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Viking tears bigot a new one

Chris Kluwe, punter for the Minnesota Vikings, gave Maryland State Delegate Emmett C. Burns a stern lesson in Constitutional law in his response to Burns' attept to silence Baltimore Ravens Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. This is a must read. Kluwe also appeared on The Ed Show.

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Monday, September 3, 2012

BRGR9 - Excellent Burgers and Service

It’s not often one can become enthusiastic about a hamburger joint, especially in Cleveland which has an overabundance of red meat eateries, but BRGR9 has much to appeal to the burger lover. First is the locale, right on West 9th Street in the middle of the warehouse district and proudly amongst higher priced restaurants. Second is the immaculately clean interior which contrasts nicely with the “come as you are” vibe.

I had the Land & Sea burger, featuring lobster scallion roulade, chive butter, and lemon crème fraiche over a half-pound patty cooked to a perfect medium rare. The flavoring was complex and interesting, best enjoyed slowly to avoid overloading one’s senses.

My dining partner had the Local, which featured Ohio cheddar, caramelized onions, bratwurst, and a pierogi on top of the patty. The mix of the salty bratwurst and the sweetness of the onions made for a taste that was like a trip to the West Side Market.

By the way, the menu is ala carte, meaning sides are not included (fear not, fries are available for a mere $1.99 extra). As an alternative to fries, we split an order of Sweet Potato Tater Tots, served with two varieties of mayonnaise: orange and cajun flavored. Delicious!

Although the burgers and tots were filling, we still had room for a split dessert. We chose the Deconstructed Peanut Butter Cup. The name does not do justice to the subtle taste and texture, more mousse-like than one would expect. It was satisfying without being heavy.

When weather permits, BRGR9 has outdoor seating available, and they are dog friendly.

Service was excellent in every respect, from the timing of the orders to the refilling of drinks (even my dog’s ice water).