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Classical 101

Some New Books

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[VIDEO IS DEAD] This is turning out to be a good year for new books on a music. Here are a few that have come across my desk recently. I'll be coming back with interviews with Norman Lebrecht and Lotfi Mansouri-and all of these books will be discussed in more detail.  Read on, look for these, and enjoy! Why Mahler Matters: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World by Norman Lebrecht-October 5 publication date Reading Lebrecht's latest book on Mahler-preceded by Mahler Remembered is a terrific complement to letting this music seep into your life.  Lebrecht's writing style puts the reader firmly into Mahler's Vienna, New York, Hamburg, Dresden or Bohemia, and gives a vivid portrait of a brief life of struggle, the highest of highs and the most miserable of sorrows. To me an indication of a book's success is whether or not I'm compelled to go out and listen, really listen to the music being discussed. Lebrecht had me reaching for the Mahler symphonies and songs anew with each chapter. The book contains a biographical sketch interspersed with conversations and observations from the present day. (The author's upstairs neighbor in London was a guest at Mahler's weeding in 1902!) Vivid descriptions of Mahler's rather grimy birthplace give way to an author's visit 150 years later.  Lebrecht's gift for combining a modern sensibility with music written 100 years ago will, I assure you, at least interrupt your life long enough to be buried in this music. Go ahead, wallow. Weep, laugh, rage and wallow. P.S. Lebrecht particularly admires Klaus Tennstedt's performances of Mahler's music: [youtube Qj5D2hXwMG4 490 344] Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey (Northeastern University 00000178-6a23-ddab-a97a-6a3b59d50000Press) Iran born Lotfi Mansouri came to Southern California-Carol Burnett was a class mate and show-buddy- and went on to direct both the Canadian Opera Comp[any in Toronto and the San Francisco Opera.  He is an unashamed populist. None of the deconstruction  regie-theater here. Mansouri shows what can be done on the operatic stage when the score is respected, and when opera is staged to tell the story. The book is filled with witty and endearing reminiscences of Sutherland, Pavarotti, Scotto, and a host of greats, almost greats and would rather forget 'ems. I've seen a lot of Mansouri's productions and I can tell you what nobody ever went away bored.  Nor will you with this richly entertaining book about an art form, and a number of people dearly loved by the author. [youtube ikM5Eb6wHX0 490 344] The Genius of Valhalla, The Life of Reginald Goodall by John 00000178-6a23-ddab-a97a-6a3b59d60000 Lucas (Boydell PRess) This is a reprint of a 1993 biography called Reggie: The Life of Reginald Goodall. I write about Goodall elsewhere on this blog. My buddy, the late soprano Rita Hunter had the triumphs of her career as his Brunhilde in the Ring in London and they fell out, one swearing to having nothing ever again to do with the other. This seemed to be a pattern. Goodall (1902-1990) was born in England and raised in Canada and Springfield Massachusetts. He conducted the first performances of Britten's Peter Grimes and The Rape of Lucretia. The 'Valhalla' of Mr. Lucas's title represents less Wagner deities than the attic lavatory in the Royal Opera House where Goodall meticulously rehearsed his singers. He had rather lowly positions at Covent Garden for many years. His performances of the Ring with the Sadler's Wells Opera (now the English National Opera) in the mid 1970s made Goodall world famous. This production was issued on CD as were later performances of The Mastersingers, Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal. Goodall was magnificent at the architecture of Wagner, spinning out the long, unbroken lines at slow tempi that threatened to sag and disintegrate but never did.  Listening to a Goodall performance is like watching a treacherous high wire act-with Wagner's music at its most magnificent.  For all that, Goodall could be a nasty, moody man.  He admired Sir Oswald Mosley and was rumored to have embraced anti -semitism.  I'll bet it was difficult to be his friend,  much less an artist in his charge. But with other artists and conductors of the time, at least in Wagner, Goodall had many colleagues, but few peers. [youtube uhLQOi7PIK8 490 344] Franco Alfano: Transcending Turandot by Konrad Dryden (Scarecrow Press) Musicologist Dryden has already written biographies of Riccardo Zandonai 00000178-6a23-ddab-a97a-6a3b59d70000and Ruggero Leoncavallo. To these he adds a study of Italian composer Franco Alfano (1875-1954) Alfano gets a bad rap. He deserves a lot more acclaim than the grudging footnotes he earned for completing  Turandot after Puccini's death in 1924. Depending on who you ask,  Alfano was either begged or threatened to complete Turandot, after which re received lttle praise. It was further claimed he was Puccini's pupil when in fact Alfano was a fifty year old man and well regarded composer in his own right.  His career never really recovered fromTurnadot. European audiences did embrace his operas Cyrano de Bergerac (a recent vehicle for Placido Domingo) and Resurrection, based on Tolstoy's novel which became a late career triumph for Mary Garden and an early outing for the astonishing Magda Olivero. As he did with Leoncavallo and Zandonai, two other fine composers whose achievements were eaten up by the huge successes of Puccini, Konrad Dryden gives Alfano new stature and new respect. [youtube FayZ63koKJ8 490 344]