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For more than 40 years, since his seminal book Opera as Drama, Joseph Kerman has been among the most perceptive and lucid commentators on music. Readers new to his work will find a highly personable companion in Concerto Conversations, while those who already know it can appreciate a late-period distillation of his methods. In typical fashion, Kerman begins not with a preface of introduction but with a chapter on beginnings. There is a general division of the dynamic between soloist and orchestra into the concepts of "reciprocity" versus "polarity," but the book is really more a collection of highly individual observations about specific concertos. Kerman touches on some works lightly and deftly while giving others a fuller treatment. Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto, Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto (Kerman, blessedly, takes Tchaikovsky very seriously), Stravinsky's Concerto for Piano and Winds, and Mozart's D Minor Piano Concerto get the widest overviews.
We find Kerman's love of language throughout: "High noon! One can almost see solo and orchestra glaring at each other" in the Beethoven; the strings in the Tchaikovsky are "sisterly, and secular." Kerman tosses off provocative ideas along the way: the concerto has already postdated the symphony, the great contrapuntist Bach used a fugal introduction to a concerto only once, and particular events in the life of Liszt affected his piano concertos. Kerman makes an important point in contrasting virtuosity with bravura. These elegant, concise lectures were first conceived for the Norton series at Harvard. A 12-track, 69-minute CD of musical examples (along with extensive musical quotations in an appendix) is included. --William R. Braun [via]