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7.9.06

New York Vignettes


Chinatown BusTaking the bus – any bus – from Washington, D.C., to New York is not the most dignifying experience, and it’s one of those things that just never get any better for trying it more often. That said, the slew of ‘Chinatown Buses’ that make this trip less expensive than a cab ride from D.C. to Alexandria have become fairly reliable, moderately punctual, and offer vehicles that meet all the basic hygiene standards that one could reasonably expect. A perennial drawback, however, is the unfortunate combination of opened lavatory doors and air-freshener, which invariably ends up smelling like someone fouled into a peach basket.

For years now I have been too lazy to fix my watch, so my time measures in units other than hours and minutes. From Downtown D.C. to the Holland Tunnel it takes two Shostakovich Symphonies No. 14 (Jansons, Rattle), one DSCH First (Rattle), one DSCH Third (Jansons), one complete Mahler Tenth (Inbal, Cooke II), and the Adagio of the same symphony (Gielen, Cooke III). By the time I seek timely shelter from the rain at the 24-hour Bagel Café on 87th and Broadway, the Gielen Tenth has whispered its last chords, too. A slice of mushroom pizza is of moderate quality by New York standards, but a delicacy compared to any and all such gustatory offerings available in D.C. after midnight. I only wish the drum beats were more muffled in Gielen’s last movement. Even if he and Inbal don’t exaggerate as much as Rattle or Sanderling (not even blunted, there), does anyone, apart from Barshai, get them quite right?


available at Amazon K.Saariaho, Cello Music
Aeon

UK | DE | FR
The gritty cello music of Kaija Saariaho – grinding through stone, ageless sounds, crumpled paper, blown glass sculptures (some of them broken) – befits a grey and misty day in New York and keeps my interest from 97th/Broadway all the way to Lincoln Center. Once there, a trip to Tower’s classical department is de rigueur. Even a quick visit would convince the most ardent apostles of Internet shopping that “store vs. Net” is not an either/or proposition but that the two are completely different experiences, both with advantages. The former, at its best, is a near-sensual event. Seeing and holding a CD, glancing (you can’t “glance” on the Internet - and even skimming through a few hundred titles would take hours) at a thousand different titles just strolling through the aisles. Getting into spontaneous discussions about Ferenc Fricsay and Clifford Curzon or the merits of Strauss’s Intermezzo and then eyeing a disc never seen in a store before... All those are experiences that underline the importance of good record stores in markets that can sustain them.

available at Amazon Boulez, Parsifal
DG

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon Lohengrin, Kubelik
DG

UK | DE | FR
Sure enough, a few gems not available in any other store in the U.S. – nor easily gotten, much less ‘stumbled upon’ on-line – caught my eye. Since I can’t resist a new Wagner recording any better than Christopher Lowell fabulous-exotic window-dressings, I had to satisfy my urges on the spot: either with Kubelik’s studio Lohengrin with James King, Gwyneth Jones, Karl Ridderbusch, and Thomast Stewart on DG (made at the same time as his never-officially-released-on-DG Meistersinger and Parsifal) or Pierre Boulez’s 1970 Parsifal (also on DG, also with James King, Gwyneth Jones, Karl Ridderbusch, and Thomas Stewart). In part because I’d rather hear the composer’s than the armor-clad Heldentenor’s swansong after two recent Lohengrin DVD releases (review forthcoming) I opted for Parsifal. Gladly so: Gwyneth Jones in ’70 is a most pleasant surprise as Kundry. Franz Crass – he also booms himself into the unsuspected spotlight as Kubelik’s Pogner – is even more impressive (i.e., loud), if not as nuanced, than Hotter and Moll. The music glitters away moonlit rather than sun-drenched, and the pacing is so natural that only the best Knappertsbusch recordings rival it (despite a 40- to 50-minute difference between the two conductors’ interpretations). It is the perfect antidote to those who had to suffer through the cloyingly sweet and uncomprehending Gergiev performance in D.C. last year, or the elongated professional stickiness that is Levine’s Parsifal at every outing.

“Making more of Me – that’s why I go to NYU” can be read on the ads on the subway. For anyone in the New York region who wishes to engage in “Continuing and Professional studies,” this must be tempting. Except, well... one wonders about the strength of their English department.


Q, R, and W trains
available at Amazon
Wolf Songs, Bostridge / Pappano
EMI

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
Wolf Songs, Güra / Schultsz
Harmonia Mundi

UK | DE | FR
I can’t think of a work any less “New York” than Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius. Espresso-fueled and with the 57 Street Station exit spitting out and swallowing up people right in front of my nose, Gerontius’s melancholic, confident, consoling, beautiful, and utterly lukewarm oratorio is something for greener pastures. I’ll gladly watch a lonely cow lick her brown spots and swat flies with her tail. But city buzz is alien to it. David Rendall, the tenor on the new Colin Davis recording (LSO Live 0083) isn’t doing anything that might overcome a tame, indifferent feeling to it all.
available at Amazon Dream of Gerontius, Sir Colin Davis
LSO Live

UK | DE | FR
Of Davis’s only advantage over the stalwart Boult and Barbirolli recordings (EMI, both) – Anne Sofie von Otter’s immeasurably pleasing voice – there is too little to merit getting excited about this release. Expulsion from the CD player is the consequence. Enter Ian Bostridge in Wolf songs with Antonio Pappano earning his keep on the piano. Wolf / Mörike (add a little Goethe and Eichendorff) befit the city better than Elgar. In Wolf Bostridge is his typical self: if you know his Schumann and Schubert, you know what you get and you know whether you will like it or not. I do, but prefer Werner Güra. Off to Mostly Mozart’s curtain call… and then Louis Langrée’s symphonies washed down with an (overpriced) Kronenbourg 1664 at L’Express at Gramercy.

Columbus CircleThe nature and character of New York more than any other town I know is its constant change. Still, we bemoan the loss of favorite places or the character of a neighborhood as we once knew it fading. Columbus Circle has for some time been a glitzy affair, and the grit of the surrounding blocks is fast giving way to a clean, kempt, tourist- and business-friendly environment. The dark ‘piano seller’ cross-streets are still there, but I am dismayed at the exodus of a small, un-noteworthy Café-Restaurant-Bar half a block from the circle: “Cosmic.” Venti Java Chip Frappucino Blended Coffee DrinkA stone’s throw from the polished chrome and glass of the Times Warner Center sat this near-dingy hangout with mediocre espresso, decent burgers, cheap coffee, and cheaper soup. I have spent (and killed) many budget-friendly hours in one of its little wooden booths waiting for a performance at Lincoln Center or Merkin Hall or the Times Warner Center’s performance spaces – scribbling away wildly into little notebooks and emerging, caffeine-buzzed, with that slightly wily determination that besets out-of-towners when they start feeling like a “real New Yorker.” You can still read the faint letters “Cosmic” on the black façade where its sign once was. Next year it might be a bustling Starbucks. A Venti Java Chip Frappucino© Blended Coffee ($4.75) just around the corner.

See also "New York Soundtrack"
or "Paris in Passing"

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's not the same, of course, but the Cosmic Coffee Shop relocated this spring - it's now at 8th and 52nd or so, less convenient to LC and a little shinier and newer than the real diner was. Same unsmiling waiters though, which we appreciate.

jfl said...

Ah... thanks for the good news.

Terry said...

How much does the Chinatown bus cost? I'm being lazy in asking and not looking it up, I know, but if it's much cheaper, then I could make the trip to NYC more often...the train is a little much. I'm also in DC, so this blog is exceedingly refreshing, as I'm fairly tired of hearing about politics by the end of my day.

Ironically, on my first ever trip to NYC, and first ever trip to the impressive classical section of Tower, I also picked up the Boulez Parsifal. It's wonderful. I'll have to pick up that Lohengrin when I go back.

jfl said...

Don't even think of touching that Lohengrin. It's their last copy and God knows if they ever get another one in, given the current circumstances. :)

I might just have to get there first...

Chinatown Buses are $20 one-way, $36 two-ways.

Terry said...

In the silence of my office, all promises can be made, but in the classical section of Tower, all bets are off. Not unlike Amfortas, my will can't endure such temptation.

Terry said...

In the silence of my office, all promises can be made, but in the classical section of Tower, all bets are off. Not unlike Amfortas, my will can't endure such temptation.

jfl said...

Too late. I've had that Lohengrin transfered to the Washington store. Har har har.