Monday, January 14, 2019


Hosting All Sides Weekend: Books on WOSU 89-7 NPR News is always a joy. My thanks to Kassie Rose and Robin Nesbitt who are the 'regular' anchors of this program. Their passion and love for books informs everything great about the show.

The following list reflects some of their choices, and some of mine, and some of our listeners. The revival of the opera Adriana Lecouvreur had me reading a book I've owned since 1972 for the first time, Jack Richtman's Adrienne Lecouvreur. The mildew smell was my fault, not Jack or Adrienne's

This was the year the Michelle Obama worked hard to bring decency back to the political discourse with Becoming. Thank you Mrs. Obama.

Rebecca Makkai's searing The Great Believers  brought us back to the early days of the AIDS crisis. Those of us who remember got a shiver, but kept turning the pages. Makkai skillfully keeps us between the 1980s and today.

Two thousand eighteen was the year of The Great American Read. PBS provided TV specials and the opportunity to vote for favorite novels. Thousand participated, and the final vote went to To Kill a Mockingbird.  I'm grateful that my beloved A Confederacy of Dunces lasted several rounds.

TGAR encouraged me to read Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolpho Anaya, often called the first Latino novel. First or not, it is a beautiful book.
I was delighted to read for the second time John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany.  (At my age, I'm trying not to re-read. Clock's ticking)

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in Silicon Valley by John Carreyou is a real life thriller. A page turner.

My favorite of all for 2018 was The Overstory  by Richard Powers. A long and dense-in a great way-novel where trees are the protagonist. This will change your worldview for the better.

   * Favorite
    ** Great American Read (PBS)
         + interviewed author

 Origin by Dan Brown
+The Encore: A Memoir in Three Acts by Charity Tilleman-Dick
The Senator’s Children by Nicholas Montemarano (John Edwards)

*Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Hacks by Donna Brazile
*The Force by Don Winslow (Denny Malone)
Promise me, Dad Joe Biden

Maestros and Their Music: The Art and Alchemy of Conducting by John Mauceri

*Homegoing  by Yaa Gyasi (Africa)

Flash and Fury by Michael Woolf

Balancing Acts: Inside National Theatre by Nicholas Hytner
Conducting Business: Unveiling the Mystery Behind the Maestro Leonard Slatkin

Sense of Occasion by Harold Prince

Exit West Moshin Hamid
The Cartel Don Winslow
+The Immortalists Chloe Benjamin

The House of Impossible Beauties Joseph Cassara

*Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication and Music James Rhodes

Heir Apparent: Life of the Playboy Prince Edward VII Jane Ridley

Munich by Robert Harris
Reading With Patrick by Michelle Kuo
Endurance by Scott Kelly
The Seven Storey Mountain Thomas Merton

The Magdalen Martyrs Ken Bruen
Priest Ken Bruen

Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in young America by Catherine Kerrison

Reservoir 13 Jon McGregor

*And After the Fire (Bach-Mendelssohn) Lauren Belfer

*Grant Ron Chernow

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeliene L’Engle

The Perfect Nanny by Leah Slimani
The Rooster Bar John Grisham

All-American Murder: The Rise and Fall of Aaron Hernandez James Patterson

Purgatory by Ken Bruen
Green Hell by Ken Bruen

The Savior Eugene Drucker

The Grouchy Historian: An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Ring-Wing Hypocrites and Nutjobs. Ed Asner

My Father’s Wake by Kevin Toolis

Red Hot Mama: The Life of Sophie Tucker by Lauren Rebeca Sklaroff

Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany Norman Ohler

*An American Marriage Tyari Jones

Stray City by Chelsey Johnson
A Higher Loyalty James Comey
In the Enemies House: The Secret Saga of the FBI Agent and the Codebreaker who Caught the Russian Spies by Howard Blum

Mrs. By Caitlyn Macy
Alternate Side Anna Quindlen
Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein by Todd S. Purdum
Unmasked Andrew Lloyd Webber

**The Stand by Stephen King
**Little Women Louisa May Alcott

Varina by Charles Frazier (Mrs. Jefferson Davis)
**Frankenstein Mary Shelly

Sweet and Low by Nick White

*****The Overstory Richard Powers

*Property: stories between two novellas Lionel Shriver
(“The Chandelier” “The Subletter” “Domestic Terrorism”)

Eunice: The Kennedy Who Changed the World by Eileen McNamara
Sometimes I Lie by Ann Feeney
The Woman in the Window A.J. Finn

**Bless Me, Ultima Rudolpho Anaya

Robin (Williams) Dave Itzkof

**And then There Were None Agatha Christie

Rogue Lawyer John Grisham
Mary Pickford: The Woman who created the Movies by Eileen Whitfield

"The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations," by John McCain

** The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
**Goodbye Columbus Phillip Roth

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
My Girls Todd Fisher
Gray Mountain John Grisham

*On the Road and Off the Record with Leonard Bernstein by Charlie Harmon

The Hellfire Club by Jake Tapper

*The Great Believers Rebecca Makkai

The Outsider Steven King
Darkness Visible William Styron
Unhinged Omorosa

**Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

The Stranger Albert Camus

+Wallis in Love by Andrew Morton

Humboldt’s Gift Saul Bellow
Jennie Gerhardt Theodore Dreiser
Unnecessary Roughness: Trial of Aaron Hernandez Jose Baez
Beethoven’s Tenth by Richard Kluger
Providence by Caroline Kempner
The Cloister James Carroll
Betty Ford by Lisa McCubbin

The Big Game: Inside the NFL in Dangerous Times Mark Leibovitch
The Girl on the Balcony Olivia Hussey
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Fear by Bob Woodward

*****A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

*Ticker: The quest to create an artificial heart by Mimi Swarz
*Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman

The First Family Michael and Daniel Palmer
Gone So Long Andre by Dubus III

*Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in Silicon Valley John Carryeou

Life in Pieces by Sally Field
Handel by Christopher Hogwood

*Hallelujah! The story of musical genius and the city that brought a masterpiece to life Stephen Bardon

*Ohio Stephen Markley

November Road by Lou Berney
*Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret Craig Brown

*Becoming Michelle Obama

Nine Perfect Strangers Liane Moriarty
Elevation Stephen King
Dinner at Camelot: Joseph Esposito
Vanity Fair Thackeray

The President is Missing James Patterson and Bill Clinton
*The Essential Composers Anthony Tommasini
There Will be No Miracles Here Casey Gerald

*Ladder to the Sky John Boyne
The Reckoning John Grisham

Novotna My Life in Song Jarmila Novotna
Gun, with Occasional Music Jonathan Lethem

Adrienne Lecouvreur Jack Richtman

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Favorite Recordings in 2018

These are the recordings that came my way in 2018 brought me the most joy. They are the performances to which I return repeatedly. Take a listen! 

In addition, by all means, post your own favorites, in any genre on this blog. I can always use more favorites.

Happy New Year to all!

Anthony Roth Costanzo with Les Violons du Roy conducted by Jonathan Cohen. Muisc by Handel and Glass.

Countertenors? God spare me. Give me a hooty mezzo-soprano any day.
And yet.

I’ve always loved wonderful singing, especially when combined with superb musicianship. Think Callas. Think Fischer-Dieskau. Think Anthony Roth Costanzo.
Gold star to whoever thought of combining Handel and Glass. Costanzo uses his voice to make beauty and project words, not to show off. Jonathan Cohen conducts Les Violins du Roy and whoever the king is, I hope he’s good to this band. I especially love the last two tracks, Handel’s Ombra mai fu (a.k.a Handel’s Largo) and theHymn to the Sun from Glass’s Akhnanten. Pharaoh, Gods, and Anthony. Winners all.

Veni Domine: Advent and Christmas at the Sistine Chapel
Palestrina: Pope Marcellus Mass
Sistine Chapel Choir conducted by Massimo Palombella.

Need a bliss out? Do you want to forget political attack ads, DJT, broccoli and the like? These two new releases from the Choir of the Sistine Chapel are for you.
Veni Domine presents chant and sacred motets by Palestrina, Josquin, Victoria and Allegri. For centuries, this music was never heard outside of the Vatican. The teenage Mozart wrote down the Miserere by Allegri and smuggled it out to the world. 
Today, we have state of the art recorded technology to make this beauty widely available.

Palestrina’s Mass honors Pope Marcellus II, who reigned for three weeks in 1555 and then dropped dead. He earned his place in history from this sublime mass that honors him.

Child Alice by David Del Tredici
Boston Modern Orchestra Project conducted by Gil Rose, with Courtney Budd, soprano

I took a composition class with David Del Tredici at Boston University over forty years ago. He was wild and naughty then, and brilliant, and during a recent interview, he was still all of those things! 

Del Tredici happily admits to an obsession with Lewis Carroll’s Alice. Child Alice is a huge symphony, almost too big to perform! The movement titles alone are enticing: Simple Alice, Triumphant Alice, Ecstatic Alice, Quaint Events, Happy Voices and All in a Golden Afternoon

The work holds no terrors for the accomplished Boston Modern Orchestra Project conducted by Gil Rose. Courtney Budd is Alice. Who else has the skill to sing these lines? Superb engineering and packaging. Any release by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project is worth knowing better. It a fantastic journey. Try it.

Matthew Shepard was the young gay man murdered outside of Casper, Wyoming in October of 1998. He was savagely beaten, tied to a fence and left to die. He lingered for a few days and never regained consciousness.

Craig Hella Johnson, conductor of the superb Conspirare Choir, has written an oratorio called Considering Matthew Shepard. It’s a hymn of grief and reconciliation (I wouldn’t have minded more rage) The horrible details of the murder are not shirked. The texts are by Leslea Newman, Michael Dennis Browne, Craig Hella Johnson, Judy Shepard and Rabinranath Tagore.

Here’s a work that invokes the big sky of Wyoming, the crime, the trial and the grief. It’s not a tragic work. Considering Matthew Shepard is a mediation on what happened, and what must never happen again.


Wagner: Die Walkure Act 1 and Act 3 Hans Knappertsbush and Sir Georg Solti conductors. Vienna Philharmonic, with Kirsten Flagstad (Sieglinde and Brunnhilde) Set Svanholm (Siegmund) Arnold Van Mill (Hunding) Otto Edelman (Wotan) Marianne Schech (Sieglinde)

Decca lured Kirsten Flagstad back into the recording studios in the mid-1950s. As a result, we have the sixty-year-old Flagstad in stereo sound singing some of her best roles. She may be older, but who can surpass the beauty of this voice? To the charge her Sieglinde is matronly I say, thank God for matrons.

Boito: Mefistofele (selections) Cesare Siepi, Renata Tebaldi, Giuseppe di Stefano. Chorus and Orchestra of the Academy of St. Cecilia, Rome conducted by Tullio Serafin.

There’s a wonderful complete recording of Boito’s opera on the market with the above cast except with Mario del Monaco as Faust. Apparently, di Stefano was first choice but for whatever reason didn’t finish the recording. Here he is, still splendid in 1958, with Tebaldi and Siepi in their primes.  Wouldn’t you like to live in an age where a del Monaco could be brought in to replace a di Stefano?

And don't miss:

Prettye Yende, soprano:  Dreams music by Meyerbeer, Bellni, Donizetti and Gounod

Javier Camarena, tenor 'Contrabandusta'  music by Manuel Garcia,Rossi and Zingarelli