Just in time for Christmas, part 2: classic movies, new music releases and books…

Over the last few years I’ve occasionally posted recommendations for recent BluRay/DVD releases and CDs that might prove useful for anyone wondering what to buy as gifts for Christmas. Since they seem to have been fairly popular posts, I thought I’d do it again – and I’ve even added in a couple of books this time round. Note: this is not my best-of-2022 list; that will come at the end of the year and will undoubtedly range more widely in terms of some of my more ‘specialist’ (eccentric?) tastes. Even if some of the films and music releases here are not exactly mainstream, they are mostly wholly ‘accessible’ for people with an interest in the arts. I myself always find the task of choosing presents dispiritingly difficult, and am always on the lookout for ideas from friends. It’s in that spirit that I hope some of the suggestions below might be helpful. (Of course, you could even consider treating yourself!)

NEW BLURAYS/DVDS

(I confess I contributed to the extras for a couple of the following releases, but I am recommending them – and contributed to the extras – because I consider them great movies. And rest assured I certainly won’t get a penny extra for my contributions if they sell well.)

Ingmar Bergman Volume 3 (BFI)

The eight features in this third instalment of the BFI’s four boxed sets devoted to the late Swedish master include such masterpieces as The Virgin Spring, Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, The Silence and – surely the greatest of all – Persona.

Nil By Mouth (BFI)

The first appearance on BluRay of Gary Oldman’s extraordinary debut as writer-director, now remastered 25 years after it was released to critical acclaim.

Ray Winstone and Kathy Burke in Nil by Mouth

Andrzej Wajda: The War Trilogy (Second Run)

Wajda’s unplanned but epochal trilogy of films about the Warsaw Uprising and its aftermath. A Generation was a highly impressive feature debut, Ashes and Diamonds took an intriguing swerve towards satire and baroque stylisation, while the middle film Kanal – the latter half set in the sewers of the occupied city – remains vividly persuasive, not to say pessimistic.

The Most Dangerous Game (Eureka)

A welcome appearance on BluRay for Schoedsack and Pichel’s 1932 thriller about a big-game hunter collecting and pursuing human prey on his remote island. Hugely influential on many later movies, and still one of the best of its kind.

Remember the Night (Indicator) 

Finally something seasonal – Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray (four years before Double Indemnity) as a shoplifter and a prosecuting attorney thrown together for Christmas. Poignant, warm, witty, Mitchell Leisen’s lovely film transcends the term ‘romantic comedy’. Released on 19th December, it’s now available to pre-order.

Remember the Night

NEW CDs

CLASSICAL (INCLUDING ONE NEW MUSIC):

Cédric Tiberghien, Stéphane Degout, François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles: Maurice Ravel – Concertos pour piano; Mélodies (Harmonia Mundi)

The two concertos beautifully performed on period instruments, plus baritone Degout in fine fettle on some exquisite Ravel songs. You can listen to Tiberghien and the orchestra playing the unforgettably lovely slow movement from the G major concerto here.

Klaus Makela, Oslo Philharmonic: Sibelius (Decca)

Four discs – the complete symphonies. Tapiola and three late fragments – with the young Finnish conductor on impressive form. The first movement of the Third Symphony can be heard here.

Ian Bostridge, Lars Vogt: SchubertSchwanengesang (Pentatone)

Simply superb renditions of the posthumous song-cycle and the earlier Einsamkeit – very sadly this was also a swansong for the pianist and conductor Vogt, who died earlier this year. You can hear their memorable Der Doppelgänger here.

Robert Levin: MozartThe Piano Sonatas (ECM)

Even a curmudgeonly Mozart sceptic like myself can appreciate and enjoy this seven-CD set of the complete sonatas played (and recorded) to dazzling effect on Mozart’s very own fortepiano. The second movement from the tenth sonata is here.

Heiner Goebbels: A House of Call (ECM)

Of more specialist interest, probably, but still quite brilliant – you can read more here.

JAZZ:

Enrico Rava, Fred Hersch: The Song Is You (ECM)

I wrote about this album here.

Mike Westbrook et al: London Bridge Live in Zurich 1990 (Westbrook Records)

I wrote about this album here.

Benjamin Lackner: Last Decade (ECM)

I’ll confess I hadn’t heard (of) pianist-composer Lackner before, but this quartet album – with trumpeter Mathias Eick, bassist Jérôme Regard and drummer Manu Katché – is immensely pleasurable. Nothing startling, but delicious throughout. You can catch the second track, Circular Confidence, with Katché’s characteristically light, loping rhythm and Eick’s bright, restrained but lyrical trumpet, here.

NEW BOOKS

Elizabeth Strout: Lucy by the Sea (Viking/Penguin)

The latest in Strout’s excellent series of novels centred on novelist Lucy Barton, this time about coping with the strange realities of the Covid pandemic. As always, the simplicity of Strout’s language is deceptive, dealing as the book does with a deftly nuanced analysis of a wide range of thoughts and emotions.

Paul Newman: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man – A Memoir (Century)

I wrote recently about this book here.

Emeric Pressburger: The Glass Pearls (Faber Editions)

Actually, this second novel by the great screenwriter (best known for his work with Michael Powell) was originally published in 1966, but it’s now been ‘rediscovered’ – and a very impressive, intelligent, engrossing read it is, about a mysterious, cultivated, obsessively private middle-aged German working in London in the early 1960s.   

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