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Movie Reviews

In My Changer, 5/5/04




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Probably the hip-hop album most redolent of dusk that I know. It begins with a musing, half-major, half-minor, all-bass sample and immediately trails off, restarting in "My World" with sampled chords bracing like cold water and some sustained organ notes that eventually form a minor third, courtesy of DJ Premier. O.C.'s lyrics in this song don't touch profundity, and it soon becomes clear that he's not going quite as existential as in his first album, Word...Life. But he rhymes defiantly — "Ain't a man alive who can stop my noise" — and the taunting, O.C.-sung chorus, "It's my world and I won't stop/And if you stand in my way you bout to get dropped" pretty much sums it up: This is a man who has tasted defeat and distress and spits in its face. Not that this means he's a street cat. Most of the struggles here are of the internal kind, staying true to his art, remaining positive in a world full of sad calamities. In the haunting "The Crow," he sees the titular bird in a dream and ponders, "Was this a sign from God to rebuke for the things that I did in my lifetime/Now my soul's on the line?/I'm puzzled/Spark up a Newpot/Then I take a full inhale of the cancer and I try to find an answer," before the children's chorus comes in for the hook. And not that he's always gloomy. "M.U.G.," one of two duets on the album with underground burner Freddie Foxxx, finds the two spitting exuberant verses over a sunny flute lick and propulsive spliced snatches of brass (again from Premier). Still, people who like hip-hop only when it's party music will be unimpressed; this is the album to play when you're looking to stiffen your spine, not when you want to bob your head in the club.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Violin concerto; Two romances for violin and orchestra

Oscar Schneiderhan, violin; Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Eugen Jochum (Violin concerto); David Oistrakh, violin; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Eugene Goossens (Romances)

Deutsche Grammophon

(Original no longer in print; same record with a Mozart concerto instead of the Romances here)

This was one of my first 30 or so classical CDs, back when I could fit all my CDs into a neat little box. I've never felt the need to buy another recording of the violin concerto since, even though I have multiple recordings of virtually all of Beethoven's other orchestral works. Schneiderhan plays with unforced joy and intuitive-seeming poetry; since he is German, both of these probably came from long hours of deliberation, but the effect on a listener is genuine. He doesn’t dazzle with virtuoso histrionics, though the concerto holds no great technical challenges for him, but he draws you along into the lengthy but never dull argument of the work. As a bonus, Schneiderhan doesn’t play the Kreisler cadenzas (which seem to be standard) but transcribes the cadenzas in Beethoven’s own transcription of the violin concerto for piano. Schneiderhan’s transcriptions not only sound idiomatic to the violin but also feature cool timpani accents. Oistrakh following is fine, but his conventionally Beethovenian interpretation, poised and decisive, sounds a little constricted next to Schneiderhan. Another reason this was one of my first CDs was that it cost eight bucks, and even in its new version it won't run you more than twelve, so you Beethovenians out there have no reason not to check this out.

Bedrich Smetana

Má vlast

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Rafael Kubelik


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Rafael Kubelik left then-Czechoslovakia in 1939, which was a good decision given the goings-on in Germany next door. He figured that after the war ended, he could return to his beloved homeland, but after the war Czechoslovakia suffocated behind the Iron Curtain, and the authorities were none too keen on welcoming home an avowed nationalist like Kubelik. He toured the world, leading idiomatic, polished, exciting performances of the music of Czech masters like Dvorak and Janacek, but we all know that there’s no place like home, even a concert hall ringing with the strains of Jenufa. So when people finally got to dance on the Berlin Wall, Kubelik lit out for home to find the Czech musical establishment, which had followed his doings from afar, ready to welcome him with open arms. For his first concert in Prague in 51 years, he conducted the Czech Philharmonic in Smetana’s Má vlast, the great cycle of six tone poems that add up to a ringing declaration of love for what was then a section of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Supraphon, the state-sponsored recording company, had the good sense to record it live. The performance delivers exactly what you’d hope: decent enough sound, and an interpretation as heartfelt as any you’ll hear of any piece, anywhere. At least a dozen moments in this recording never fail to stir me, and Kubelik strikes a perfect balance between respecting Smetana’s overall architecture and luxuriating in those perfect moments. No one performance could be worth all that wandering, but there’s some consolation: besides the virtues of the performance itself, Kubelik and the CPO communicate exactly how wonderful it feels to finally be where you’ve always wanted to be.


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