Anyone who, like myself, retains fond memories of Danny Kaye's guest appearances with the Utah Symphony several years ago should welcome the above Paramount/Bel Canto video. For here is the late conductor/comedian in all his symphonic glory, in a "Live From Lincoln Center" telecast from September 1981 with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic.
For the record, Mehta's contribution is limited to the curtain raiser - a passably Viennese "Fledermaus" Overture - and a couple of zingers from the sidelines in response to Kaye's antics on the podium.Otherwise this is the latter's show, whether taking impish delight in conducting both the orchestra and the audience, parodying other conductors (including Mehta), directing "The Flight of the Bumblebee" with a fly swatter or skat-singing along with the trumpet section in the "Carnival of Venice."
"It's the greatest feeling of neurotic power in the world," Kaye exults at one point. But it's also clearly a chance to immerse himself in something he knows and loves, his claims of musical illiteracy notwithstanding. And, as usual, the orchestra gives him 300 percent.
Witness their vibrant "Gazza Ladra" Overture, or marvelously fanciful "Nutcracker" Suite, here full of childlike wonder. Thanks to the cameras, moreover, the home viewer gets to see something the average concertgoer doesn't, namely Kaye's ecstatic facial expressions as he leads the orchestra, and at one point the audience, in the bassoon part of the "Chinese Dance" or caps the evening with "The Stars and Stripes Forever."
True to form, Bel Canto provides no chapter stops on the above-listed laser disc, or even a list of the contents on the liner. But once the color is adjusted, the picture is a notch above even a good-quality VHS tape, and for its part the TV crew has done a first-class job of capturing both the event and the attendant hilarity, interspersing Kaye's banter with shots of the audience, and the orchestra, enjoying themselves.
My guess is you will, too.