Top Picks: Patrick Stewart, Nat Geo 'Making History,' Rahim AlHaj, and more

Patrick Stewart in new 'MacBeth' film, National Geographic's 'Making History,' Iraqi musician Rahim AlHaj's new CD 'Little Earth,' and more recommendations.

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    British actor Sir Patrick Stewart, of “Star Trek” fame, created a sensation with his performances of “MacBeth”
    on both the London and New York stages.
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    The fun-loving but serious team at the National Geographic Channel shows how history can be brought to life in the “Making History” series, beginning Oct. 5.
    View Caption
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Stewart's 'MacBeth'

British actor Sir Patrick Stewart, of "Star Trek" fame, created a sensation with his performances of "MacBeth" on both the London and New York stages. Now this film, airing on PBS Oct. 6 as part of its "Great Performances" series, captures the tortured king and his court in a movie.

Extraordinary oud

Recommended: Culture and Science

Rahim AlHaj's "Little Earth" (UR Music) would be a fascinating record based on the artist's story alone: an Iraqi oud player and composer who escaped in 1991 after being imprisoned and tortured for his musical opposition to Saddam Hussein's regime. Each composition on this CD features AlHaj's masterly oud playing, accompanied by guest artists on native American and Iranian flutes, Australian didgeridoo, accordion, sitar, African kora harp, jazz guitar, and more. Powerfully beautiful.

Moral courage in a time of war

Before WikiLeaks, before the Internet, a defense analyst named Daniel Ellsberg rocked the American public in 1971 when he leaked a top-secret study of US decisionmaking in Vietnam. This came to be known as the "Pentagon Papers." To many, Ellsberg was "the most dangerous man in America," now the title of a documentary that airs on PBS Oct. 5.

America's musical giants

In the three-part PBS series, "Michael Feinstein's American Songbook," the singer/pianist/musical historian shares his personal passions and goal of preserving the American song. Chock-full of artists' tidbits and musical nostalgia, as well as his own and others' elegant performances, including those of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Rosemary Clooney, this is an event to record for your own collection. Begins Oct. 6.

Intimate duo

Marilyn Crispell and David Rothenberg's "One Dark Night I Left My Silent House" (ECM Records) is completely improvised, which could be a formula for chaos. Instead, the music is like overhearing a wise and intimate conversation between two friends. Deep beauty, humor, joy, and an enveloping spaciousness are expressed as the musical ideas flow between Crispell's piano and Rothenberg's clarinets. Of special note are the dark, woody sounds of the bass clarinet and the surprising textures of Crispell's piano percussion.

History reimagined

The fun-loving but serious team at the National Geographic Channel shows how history can be brought to life in the "Making History" series, beginning Oct. 5. The idea is to re-create momentous events through the magic of modern technology. Watch them bring Hitler's rise to power to eerie life, chase Prohibition-era bootleggers, and track down the predictions of Nostradamus.

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