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Roger Bissell

Roy A. Childs, Jr. Reviews

7 posts in this topic

Roy Childs Jr. was a passionate lover of romantic and classical music, and his excellent writing style no doubt generated healthy sales for the book and record services of Books for Libertarians and Libertarian Review during the 1970s. I have been given permission by Andrea Millen-Rich to post all of Roy's wonderful pieces from BFL and LR, and I plan to do just that!

BTW, for those who are interested, Libertarian Review from 1977 onward will soon be posted online, so even more of that wonderful publication will be available for the curious and thirsty.

Best to all,

Roger Bissell

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Roger, I'm looking forward to seeing Roy's reviews, and also those you'll be posting by Jeff Riggenbach. They are both brilliant writers. Roy had the ability to take the driest subject (to my mind, economics) and make it come alive; his LFB articles always were a delight to read. And Jeff, whether one agreed with him or not, never failed to be original and interesting.

Barbara

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Saint-Saens: The Five Piano Concertos

Aldo Ciccolini, Pianist

Orchestre de Paris

Serge Baudo, Conductor

Seraphim SIC-6081 (3 records)

Reviewed by Roy A. Childs, Jr.

For many years now, Camille Saint-Saens, like other Romantic composers such as Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, has been on the black list of contemporary avant-garde critics and composers. The Romantics were generally spurned and ridiculed, and blithely dismissed; the lush, exciting and dramatic music of Rachmaninoff, for instance, has been contemptuously dismissed as “film music.” Today, however, we are witnessing a full-blown “Romantic Revival,” and under the leadership of such scholars as Raymond Lewenthal, Frank Cooper, Michael Ponti and Earl Wild, we are witnessing the virtual “rebirth” of a great many pieces of music which have not seen the light of day in performances for nearly a century.

One of the most significant figures whose work is being revived and re-evaluated is Camille Saint-Saens. Saint-Saens, unlike many of those whose work is being brought back for a new trial, was never completely ignored. Some of his lighter pieces remained popular, as did at least one or two of the piano concertos, his famous “organ” Symphony No. 3, the Carnival of the Animals and Danse Macabre. But Saint-Saens, who was born in 1835 and lived until 1921, began his career as a music “radical” who was looked on suspiciously, and ended his career similarly “out-of-date,” thus having come full circle on a career that was, for the most part, fabulously successful.

One of the greatest products of this “Romantic Revival” has now been made available in this country. It was released in Europe several months ago, and was highly acclaimed and awarded the Paris “Grand Prix du Disque” medal of distinction. It is the complete, integrated version of Saint-Saens: Five Piano Concertos performed by one of Europe’s leading pianists, Aldo Ciccolini, and the European conductor Serge Baudo. As great as Baudo is, however, it is Ciccolini who takes the spotlight in this remarkable three-record set. Ciccolini is best known in the U.S. for his recordings of the piano music of Eric Satie and is regarded, somewhat unjustly, as a specialist in French piano music. I say “somewhat unjustly” because it is in his European recordings (six records to date) of the music of Franz Liszt in which he has excelled, not to mention his recordings of other classical and romantic composers. Ciccolini has, in any case, shown himself to be a formidable interpreter of the Romantics. Thus, all the more welcome is his recording of the Saint-Saens.

Thee have been other recordings of some of the Saint-Saens piano concertos—at least three of the five—but not very many. The only recording until now, of the first and third concertos, remarkable for their zest, lush orchestration and childlike excitement, has been the dated and monophonic recordings of the French pianist Jean-Marie Darre, on an import recording. Darre did nothing close to full justice to these works. As for the others, we have three recordings of Saint-Saens’ Fifth Concerto, but only the ill-sounding version of Sviatoslav Richter can stand up to Ciccolini’s version here, an expansive, sensitive reading which emphasizes the openness of the work, and the tinge or Orientalism (the concerto has been nicknamed the “Egyptian”) which permeates the work. As for the other two concertos, the second and fourth, both have been recorded many times. Ciccolini’s stand up with the best of them. Most versions of the second, for instance, emphasize the dramatic, intense aspect of the work; only the version by Phillipe Entremont manages to pull off this interpretation with any subtlety, but even his recording tends to be harsh and unsympathetic at times, despite its dramatic flair. Entremont’s verson of the Fourth, too, is a bit harsh, lacking in subtlety.

Ciccolini’s performances are a good contrast to Entremont’s. While Ciccolini’s performances are a trifle understated for my taste, even this is a welcome relief from the modern trend towards extreme percussiveness in treatment of both the piano and the music written for it. Ciccolini brings sensitive, poetic readings to this music, and produces a singing piano tone to boot, something which we are beginning to hear all-too-rarely. The modern tendency in pianism ranges from that of Ashkenazy, an extreme literalist, who is almost violently anti-romantic in interpretations, (but who produces a beautiful piano tone) to that of Zhukov, who thinks he is a Romantic, but is merely loud and harsh, and who produces a piano tone which is brittle and edgy.

Ciccolini is more than a welcome contrast to all of this. His performances are romantic, yet have a great respect for the print score. His piano tone is simply gorgeous.

All in all, this set is one of the most welcome in a long time. Any lover of pianism, or romantic music, will want to own one, and we have Seraphim, the “budget” subsidiary of Angel Records, to hank for having made it available. Saint-Saens has never been fully appreciated; his unique sense-of-life is nowhere more evident than in these concertos: he has a sense of wonder, of innocence, of benevolence and humor. The almost childlike gaiety is evident throughout these works, and they can bring many, many hours of pleasure to music lovers. Highly recommended.

[This review was first published in Books for Libertarians, March 1973 and was posted with permission to Objectivist Living on…] [Note to collectors: BFL sold this album set in 1973 for $7.95 (list price $8.85). The same set is available on compact discs from Amazon.com, with 7 used available from $12.95 and 3 collectibles (like new) available from $23.95. I think that Objectivist Living has a deal with Amazon.com, so browse this website, or ask Kat, for details on how to order in a way that helps out our website!]

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Roger, I'm looking forward to seeing Roy's reviews, and also those you'll be posting by Jeff Riggenbach. They are both brilliant writers. Roy had the ability to take the driest subject (to my mind, economics) and make it come alive; his LFB articles always were a delight to read. And Jeff, whether one agreed with him or not, never failed to be original and interesting.

Barbara

Thanks, Barbara. I'm looking forward to it, too--drooling, actually, over the opportunity to bring these vast riches to another generation of thinkers, appreciators, readers, and listeners. :-)

Roy, with all of his prodigious output, only had one book published, and that posthumously in 1994, Liberty Against Power: Essays by Roy A. Childs, Jr. by Joan Kennedy Taylor (herself now deceased as well). But what an incredible outpouring of essays and reviews! For over a decade, he was Libertarian Review personified, and he wrote a lot about Objectivism as well.

Stay tuned, and I will endeavor to bring his gems back into circulation as my busy schedule permits.

Best always,

Roger B.

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Roger: "Roy, with all of his prodigious output, only had one book published."

I've always considered that a tragedy, a tragedy for Roy, and for his potential readers. Apart from his writing ability, with only two or three exceptions no one I've ever known had the remarkable store of knowledge Roy had, and had done more original thinking. I used to say that whenever I wanted to know something, from the politics of a remote African nation to what Libertarian was romancing what anti-Libertarian Objectivist, I'd phone Roy. And during our conversation, I'd also learn who was writing what book and which pre-Aristotelean philosopher had arrived at a principle relevant to our current Administration and what artist had recently recorded one of my favorite concertos. Roy was the last Rennaissance man.

But perhaps it wasn't. after all, a tragedy that Roy didn't publish more than he did. He was a source of inspiration and assistance to everyone who knew him -- and he knew everyone. He suggested books they could write to dozens of other writers, he helped talented writers, young and not young, with the books they published, improving them greatly, and he converted more valuable people from collectivism to individualism and freedom than any dozen of his contemporaries -- people who went on to write their own important books. I think this was his greatest contribuion to the ideals in which he believed, and it may have been a greater contribution than the few books he might otherwise have written.

Roy Childs was unique. I have never known anyone like him, and I never expect to. I cherish the memory of his friendship.

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Roger; Thank you getting Roy's reviews together. Barbara it is sad that only one was ever done by Roy. He had emmense talents. He died much too young. Let's enjoy the reviews. One of the things that Roy did was he gave the keynote address at the Libertarian convention in 1979. When Roy finished the convention goers were ready to go throught the doors and start marching to Washington right then. He was a great speaker as well as a great writer.

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Roger; Thank you getting Roy's reviews together. Barbara it is sad that only one was ever done by Roy. He had emmense talents. He died much too young. Let's enjoy the reviews. One of the things that Roy did was he gave the keynote address at the Libertarian convention in 1979. When Roy finished the convention goers were ready to go throught the doors and start marching to Washington right then. He was a great speaker as well as a great writer.

Chris, I was there in 1979, too. Roy's speech was electrifying. I would have marched with him -- at least down to the street where I could have harangued a few passers-by. :-)

REB

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