Honky Tonk Blues is an expanded director's cut of an American Masters television special about Hank Williams, and every minute of it illuminates Williams's importance as a seminal artist and American archetype. Produced with an understated fascination for the country legend's gifts and demons that shortened his career, played havoc with his marriages, and led to a haunting death at 29, Honky Tonk Blues builds a seamless profile from rare footage and rich interviews with (among others) Rick Bragg, Big Bill Lister (Williams's longtime opening act), Hank Williams Jr., and members of Williams's backup band, the Drifting Cowboys. Williams's story, including his mentorship in the blues by Rufus "Tee Tot" Payne, childhood loneliness, and emergence as a whole-cloth singer-songwriter "who taught people it's okay to bear your soul in everyday language," is thoroughly compelling and resonates with many American originals (e.g., Kurt Cobain) who followed him. An outstanding documentary.
Elgar’s Violin Concerto has a certain mystique about it independent of the knee-jerk obeisance it has received in the British press. It probably is the longest and most difficult of all Romantic violin concertos, requiring not just great technical facility but great concentration from the soloist and a real partnership of equals with the orchestra. And like all of Elgar’s large orchestral works, it is extremely episodic in construction and liable to fall apart if not handled with a compelling sense of the long line. In reviewing the score while listening to this excellent performance, I was struck by just how fussy Elgar’s indications often are: the constant accelerandos and ritards, and the minute (and impractical) dynamic indications that ask more questions than they sometimes answer. No version, least of all the composer’s own, even attempts to realize them all: it would be impossible without italicizing and sectionalizing the work to death.