Short Reviews: Formerly on Amazon

Balanchine: New York City Ballet in Montreal 2 DVD ~ New York City Ballet

The DVD includes Concerto Barocco, Pas de Dix, Agon, and Nutcracker Grand Pas de Deux (four dances from the Nutcracker strung together). As far as I've found, this is the first time the full Agon, and anything but snippets of Concerto Barocco have been available on video in any form. Which is on a par with saying that this is the first time Hamlet and King Lear have been available; these are masterpieces of the repertoire.

The recordings are from 1956-1960 Canadian TV broadcasts. The dancers include many of the great NYCB stars of the era: Diana Adams, Tanaquil LeClerq, Maria Tallchief, Violette Verdy, Jiliana, Jacques d'Amboise, Andre Eglevsky, Todd Bollender, Arthur Mitchell, Nicholas Magallanes, and others. (The violin soloists in Concerto Barocco are Henryk Szeryng and Noel Brunet).

There is also a three-minute interview with Balanchine about Agon (French, with English subtitles).

The recording quality, unfortunately, is not great, even for 1956 TV. In Pas de Dix and Nutcracker, the aspect ratio is off, making the dancers look squat. In CB and Agon, the picture is staticcy. The stage in CB was lit by spotlights; when the dancers are in the dark, they can be almost invisible. Also, in CB, the sound quality is hissy and muddy (it is much better in the others), and, in a couple of places, particularly toward the end of the third movement, there is something really strange about the music. Nonetheless, this is a must have for a ballet collection.

Rational Constructivism in Cognitive Development, Volume 43 (Advances in Child Development & Behavior) (Hardcover)

Fei Xu and Tamir Kushnir (eds).
A fine and useful collection of papers surveying recent research on cognition and cognitive development in children. Some of the claims for viewing children's cognition in terms of rational probabilistic reasoning seem overstated to me; but the papers are mostly well written and well researched. Particularly interesting to me were "Developing a Concept of Choice" by Tamar Kushnir and "When Children Ignore Evidence in Category-Based Induction" by Marjorie Rhodes.

Coronation Concert, Recorded at Royal Festival Hall, London (MP3 Music)

Burl Ives
This was one of my favorite records when I was a kid, 50 years ago, and I've been looking for it for years. It was as good as I remember. A charming collection of folksongs. Most I have never seen elsewhere, and this is the best version of those that I have seen elsewhere. Burl Ives has a voice like honey; he is one of my favorite singers.

Gilbert & Sullivan Soprano Arias (Audio CD)

Rebecca Hains
On this CD, Rebecca Hains sings 20 soprano solo arias from the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas plus the song "'Neath my lattice through the night" from "The Rose of Persia" by Sullivan and Basil Hand, to piano accompaniment.

Ms. Hains has a lovely soprano voice, crystal clear diction (of course critical in G&S), and, in songs like "The hours creep on apace", dramatic flair. All the arias are beautifully sung; particularly outstanding, for my taste, are "The hours creep on apace" (Pinafore), "I cannot tell what this love can be" (Patience), "Love is a plaintive song" (Patience), "If somebody there chanced to be" (Ruddigore), and "'Neath my lattice through the night".

Hains includes a second verse, not often performed, in both "When he is here" (Sorcerer), and "In bygone days" (Ruddigore).

The piano accompaniment by William Gatens is very fine, and the recording quality excellent. All in all, an hour of pure enjoyment for any Gilbert and Sullivan fan.

Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits (Routledge Classics)

Bertrand Russell
Russell's "Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits" has had more influence on my own thinking than any other work of technical philosophy I have read. Russell is always a spectacularly readable and clear writer, full of vivid, well chosen examples, and with very little abstract argument or technical jargon. He is also, at least in this work, particularly sensible, realistic, and grounded in reality. I don't always find the answers he proposes adequate; but I do always feel that his questions and concerns are the right ones.

The Victorian age in literature

G.K. Chesterton
Anyone who loves Victorian literature will want to read this. Chesterton is frankly opinionated and sometimes quite unfair. For example his hostile description of Wilde might be defensible if Wilde had only written Salome and Dorian Gray, but it does not remotely do justice to the author of An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest. But Chesterton's generous enthusiasm for the authors that he does admire is exhilarating; his writing is immensely readable; and again and again he comes up with extraordinary, illuminating insights and descriptions, always very vividly expressed. A few characteristic examples, "But above all he [Macaulay] typifies the two things that really make the Victorian Age itself, the cheapness and narrowness of its conscious formulae; the richness and humanity of its unconscious tradition." "The length of a Ruskin sentence is like that length in the long arrow that was boasted of by the drawers of the long bow. He draws, not a cloth-yard shaft but a long lance to his ear; he shoots a spear. But the whole goes light as a bird and straight as an arrow". "We feel that it _is_ a disgrace to a man like Swinburne when he has a Jingo fit and calls the Boer children in the concentration camps, 'Whelps of treacherous dams that none save we have spared to starve and slay'; we feel that Swinburne, for the first time, really has become an immoral and indecent writer."

And Even Now

Max Beerbohm
"And Even Now" is the best of several published collections of essays by Max Beerbohm. Beerbohm was a very uneven writer, even within a single essay; some of these have not worn well, and now appear merely arch and precious. But four of the pieces in this book are among the most remarkable light essays I have read, and I reread them again and again. "How shall I word it" is a laugh-out-loud funny collection of imaginary nasty letters; from a customer refusing to pay a tailor's bill; from a voter celebrating the defeat of a elected official he loathes; from a bride "thanking" a wedding guest for a "little bowl of ill-imitated Dresden china" and so on. "No. 2 the Pines" is a memoir of Beerbohm's meetings with the poet Swinburne in his old age. " 'A Clergyman' " is a rumination on a man known only through a single question quoted in Boswell's Life of Johnson. "William and Mary" is a charming, moving, memoir of two of Beerbohm's friends who died young. These four by themselves are well worth the purchase price (or looking it up in

Gilbert & Sullivan: Iolanthe (DVD)

On the whole I very much enjoyed this, though, as many of the reviewers say, there are some dreadful lapses in judgment in the staging, especially the Finale to Act 2. The standout performances, I thought,are Anne Collins as the Fairy Queen and Derek Hammond-Stroud as the Lord Chancellor. They are formidable as well as absurd, and their confrontation at the end of Act I is very impressive. The invasion of Parliament by the fairies in the Act I finale works very well, I thought; there is something quite eerie about it as well as ridiculous. Tolloler and Mountararat are a little weak. The transformation of Strephon from innocent Arcadian shepherd to self-satisfied, sneering Parliamentarian is astonishing; he's barely recognizable.

Certain People Of The Book

Maurice Samuel
This is a collection of a remarkable set of studies of characters in the Hebrew Bible. The subjects are Ahasueros, Balaam, Naomi, Rebeccah, King David and his wives, Jezebel and Elijah, and Joseph plus some shorter sketches of more minor figures. The essays are wonderfully readable and profoundly thought-provoking.

Little did I know;: Recollections and reflections

Maurice Samuel
Maurice Samuel (1895-1972) was a writer, translator, and Zionist, perhaps best known for "The World of Sholom Aleichem" and "Prince of the Ghetto" (translations and discussion of I.L. Peretz). This is his autobiography --- very readable and fascinating.

Gilbert & Sullivan - H.M.S. Pinafore / Trial By Jury (DVD)

David Hobson, Anthony Warlow, Colette Mann, Tiffany Speight, John Bolton Wood, Richard Alexander, Opera Australia, State Theatre, The Arts Centre Melbourne (DVD)

Wonderful performances of both operettas. Both the musical quality and the performances are spectacular. Particularly outstanding are Tiffany Speight as Josephine and Anthony Warlow as both Capt. Corcoran and the Judge. One small complaint (not enough to deduct a star): In Trial by Jury, whose idea was it to eliminate the chorus of bridesmaids and the business with the note? The note business is about the most outrageously funny sight gag in all of Gilbert and Sullivan, and it is in the original stage directions.