This week: On Joseph P. Kennedy, Brenda Goodman, Baroque music & more from the world of culture.
The Ambassador: Joseph P. Kennedy at the Court of St. James’s, 1938–1940, by Susan Ronald (St. Martin’s Press): In Hitler’s Art Thief (2015), the biographer Susan Ronald told the story of the shadowy Hildebrand Gurlitt, the dealer and Nazi collaborator whose covert activities were forgotten to history until 2013, when a trove of some $1.3 billion in stolen art was discovered in the Munich apartment of his son, Cornelius. Ronald now directs our attention to another con man, active in Europe at the same time as Gurlitt, operating in a different sphere but no less amenable to the hectoring menace at the head of the German state. The Ambassador: Joseph P. Kennedy at the Court of St. James’s, out August 3 from St. Martin’s Press, describes how the opportunistic Kennedy patriarch scored and promptly squandered the U.S. ambassadorship to England in the years before the Second World War. There is a good chance that, for those already acquainted with the shadier margins of the Kennedy mythos, the latest revelations about, say, Joe Sr.’s high hopes for fascism simply register as another salubrious footnote, left out of the “official” family account. (In that vein poor Rosemary always comes to my mind, and how Joe had a scalpel taken to hers.) Better to think of Ronald’s latest work as a sort of preamble: it explains just what the elder Kennedy did ordain and establish for himself, his progeny, and—of necessity—the entire United States. —RE
“Brenda Goodman: Travelin’ Down that Painted Road,” at Pamela Salisbury Gallery, Hudson, New York (through August 29): The paintings of Brenda Goodman are showing their age. That’s because the artist builds a sense of time right into her abstractions, etching and crackling her paint surfaces to give her psychological portraits their sense of weathering and decay. A selection of these paintings is now on view in “Travelin’ Down that Painted Road,” Goodman’s new exhibition at Pamela Salisbury Gallery, in Hudson, New York. Unfinished Memory, a painting here from 2019, might just be called “broken memory,” as chips of paint seemingly flake off the craquelure. Yet here and elsewhere, these paintings are more than just skin deep. Through shimmering passages of color, often tucked away in other forms, Goodman hints at the depths below her surfaces. —JP
Con arte e maestria: Virtuoso violin ornamentation from the Italian Baroque, by Oliver Webber and Steven Devine (Resonus): When in doubt, staying faithful to the score is almost always the best path to follow. Delve far enough into the sparsely notated scores of the early Baroque era, however, and the strict interpreter will find himself rudderless without the centuries of advanced musical notation and theory that have accumulated in the interim. As a new album from the Monteverdi String Band members Oliver Webber and Steven Devine shows, Baroque scores can be a headache for the literalist but a field day for the improviser. Webber, a violinist, and Devine, a harpsichordist, present “newly ornamented” versions of pieces by Palestrina, Orlando di Lasso, Andrea Gabrieli, and others. —IS
Met Opera Summer Recital, SummerStage, Rumsey Playfield, Central Park (August 8): The Metropolitan Opera returns for the twelfth time to the SummerStage music festival, a Central Park mainstay since the 1980s that hosts a program of mostly free outdoor performances from June through September. A series of yet-to-be-announced arias and duets will be performed by three Met singers this Sunday: the soprano Leah Hawkins, who debuted with the company in 2018 in Suor Angelica; the tenor William Appleby, who will play David in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg this October; and the baritone Will Liverman, who will star in the opening night performance of Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Terence Blanchard in late September. (Set your alarms for 12 p.m. on August 9, when tickets are released to the general public for the 2021–22 season.) Accompanying the trio is the Canadian pianist Bryan Wagorn, Assistant Conductor of the Met since 2013, who can be heard on the company’s recent recording of Gershwin’s Porgy and Besswhich won the Grammy for Best Opera Recording earlier this year. The recital is free and doors open at 5 p.m. for a 7 p.m. performance. The surprise program will also be livestreamed. —JC
From the archive:
“The soul of Florence,” by Marco Grassi (March 2016). On the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence.
“Music for a While #49: Sparks.” Jay Nordlinger,The New Criterion’s music critic, talks music—but, more important, plays music.
“Storytime,” by Jay Nordlinger. Some tales about two composers and other musicians.