Simon Russell Beale (Timon) and Tom Robertson (Ventidius) in Timon of Athens at The National Theatre. Photo: Alastair Muir.

Timon of Athens at The National Theatre

Gnawing the flesh. It was the best of Timon; it was the worst of Timon. Reducing a stage production to one sentence rarely does it justice, but the National Theatre’s new, wildly popular Timon of Athens, mounted as a showcase for London’s favorite actor, Simon Russell Beale, wins the best and worst prize on several counts. It takes the messiest of Shakespeare’s late plays, a nasty, grinding parable about misanthropy, and delivers a glittering first half that is unexpected magic before the genii departs and we endure the dismal gray of the second half.

Riccardo Chailly.

BBC Proms 67 and 69: The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Riccardo Chailly

Rocky road.  Rebuilding an orchestra is one of the most complex tasks imaginable, requiring delicate negotiations as well as sometimes abrupt firings, a soothing hand with the musicians’ pride but also a new broom to sweep out the old dust. Riccardo Chailly, who at 69 is an eminence on the podium, set out to renew the venerable Leipzig Gewandhaus, historically the orchestra of Mendelssohn. Languishing behind the Iron Curtain after World War II did them no good, however, and where the Dresden Staatskapelle managed miraculously to keep up world-class standards, the Leipzigers weren’t so lucky. I didn’t hear them during their long dark period, but the recordings that came West were nothing special, except in Mendelssohn.

Patrick Keiller: The Robinson Institute at Tate Britain

Occasionally I’ve thought that in my role as The Berkshire Review‘s ‘London correspondent’ I ought to focus sometimes on things that are more culturally British; unfortunately, I just don’t think much of British culture generally, and with the Olympics now here, decimating arts funding and forcing friends and colleagues of mine out of their homes due to massive rent increases, I feel arguably less inclined than ever to take up the baton for this country.

A Woman Killed with Kindness at the National Theatre, reviewed by Huntley Dent

Too clever by halves. Although T.S. Eliot was describing Marlowe’s once popular, now buried play, The Jew of Malta, when he dubbed it a savage farce, the phrase is a wide paintbrush for Jacobean tragedy, whose absurd motivations, wildly outsized emotions and sheer body count tempt us to burst out laughing. One of the breeziest writers of the day, Thomas Heywood, shuffled genres like a card sharp, and there’s no reason to believe that he took his most famous tragedy, A Woman Killed With Kindness (1603) too seriously. There’s not much reason to revive it either, except as a study in stage contraptions antecedent to the great age of folderol bien fait in the Victorian theater, which gave us masterly contrivers like Scribe, Sardou, and the like.

First Night of the Proms 2011

Check the odometer. The Proms deserve a jolly rev up when they start, and after 117 summer seasons, it was a fresh young pianist, Benjamin Grosvenor, who provided it. At nineteen, he came out in a casual shirt looking like a college freshman who might be spending his vacation as a pizza delivery boy or valet parking attendant. Those attendants are notorious for taking Porsches and Jags for a quick spin, returning them with hot wheels. Grosvenor had his chances with Liszt’s Piano Concerto no. 2, but he returned it respectfully to its owner. He displayed glittering fingers and a beguiling soft touch at the beginning, but this work is faux art, setting a mood simply to tease the audience before the fireworks display.

Francis Beaumont, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Renaissance Center Theater Company, Amherst, MA

Among plays about the theater, Beaumont’s Knight of the Burning Pestle stands out for its sheer lunatic energy. First staged around 1607, this Knight is a trove of mocking allusions to the theatrical pieces of the time, particularly the “citizen” plays displaying the bold adventures of London’s apprentice boys and the moralistic, materialistic “prodigal” dramas, in which the wayward learn harsh lessons in thrift and prudence. But even those theater-goers who are not scholars of Renaissance drama, and who have not come across such works as Thomas Heywood’s Four Prentices of London or the London Prodigal (of unknown authorship) can appreciate the over-the-top tour of Shakespearean highlights, particularly one sequence in which we move, at warp speed, from a parody of Romeo and Juliet (in which the apparently deceased lover bolts upright) to one of Macbeth (in which a ghost politely warns of his impending and inconvenient appearance at the dinner table).

Paul Griffiths, The Substance of Things Heard – Writings about Music

For most of its history music criticism has been almost as fleeting as music itself. If a person, for whatever odd reason, wanted to read a review of some past concert, it would have been necessary to consult a newspaper archive in a library, hardly a Herculean task, but an effort in comparison to the instantly-available databases we’ve become accustomed to in recent years. And, now that print journalism seems to be dying out, and publications like our own Berkshire Review for the Arts maintain permanent access to all published articles (and there is a readership for some of them long after the event they record) it is easier than ever.

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