This week: Italian Futurism at the Guggenheim, Patrick Leigh Fermor's final book, and Hilton Kramer on the man behind MOMA.
Fiction: The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan: Set in a post-recession Irish village, this debut novel focuses on Bobby Mahon, a foreman who, along with his coworkers, had his pension fund drained by his boss. As the village tries to cope with its economic woes, Mahon struggles to maintain his image as an honorable figure in the community while battling rumors of infidelity. The winner of the Guardian First Book Award and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Ryan’s debut proves that he is a rising literary talent to watch.
Nonfiction: The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos by Patrick Leigh Fermor: Patrick Leigh Fermor walked across Europe when he was only eighteen, starting in Holland and ending in Constantinople. A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water told the story of that journey. Now, The Broken Road recounts the final leg of Fermor’s famous trip, following him from Bulgaria and Romania to the cost of the Black Sea and finally on to Greece. Fermor fans should also look for a piece on his time in Crete in the forthcoming issue of The New Criterion.
Poetry: Monday Night Poetry: David Lehman + Mary Jo Salter at KGB Bar: Poets and New Criterion contributors David Lehman and Mary Jo Salter will read at KGB Bar in New York tonight. Admission is free and the reading starts at 7:30pm. More information about the event can be found on the venue’s website, and selections of the poets’ work can be found in our archives here and here.
Art: “Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe” at the Guggenheim, New York (February 21–September 1, 2014): Featuring over 300 works in a variety of media— painting, sculpture, architecture, design, ceramics, fashion, film, photography, advertising, free-form poetry, publications, music, theater, and performance—this is the first comprehensive show on Italian Futurism to be mounted in the United States, and offers rare examples of Futurism through the war years. Arranged chronologically, the exhibition tracks the movement from its inception in F. T. Marinetti’s 1909 Futurist manifesto to its downfall at the end of World War II. Look for a full review by Karen Wilkin in a forthcoming issue of The New Criterion.
Music: Vienna: City of Dreams at Carnegie Hall: As part of "Vienna: City of Dreams," a city-wide festival in partnership with MoMA, the Morgan Library, the New York Public Library, the Juilliard School, and many others, Carnegie Hall will present the Vienna Philharmonic in four concerts this week, all led by Franz Welser-Möst. Wednesday will be an all-instrumental program including Mozart's Symphony no. 28 and Bruckner's Symphony no. 6. On Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday they will present Beethoven's 9th, and concert performances of Berg's Wozzeck and Richard Strauss's Salome with singers from the Vienna Saatsoper.
Other: Philip Schultz at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, in conjunction with 92-Y (February 26): On Wednesday, the Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Philip Schultz will discuss his latest book, The Wherewithal, the story of a draft-dodger who is translating his mother’s diaries from her time in German-occupied Poland.
From the archive: The man who created MOMA by Hilton Kramer, December 2001: How Alfred H. Barr Jr. and the institution he founded forever shaped the cultural world.
From our latest issue: William Morris, maker by Richard Tillinghast: On William Morris, crafter of wallpaper, weaver, stained-glass maker, printer, poet, composer . . .
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If you like your President, you can keep him. Period. But what if you don’t? Stephen Blackwood, the President of the fledging Ralston College in Savannah, Georgia, has a sad, infuriating piece about his mother’s experience with Obamacare this morning in The Wall Street Journal. We’ve all heard stories—but not as frequently as we ought [...]
The other day, I was reading Roger Kimball on “that awful word ‘social’”—the word that will corrupt almost any word it is put in front of. Hayek once compiled a list. Roger wrote about it in a 2007 essay, here.
At the same time I was reading Roger’s recent column, I was swimming in the life of Mussolini (for reasons I could explain). You will remember that the government Hitler set him up with, at Salò, was called “la Repubblica Sociale Italiana”—the Italian Social Republic. This is the kind of thing that makes the blood of some of us run cold when we see or hear the word “social.”
There are innocent uses, of course: “Would you like to go to the ice-cream social?” (Yes, most definitely.) Then there are the others.
You may also recall that Mussolini once edited a paper called “Avanti!” “Forward!” Socialist papers have long been called “Forward,” with or without that charming exclamation point. In due course, Mussolini founded another paper, “Il Popolo d’Italia”—“The People of Italy.” “People” is another word that can make the blood run cold. It depends on context. Think of a “people’s republic” (i.e., an anti-people republic).
My blood was cold, and hot, when President Obama and the Democrats chose as their slogan in the last election “Forward.” This can be a relatively benign slogan, or urging, or concept—“Forward” is Wisconsin’s state motto. (That beautiful, cheesy state has a long and fairly mild tradition of socialism.) But, in 2012, as the Democrats campaigned, I kept asking, “‘Forward’ unto what? Unto the ‘fundamental transformation of America’ promised in the last election? What will that look like?”
Many people know, and quote, William F. Buckley’s mission statement for National Review: The magazine “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” Much as this statement is quoted, I’m not sure it is well understood. The meaning, I believe, is that some people think of history as an inevitable march toward socialism, or at least greater collectivism and bigger government; other people, therefore, are called on to stop it, or at least to slow it.
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Jonas Kaufmann, the starry German tenor, gave a recital in Carnegie Hall on Thursday night. He was accompanied by Helmut Deutsch, the veteran Austrian pianist. Deutsch has accompanied anyone and everyone—including the late Hermann Prey, for twelve years.
Kaufmann has been singing the title role of Massenet’s Werther at the Metropolitan Opera. And here he was, giving a recital. A tenor recital is not a common event. Years ago, John Pfeiffer wrote the following, in liner notes for a recital recording of Jussi Bjoerling: “The opera tenor who ventures onto the recital stage inevitably recalls Dr. Samuel Johnson’s observation about lady preachers: ‘Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.’”
The first half of Kaufmann’s recital was devoted to Schumann, beginning with songs from Op. 35. Kaufmann’s voice was as it usually is: pleasant, smooth, and also contained or muffled. One longs to bring it forward, or at least I did. In these initial songs, he was not even, throughout his range: He had different voices, below the break and above. (Both were muffled.)
Deutsch showed himself to be a real pro. One of his qualities is unafraidness: He plays straightforwardly, without fear or fussiness. The lid of the piano was way up.
In Schumann’s great song "Stille Tränen,” Kaufmann suffered badly. His singing was very rough, and he had little voice. He did some false operatic clutching at high notes. I was wondering how he would get through the evening. He had at least an hour of singing to go. Deutsch, surprisingly, committed some ugly trills.
Then they did a great Schumann song-cycle, Dichterliebe. Kaufmann was better in it than I had feared. He held on to himself. His middle voice was fine, but he had no low notes whatsoever—too bad for “Ich grolle nicht,” among other songs—and he continued to clutch at high notes.
Most important, he did not establish real authority or cast a spell. Ideally, a listener forgets time and space, when listening to this cycle. He is simply in the world of the songs. This did not happen, in my judgment.
Let me mention a particular line: “Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen.” That’s how one song begins: “On a radiant summer morning.” The line, sung, should sound like such a morning. On this evening, it was merely ordinary.
The piano has much to do with this cycle, for Schumann was a pianist, and a very good composer for the piano. Deutsch held up his end. His playing was totally no-nonsense, but not unfeeling. The accompaniment in “Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen,” a song about music, was almost Spanish.
Instead of getting worse, Kaufmann got better as the cycle wore on, and at the end they cheered for him as for Wunderlich or Fischer-Dieskau.
At least once before, I have written about the Cult of Kaufmann. He is a fine singer, and I have heard him sing superbly, but I don’t quite understand his celebrity. The PR machine grinds for him daily. Sometimes, I think there is some secret committee that decides who will be famous—who will have a big career—and who will not.
I used to think of music as a meritocracy. I still do, to a degree. But, if you want pure merit, turn to sports—to individual sports, in particular. There’s nothing a PR machine can do about a track time or a score on a golf course.
To begin the second half, Kaufmann sang the Wesendonck Lieder of Wagner—songs for “the female voice,” as the composer specified. But men have sung them, including Melchior. And if Eileen Farrell had a right to sing the blues, Jonas Kaufmann certainly has a right to sing the Wesendonck Lieder.
He sang them nicely. “Schmerzen” was particularly good. I will lodge a complaint, however: Kaufmann’s piano, in these songs and other songs, was often not a real piano. It was fake. Lots of singers hood the voice and sing hoarsely, but that is not a piano. In a real piano, the voice maintains its body, but at a lower volume.
Anyway, Pavarotti faked and hooded and hoarsed, too, so Kaufmann is in good company.
For the final set on the program, he switched to a different language—to Italian, for Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnets. And here, the German tenor did some of his best singing of the night: some of his most beautiful, most assured, and most musical.
The audience erupted into applause, and ladies handed the singer bouquet after bouquet. He rewarded them with a “second recital,” six encores. Most of them were Strauss (Richard, not one of the Viennese family). Kaufmann was singing much better at 9:45 and 10 than he had been at 8 and 8:15—which is the right direction.
One of the encores was “Heimliche Aufforderung,” Strauss’s marvelous rhapsody. Its final lines are soaring, thrilling: “O komm, du wunderbare, ersehnte Nacht!” They should be horizontal and rapturous. Imagine them declaimed—vertical, square. That’s how Kaufmann sang them.
He ended with an operetta chestnut, the Lehár number we know in English as “Girls Are Made to Kiss and Love.” Kaufmann threw in some English words, as well as the German. He was not exactly Tauberesque, but he was charming enough.
I have been hard on Kaufmann, in part because he is one of the starriest singers in the world. He commands top dollar and full houses. And he is a commendable singer—sometimes an excellent singer—even if I don’t quite see, or hear, what all the fuss is about.
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by James Bowman
One problem with being the proud possessor, as so many people are these days, of a change-the-world ideology of your very own, is that you come to think of the world as having already been changed in accordance with your ideology’s specifications — which can lead to further problems. Charles Krauthammer called attention to the phenomenon in yesterday’s Washington Post when he ridiculed the claim of the President of the United States that what we are now supposed to call "climate change" is "settled science" and therefore no longer open to question or doubt by anyone who doesn’t want to get on the wrong side of science. "There is nothing more anti- scientific," wrote Dr. Krauthammer, himself a trained physician, "than the very idea that science is settled, static, impervious to challenge."
Quite so. He was particularly, and rightly, exercised by the use of the term "denier" to describe those who stand outside the consensus, pointing out the offensiveness of using a term that comes from Holocaust denial and so lumps climate-change skeptics in with those whom most people regard as intellectually the lowest of the low. By coincidence, in the same day’s Independent of London, the paper’s grammar expert, Guy Keleny, wrote to correct one of the paper’s columnists who had mistakenly cited the 2004 tsunami as evidence of climate change, saying that such carelessness could "help climate change deniers and contrarians." So the man whose job it is to spot solecisms apparently doesn’t recognize the particularly egregious one of treating a computer model of projected future events, however persuasive, as being the same as a fact — that is, a thing that, like the Holocaust, has already and indisputably happened.
A similar kind of confusion sometimes happens even with the feminist ideology — who’d have thought it, right? — some of whose promoters occasionally forget that their fantasy of a perfect, unisex world in which "gender," as in Facebook, is a matter not of fact but of personal choice is already here and not a wishful projection. I got a chuckle the other day out of the faux puzzlement of Dr. Brooke Magnanti, the sex columnist of the Daily Telegraph and a self-described "ex-sex worker" who "has slept with more than 100 men" and whose column asked: "What's your ‘sex number’? Why are women still lying to men about it?" Unless her career was remarkably short, a sex worker who claims only to have slept with "more than 100 men" — though of course nearly 20,000 (the number of women the late Wilt Chamberlain once claimed to have slept with) is more than 100 — must have a pretty good idea why women are still lying to men about their "sex number." But maybe she just forgot for the moment that the sexual utopia from which double-standards have been forever banished has not arrived yet.
The same kind of forgetfulness, I think, must plague those progressives who routinely claim a cozy relationship with "history," on whose "right side" they invariably imagine themselves to be. The other day Maureen Dowd used "history" as a stick with which to beat Presidents Johnson and George W. Bush, both of whom (or their apologists) she accused of trying to "rewrite" history. It was as if it had never occurred to her — as, indeed, it probably never has — that her confidence in her own right to write history in the first place, and in its definitive version too, could ever be questioned. Such people use "history," as the current President uses "science": as a kind of personal fiefdom, their mastery of which renders them immune to error or criticism. They should have a look at another piece in the Telegraph this morning in which a progressive feminist and civil libertarian now regrets her former reluctance to criticize or expose pedophiles because they too, as it seemed back in the seventies, must be on the right — that is, the liberationist — side of history.
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Our Edmund Burke Award Gala is fast approaching! On April 23, The New Criterion will honor Professor Donald Kagan as the recipient of the second Edmund Burke Award for Service to Culture and Society at a black-tie dinner at an exclusive club in New York City. Space is limited, so reserve your ticket here.
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Jonas Kaufmann and Sophie Koch in Werther at the Metropolitan Opera; photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
It was not his favorite work by any means, but Goethe once remarked of his novella The Sorrows of Young Werther that "it would be a bad thing if, once in his life, everyone did not have a period in which he felt that Werther had been written exclusively for him." Jules Massenet was certainly moved by the story, turning it into one of the most moving and expressive operas to come out of the French tradition. For all its power, the piece is just on the fringe of the core operatic repertoire, and while Richard Eyre's new production comes up short, to hear Massenet's score again when the opera opened at the Met on Tuesday was a gift:
Read my full review at The New York Classical Review.
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by James Bowman
In the forthcoming number of The New Criterion, I return to my theme in the magazine of last December and October of 2012, when I discussed the growing penchant in our political culture for each side to make frivolous, reckless and often quite unfounded accusations of bad faith against the other. This is true on both sides of the political divide, but more ingrained, perhaps, on the left after eight years of its remarkable fulminations against the last Bush administration. Now, in a mailing I have received from The Nation magazine, I see that such gratuitous belligerence — and I am old enough to remember when the question, "Are you calling me a liar?" was invariably the prelude either to a retraction or to a fist-fight — appears to have become part of what nowadays we call the left-wing "brand."
The envelope is decorated with the motto: "Reading Between the Lies Since 1865" and features photos of Donald Trump, Bill O’Reilly, Paul Ryan, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, all of whom have been given long, Pinocchio- style noses. The accompanying letter, from Katrina vanden Heuvel, the magazine’s editor and publisher, opens with four "Facts" said to be "OUTRAGEOUS!" [sic] — only one of which is about one of the alleged liars on the envelope and none of which constitutes a lie, in the ordinary acceptance of the term. Paul Ryan is described as "duplicitous," but where one might have expected to see an example of his duplicity there is only this: he "has been relentlessly calling for the repeal of Obamacare" while, at the same time, "he’s also been petitioning for Affordable Care Act funds for health clinics in his district." You might, with a bit of a stretch, call that hypocritical, but duplicitous? In the old days, you’d have had to say that Ms vanden Heuvel was trying to pick a fight.
That can’t be the case here, however, as she is obviously not very serious about her outrage. Messrs. Trump and O’Reilly and Ms Coulter are not mentioned at all in the letter, nor is any example given of their "lies." Mr Limbaugh gets a separate insert on the front of which he is quoted as saying, "I wouldn’t recommend The Nation. . ." When you open it up you find the rest of the quotation: ". . . that’ll just make you mad." Underneath there appear the words of a few left-wing heroes — Gore Vidal, Robert Redford, Gloria Steinem, Paul Newman — who do [or did] recommend the magazine, together with a rather limp dismissal of El Rushbo: "Well, you know where Rush is coming from." If they couldn’t find a lie, couldn’t they at least have found something more OUTRAGEOUS than a mere disrecommendation to show us where Rush is coming from?
Ms vandenHeuvel must suppose she can pretty much take it for granted that potential subscribers to The Nation already believe, or are only too ready to believe, in the routinely iterated falsehoods of those with whom they disagree. Like Gloria Steinem in the quotation on the insert, they already know that The Nation is "definitely on the side of the good guys. . . and they’re not always guys." This assumption makes Rush and the others bad guys by definition. What need for any further demonstration of their guilt? Perhaps we have all come, to some extent, to identify the opposition to our views not through ideological difference but through the assumption of moral perfidy, but the self-described progressives seem to have taken this assumption to a new level. We can no longer expect to see politics as being about good faith differences between two rival political philosophies; now it must be about the difference between good and evil.
At any rate, The Nation’s subscribers presumably do see the world in this way, or its editor would not address them so. They have grown used to the many examples of similar rhetorical recklessness that pass unnoticed by the media. All the same, the Pinocchio-noses suggest that there is some question about what pollsters call the "intensity" of their belief in conservative bad faith. As in Glenn Kessler’s "Fact Checker" column in The Washington Post, the wooden boy from Carlo Collodi’s children’s story makes the accusation, once the most serious you could make about someone, seem not that big a deal anymore — which is odd given the venom with which it is hurled at other times. I think the idea must be to advertise that "we’re not talking to these people, but you can’t blame us for that, since nothing they say is to be trusted anyway."
It may not be altogether a coincidence that this half-in-jest attempt to brand the left as the party of presumptive truth-tellers, standing firm against the party of established liars, is being undertaken just at the moment when a particularly public contradiction by one of their own heroes — "if you like your policy, you can keep it" — is being found by many very difficult to distinguish from a lie. But it must go back at least to the book that its author, TV funnyman Al Franken, called Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them in 2003. That was also meant to be seen as a joke, except where it wasn’t. Presumably Ms vanden Heuvel, like Paul Krugman and others who make promiscuous charges of mendacity without any obvious joking about them, can still rely on the cultural consensus, left over from the days before Mr Franken was a politician himself, by which any politician can be branded a liar without anyone on either side’s having to bother with taking the charge, or anything else, too seriously. That’s postmodern politics for you.
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This week: Loren Munk paints art-history, a new biography of E. E. Cummings, and Werther comes to the Met.
Fiction: Novels and Stories of the 1940s & 50s and Novels and Stories of the 1960s by Bernard Malamud: Saul Bellow called Bernard Malamud “a mythmaker, a fabulist, a writer of exquisite parables” and Flannery O’Connor said he was “a short-story writer who is better than any of them, including myself.” The Library of America is now releasing the second of its three-volume collection of Malamud’s work. These volumes bring together thirty-five of his stories and five of his novels: The Natural, The Assistant, A New Life, The Fixer, and Pictures of Fidelman: An Exhibition.
Nonfiction: The Parthenon Enigma by Joan Breton Connelly: Built in the fifth century B.C. the Parthenon is an ubiquitous symbol of western culture. But what we truly know about the building is still fairly limited. Joan Breton Connelly hopes to remedy this with her new book that traces the Parthenon’s history from its location—geographical, historical, and cultural—to it’s perceptions in modern society. Along the way she develops new and daring ideas about the building, most notably her controversial theory about the Parthenon’s frieze. Look for a review in the forthcoming issue of The New Criterion.
Poetry: E. E. Cummings: A Life by Susan Cheever: Malcolm Cowley called him “a master.” Edmund Wilson called him “hideous.” E. E. Cummings was nothing if not contentious. This new biography of one of America’s most preeminent poets looks at the importance of Cumming’s upbringing in New England, his transformation during his years at Harvard, and his flight from Cambridge to the front lines of World War I and the creative locus of Greenwich Village.
Art: “Loren Munk: You are Here” at Freight + Volume, New York (February 13–March 15, 2014): Loren Munk’s work focuses on rewriting art- and artists’-history. Concerned that forces outside the arts community have defined art’s history—and by extension, its value—Munk has taken it upon himself to produce a fuller, truer picture of that realm. His painted maps, diagrams, and flowcharts illustrate the interconnected relationships in the art world, tracking everything from different artists’ influences to the implications of political events for art.
Music: Werther at The Metropolitan Opera (Tuesday & Saturday): On Tuesday, the Met opens its new production of Werther, Jules Massenet's greatest opera, directed by Richard Eyre. Based on Goethe's epistolary novella, Massenet's Werther fleshes out the character of Charlotte into a major dramatic force, giving her some of the most memorable musical moments in a dark and riveting score. Jonas Kaufmann, perhaps the greatest tenor of his generation, will sing the title role opposite Sophie Koch in her debut as Charlotte, reuniting the pair after critically acclaimed performances of the same roles at the Opéra-Comique in Paris. The sparkling Lisette Oropesa will sing Charlotte's younger sister Sophie, with Alain Altinoglu conducting
Other: Film Comment Selects 2014 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center (February 17–27, 2014): Film Comment, the arts and culture magazine published by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, is hosting their fourteenth series of international cinema. This collection of twenty-two films includes seventeen New York premieres and ranges from seldom seen revivals to serious dramas to noir thrillers. Especially noteworthy is Betrayal, the rarely screened 1983 adaptation of Harold Pinter’s play by the same name (which recently was staged on Broadway and covered in the latest New Criterion).
From the archive: How did Dostoevsky know? by Gary Saul Morson, May 1999: On totalitarianism, evil, and intellectuals
From our latest issue: Lane Cooper’s lessons by Michael Dirda: Lane Cooper's insight into literature is both powerful and enduring
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Christian Zacharias; photo by Marc Vanappelghem
Christian Zacharias, the German pianist, gave a recital in Alice Tully Hall on Thursday night. (He is also a conductor, but he was engaged in his primary occupation on Thursday night.) Zacharias had a strange program—or rather, a program in a strange order: an earlyish Beethoven sonata; Schubert’s Moments musicaux; Schumann’s Kreisleriana; then another earlyish Beethoven sonata.
He came out in his usual manner—a fast mince. He has one of the most distinctive and whimsical stage manners in music. He wore the austere black pajamas that I have never seen him out of. Sitting at the keyboard, he can seem monk-like. You might suppose his music-making to be strict. Actually, it can be quite loose.
That first Beethoven sonata was the one in A flat, Op. 26—the sonata that begins with the theme and variations, and has a funeral march for a slow movement. Generally speaking, Zacharias was his usual good self. He was this way in the sonata, and in subsequent pieces. But I’m going to complain about him for several paragraphs.
In that first sonata, Zacharias had some technical stumbles, and some awkward phrasing. (Sometimes these two things were linked.) To begin the funeral march, he did what lots of lazy pianists do: He socked the first note, to get himself started, though that first note should not have an accent, much less a sock.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about Lang Lang, because he played a recital in Carnegie Hall recently, and I’ve been addressing the question, “Why does this pianist generate so much animosity and resentment?” Thursday night, I burned a little. I thought, “The brainless hot dog [Lang Lang] would never have socked that first note—his musicality would not permit it. But the monkish German master [Zacharias] did. The music world is screwed up in its prejudices.”
Zacharias began the rondo while the final chord of the funeral march was still sounding. This blend was interesting, if a little impure. In my view, there are two ways to play this (wonderful) rondo. It can be fast and exciting. Or it can be slower, charming, allegretto, Schubertian. Zacharias chose a middle path that I found unsatisfying.
Schubert’s Moments musicaux are disarming and simple. They are hard to play, because the gift of simplicity is rare. (“’Tis the gift to be simple” goes the old Shaker song, which Copland exploited so successfully.) Zacharias had the basic temperament for these pieces. But the famous Moment musical No. 2 in A flat could have been much holier. At least he wasn’t timid in it, however.
Almost always, Zacharias “obeys the line”—follows the musical line, smoothly. German though he is, he is not really a Germanic pianist: a pianist in the tradition of Schnabel, Kempff, Serkin, and Brendel. There are no lumps in his porridge. But there were some lumps—some Brendelesque lumps—in his Moments, and those lumps were not so musicaux.
Kreisleriana was not a success, in my judgment. It was larded with rubato, hesitation, and affectation. Constant hesitations were wearying to listen to. One longed—I longed—for a confident, straightforward phrase. The impish G-minor parts weren’t nearly impish or biting enough. Bravura sections should have had more bravura. In all, this reading of Kreisleriana was muddled and soupy. It was sloppily judged Romanticism. The pianist needed a dose of Horowitzian clarity.
Had enough of my complaining? The main reason I’m so hard on Zacharias is that I admire him so much. I have very high standards for him—his own standards, I think. And when he isn’t perfect, I’m dissatisfied. Which is unfair, of course.
Peter Dobereiner, the late British golf writer, loved Seve Ballesteros. And he wrote critically—sometimes snipingly—about him. One day, the great Spanish champion accosted him: “Your problem is that you expect me to win all the time.” Dobereiner denied that this was so. He did say, as I recall, that he expected Ballesteros to try his hardest.
For all my complaining, Zacharias did some really beautiful and intelligent playing. I have never heard him play so beautifully—simply as a matter of sound, or sounds. He made one beautiful sound after another. One reason may have been the piano. Another may have been the hall. One reason, surely, was him.
The second Beethoven sonata, which concluded the printed program, was the one in G major, Op. 14, No. 2. It was immediately clarifying, sensible, wiping away the muddle of the Schumann. The Beethoven was pretty much perfect—up to Zacharias’s standards. It was sculpted the way Beethoven wants, and expressed the feelings that he intends.
There was one encore, and it was Scarlatti, as I expected. It was a sonata in G, which I also should have expected: Zacharias played a Scarlatti sonata in the same key as the piece with which he ended the printed program. If he had ended with the “Tempest” Sonata, say, he would have followed with a Scarlatti sonata in D minor, I bet.
His Scarlatti sonata was pretty much perfect. He has this in common with the late Seve: When he plays his best, he is close to unbeatable.
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( AHR-mah wih-ROOM-kweh)
In the Aeneid, the Roman poet Virgil sang of "arms and a man" (Arma virumque cano). Month in and month out, The New Criterion expounds with great clarity and wit on the art, culture, and political controversies of our times. With postings of reviews, essays, links, recs, and news, Armavirumque seeks to continue this mission in accordance with the timetable of the digital age.
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March 11, 2014
Friends and Young Friends Event: Book Launch Party with Roger Scruton
March 25, 2014
Friends and Young Friends Event: A conference on "Preserving an Open Society in a Perilous World"
April 01, 2014
Friends and Young Friends Event: Piano Recital with Simone DinnersteinMore events >