Lloyd Schwartz

Lloyd Schwartz is the classical music critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

In addition to his role on Fresh Air, Schwartz is the classical music editor of The Boston Phoenix. He is the co-editor of the Library of the America's Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters. He is also the author of three volumes of poems: These People, Goodnight, Gracie and Cairo Traffic. He's the editor of the centennial edition of Elizabeth Bishop's Prose, published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in 2011.

In 1994, Schwartz won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism. He is the Frederick S. Troy Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

I never heard of the Baroque composer Agostino Steffani until last year, when the Boston Early Music Festival presented the North American premiere of Steffani's Niobe, an opera about the mythical queen who bragged so much about her many children, the gods killed them all in revenge. One of the leading roles, Niobe's husband King Amphion, was played by the early-music superstar countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, who sang the opera's most sublime aria — a hymn to the harmony of the spheres. I couldn't wait to hear Jaroussky again, and was eager to hear more Steffani.

Baby Jane Hudson is now 50 years old — or at least the strange and brilliant movie in which she's the main character is, just released as a beautifully remastered Blu-ray. Robert Aldrich's grotesque gothic tragedy is a cross between Gypsy, with its antithetical show-biz kid sisters, and Sunset Boulevard, with its decayed Hollywood glamour.

Hollywood is often at its best when it's making fun of itself, and few movies are funnier or more fun than Singin' in the Rain, the broadly satirical musical comedy about the transition from silent movies to sound.

Gene Kelly, who co-directed the film with Stanley Donen, stars as the stuntman turned matinee idol who falls in love with adorable Debbie Reynolds. He even gets to parody his own swashbuckling in MGM's Technicolor Three Musketeers.

On July 20, 1958, at Tanglewood — the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra — pianist Leon Fleisher played an electrifying Brahms First Piano Concerto with the orchestra under its former music director, Pierre Monteux. This remarkable teaming has not been heard since then.

Facing Bach's St. Matthew Passion, I often feel a combination of anticipation and dread. It's a great work, profound in its humanity and spirituality, with sublimely beautiful music. But it's a long haul, and if it's not a good performance, well, I'm stuck. And it can be not-good in various ways: either too solemnly pious or too much an exercise in musical style rather than emotional drama. A new DVD recorded in 2010 at Berlin's great concert hall, the Philharmonie, would be of major interest under any circumstances.

I grew up in New York City, but I didn't watch Car 54, Where Are You? until I got hooked on it in syndication long after it was originally aired. So I was very happy to see the complete series of 60 episodes released on two DVD boxed sets. The episode in Season 2 titled "I Hate Capt. Block," about trying to teach a recalcitrant parrot to talk and the way people are not much smarter than parrots, is one of the most hilarious things I've ever seen on television, maybe as inspired as Sid Caesar's foreign film parodies or Carol Burnett's version of Gone with the Wind.

The movie Rhapsody in Blue, a biography of George Gershwin, was released only eight years after his death from a brain tumor at the age of 38. It's a good subject: Gershwin wrote some of the best popular songs ever produced in this country, but he also had ambitions to be a serious classical composer and wrote symphonic music, concertos and an opera — all of which are still performed.

In 2010, the Museum of Modern Art was criticized for its skimpy representation of the Dutch-American painter Willem de Kooning in its huge abstract expressionist show. The museum has now made up for that with an astounding de Kooning retrospective, the first of its kind: some 200 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures that trace de Kooning's career beginning at age 12, when he was working for a graphic designer in his native Rotterdam and painting remarkable imitations of Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Miro and Gorky.

Note: Wilhelm Furtwangler's last name is typically spelled with an umlaut over the 'a' character. The npr website does not support characters with umlauts over characters. A variation of Furtwangler's name without the umlaut is spelled Furtwaengler.

Wilhelm Furtwaengler's name may be hard for Americans to pronounce, but the reason this great conductor isn't so well-remembered here is that he chose to remain in Germany during WWII, though he was never a member of the Nazi Party, and was exonerated by a postwar tribunal.

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