Dilettante's Diary

Aug 29/07

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Favourite Works: 2004-2013
Two Novels by BARBARA PYM
Sabbath's Theater by PHILIP ROTH
July 18/13
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A Toast to 2012
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Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2012
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La Traviata: Met's Live HD Version
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Academy Awards Show 2012
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Notables of '09
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How Fiction Works
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Sex for Saints
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Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2009
Toronto Fringe 2009
Zen Wrapped In Karma Dipped In Chocolate
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CBC Radio -- "The New Two"
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Toronto Art Expo '09
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The Jesus Sayings
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Stand-outs of 2008
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Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 08
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Head to Head
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Notables of 2007
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Summer Mysteries '07
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Toronto Art Expo 2007
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Notables of 2006
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Ring Psycho (Wagner on CBC Radio)
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Me In Manhattan
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Me and the Jays
July 10/05
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About Me
Dec 20/04
Dec 5/04
OTHER STUFF: Art Exhibitions, Concerts, etc.

The date above is the date on which the page was started. The more recent reviews are towards the top of the page.

On this page:  Lady Chatterley (Movie); Balls of Fury (Movie); Beethoven's First Piano Concerto ("Sound Advice" on CBC Radio Two);The Passing of a Giant (A Reflection);  Bobby (DVD); The Queen's Sister (DVD) and A Royal Scandal (added feature); Sondra Radvanovsky ("The Singer and the Song"); Ramona Luengen (Piano Concerto: World Premiere)

Lady Chatterley (Movie) written by Rober Bohot and Pascale Ferran; directed by Pascale Ferran; based on the book "Lady Chatterley and the Woodsman" by D. H. Lawrence; starring Marina Hands, Jean-Louis Coullo’ch, Hippolyte Girardot, Hlne Alexandridis, Hlne Fillires .

Director Pascale Ferran has chosen to base her film, not on the famous Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but on a second, less well-known version by Lawrence called Lady Chatterley and the Woodsman. I don’t remember enough details of the former to say exactly how this one differs from it. Plot-wise, I suspect there are some major changes, particularly in the endings.

The first surprise, in terms of this film, is the groundskeeper (here identified as "Parkin"). Whether or not my previous impressions of the character come from the book or from earlier film versions, I can’t say for sure. I’ve always thought of him an earthy young stud, oozing testosterone all over the place, barely able to hold himself back. In this film, though, actor Jean-Louis Coullo’ch looks to be in his mid forties, if not pushing fifty. His hair is thinning and his whiskers are coming out white (always in the three-day stubble that, by some biological magic, movie actors sport every day). Still, he is sensual in a brooding, taciturn way. He reminded me of Marlon Brando when he was starting to get paunchy. As the movie rolled on, I began to think it made sense to cast the groundskeeper as this world-weary, older man. He could be more patient with her ladyship. Unlike some rampaging young lover, he would have the experience to instruct her gradually in the sensual arts. Marina Hands responds beautifully to his tutelage. In retrospect, though, I couldn’t help wishing that her Lady Chatterley had not seemed quite so doe-eyed and breathless. For me, the movie would have had more punch if Lady Chatterley were a bit less of a movie star and a bit more of a woman with a strong character.

On one level, Lady Chatterley has always been seen as D. H. Lawrence’s thesis – if not diatribe – on the need for sexual honesty and freedom, for liberation from the sexual hypocrisy of the Victorian age. Director Ferran prepares us for a sensual awakening with long, lingering shots of various aspects of nature on the rambling estate: drops of rain on the leaves of bushes, bits of fur caught in the undergrowth, gurgling streams, and always the life-affirming peeps and chirps of myriad birds. When the lovers actually get down to business, there’s real electricity in the scene where Lady C. braves herself to start exploring his body with her fingers. A scene where he lights a cigarette for her suddenly brought back to me the illicit pleasure of smoking at the age of thirteen – the smell, the taste, the feel, the excitement and the daring. Director Ferran had brought me to a pitch where I was hyper-alert to every sensation.

If the nearly three-hour movie were only about sensuality, though, you’d be screaming: enough already! The fact that you don’t must mean that the movie’s about something more. Sex is just part of it. In essence, it’s about people caught in a difficult situation. What are they going to do? Simple little details of ordinary life – like the way he prepares tea for her in his cabin – make them real people and you care about them. In their final encounter, surprising depths open up in them, particularly in him. I’m not sure that I bought everything that came out in that conversation, but it revealed sides of the two characters that were much more interesting than you’d expect if you were just looking at them as pawns in a treatise on sexual politics.

Rating: C (i.e. "Certainly worth seeing")


Balls of Fury (Movie) written by Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant; directed by Ben Garant; starring Dan Fogler, Christopher Walken, George Lopez, Maggie Q, James Hong, Thomas Lennon.

Much to my horror, the kid manning the box office automatically issued me a "Golden Age" ticket for this movie. I can’t think what caused him to make such an egregious error – unless it was his surprise that anyone so sophisticated, debonnair and cultured-looking would buy a ticket for such a movie.

Ok, so why would a sophisticated, debonnair, cultured guy go to this movie? Well, I had a couple of hours to kill before a meeting. Given the need to mesh my schedule with the schedules of the movies playing in the area, it was a choice of this one of Mr. Bean’s Holiday. I figured maybe this one had the edge because Mr. Bean would give me one guy goofing around whereas this one would give me a bunch of guys goofing around.

Which it does. Dan Fogler plays Randy Datona, a washed-up, former child prodigy ping-pong champ. An FBI agent (George Lopez) recruits him to get access to this really, really, supremely evil guy (Christopher Walken) who invites the best ping-pong players in the world to a private tournament. Only trouble is, Randy’s skills with the paddle are a little rusty, so the first half of the movie is all about trying to whip him into shape.

To call the plot sophomoric would be to praise it too highly. It’s more like the comic-book imaginings of a bunch of grade eight boys sitting around, "Hey wouldn’t it be cool if....." and then "It would be so awesome if....." Never mind character development, logic or coherence. The goal is to keep subverting the viewers’ expectations as often as possible: the ping-pong coach is blind; a mysterious opponent turns out to be a nine-year-old girl; a sexy courtesan turns out to be a guy. There are at least five, maybe ten, instances where a seemingly congenial dialogue ends with somebody kicking the other guy in the groin. Most of the action sequences look like they come from ultra-violent video games. Some of the attempted jokes are so bad that you couldn’t even say they fall flat. It’s more like something happens and you go: was that supposed to be a joke or what? It’s not often that you encounter that sort of ineptness in a movie, so I suppose you could say that the hit-or-miss style gives it a certain unpolished charm.....maybe.

But there’s no question that the movie offers some really inspired bits. Like the advice from the all-wise coach (James Hong) to his protegee just before the big match: "Remember, you suck when you get nervous." And then there’s that supremely evil guy’s comment to a ping-pong player who has just realized the grim consequences of losing, "And what part of ‘sudden death’ didn’t you understand?"

As the evil supremo, Christopher Walken does about as well as anybody could with such a ridiculous role. One character says that Walken’s wardrobe looks like it comes from an Elton John garage sale. To me, he looks like Liberace trying to be Madama Butterfly. Saddled with such formidable costumery, Mr. Walken takes the safest course by underplaying the role for the most part. His best moment happens at first his entrance. As he emerges from a sedan chair, he’s fussing about his wardrobe, the way a bride on entering the church might be worried that her veil is crooked. It’s a subtle, quiet moment that you might almost miss, but it’s a bit of superb acting.

Thomas Lennon plays an outrageously aggressive German ping-pong player. The part would be nothing but a negligible clich – except for one moment where you get a glimpse of something else. While the fiendish German is looming over Randy Datona's face, you see something really interesting going on in Lennon’s eyes. I guess it helps your acting career when you're one of the script writers.

As that Randy Daytona character, Dan Fogler appears to be one of the pack of fat, somewhat sleazy young comedians who are turning up in starring roles lately. Some of them, Seth Rogen for instance, have a certain charisma and sex appeal under the flab. But there’s nothing attractive about Mr. Fogler. He comes across as every inch the grease ball that he appears to be. Still, I began to really like him. Something genuine about him won me over. I think it’s his look of being an  ordinary guy – well, maybe a little less than ordinary – caught in impossible circumstances. When you stop to think of it, it’s a classic piece of clowning: the schlemiel who’s in way over his head but who has to bluff his way through somehow.

In the end, though, the movie’s good points weren’t enough to make up for the sketchy, unsatisfying feeling overall. I was going to say that I didn’t get my money’s worth – but, then, there was that "Golden Age" reduced admission.

Rating: D (for "Divided" i.e. some good, some bad)


Beethoven's First Piano Concerto ("Sound Advice", CBC Radio Two, Sept 9/07)

I tend to cringe at what appears to be the Canadian need to go overboard about Glenn Gould. It strikes me that, in recent years, we’re trying too hard to live down our reputation for not appreciating our own talent. Granted, he was a very gifted pianist. But not every thing he did deserves the adulation Canadians feel compelled to shower on him. His Mozart playing, for instance, is positively perverse. Clearly, he sets out to destroy the beauty of the music. He once said something to the effect that Mozart was ok when he was still Haydn, before became Mozart. So you see what kind of craziness we’re dealing with.

However, given that we’re approaching the 25th anniversary of Gould’s death and the 75th anniversary of his birth, we’re gonna have to settle in for lots more discussion about his legacy. On "Sound Advice" this week, host Rick Phillips compared Glenn Gould’s recording of Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with two recent ones. In the Gould recording on Sony, made nearly fifty years ago when he was just twenty-five, he is accompanied by the Columbia Symphony Orchestra and Vladimir Golschmann. The two recent recordings of the work, both on Deutsche Grammophon, feature Lang Lang with the Orchestra de Paris under Christoph Eschenbach, and Mikhail Pletnev with the Russian National Orchestra conducted by Christian Gansch.

Although the program "Sound Advice" is unfailingly interesting, host Rick Phillips often makes me mad. No question that he’s very knowledgeable about music in an academic way, but I seldom agree with his artistic or aesthetic judgements on recordings. It often seems to me that he isn’t hearing the same music I am. In this case, however, he was dead right: the Gould recording is far superior to the other two. As Mr. Phillips quite rightly said, Gould has all the bounce and fun and vivacity that Beethoven must have intended the piece to have. As for the other two pianists, I don’t have any prior impression of Mikhail Pletnev but I know that Lang Lang’s sexy and funny, so I wanted to like him. By comparison with Gould, though, they both sound competent but not distinguished. Let’s face it: some people are musicians; Glenn Gould was a phenomenon, albeit an annoying one sometimes. His original cadenza at the end of the first movement – a contrapuntal-fugue-sort-of-thing-verging-on-jazz was hilarious. But hey, if a cadenza is meant to show what a performer can come up with on his own initiative, then go for it, guy! Same with his cadenza in the third movement, except that it had a somewhat more orchestral sound. Speaking of which, the Columbia Symphony had that big, lush 1950s sound that is out of favour in such repertoire now. Yet, they startled me with some very delicate, almost Mozartean playing in places. Rather like seeing an elephant suddenly break into dainty ballet steps.


The Passing of A Giant: A  Reflection 

If I ever die, they can look back and say that I lived through a lot of interesting historical developments. I saw the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall, the first moon walk, some pretty big assassinations and the end of the Italian stranglehold on the papacy. But the really significant thing is that I lived in the time of Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti. Given that singing opera is the greatest thing a person can do, the accomplishments of these titans who did it so magnificently stand at the top of the list of human achievements. (Granted, there are other worthwhile endeavours. But, let’s say you healed all the sick and feed all the poor – you’d still need opera.)

Voices like this only come along every few hundred years (as seen from my eternal perspective) and to think that I heard two of them live is virtually miraculous. I used to sneak into the Vancouver Opera when Joan was on hand – my technique involved the use of a back entrance, then lying to ushers – but I’d first heard her live in Lucia di Lammermoor on the Met’s spring tour to Detroit in the 1960s. As for Luciano, I was at Massey Hall for what I think was his Toronto debut in the 1970s. I’d like to claim that I was one of the select cognoscenti smart enough to get tickets for this amazing new tenor but, to be honest, there were quite a lot of us packed into the hall. My main impressions of that concert are the waving white handkerchief and a slight disappointment that he didn’t sing any opera, only Italian art songs – although very beautifully.

But you could never get your fill of these super-human artists in live performances. You have to pig out on recordings. It’s enough to listen to them knowing that you’re alive at the same time as such heroes. Now that one of them is gone, I’m left, not so much with a sense of loss, as with an appreciation of how rich my life has been. Still, he leaves an awfully big void.


Bobby (Movie) written and directed by Emilio Estevez; starring Harry Belafonte, Anthony Hopkins, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Helen Hunt, Martin Sheen, William H. Macey, Elijah Wood, Lindsay Lohan, Ashton Kutcher, Christian Slater, Sharon Stone.

Despite the title, this movie isn’t really about Bobby Kennedy – except in the sense that, for a lot of people, his name and his image sum up something hopeful and magical about a brief moment in US history. The movie illustrates this by zeroing in on a fateful day in 1968 and showing how various people happened to be gathered to witness a certain tragic event at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. There’s the hotel manager (William H. Macey), the kitchen manager (Christian Slater), various kitchen staff, a lounge singer, Democratic Party flunkies and so on. The feel of 1960s America comes through authentically, if sentimentally. We get the stiff hair-do’s, the sideburns, the short skirts, the LSD. A boy and girl are getting married in the hotel just to save him from going to Viet Nam. At one point, Simon and Garfunkel’s "The Sound of Silence" plays through a panorama of American life and you can’t help feeling a kind of ache, along with some amazement: did we really listen to something so beautiful and take its sentiments to heart?

For a movie like this to be a complete success, however, the disparate stories have to build a momentum right from the beginning. In each corner of the canvas, you have to see that something interesting is developing. In this respect, Mr. Estevez’s efforts fall somewhat short of the Robert Altman masterpieces of the genre. Some business involving Harry Belafonte and Anthony Hopkins playing chess in the hotel lobby is clearly just a yawn-inducing shtick for two performing legends. Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt play a middle-aged couple who are staying in the hotel and you keep wondering what’s with them. They seem to be marking time. It’s not good enough to say that they’ll have some part to play in the awful climax. There’s got to be some reason for them to hold your interest here and now.

And what’s with that belaboured speech that Ms. Hunt gives her husband about the importance of having the right heels to go with her dress? The scripted dialogue makes them sound as though they’re on a blind date and have never really talked to each other before. Which points up another of the hazzards of a movie like this. If you’re going for an almost-documentary effect, you have to be careful not to make a false move that could ruin the impression. The script is loaded with them. Telephone operators in 1968 would not conclude a transaction with the clich that’s so current today, "Have a nice day." Nor would anybody, trying to reassure someone else about a bizarre scheme, say "I’m ok with this."

But the biggest sins against believability occur in the kitchen. In the actual tragedy, a certain bus boy became famous through a photo of him holding the hand of the fallen hero. Fair enough, the kid had an appealingly angelic look. But this movie turns him into, not only a saint, but a king. Worse still, Laurence Fishburne, as the head chef, delivers sententious lectures to his assembled kitchen staff while they’re trying to grab a bite. What workers would sit and listen to such crap, even from the boss? It all becomes even more ludicrous when the chef refers to his blueberry cobbler to illustrate the importance of finding your own way of creating a work of art. This might fly if he were talking about angel food cake or lemon meringue pie – but blueberry cobbler? You get the feeling that Mr. Estevez, as script writer, doesn’t know his way around a kitchen and you begin to wonder if you can trust him anywhere else

And yet, along comes a scene with Demi Moore as the alcoholic lounge singer confiding in Sharon Stone, the stylist in the hotel’s beauty parlour. The scene is riveting. Absolutely truthful and authentic in every note. We at Dilettante’s Diary haven’t always appreciated Ms. Moore’s efforts in the acting department but her work in this movie is superb.

Rating: C (where C = "Certainly worth seeing")


The Queen’s Sister (DVD) written by Craig Warner; directed by Simon Celan Jones; starring Lucy Cohu, Toby Stephens, David Threlfall, Benjamin Whitrow, Simon Woods.

The packaging of this BBC production features a frowsy Princess Margaret type whooping it up with bottle and cigarette. Compared to the relatively high-brow account of royal goings-on in The Queen, this one looked like pure shlock. So I took it home just to make sure.

Surprise – it turns out to be pretty good. No way of my knowing whether or not it conveys the real Princess Margaret or the truth about what went on behind the scenes, but it works as a modern tragedy. A princess falls in love with the only man who has made her feel real since the death of her father. But the authorities, for political and religious reasons (which pretty much blend together), won’t let her marry her lover.  So she takes up with a glamorous playboy. They have lots of fun but neither of them is suited to marriage or parenting. When the fun fizzles, she gets more and more desperate in her outrageous behaviour. The problem is that she can’t see, as the years pass, that "the people" don’t love her any more, even while the anti-royalists in parliament are decrying the waste of money on her extravagant lifestyle.

Clearly, the BBC producers didn’t have anything like the money lavished on The Queen, but they do not too badly. Instead of all the great royal panoply, we get corners of scenes, glimpses of limousines pulling up on opening nights, etc. Was it just because of budgetary constraints that there's never a sign of bodyguards or security staff during Margaret’s bar-hopping and motorcycle-riding escapades? Or were those long ago days really so innocent? Lucy Cohu turns in a very credible Margaret, although a documentary about the princess’ early years (included with the DVD) confirms my suspicion that Ms. Cohu’s accent isn’t anywhere near posh enough.

For my money, though, the movie has two flaws. One of them is the insertion of shots of people in their homes watching tv reports on the royal shenanigans. I suppose it’s necessary to give some sense of the public reaction to the princess’ muddling, but subtitles with sarcastic comments like "Who cares?" convey a snarky editorializing tone that, for me, undercuts the authenticity of the rest of the material.

The more important flaw – and this one strikes right at the heart of the movie – we never see Princess Margaret with her illustrious sister. Instead, the Queen looms over Margaret’s life as a distant and disapproving presence, with Prince Philip acting as go-between. David Threlfall, although he lacks the good looks of the original, does a wonderful job as Philip. I’ll never forget his dry response when Margaret asks at one point if he’s angry with her, "What would be the point?" From more recent royal tribulations, we know that Philip has often had to act as mediator, so his role in this movie strikes a note of believability. Still, he can’t always have come between the two women. It would have been intriguing to listen in on meetings between the one who made it to the top and the one who was cast aside. After all, the movie’s called The Queen’s Sister.

Rating: C (i.e. "Certainly worth seeing")


A Royal Scandal (A "special" on the above mentioned DVD) written by Stanley Price; directed by Sheree Folkson; starring Richard E. Grant, Susan Lynch, Ian Richardson.

I was going to say that the acting in The Queen’s Sister was impeccable, as always in BBC productions. But this BBC feature that comes with the movie shows me that it ain’t necessarily so. Still, the story told is fascinating for a guy who was put out of class the day they did history. In 1795, a beleagured Prince of Wales, later George IV, consented to marry Caroline of Brunswick, a louche, unkempt German princess. He performed his conjugal duty – once – with loathing, but ever after kept his distance from her, even refusing to let her be crowned with him in 1821. (Who says bizarre antics of royal families are anything new?)

But A Royal Scandal offers some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen on screen. The actor in the role of the Prince of Wales (Richard E. Grant) mugs and signals his thoughts and feelings as broadly as if he were using semaphore. The woman in the role of Caroline (Susan Lynch) doesn’t do quite as badly except for her amateurish German accent. Worst of all, a narrator (Ian Richardson) intones the story while the performers act it out. Strictly high-school – or whatever the Brits call that unfortunate rite of passage.

Rating: F (i.e. "Fergeddit")


Sondra Radvanovsky on "The Singer and the Song", CBC Radio Two, August 26

Host Catherine Belyea mentioned that when Sondra Radvanovksy, her guest on this program, appeared in a Toronto gala concert in June, several audience members were asking, "Who’s she?" If I had been at the concert, I would have been asking too. So I’m grateful to Ms Belyea for introducing me to this exciting spinto singer.

Apparently, Ms Radvanovksy is having a very successful career at the major international opera houses. Mention was made of the fact that she is "not really" a Canadian, but a landed immigrant. (I don’t know the story behind that, if there is one.) Nor has she recorded very much. From her, we heard only one aria, a very impressive rendition of "D’amor sul’ali rosee" from Il Trovatore.  Ms Radvanovksy discussed her vibrato, an innate feature of her voice, which could, presumably, present something of a stumbling block for some listeners. I was afraid this was going to mean that she had one of those voices with waves in it big enough to swamp a rowboat but it turns out that Ms Radvanovksy’s vibrato is tiny and quick. I found it thrilling.

In their conversation, Ms Belyea and Ms Radvanovksy commented on and played recordings of various singers who have made an impression on Ms Radvanovksy. It was wonderful to hear Leontyne Price again in an aria from Ernani. Her "scooping" was noted as being typical of the style of singing in another era. But I can’t help wondering if any of us mortals has the right to speak of imperfections in such great singing. I was glad that we got to hear the late Louis Quilico, one of the great Verdi baritones of all time, but "Il balen del suo soriso" was perhaps not the ideal aria to show off his voice. To someone who grew up on Robert Merrill’s velvety "Il balen", Mr. Quilico sounded a bit stentorian for the piece.

One of the great singers with whom Ms Radvanovksy had some coaching was Regine Crespin, who told her not to impose her own emotions on the music, to let the composer’s emotional intentions carry it. It struck me that this is almost an exact echo of what Ian McKellen is quoted as saying about acting in the August 27/07 issue of The New Yorker. After analyzing various approaches to the role of King Lear, he now tries to keep his own emotions out of it: "I’ve increasingly tried to get out of the way of the words.....Stop telling the audience what you feel. You have to feel it but you don’t have to express it.....I want to thrill them with Shakespeare, not with me." Is this similarity in what the two artists have said just a coincidence? I think it says something profound about the way performers are approaching the great works.


Ramona Luengen (Piano Concerto, World Premiere), played by Jane Coop, Symphony Hall, CBC Radio Two, August 26

What’s with this new music thing that’s happening in my life lately? (See note on Gavin Bryars concert on page dated "Aug 8/07") Here’s another piece that intrigued me. Presumably, as a result of studying the Bach inventions lately, there’s so much now that strikes me as banal or trite in music by people like Beethoven and Mendelssohn and Dvorak. But not in this piece. I found it consistently interesting. Surprisingly, we were told that composer Luengen does not ordinarily write for orchestra but for voice. Maybe that’s what put her concerto across for me. No matter what strange stuff was going on, there was always a singing voice coming through – which is not always the case in the commotion that often passes for music now and that strikes me just as background noise for movies.

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