Howard Smith logo

This is just a small selection of the many CD and concert reviews by Howard Smith. Included on this page is a sample of travel writing.

CD cover
Classics (Gramophone) - 1992.   

Chung's concerto recordings of Bartok, Prokofiev and Walton, plus the Franck and Strauss sonatas made very many listeners sit up and pay more than usual heed ..... Alas, her Beethoven Concerto of 1980 with Kondrashin seems a curiously bloodless and benign affair ..... This is a prosaic reading with insufficient attention to the work's near-symphonic structure. It seems to be taken a bit at a time in a curiously cerebral way and is disfigured by patches of brutal untidiness .... Chung's coupling (Bruch's Scottish Fantasy) is another matter and Rudolf Kempe backs his soloist to the kilt (sic). Here she encompasses a magically conveyed sense of silent lochs, wind-swept heather and mournful lamentation alongside raffish, insober revelry. Though Cho-Liang Lin, Leonard Slatkin and the Chicago Symphony win the day, there's not so much as a caber's length in it - and Lin comes at full price.

CD cover

RCA Navigator CDs; comments from CD Review, November 1994.

What pianist was ever better equipped than Earl Wild in presenting the idioms of America's carefree, jazz-driven Twenties and Gershwin's taxing virtuoso demands ? Here he's partnered by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, a matchless team, invoking rhythmic ebullience and chromatic urban blues. All four items emerge with an irresistible blend of schmaltz and subtlety. Forget the dated sound (1950/51) Concerts of true America music are rarely so thrilling or vibrant in their authenticity.

 

Classics (Gramophone - 1992).

Alfredo Albert Cocozza, known to the world as Mario Lanza, was a tenor whose reputation soon outstripped his vocal accomplishments. The voice was an intense, powerful one and the talent undeniable, though stylistic excesses marred much of his work. It mattered little for Lanza's matinee idol charm enhanced his popularity to growing effect. As a consequence he became more a product of Hollywood image makersí than of theatrical or operatic forces. Sadly Lanza rose to prominence with pyrotechnic suddenness and spluttered to a musical ember with equal speed - whereupon the legend took over.

 

Recording Walton's 2nd Symphony (Naxos - Leeds Town Hall - Winter 1995).

The music is full of pained and seismic brass. It has threatening timpani fusillades and glowing clarion calls from deep within the orchestra. The fury subsides in piquant lyrical musings and shimmering interstellar swirls. All of it has exhilarating, jewel-like precision. "That was a privilege to hear," conductor Paul Daniel enthused as the first take ended. "Brilliant !" "International sales are good for our (English Northern Philharmonic) profile," he tells me. "They can only enhance the orchestra's reputation."

 

Recital - Bradford Cathedral - 1994.

Turning to Brahms Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, (Vladimir) Ovchinikov very often paid greater attention to textural qualities than the composer's architectural requirements. Too often the performance took on a casual, almost offhand character. Ovchinikov favours rapid tempos and several of the most rapid passages were marred by moments of glaring carelessness.

 

Relax Magazine for Practicing Physicians (Chicago, 1991).

At England's far northeast edge the gray North Sea meets an austere, wind-swept shore. Here, in a land of ancient castles, historic monasteries and enduring churches is the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, a place where history and nature resonate uncannily.When the tide flows in here, all links with the nearby mainland are severed. Surrounding estuaries brim with silver waters and the one-hundred acre territory becomes a domain apart. ........... despite the disappearance of public houses, old men, scarred by time and weather keep unvarying drinking schedules. Lindisfarne is policed from the mainland, so when tides advance, bars can remain open beyond legal hours.

Photo by Howard Smith
When Berwick-based police officers do cross the causeway, their approach is observed long before the squad cars arrived .......... (In the 5th Century) Cuthbert, a former shepherd introduced a mixture of Roman and Celtic rules, though his Celtic inclinations finally prevailed. He withdrew to a tiny cell on a forlorn speck of rock and grass in the inner lee of Holy Island. When even this proved insufficient privation Cuthbert sought greater isolation alongside the deeper waters of Inner Farne Island, now a bird sanctuary seven miles to the southeast ............ Today's islanders are unperturbed about the past. "We remember the saints but don't dwell on the history." an eighty-six year old village woman comments. "I've never seen a monk. But in my time I've often looked at the Pilgrim's Way black with churchgoers wading out here as they use to do." (Above: one of four photos in this article taken by Howard Smith)
 

Book review - Minneapolis Star Tribune - May 1989.

On two occasions author Anita Desai has been passed by in the final selection of Britain's annual Booker prizewinner for fiction. Soon she may win the award .... Desai deftly sidesteps ground covered so comprehensively by such authors as the late Paul Scott in his monumental Raj Quartet. Instead her focus is on an unremarkable German Jew. Hugo Baumgartner, a character constantly at variance with his environment, never truly belonging as he drifts through life propelled by a tide of uncontrollable events.