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Another Bach

When this recording was first offered for review by Naxos, I thought it was another small ensemble recording of J. S. Bach’s orchestral suites. Ah, but what a difference an initial makes. These are suites by J. B. Bach, Johann Bernhard Bach in full. On searching a bit further, one can find that J. B. was a second cousin of J. S. and thrived in Germany from 1676 to 1749. He was a highly regarded composer in his day. Most of his compositions have been lost, but the orchestral suites survive, in part because J. S. had them copied for his orchestra.


It is no wonder that the more famous Bach recognized his cousin’s talent. Sounding more akin to Telemann than any of the Bachs, these are vivacious works with good imagination, excellent melodies, and masterful orcehestration. The lively performances on a new Ricercar recording by the chamber ensemble L’Acheron, led by bassist Francois Joubert-Caillet make a good case for this music. The joyous performances are never less than appealing; I especially enjoyed the continuo swap-offs among harpsichord, guitar, and arhlute. The recrded sound is clean andcloseup, revealing every detail.


Zubin Mehta Conducts Symphonies & Tone Poems

It’s hard to cherry pick and put into digest form a career so long and varied as that of Indian born conductor Zubin Mehta. He’s had major stints as music director with such prestigious orchestras as the Montreal Symphony, The Los Angeles Philharmonic, The New York Philharmonic, and the Israel Philharmonic, as well as numerous opera companies.  The venerable maestro is now 80 years old, so he’s been around some time. Decca was faced with the task of picking his recordings for that label made slightly before, during, and slightly after his tenure with the Los Angeles Philharmonic: 1962-1978. During his time in California he built the already good ensemble up to world class and helped it to have name recognition from the numerous recordings for the Decca label, the label where Mehta had made early, successful recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic.

Zubin Mehta Box

I would been fine with a box of all Los Angeles recordings but Decca has opted to take many of those out and replace them with recordings made in Vienna, Israel, and one from New York. So you won’t find the superlative L A recordings of Holst’s The Planets (the best of all of Mehta’s LA recordings), John Williams Star Wars, Nielsen’s 4th symphony, or the plethora of Ives, Copland, and Gershin recordings. You will find from L A the sturdy, exciting, yet sometime pedantic complete Tchaikovsky Symphony recordings, Sweeping romantic readings of Dvorak’s 8th 9th symphonies,  and the first-rate, near definitive recordings of the Richard Strauss tone poems – Also Sprach Zarathustra, An Alpine Symphony, Ein Heldenleben (this one five stars for me), and the Domestic Symphony. You will find his magnificent, warm and wonderful reading of Bruckner’s 9th symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic, a stupendous, one of the top-three, performance of Mahler’s second symphony, and the New York Philharmonic in an exciting Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique. With the Israel Philharmonic you’ll get all of the Schubert Symphonies, plus Rosamunde in performances that are sturdy but don’t sparkle enough to make them first choices, and near perfect readings of Tchaikovsky’s music from Swan Lake and Nutcracker from the same source.

One thing in common for all of the recordings: Decca’s amazing 70s recorded sound, microphoned from the conductor’s point of view. Most exciting and overall a big thrill. The low price makes this a set to consider since there are no complete missteps and many towering triumphs.

A Genre Bending Chiller That Delivers

I get so tired of watching ads on television for movie thrillers. In these ads they usually show you the best, or most arresting, parts. You watch the movie and find the rest is pretty tepid. Not so with 10 Cloverfield Lane, a genuine thriller that will get your heart racing and rivet your attention to the screen.  In it, a young woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) comes to after an automobile accident to find herself in a bunker run by survivalist John Goodman.

10 Cloverleaf Lane

She’s told that there’s been trouble outside and the air is poisonedand that she is only safe in the bunker,  but she comes to suspect that crazy old John has trapped her for other reasons.  I can’t tell more so I won’t ruin the surprises, but let’s just say that Goodman is magnificent, good enough to earn an Oscar nomination, though those aren’t generally give for this sort of movie. Genres are combined and bent and the ending will astonish you. This is one thriller that delivers! It’s available now on an  immaculately produced Blu-ray with terrifying surround sound that also includes a DVD and a digital copy.

“Die Fledermaus” – A Royal Opera 1990 Farewell party for Dame Joan Sutherland

Over  the past 20 years I’ve developed a tradition of watching a performance of the Johann operetta Die Fledermaus on New Year’s Eve. I hadn’t seen this production since it came out an Image Entertainment DVD, many years ago. Arthhaus Musik has it now and has released it in the Blu-ray format. The performance was recorded on New Year’s Eve, 1990 and is sung in English. About 65 percent of it can be understood so it might have been nice to have English subtitles as did the DVD, but alas, no go – just German, French, and Japanese. Since this is an operetta it mixes spoken dialog and singing. The former is easily understood in English, the latter less so. The cast of youngish singers is first-rate. Judith Howarth sparkles as Adele and Nancy Gustafson is a radiant Rosalinde. Louis Oley is a dashing Eisenstein and Anthony Michaels-Moore a devilish Falke. Prince Orlovsky is usually a trousers role for a mezzo-soprano, but is here is sung by a countertenor (Jochen Kowalski). The whole mash is like a 19th century romcom. Eistenstein must go to jail, which leaves Rosalinde free to the amorous, and operatic advances of tenor Alfredo (Bonaventura Bottone) whose ardor is cut short when he is mistaken for Eistenstein and trucked off to the pokey. In the meantime, Prince Orlovsky is giving a ball and the main characters all arrive there in disguise. Flirtations ensue and in Act III the whole thing is sorted out.

Fledermaus Blu Bonynge

Since the second act takes place at the Prince’s ball, it’s a good time to insert entertainment for his guests, and for the audience. In less lavish productions this might merely be a ballet sequence, but over the years the Act II entertainment of various companies has reached for the stars. Here, Dame Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, and Marilyn Horne hold the stage, singing arias and duets as a tribute to Sutherland, who was retiring after 22 years with the Royal Opera company. It was really a splendid idea and thankfully, state of the art equipment was on hand to record it. The Blu-ray transfer is excellent, proving that blasts from the past need not look awful and dated, as do a rash of recently re-issued operas on Bluy-ray curiously enough also from Arthaus Music. Also included are some Sutherland aria performances from Opera Australia productions. Outstanding among these, the mad scene from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, which finds Sutherland not only singing immaculately, but turning in an award caliber acting performance as a crazy lady who has just killed her newly wed husband.  The overall Blu-ray is highly entertaining and simply lots of fun, a great way to usher in the New Year, with or without the bubbly.

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