Author: Thomas Lemann

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

Never read Kafka? my literary friends said. One who has read Proust, Joyce, Mann and Musil may think he has a handle on 20th century literature, but if he hasn’t read Kafka, he’s nowhere. Thus shamed, I acquired Kafka’s “Collected …Read More

Sebald – On the Natural History of Destruction (1999)

Very likely most or even all of the VDP constituency are acquainted with the works of W. G. Sebald (1944-2001), author of “Austerlitz,” “Vertigo,” “The Rings of Saturn,” and other books celebrated for their unique style. The literary critic James …Read More

Works of Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

My belletrist wife (Sheila Bosworth, author of two published novels) was working on a paper for her literary club on the subject of The Lost Generation, which involved a good deal of Hemingway and his coterie; I had never read …Read More

Ton Koopman conducts Bach – B Minor Mass

Bach – B Minor Mass, live stream Oct. 28 by Berlin Philharmonic, chorus Rundfunkchor Berlin, conductor Ton Koopman. A superlative performance, with a relatively small chorus (less than 40) for this work (although I have a recording with no chorus …Read More

Works of Max Frisch

Works of Max Frisch (1911-1991), a Swiss avant-garde novelist whose works have been widely translated; reviewed here are “I’m not Stiller” (1954), “Homo Faber” (1957) and “Man in the Holocene” (1979). A fourth work called “A Wilderness of Mirrors” (1974) …Read More

Brahms Requiem

Brahms Requiem — live performance by Berlin Philharmonic. 7 PM in Berlin, 12 noon in New Orleans, October 21. Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin (soon to succeed Jas. Levine at the Met); chorus the Rundfunkchor Berlin. First-rate job both musically and visually, …Read More

Pushkin – Eugene Onegin (1833)

Having recently read Tasso and Ariosto in prose translations, I was keen to find this classic — Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin” (1833), translation by Roger Clarke — also in prose; but that wasn’t easy. Most of the translations are in verse; a …Read More

Happy Valley

Another appealing series from the UK is “Happy Valley.” Set in an amazingly remote area of west Yorkshire nestled between the densely populated areas of Leeds-Bradford and Manchester, in the towns and villages of Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd and Heptonstall, places …Read More

Foyle’s War

τηνελλα! The august VDP has finally condescended to review TV shows! Well, for those who are prepared to go beyond the Wires, the Cards, the Breakings, the Billions, and the Luthers, there is a very fine ITV series called “Foyle’s War,” …Read More

The Relic Master

A picaresque tale set in 1517, in which the hero, a dealer in holy relics, travels here and there in search of relics for his patrons, the Elector of Saxony and the Archbishop of Mainz, fierce competitors as relic collectors. …Read More

Mozart – Two Choral Gems

“Sancta Maria” Two small, incredibly beautiful pieces of choral music from this well-loved genius composer are the “Sancta Maria K.273” (1777) and the “Ave Verum K.618” (1791); the first from his youth at age 22 and the second from the …Read More

Bach Christmas Oratorio

Here’s a performance on YouTube in December 1999 at the Herderkirche in Weimar, which dates to 1498, has been Lutheran since 1525, and has an altarpiece by Cranach the Elder 1552 (he died 1553) and completed by Cranach the Younger …Read More

Bach — B minor Mass (Double-header)

1) Performance of 2011 at Abbaye de Fontfroide, Narbonne, France; conducted by Jordi Savall. Rating 5 stars. 2) Performance of 2012 at Royal Albert Hall, London; conducted by Harry Bicket. Rating 5 stars. * * * * * In the …Read More

Mozart C minor Mass, K.427

Performance on YouTube, with John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Stockholm Philharmonic; soloists Miah Persson, Ann Hallenberg, Hedge Rønning, Peter Mattei. A first-rate performance of this great work, by a conductor who specializes in 18th-century choral works. It takes only an …Read More

St. John Passion

Another choral work from the Berlin Philharmonic archives, a performance in February 2014 Bach’s St. John Passion, conducted by Simon Rattle with soloists Camilla Tilling, Magdalena Kozena, Tobi Lehtipuu, Mark Padmore as the evangelist, and Roderick Williams as Christus. When …Read More

Mendelssohn — Elijah (1846)

  Obedient as always to the dictates, directives, and even the whims of our august Aisymnatist, who has issued a ukase demanding more reviews of choral music, we turn once again to the archives of the Berlin Philharmonic where we …Read More

Walküre Microlude

What is a microlude? The term was apparently coined by a Hungarian avant-garde composer named György Kurtág, born 1926, pretty old if still alive, who wrote (in 1977) a composition titled “12 Microludes for String Quartet — Hommage à András …Read More

Bach — St. Matthew Passion

Obedient as always to the commands of the Panhypersebastos of the VDP, and particularly his desire to see more reviews of choral music, here is another from the Berlin Philharmonic archive. There are two performances of this work, one in …Read More

Beethoven Missa Solemnis

  Back to the Berlin Philharmonic archive with a performance on June 3, 2012, conducted by Herbert Blomstedt; soloists Ruth Ziesak, soprano; Gerhild Romberger, alto; Richard Croft, tenor; and Georg Zeppenfeld, bass. The Missa Solemnis is a rather austere work. …Read More

Brahms Requiem: Performances II and III

It turns out that the Berlin Philharmonic Archive has two other performances of this work: II: Made in Vienna in 1997, with the Swedish Radio Choir, conductor Claudio Abbado, soprano Barbara Bonney, bass Bryn Terfel (now famous at the Met). …Read More

Brahms Requiem

Berlin Philharmonic concert: Brahms Requiem.  Conductor: Herbert von Karajan; soloists Gundula Janowitz, soprano; José van Dam, bass. Recorded at a live performance in Salzburg, 1978. Despite Karajan’s well-known flamboyance, the performance was musically sober, precise, beautifully done by orchestra, soloists, …Read More

Letter from Paris — Part 2

The Cognacq-Jay is having an exhibition of works by François-André Vincent (1746-1816), not exactly a household name, whose works I had not seen before. The exhibit showed many drawings. It was worthwhile but not exactly exciting, though quite skillful. The …Read More

Letter from Paris — Part 1

Who knows the Villas of Paris?  No one in our party, until the driver told us about them  — tightly gated communities in the 16th and some others, which you can peek through but not enter; the driver says they …Read More

Letter from Venice 3

The bane of all tourists in Venice is the irregularity of church openings and the unreliability of information supplied by concierges. Yesterday, for instance, we tried to visit San Trovaso to see the St. Chrysogonus on Horseback by Giambono (active …Read More

Letter from Milan

Milan, as everyone knows, is the fashion capital of Italy, and in the Galleria you find stores of Prada, Gucci, Armani, Vuitton, Cucinelli, and — Mercedes-Benz (not selling autos but only fashion accessories); I am now maybe the only New …Read More

The Forsythe Saga

“The Forsythe Saga” (1906-20) is 850 pages and won the author John Galsworthy the Nobel Prize, but as the editor concedes, the author’s reputation “had begun to suffer from a marked shift in critical taste,” and you don’t find Galsworthy …Read More

Robert Musil: The Man Without Qualities

Written between 1928-1940 by Robert Musil, “The Man Without Qualities” (1,100 pages) has been ranked with those of Joyce, Mann, and Proust as one of the great novels of the 20th century. It is set in Vienna in 1913, and …Read More

George Santayana: The Last Puritan

George Santayana’s “The Last Puritan” (1935) is only 600 pages. Santayana was primarily a philosopher, and this is his only novel. It deals with the life of a Proper Bostonian mostly before World War I, with a Beacon Hill heritage …Read More

Letter from Barataria and Lafitte, Louisiana

Less than an hour from New Orleans is deep bayou country, and if you happen to have grandchildren in town for Thanksgiving you could do a lot worse than distract them from their “mobile devices” by taking them to Barataria …Read More

Letter from Venice 2

We took an afternoon excursion to far-flung Pellestrina in the outer reaches of the Lagoon.  There you find a mass of colorful houses, similar to those on Burano, and especially you get to see and climb the murazzi, the dike …Read More

Letter from Palermo

We came to Palermo just to see the stucco work of Serpotta (1652-1732) in the Oratorios and had engaged a guide for that purpose.  Palermo is full of marvels – I visited in 1968, but had never seen the work …Read More

Letter from Vicenza

The most fabulous sight in Vicenza is undoubtedly the Teatro Olimpico of Palladio (1580). I am now engaged in an email discussion with a couple of art history buffs on whether it’s the most impressive interior space in the Western …Read More

Letter from Cividale

   For anyone who hasn’t been there, an excursion to Cividale del Friuli is obligatory, for Cividale is a megamuseum of medieval memorabilia.  The sarcophagus of Duke Gisulphus (d. AD 568)!  The altar of Duke Rachis (ruled 744-49)!  The Pax of …Read More

Letter from Venice 1

We arrived here from Geneva on an Air Chance flight, and were settled in our seats, with the plane full and about to take off, when a flight attendant approached and said there were other people that held our seats …Read More

Letter from Chantilly

At Chantilly there are two things of special note:  the two singeries (the Grande Singerie and the Petite Singerie), both recently restored; and the Cascade de Beauvais, which was finally restored last year. The two singeries, like the one at …Read More