Archive for 2007

Sviatoslav Richter: The 1958 Sofia Recital

December 14th, 2007

C. Way/ © 2007

Sviatoslav Richter Sofia Recital

    Still trying to understand why everyone creams giant buckets over Richter.
    Cupfuls maybe. Possibly mugfuls. But not buckets.
    I’ve owned the 1958 Sofia Recital on disc for a few years. The Mussorgsky is rightfully praised — the “Great Gates” is epic and always tremendously moving. The Liszt is sublime: athletic and deft and heroic.
    But his version of Chopin’s Etude in E approaches awful. True, there’s the requisite stately tenderness. And in terms of rubato, pacing, much of it succeeds. But the middle section, where *measured* hunger & ardor are called for — just as in the middle passages of many of the composer’s Nocturnes — Richter instead delivers a spastic and methed-up blitz that’s practically ridiculous. It’s as if he couldn’t wait to get to the four Liszt pieces immediately after in the programme.
    (I suddenly feel a little silly and petty carping on the flaws of a legend like this. I mean christ, the guy achieved a level of intimacy and virtuosity with his instrument that most of us can’t even dream of, let alone come close to even if we spent the next 100 seasons toiling in study.
    But this is the internet after all. Where any silly & petty humbug like me can armchair-quarterback about subjects minute & profound to everyone (& no one’s) irritation. So back to the carp.)
    I love Richter’s strength, intellect and passion, but there are lots of moments across his recorded works where I feel like his emotional radar is just flat-out off. In the case of the Etude in E, it can lead to bewildering results (based on this, I’d hate to hear him in the Ballades).
    Now if we’re talking loose & impetuous interpretations of Chopin, I much prefer an Argerich, or a Cortot — pianists who take emotional risks in their interpretations but who would never — and physically, perhaps, *could* never — pummel and throttle a score like Richter does in the Etude in E.

[posted by: C Way at 9:09 PM]

[file under: Music]
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Porters & Midwives: ‘Away From Her’ Movie Review

December 10th, 2007

C. Way/ © 2007

Julie Christie - Away From Her

“Away From Her” is set in Canada & based on an Alice Munro short story called “The Bear Came Over the Mountain.” A woman, Fiona, (Julie Christie, pictured, radiant) starts exhibiting signs of Alzheimer’s; she & her husband, Grant, cope with what follows.

The movie, like Munro’s best stories, is so honest and virtuosic in its exploration of human relations that it takes the wind out of you, like a slap to the chest. This is Munro territory — the complex & occasionally frightening range of emotions that live between people, never sentimentalized — and this movie maps that tract with the precision of detectives combing forests for boot prints.

The film does so many things well. For instance, the jagged sunken hull of the husband’s old infidelities hauled up and out of the deep by Fiona, glaring, rusted & clear, even while her other memories and faculties drift down deeper into murk. You’re never quite sure — as her condition worsens and she’s committed to a nursing home — how much of her discomfort around his visits is due to the pain of being reminded of her lost memory or the instinctive gut-reminder (divorced now from facts, made more primal for it) of pure pain this man, dimly remembered, caused her.

And then there’s the relationship she creates with a male patient, Aubrey, wheelchair bound and grumpy, not long after being committed. It’s a supporting & loving bond we watch develop, one whose intimacies the husband is forced to endure — and gradually accept and even encourage — with each of his bouquet-laden visits. As viewers we feel the tug of conflicting emotion, loyalties. First the husband, faithful & steadfast now but hurtful in the past. Then the wife, transferring affection to a new partner now that her old one belongs to another reality. No absolutes, no right or wrong, just the past and the present heaped together indissolubly and nothing to do but mortar new hearthstones atop the earth’s upheaval.

This is a rare kind of emotional portraiture so vivid & unsparing it hurts to keep your eyes on it for too long. And it only gets more blinding when Aubrey’s wife and Grant become involved — for reasons that are as much altruistic as they are emotionally & physically practical.

But for now I want to talk about Fiona. About Julie. About where she goes & what she leaves behind.

 (Read More . . .)

[posted by: C Way at 2:22 AM]

[file under: ABOUT ART]

Billie Holiday Video – ‘Fine and Mellow’ (1957 live recording)

December 9th, 2007

1957 clip of Billie Holiday singing with a band.

There are moments — at 2:55; at 3:53 — where the language of mouth, brow and eye rival and sometimes sing down anything that could come from throats or be blown through brass.

Where so much is untranslatably sung through skin — her lip half-sucked, her head jauntily cocked a half second before a dark note sounds.

Where her face, her dark liquid eyes seem barely able to boundary whole countries of emotion; barely able to fence sharded feelings jostling against each other behind and ahead of the beat.

Where lip-bites & pursings, languid head-shakes, coy half-smiles shuffle spectra of emotion — loss, joy, hunger, demureness, wistfulness, regret, swagger, nerve — everything & everything; Where skin, contour, wrinkle, tissue and muscle are all barely able to keep up with what the heart has to say –

& so over and over I watch her, the sound off, & she’s so vividly there it hurts to watch, clips the breath while you wait for hers to pour.

[posted by: C Way at 9:27 PM]

[file under: ABOUT ART ||| Music]

Seizure: Vibrato

December 1st, 2007

Vibrato, so noticeably absent in the compositions of the Renaissance & Baroque, in throbbing abundance centuries later.

Vibrato, the wobble, the waver, the uncertain spasm, the sine wave.

Vibrato was always there, waiting like a snake in the boughs; early composers just denied it and stretched the spasm to a straight line.

Sine wave, sin wave. The heady decadence of the throb and pulse.

Vibrato. As true as it can be, as beautiful as it can be in its honest correspondence to inner states of tumult and passion, it can also be just as false, full of handwringing and desperate jerking.

I cannot sing without vibrato. When I do I get restless, even in the space of a bar. I long to, maybe for the same reasons the early composers wrote without vibrato. Not to lie but to quiet the anxious waver within; as defense against that succulent spasm.

[posted by: C Way at 1:57 PM]

[file under: Music ||| non-fiction & essays]

‘Never Be Held’ – from Cormac McCarthy, ‘The Crossing’

November 21st, 2007

“He squatted over the wolf and touched her fur. He touched the cold and perfect teeth. The eye turned to the fire gave back no light and he closed it with his thumb and sat by her and put his hand upon her bloodied forehead and closed his own eyes that he could see her running in the starlight where the grass was wet and the sun’s coming as yet had not undone the rich matrix of creatures passed in the night before her. Deer and hare and dove and groundvole all richly empaneled on the air for her delight, all nations of the possible world ordained by God of which she was one among and not separate from. Where she ran the cries of the coyotes clapped shut as if a door had closed upon them and all was fear and marvel. He took up her stiff head out of the leaves and held it or he reached to hold what cannot be held, what already ran among the mountains at once terrible and of a great beauty, like flowers that feed on flesh. What blood and bone are made of but can themselves not make on any altar nor by any wound of war. What we may well believe has power to cut and shape and hollow out the dark form of the world surely if wind can, if rain can. But which cannot be held never be held and is no flower but is swift and a huntress and the wind itself is in terror of it and the world cannot lose it.”

-Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing


A dead wolf is held by the boy who loved it.

This is worth our love. All that is fierce and snapping and hungry and wild in the world, which even wind shies from. Nothing that can be tamed, disneyfied and slapped on hallmark cards, nothing that can be atrophied and enervated by a desire to see nature harmless, easy and meek. Cannot be held, never be held.

McCarthy suggests the wolfspirit lives on in the world even as the creatures themselves are killed. That the world not only must not but cannot be bereft of wolf, that there is something in the skeleton, in the pattern of the world that has wolf burned into it, in the DNA of it, programmed and scripted. So that wolf would come out as air, stream, wind, fire, in the eyes of future beings and creatures to come.

I don’t know about that. I think the world could indeed lose the wolf, and will. But it must not, that I agree with. All the wild mad-flower sprinting rich-blooded marrow-loving among us must not be lost. All creatures which live with a snarled starving yelp in their throats must not be lost or the world is a flat and quiet and forsaken place fit only for sleeping.

[posted by: C Way at 12:21 AM]

[file under: ART OF THE DAY]