The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music holiday gifts, Part 2: Combine CDs, DVDs, books and tickets | December 20, 2009

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s time for another holiday gift suggestion.

Combining a CD or a DVD with tickets to a live event or a book always strikes me as a classic packaging – especially if you can work in a local performers or concert.

This season I have a couple specific recommendations.

One is the new book by Eric Siblin, “The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece” (318 pages, Atlantic Monthly Press, $24).

This is a fascinating account of some of Bach’s popular and accessible works,composed for solo cello, written by a former pop music critic who becomes a convert to the universality and superiority of classical music.

Its counterpoint organization – based on the 36 movements contained in the six cello suites – travels back and forth between the actual music and its mood or “content,” the biography of J.S. Bach, the history of classical music, and the history, politics and biography of Pablo Casals (below right)  and modern Europe from World War I through World War II.

The book is a quick but illuminating and enjoyable read.

The masterful works, as Siblin points out, were once thought to be exercises – not such an a far-fetched point of view if you recall that the Two-Part Inventions and Three–Part Sinfonia as well the two books of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” were also designated as useful exercises by none other than Bach himself.

Siblin (below right) has his own favorite cellists (he interviewed Mischa Maisky) but any set of the suites would go well with this book.

I particularly and fond of Jian Wang, Ralph Kirshbaum, Janos Starker, Yo-Yo Ma and Mstislav Rostropovich. Then there are also sets by Pierre Fournier, Stephen Isserlis, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Pieter Wispelwey and Maria Kliegel to say nothing of Casals’ own pioneering readings (too heavy with excessive subjective Romanticism for my taste, but beloved by many others) and historic recordings of course. And you can find period-instrument recordings by Anner Bylsma.’s classical section lists a couple of dozen available recordings along with readers’ reviews.

Here is a link to Janet Maslin’s positive review of the book in the New York Times:

Another great combination would be a copy of Henry James’ famous ghost story “The Turn of the Screw” with tickets to the Madison Opera’s production of Benjamin Britten’s opera based on the literary story.

The opera will be performed, under the baton of John DeMain, Jan. 28-31 in The Playhouse in the Overture Center.

Here is a link with more information about performances and tickets:

In addition to many editions of James’ novella, recordings of the Britten opera are available, as are several movie and TV adaptations of the famous ghost story on DVD.

And of course, you could also give someone a DVD of the Britten opera.

Along similar line, a DVD of Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” would go well will tickets to the Madison’s Opera production of that work in Overture Hall on April 9 and 11.

Do you have other suggestions for couplings of CDs, DVDs or book with local music events?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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