Lloyd Schwartz

Lloyd Schwartz is the classical music critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

In addition to his role on Fresh Air, Schwartz is the classical music editor of The Boston Phoenix. He is the co-editor of the Library of the America's Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters. He is also the author of three volumes of poems: These People, Goodnight, Gracie and Cairo Traffic. He's the editor of the centennial edition of Elizabeth Bishop's Prose, published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in 2011.

In 1994, Schwartz won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism. He is the Frederick S. Troy Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

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Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

There are many recordings of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Do we need another? In the case of this new recording led by the young Greek conductor Teodor Currentzis, Fresh Air classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz says, "Absolutely."

The legendary German conductor Otto Klemperer was one of the most profound musicians of the 20th Century. In the 1960s, nearing the end of his career, he overcame many physical handicaps to create an astonishing body of recorded classical music. EMI has just reissued a broad spectrum of his recordings, including a box set of one of the composers he's most associated with: Gustav Mahler. Fresh Air classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz has a review of Mahler: Symphonies 2, 4, 7 & 9 / Das Lied von der Erde.

Broadway had never seen anything like it when Show Boat arrived at the Ziegfeld Theatre in 1927. The score was unforgettable and the story tackled complex racial issues. There have been three movie versions, but the best one — James Whale's 1936 production — has only just been released on DVD.

Show Boat was the first great serious Broadway musical. Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, who wrote the songs, and Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., who produced it, departed from typical musical comedy material, with its chorus lines and songs showcasing star performers.

One of the most unsettling rooms in an important art exhibit at New York's Neue Galerie is a room in which numerous empty frames are hanging, with guesses about which paintings might have been in them. The paintings themselves were all lost or destroyed by the Nazis. Encouraged by Hitler, most Nazis (Joseph Goebbels was the rare exception) considered everything but the most hidebound, traditionally realistic paintings and sculptures to be "degenerate," a threat to the Aryan ideals of German culture.

Fresh Air's classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz is also a poet. He recently published a poem about friendship and loss on Poets.org. It's titled "To My Oldest Friend, Whose Silence Is Like A Death:"

In today's paper, a story about our high school drama
teacher evicted from his Carnegie Hall rooftop apartment

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. At 44, the German tenor Jonas Kaufmann may be the most popular tenor of his generation and one of the most versatile. Music critic Lloyd Schwartz reviews two of his recordings this year, dedicated to both Verdi and Wagner, celebrating the bicentennials of their birth.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Some years ago, I wrote a poem called "Why I Love Vermeer," which ends "I've never lived in a city without a Vermeer." I could say that until 1990, when Vermeer's exquisite painting The Concert was one of the masterpieces stolen from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It's still missing.

An extended ovation greeted conductor James Levine last May when he returned to performing after a two-year absence. In 2011, he resigned as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and cancelled his performances at the Metropolitan Opera. He'd been plagued by health problems, injuries and operations, and it was painful for him to move. Many of his admirers, even he himself, feared he might never conduct again.

A movie last year called A Late Quartet told the traumatic story of what happens when a famous string quartet has to change personnel. But, in fact, most string quartets — like symphony orchestras, only more conspicuously — continually change players, because players retire, or die, or get more lucrative offers.

Mozart's The Magic Flute, the last opera he lived to complete, has some of his most sublime and sublimely comic music. Technically, it's more of a musical comedy, what in German is called a Singspiel, a play with songs and spoken dialogue. I was excited to learn that it was filmed by Kenneth Branagh, whose Shakespeare movies I really admire. Mozart's mixture of fairy tale and high morality presents a great opportunity for a filmmaker; in 1975, Ingmar Bergman released a version for Swedish television that has become a beloved classic.

The sculptor Claes Oldenburg was born in Stockholm but grew up in Chicago, went to Yale and came to New York in 1956, where he became a key player in the pop art movement — the major counter-reaction to the abstract expressionism that dominated the 1950s. So much for art history.

Although Oldenburg is a serious artist, probably no artist in history ever created works that were more fun. In a new show at the Museum of Modern Art — really two shows — practically everyone, including myself, was walking through the galleries with a huge grin.

As early as silent film, directors attempted to create widescreen images. But in the 1950s it became a commercial necessity to give the multitude of new TV watchers what they couldn't get on a small screen. So even before CinemaScope, VistaVision, Todd-AO and Panavision, there was Cinerama — a process in which three projectors threw three simultaneous images onto a gigantic curved screen. Cinerama offered what no TV or movie screen could provide before — peripheral vision, which could make you feel as if you were really in the midst of the action.

Sunday Bloody Sunday is one of those films that lets you into the lives of believable, complicated characters. A handsome, self-centered young artist played by the actor/rock singer Murray Head is having simultaneous affairs with both an older woman (played with infinitely nuanced self-irony by Glenda Jackson) and an older man, a Jewish doctor (the touching Peter Finch), two intelligent adults who have mutual friends and even know each other slightly.

I never heard of the Baroque composer Agostino Steffani until last year, when the Boston Early Music Festival presented the North American premiere of Steffani's Niobe, an opera about the mythical queen who bragged so much about her many children, the gods killed them all in revenge. One of the leading roles, Niobe's husband King Amphion, was played by the early-music superstar countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, who sang the opera's most sublime aria — a hymn to the harmony of the spheres. I couldn't wait to hear Jaroussky again, and was eager to hear more Steffani.

Baby Jane Hudson is now 50 years old — or at least the strange and brilliant movie in which she's the main character is, just released as a beautifully remastered Blu-ray. Robert Aldrich's grotesque gothic tragedy is a cross between Gypsy, with its antithetical show-biz kid sisters, and Sunset Boulevard, with its decayed Hollywood glamour.

Hollywood is often at its best when it's making fun of itself, and few movies are funnier or more fun than Singin' in the Rain, the broadly satirical musical comedy about the transition from silent movies to sound.

Gene Kelly, who co-directed the film with Stanley Donen, stars as the stuntman turned matinee idol who falls in love with adorable Debbie Reynolds. He even gets to parody his own swashbuckling in MGM's Technicolor Three Musketeers.

On July 20, 1958, at Tanglewood — the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra — pianist Leon Fleisher played an electrifying Brahms First Piano Concerto with the orchestra under its former music director, Pierre Monteux. This remarkable teaming has not been heard since then.

Facing Bach's St. Matthew Passion, I often feel a combination of anticipation and dread. It's a great work, profound in its humanity and spirituality, with sublimely beautiful music. But it's a long haul, and if it's not a good performance, well, I'm stuck. And it can be not-good in various ways: either too solemnly pious or too much an exercise in musical style rather than emotional drama. A new DVD recorded in 2010 at Berlin's great concert hall, the Philharmonie, would be of major interest under any circumstances.

I grew up in New York City, but I didn't watch Car 54, Where Are You? until I got hooked on it in syndication long after it was originally aired. So I was very happy to see the complete series of 60 episodes released on two DVD boxed sets. The episode in Season 2 titled "I Hate Capt. Block," about trying to teach a recalcitrant parrot to talk and the way people are not much smarter than parrots, is one of the most hilarious things I've ever seen on television, maybe as inspired as Sid Caesar's foreign film parodies or Carol Burnett's version of Gone with the Wind.

The movie Rhapsody in Blue, a biography of George Gershwin, was released only eight years after his death from a brain tumor at the age of 38. It's a good subject: Gershwin wrote some of the best popular songs ever produced in this country, but he also had ambitions to be a serious classical composer and wrote symphonic music, concertos and an opera — all of which are still performed.

In 2010, the Museum of Modern Art was criticized for its skimpy representation of the Dutch-American painter Willem de Kooning in its huge abstract expressionist show. The museum has now made up for that with an astounding de Kooning retrospective, the first of its kind: some 200 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures that trace de Kooning's career beginning at age 12, when he was working for a graphic designer in his native Rotterdam and painting remarkable imitations of Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Miro and Gorky.

A Damsel in Distress was the third of only four films on which George Gershwin and his brother Ira collaborated. The star is Fred Astaire, but without Ginger Rogers. Their previous film together, Shall We Dance?, also with an unforgettable Gershwin score, hadn't lived up to studio expectations, and the now-famous stars were taking a break from each other.

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Musee d'Orsay in Paris have two of the world's best collections of the work of the French postimpressionist Edgar Degas. The two museums have collaborated on an important show called Degas and the Nude, which includes pieces from major museums and private collections all over the world. Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz, who lives in Boston, was moved by the show, which also triggered a sweet personal memory.

Note: Wilhelm Furtwangler's last name is typically spelled with an umlaut over the 'a' character. The npr website does not support characters with umlauts over characters. A variation of Furtwangler's name without the umlaut is spelled Furtwaengler.

Wilhelm Furtwaengler's name may be hard for Americans to pronounce, but the reason this great conductor isn't so well-remembered here is that he chose to remain in Germany during WWII, though he was never a member of the Nazi Party, and was exonerated by a postwar tribunal.