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Culture Watch: What's new in music, DVDs and books

December 28, 2010 |  4:46 pm

Mozart Books: “Seven Mozart Librettos” (Norton): Poet J.D. McClatchy offers lyric verse translations of Mozart’s mature operas. They read wonderfully.

— Mark Swed

CDs: “Isaac Stern: Keeping the Doors Open” (Sony Classical): This commemoration of Isaac Stern’s 90th birthday is ostensibly a tribute to the late American violinist’s efforts to save Carnegie Hall from the wrecking ball in 1960. In fact, the main attraction here has nothing to do with Carnegie but is the first CD release of a raw, searing performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto by Stern with Leonard Bernstein and the Israel Philharmonic taken from concerts in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv celebrating the end of the Six-Day War. The recording was produced by Ernest Fleischmann two years before he began his historic three decades running the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which makes the great performance a deservedly exalted tribute to Fleischmann, who died in June.

— Mark Swed

Clari DVDs: “Halévy: Clari”  (Decca): Cecilia Bartoli’s latest exploration of forgotten bel canto operas is this Rossini imitation by Jacques Fromental Halévy, who would go on to become a master of French grand opera. The libretto is silly; the production, filmed two years ago in the Zurich Opera House, is silly but fun — the Duke sports Adidas and a shiny gold tux. But there is some spectacular singing.

— Mark Swed

“Billy Martin’s Life on Drums” (Vongole Films): Given that learning a musical instrument can be one of the nobler New Year’s resolutions tossed around, “Billy Martin’s Life on Drums” is an instructional video that provides plenty of inspiration even for the rhythmically challenged. Led by the inventive drummer from Medeski Martin and Wood, who talks about his approach to free jazz, world percussion and the creative process in general, this video should keep hands and toes tapping well into 2012.

— Chris Barton