Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best Recordings of the Year 2009 edition

Traditionally, one of the year's last posts on Puggingham Palace is a "baker's dozen" list of the best recordings of the year, in my humble opinion of course. Since it is my game, I set some loose rules; the recordings are mostly new releases for the past year but can also be older recordings that I heard for the first time or dug out of my collection for the first time in a long time.

Maybe it was a slow year for recordings, poor economy and all, or maybe I have been a bit too critical, but I had difficulty getting a baker's dozen recordings for this year, so I stopped at 10. New releases did seem to be few and far between and featured more standard repertoire; recordings of which I have far too many. Nonetheless, I have compiled a list of some recordings that stood out in my mind for 2009. In no particular order:

1) Alkan, Liszt Piano works Raymond Lewenthal piano Elan Recordings 82276.

Lewenthal was destined for greatness, but a brutal attack left him physically and mentally scarred for years. Thus recordings from this early champion of Alkan and Liszt are rare. This is a release from 2003 of a legendary RCA recording long out of print. Remarkable pianism; listen to the clear, sharp staccato chords in the Alkan Etudes for example. This recording was introduced to me this year by Lance G. Hill, the host of a wonderful program on WPEL FM radio broadcast each Saturday night. More on this recording and Lance's broadcast here: Lewenthal Plays Liszt and Alkan.

2) Alfredo Cassella Symphony # 3, "Italia" West German Radio SO Cologne, Alun Francis CPO 777265

A major early 20th century symphony in its first appearance on CD. Written in 1939 on a commission from the Chicago Symphony, the symphony was initially well received but slid into oblivion along with Casella, who had the misfortune of being a Fascist sympathizer.

3) Britten's Orchestra: Sinfonia da Requiem, Passacaglia and 4 Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. Kansas City Symphony,
Michael Stern Reference Recordings RR 120.

When most of the US major ensembles are no where to be seen, the Kansas City Symphony releases another fine recording. Audiophile sound, competitive performances (and the competition is very stiff) and reasonably priced for a high end recording. Grammophone and Classics Today have concurred that this is a fine release.

4) Beethoven "Triple Concerto" for Violin, Piano and Cello arranged for Piano Trio by
Carl Reinecke, Trio # 5 in D op 70/1 "Ghost". Arensky Trio Antes Edition 319202

Another older recording (2005) that I was introduced to this year. I happen to love Beethoven's sunny Triple Concerto even though some find it simplistic and facile. It sounds even better in an arrangement for piano trio, bringing out the wonderful inner voices and chamber like quality. Fine performance of the "Ghost" Trio is an added bonus.

5) Shostakovich Symphony # 11 Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Vasily Petrenko. Naxos 8572082

Auspicious start to a new Shostakovich cycle. This sprawling work was long considered bottom drawer Shostakovich. But with exciting and well turned performances like this one, the power and drama shine through. Unfortunately, Petrenko's second disc, consisting of the 5th and 9th, was a disappointment.

6) Shostakovich "The Nose" St Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre Orchesta and soloists , Valery Gergiev. Mariinsky # 501.

Long overdue new recording of Shostakovich's loony masterpiece based on a story by Gogol. Who could not love a work about a run away nose that begins with a huge sneeze?

7) Yuja Wang Piano, music of Ligeti, Scriabin, Liszt and Chopin. DGG 001253402

Yuja Wang is an audience favorite here in KC with two appearances with the Symphony and a solo recital. This young pianist has all the technique of her more famous colleague Lang Lang but also delves deeper into her music. An eclectic yet electric recorded recital debut.

8) Bernstein "Mass". Baltimore SO, Alsop, Conductor Jubilant Sykes Celebrant. Naxos 8559622-23

Bernstein's Mass, written in 1971 for the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, has been controversial even before its first performance. A bit dated, embarrassingly "hip"and crawling with every musical effect from rock, jazz, 12 tone to simple hymn, the piece seemed to be a one shot deal. But this recent recording, the best of the lot other than the original Bernstein led recording, has breathed some new life into the work. Many hate it but some now feel it is Bernstein's misunderstood masterpiece. Decide for yourself.

9) Franz Berwald Symphonies. Thomas Dausgaard Danish National Radio SO. Brilliant Classics 93699 2 discs.

Berwald's 4 sunny and attractive symphonies have suffered too long; Berwald only heard one in his life time (1796-1868). The 2nd and 3rd were premiered in the early 20th century and the 4th 10 years after his death. Recordings are not plentiful either. If you like Schumann, Dvorak or Grieg then Berwald is your cup of tea. This is a 2008 release of the well received Chandos recordings at 1/2 the price.

10) Mahler Symphony # 4 Ivan Fischer Budapest Festival Orchestra, Miah Persson Soprano. Channel Classics 26109

Well recorded, full of detail and a brisk, sparkling performance. Persson's solo is sweet and innocent without being cloying. Nicely done.

OK that is 10, can't think of 3 more. So HAPPY NEW YEAR! and happy listening from us at the Palace!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Frosty Landscapes

Although those in the south, deserts and west would disagree, the recent snow in Kansas City was not a cataclysmic event. Some here think so, regarding this snow as a major event in their lives. Thus I note that we are becoming a less hardy lot, not just us aging ones, but all of us. I hear people screaming "ooooh, it is still too bad for me to get out", "you went out in this???" and canceling events left and right. I remember the Illinois blizzard of 1967 and some later snows so deep that our neighbor's yellow car was just a spot in the sea of white. I was at the University of Illinois the year (probably 1976) when it snowed so much they closed the school for the first time in 30 some years. The 30in of snow overnight in Philadelphia, which was one of the few times I did not get out, lingers in my memory as something a bit out of the ordinary. As a kid, we never had school canceled and I always seemed to make it there.

The first "snow emergency" I witnessed in Jefferson City, Mo was a joke. Three inches... "what snow??", I mused.

Sure we got some snow over Christmas, and it was a lot for this area. The biggest problem was the incompetent and totally useless (get the point??) city government which could not handle a dripping sink let alone a snow event. My street has yet to see a plow, and in my ventures out, I have only seen one on the streets. But that is a story in itself.

A couple of years ago while still driving the Queen Mary, who was not at all a happy snowmobile, I was asked how I got up a snow covered hill without getting stuck. "Well", I sort of snottily replied, "I know what the numbers 1, 2 and 3 mean on my automatic transmission selector, and I also know when and how to use them." They had not a clue what I meant. Put the gear in second or 1st, let the torque pull you up, lower gears reduce wheel spin and so you have a good chance, with decent tires and 100lbs of snow melt in the back, of getting up the hill. Dunbar's front wheel drive has proved even more effective.

I guess it is all about your experience, training and outlook about things. If you are prepared for it, snow is a nuisance not a disaster. To me snow covers the ordinarily gray and ratty city with a blanket of sparkle and glow. The quiet of the snow in the early AM is magical, the drifts creating an undulating landscape where there is usually just a flat, weedy lot. It freshens and cleans the world, and makes us more hardy and tough.

And those bitching about it, stay inside or go to your beloved Florida or wherever and leave this wonderland to me.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

We Three Pugs: 2009

As she does every year (she is quite predictable) Her Majesty Puggles, Queen of All Pugs and Supreme Ruler of Alaska, etc, etc. wishes to share her favorite Christmas Carol with her loyal subjects:

We Three Pugs
(To the tune of "We Three Kings")

We three Pugs of Orient are,
Shuffling low, we cannot go far.
Bellies dragging,
Tails a wagging,
Hounding the Milk Bone jar.

O! O!

We love treats and we love hugs.
We love all 'cause we are pugs.
Licking, sneezing, snoring, wheezing,
Guide us to the warmest rugs.

We wish all a Merry Christmas from Puggingham Palace
D and P

Tradtionally our last post before Christmas, we'll be back after the weekend with our annual best classical music recordings list.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hallelujah II

Another Hallelujah!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Well, it IS Different

For the Sunday before Christmas, we offer this little snippet of a most widely performed work, the Hallelujah Chorus from "The Messiah" by Handel.

Kind of interesting in a Charles Ives way.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Auto Graveyard

It started in 2001:

Plymouth 1928-2001

Then almost unbelievable:

Oldsmobile 1897-2004

Who would have thought:

Saturn 1990-2009

and Pontiac 1926-2010

and now SAAB 1949-2010

Who's next? The bet is on Ford's medium line Mercury, but Ford keeps denying it.

GM hung on too long to its vaunted and once enormously successful strategy of a car for every pocket. You started with a Chevrolet and then moved up to Pontiac when you got to mid management. A bit older and needing more room for the family, Olds was your choice. Finally you reached the success of a Buick, or better yet hit the jackpot and got to a Cadillac.

But as car lines blurred with the advent of compacts and intermediates in the 60's the middle marques got squeezed. There was little to distinguish between them and the duplication in staff, advertising and engineering became costly.

So GM is down to Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac for cars, GMC trucks and Opel/Vauxhall in Europe.

Sad to see so many great names go, but as we have seen with the end of Plymouth and Oldsmobile, we hardly miss them. That seemed to be the problem.

At least Buick survives. Dunbar would not want to be an orphan.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

First Flight V

Damn she is beautiful in the air!

First Flight IV

She is ready to go.... taxiing to the runway. Any moment now, we sure hope!

Good Luck!

First Flight III

Engines started... woo hoo!

The Boeing webcast takes forever to load, it is likely being overwhelmed. Be patient

KIRO TV in Seattle has a live chopper cam.

First Flight II

BOE 1 just showed up on Flightaware!


The flight is scheduled 10:10AM PST. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner (N787BA) will take-off on runway 32L at Paine Field. The aircraft will be under the command of Boeing Chief Pilot Mike Carriker, and engineering pilot Randy Neville.

Weather looks horrible though.

First Flight

At the end of each of the Bullwinkle the moose episode, the narrator would implore us kiddies to wait for the next adventure: "Be with us next time for 'Bullwinkle's Folly' or 'As the Moose Turns', something like that.

In that spirit I title this post "First Flight" or "About Damn Time". Hopefully today, around 12noon CST, the long delayed Boeing 787 Dreamliner (or Nightmareliner as it has been called) will make its first flight, nearly 2 years off schedule.

Boeing plans on streaming the event online: Boeing's new Plane

The 787 is chock full of new technology, light weight composite construction and greater passenger room and nice big windows. A runaway seller, 840 some are scheduled to be built; alas some orders were canceled due to the delay and airline finances. We should have been able to fly on one by now, as deliveries were originally scheduled in 2008. Now, with first flight approaching, we can hope for 2010 deliveries.

I plan on watching the show at noon, provided Seattle's weather holds. Sadly right now, it looks pretty iffy and the whole show maybe postponed due to weather.

'Look Bullwinkle, a message in a bottle."
'Fan mail from some flounder?"
"No, this is what I really call a message"....

Stay tuned kiddies!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

In a Bad Mood

On this 13th of December, 2009 I hereby declare I am now 100% apolitical. I hate Democrats, Republicans, independents, Joe Lieberman, Sarah Palin, the idiot mayor of Kansas City, and all others but Jolie Justus, the hard toiling but ultimately frustrated State Senator from our district.

The mere fact that the US Congress can not see the fact that people need health care and talk real reform down over what it might cost while we waste trillions of dollars and thousands of lives on war is pathetic. How do these mothers sleep at night? Oh that is right, they are taken care of and are rich and powerful. Fuck the rest.

I am glad, however, that the health care deal is going down in flames. It is worthless; forcing people to buy likely lousy insurance, making the insurance companies richer as they continue to collect premiums and still manage to deny payments. Without a public option, it is worthless crap. Come on, fellow citizens, the rest of the world takes better care of their people and they have not slid into fascist states, espouse communism or worse. Frankly, they are laughing at us, but the "leaders" still think our system is the best. The pansy Congress has not the courage to say "let's move forward", because well... the bribes were nice and I do have re-election coming up, can't do anything to piss anyone off.

Oh,by the way idiots, listen... we are already paying for insurance big time. Not through a tax, but through high prices and bankruptcies as companies struggle and fold trying to pay for health benefits.

This rudderless, sinking bulk of a country is fucked beyond all belief. Our industries are shadows of their past; no one wants to buy US autos, Boeing can't get its new plane off the ground, everything is made overseas. We are a nation consigned to selling hamburgers to each other.

Discourse is at rock bottom. Most nations would be proud to have their president receive a Nobel Peace Prize, the US thinks Obama's is silly and undeserved.

So I am just saying fuck it with the rest of you, sitting at home getting drunk and hopefully becoming a burden to you all.

I sort of agree with Obama's former pastor Jeremiah Wright, God Damn America.

I think he already has.

Friday, December 11, 2009

American Heartland Theatre: "It's A Wonderful Life"

Mention the 1940's film classic "It's a Wonderful Life" and you immediately envision happy endings, Christmas, angels, Jimmy Stewart and the sweet, simple experience of a small community.

Not to me.

"It's a Wonderful Life" is a bitter story about having your dreams shattered, being trapped, of compromising with the enemy, frustrated that friends and family get ahead and move away, living the life you dreamed. Frustration like this fills men (especially men) with rage that drives them to alcoholism, abuse, suicide. Today, George would be dead... just another casualty of the American Dream.

If you would look at Bedford Falls in 2009 you'd soon notice nothing seems to have changed from the 40s. Big Business treats people like a disposable rag as they plunder and profit for the sake of a few "stakeholders". Those few with a true concern for the disenfranchised and broken souls work with limited resources and seem to be under constant attack from the powerful. Even when caught stealing or being hypocritical, the powerful never apologize and go on Fux News to blame the victim and Obama. Remove George and we see a world starkly like the one I fear is coming soon when tea baggers and birthers reign. Yes, in the tale George wins, sort of. He doesn't defeat the evil, he just endures it one more time with the help of a few souls who are grateful.

No, I did not see a rebroadcast of the Frank Capra classic on TV or on disc, Greg and I went to the current production of "It's a Wonderful Life, A Live Radio Play" at Kansas City's best theatre venue, the American Heartland Theatre.

The whole play is pretty straight forward, a 1946 live broadcast of "It's a Wonderful Life" from WDAF radio studio 4 in Kansas City. Not only a fine retelling of the familiar story, but a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of live radio. Even as the audience is settling in, the actors are on stage setting things up, talking to us (Greg was offered a cup of coffee from the studio's break room), the actors go on and off grabbing a close microphone when it is their turn to read, a pianist is on stage playing and occasionally taking a minor role. A child used to play George's children now and then sat at the break room table amusing herself quietly until summoned to read, just as she would in a live studio. The sound effects were as much fun to watch as to hear.

The cast, Ken Remmert, Tim Scott, Lauren Braton, Natalie Weaver, Kevin Albert, Colleen Grate and Michael Dragen were all excellent, with special kudos to Tim Scott and Kevin Albert for their dramatic and spot on readings of George and the evil Mr. Potter.

The stripped down reading and almost mechanical efficiency of the recreation of live radio were the catalyst for my darker experience of this tale. Remove the sights and sounds of 1940's films and the dramatic elements emerge, revealing "It's a Wonderful Life" as a cautioning tale for our time as well. At the American Heartland Theatre through December 27th.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Remembering Grant Gallup

I had never heard (or maybe I had and have forgotten) the late Rev. Grant Gallup was called "Sister Mary Rattlebeads". It is completely appropriate however. Grant Gallup, Episcopal Priest, teacher, humanitarian, gourmet and friend, died after a long illness in his home in Managua, Nicaragua November 26th at age 78.

Grant simply was one of the most incredible people I ever met. When he was ordained a priest, he told the Bishop to "send me where no one else wants to go." That was Grant, the true embodiment of the spirit of Christ's teachings. He loved the poor and the oppressed; marching with Martin Luther King in the South in the 60's, living and working with those embroiled in a revolution in Nicaragua, hiding Nicaraguans who were being pursued and persecuted by a corrupt government, visiting Iraq just before Bush's invasion to support Iraqi Christians in danger, visiting Cuba when it was illegal to do so, being out and proudly gay long before others tested the waters. His parish, St Andrew's in Chicago, was in a tough and poor all African American neighborhood. Some took bets on how long this white boy from the UP of Michigan would last. He stayed 30 years until he took up his final residence in a poor and tough neighborhood in Managua. No matter what trouble someone was in Grant was there to support; comforting families who had just saw a member shot, go to prison, helped those who lost a job or their home and those in need of a meal. He could be a tough love at the same time; if he respected you he demanded your respect in return. Be petty or take advantage of him and you'd be admonished and likely banished quite directly.

Grant read voraciously, his library at Casa Ave Maria, a guest house/ecumenical center founded by him in Managua, was extensive even after a fire ravaged much of it. He loved music, folk dancing, art, young men and certainly charmed the ladies. He set a magnificent table; amusingly the table cloth was a kids' "Hercules" sheet. He simply explained that he liked the cartoon figure of the buff young fellow.

Just a few days before he died on November 26th, I got a message that some friends were going to honor him at a Thanksgiving gathering in Managua. On the 25th, I sent a message to his friend Bayardo and asked him to read it to Grant. This is what I sent:

Dear Grant:

I understand your friends are honoring and giving thanks for your work and presence on this Dia de Gracia.

Querido amigo, I am grateful for all that you taught me about the wonderful country that is Nicaragua; its struggles, its beauty, its people and history. I am richer for the times spent on the patio at Casa Ave Maria listening to you interpret the mural and having the amazing opportunity to meet some of the saints enshrined therein. I give thanks for the bountiful meals and the simple ones as well, shared around your table. One of the best Thanksgiving Days of my life was spent at the Casa, sharing a turkey and all the trimmings with you and Maggie, and Greg Houston and others who had gathered there.

I came to Nicaragua as a curious tourist and reluctant pilgrim in 1999, thinking it would be my one and only trip. Although many others have broken my record, I stand at 15 times since then that I have come to the country I call my home away from home. I was happy that my son Daniel and his new wife got to experience Nicaragua on their honeymoon; they hope to return some day. I got the privilege of introducing the sights and sounds of Nicaragua to my friend Bruce, who also got to meet you at the Casa.

Each time I make rice, I do it as a Nicaraguan lady taught me and revel in its simple beauty and taste and elegance, just like Nicaragua. Thus there is a bit of Nica in my soul now, and much of it is due to you. Thank you, thanks be to God for you.

Amigos para siempre!

Don Clark

Rest in Peace dear friend, and keep rattling those beads.

Grant Gallup at Casa Ave Maria March 2008, my last visit to him:

Monday, December 07, 2009

Coupl'a Things XXIX

1) Rachel Maddow sets the record straight about the nut-case Republican "teabaggers".

Teabagging: Trouble Entendre!

Wouldn't it be hilarious to see Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh at a Tea Bag Party. Well...maybe not.

2) Last time I did a Puggingham Palace review of a Heartland Men's Chorus concert and didn't say that everything was fabulous-perfect, I got a slew of hate mail. So I am simply saying: I saw the HMC Christmas Concert "Fruitcake" this weekend. Leave it at that.

3) Christmas music is on full time at the Palace. HM enjoys the nice tunes and snores peacefully along. "White Christmas" accompanied by pug snores is a sound to behold, for sure.

One disc that is on frequently is:

Symphonic reworkings of familiar and some not so common carols. Cleverly and actually brilliantly arranged, well performed and several steps above the average symphonic carol arrangements that are more muzak than serious compositions. Naxos 8557099 and it is cheap too!

4) It seems the Episcopals have elected another gay bishop, this time a lesbian in Los Angeles. The conservatives are already screaming doom and the boob of an Archbishop of Canterbury is doing his usual hand wringing and sighing.

I love it.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Christmas Joke

My friend Jerry sent me this:

Three men died on Christmas Eve and were met by Saint Peter at the pearly gates.

'In honor of this holy season' Saint Peter said, 'You must each possess something that symbolizes Christmas to get into heaven.'

The first man fumbled through his pockets and pulled out a lighter. He flicked it on. 'It represents a candle', he said.

'You may pass through the pearly gates' Saint Peter said.

The second man reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. He shook them and said, 'They're bells.'

Saint Peter said 'You may pass through the pearly gates'.

The third man started searching desperately through his pockets and finally pulled out a pair of women's panties.

St. Peter looked at the man with a raised eyebrow and asked, 'And just what do those symbolize?'

The man replied, 'These are Carols.'

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Coupl'a Things XVIII

1) I know who Tiger Woods is, hell everyone does who reads a paper or surfs on line. Just one of the many high and mighty who use their wealth and prestige to manipulate the world around them. I, for one, relish when the high and mighty get caught with their pants down, or in Tiger's case chased around by his golf club wielding wife at 2AM. Come on, who believes his story? No one. Cops show up and Tiger goes to the hospital. He stonewalls, refuses to talk. Rumors fly, affair, domestic violence, lies told. Now he gets a ticket and the case is closed. He can go back to his own personal Neverland.

He probably screwed around with the cocktail waitress lady or whoever she is, and now wifey knows. She confronted him in the middle of the night and chased him half dressed into his car. Grabbing one of his clubs, she was intent on smashing the shit out of his car. Hey, it happens.

But what burns my butt is that if it were little ol me or even you, we'd be hauled off, charged with all kinds of crap. To be sure, I would be at fault even if it was wifey going after me with a 9 iron.

So, here is some one I cared less about, and now care about even less. I hope this cuts him down a notch or two and shows him, and the rest of the privileged, that they are not above the law.

2) From Zane who sent this in an email to me. Talk about another high and mighty who is starting to look more human and fallible:

War President!
From last night's speech. Even Karl Rove was praising him on Fox afterward.

Obama: 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan

Obama: "We Did Not Ask for This Fight"
Bush: "We Did Not Seek This Conflict"

Obama: "New Attacks are Being Plotted as I Speak"
Bush: "At This Moment ... Terrorists are Planning New Attacks"

Obama: "Our Cause is Just, Our Resolve Unwavering"
Bush: "Our Cause is Just, Our Coalition [is] Determined"

Obama: "This Is No Idle Danger, No Hypothetical Threat"
Bush: "The Enemies of Freedom Are Not Idle"

Obama: "We Have No Interest in Occupying Your Country"
Bush: "I Wouldn't Be Happy if I Were Occupied Either"

All I can say is... oy.