7 years ago

Volume 13 - Issue 2 - October 2007

Book Shelfby Pamela

Book Shelfby Pamela MarglesWish I Could Be There:Notes for a Phobic Lifeby Allen ShawnViking287 pages; .00Allen Shawn is asuccessful composer.He performs in publicas a concert pianist, hepublishes books, and heteaches university. Yethe can't even go out hisfront door withoutsuffering a panicattack. A scrolled listof his phobias, he writes, 'might stretch allthe way to China'. His agoraphobia in itself isthoroughly daunting, since it involves beingafraid of both closed spaces and open spaces,isolation and crowds. His life is so dominatedby his phobias that he is often incapable ofeven showing up for important events - hencethe title of this memoir.Apparently Shawn's own brother,playwright and actor Wallace Shawn, andmost of his friends didn't know howincapacitatingly phobic he is. 'By putting myown worst foot forward,' he writes, 'I meanto challenge our assumptions about what anormal person is.'Looking for reasons for his phobias, Shawnprobes his own family . He tells how hebonded with the piano as a link to his fatherand his twin sister, who is mentally retarded.His father, William Shawn, the legendaryeditor of the New Yorker, had his own set ofphobias. Shawn wonders whether his father'sdouble life, keeping a second family, issymptomatic.Shawn is an elegant, engaging andperceptive writer. His unstinting candourhelps make this such a significant explorationof the link between mental illness andcreativity. Fortunately, he has included abibliography and an index.Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti: TwoLives in Oneby Roberto PaganoPendragon Press409 pages; .00 USRoberto Pagano's dual biography ofAlessandro Scarlatti and his son Domenico isso stamped with the personality of the authorthat at times it reads like fiction. ButPagano's scholarship is reliable, and hisresearch is thorough. A musician andmusicologist, he wrote the authoritativeentries in Groves for both composers.Pagano makes much of the Sicilian origins ofthese two great baroque composers. For him,this influences the music of both. The factthat Pagano is himself Sicilian gives him, he56Back to Ad Indexfeels, special insightinto both theircharacters. ForPagano, the famouslegal document ofemancipation thatDomenico obtainedfrom his father in 1717is not, as is generallythought, evidence ofestrangement betweenthe two. Quoting thedocument in full,Pagano explains it as a traditional Sicilianway of handling the laws of the time andDomenico's own circumstances. Yet Paganodoesn't admire Alessandro's oppressivelyinsensitive treatment of his sickly, gamblingaddicted,brilliant son.Pagano's conversational style, with itsemphasis on character and colour, does leadto an excess of words. But his frequentquotes from documents, scrapbooks andmemoirs from the time, as well as musicalmanuscripts, are invaluable. He evendiscusses the best instrument for performingDomenico's landmark keyboard sonatas.Frederick Harnmond's sympathetictranslation retains Pagano's irrepressiblydelightful style.Start-Up at the New Met: TheMetropolitan Opera Broadcasts, 1966 - 1976by Paul JacksonAmadeus Press656 pages; .95The MetropolitanOpera may not be themost innovative operahouse in the world,but it is the mostfamous. Yet mostopera lovers know itonly through the radiobroadcasts, whichstarted in 1931. Infact, the CBC radioshow which features the broadcasts, SaturdayAfternoon at the Opera, is one of the fewclassical music shows to have survived therecent revampings at the CBC.This is Jackson's third installment of hishistory of the Met broadcasts. Here hecovers the ten years from 1966, when thecompany moved into their new house atLincoln Center, to 1976, when James Levinebecome the official music director. Onceagain Jackson proves to be an ideal guide.He makes full use of his access to the richMet archive. An experienced pianoaccompanist, he has worked with many of thesingers he is discussing. As a scholar, heknows the repertoire.Jackson supplies a wealth of colourfuldetails, sharpened by his critical insight. Butit's his engaging style that makes this booksuch a pleasure. He is enthusiastic and fairminded,but pulls no punches.There's no hype here, and noWWW. THEWHOLENOTE.COMsentimentality. He ranks the great Canadiantenor Jon Vickers' Peter Grimes andFlorestan among 'the supreme operaticcharacterizations of the century'. But he doesnot overlook 'the mannerisms that annoy evensome of his most ardent admirers.' Hecovers one of the worst performances in thehistory of the Met's broadcasts - AnnaMoffo's Lucia di Lammermoor in 1969 -with honesty, but 'dreading the report thatmust be made'.There are archival photos, endnotes, a listof broadcasts with dates and casts, abibliography and a reliable index.The Life and Death of Classical Musicby Norman LebrechtAnchor Books338 pages;paper .95uf e and J)ea t'hBritish criticNorman Lebrechthas made a career l\:1USJCout of revealing theperilous state ofclassical music.Here he zeros in onthe world ofclassical recording,offering a lively andsometimesfascinating history of the whole industry.Lebrecht has done a great deal of researchfor this book, and knew many of the peopleinvolved. But he seems to care little aboutsubstantiating his facts. His footnotesdisappear at whim, or refer to phantomsources like 'confidential interview' or'information obtained from a family friend'.His ability to find the worst in people can beentertaining, but soon becomes tedious. Hisglibness frequently gets in the way of hisobvious sincerity. He attacks almost everyonein his sights. He calls Ernst Ansermet anantisemite, Elizabeth Schwartzkopf is a'blonde bombshell', and the head of Naxos,Klaus Heymann, is a 'viper' . Peter Gelb,now heading up the Metropolitan Opera, hasa 'fast-food mentality'. The conductor andcomposer Giuseppe Sinopoli, who diedtragically young, is one of the few to comeoff well, as 'one of the most civilized menever to mount a podium'.Lebrecht's horizons are extremely limited.He seriously underestimates the importanceof live recording as a replacement for thestudio. Nor does he take into account howrecordings are being delivered today, throughinternet downloading and satellite streaming.At the end he provides some fun - a list, withdescriptions, of his choices for the onehundred best recordings ever made, alongwith twenty that, as he puts it, should neverhave been made. Reading Lebrecht willamuse you, provoke you, even anger you, butit won't change your mind about anything.O CTO BE R 1 - N OVE MBER 7 2007

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