Few critics' occasional pieces appear to advantage in heaped-up-for-the-ages hook form, but conductor-critic Robert Craft's observations on opera (half the volume), composers, critics, authors, and pop culture from The New York Review (1974-1976) are unlikely collectibles even by occasional standards, since many of them, responding to the moment with verve, sacrifice elegance of organization for a rangy nit-Pickery. When, for instance, Craft appraises the Paris Opera's unconventional productions of Marriage of Figaro and Faust, he devotes almost equal time to the operas themselves and to a thorough lashing of critic Harold Schonberg, who may well deserve Craft's wrath but whose time on the rack interferes with any sense of measured argument. Or, while reassessing the merits of R. Strauss' Salome, time-out is called for dart-throwing at Wm. Mann and Norman Del Mar's critical volumes--not just what they say about Salome but how they say it. And the engaged but ephemeral tone is certainly intensified by the typical decision to print, along with a devastating review of a Liszt biography, Craft's numbered replies to the biographer's complaining letter (the letter itself is omitted--""Mrs. PerÃ‰nyi's arguments are easily inferable""). So, with the digressions, the sudden gear-shifts, the bogging down in evanescent detail (though singers' names are often frustratingly omitted), it's somewhat difficult to find ""current convictions"" here: the appreciations of Mozart, Verdi, Strauss, and Wagner range from the thunderingly commonplace (""Verdi's great power is in the creation of melody"") to the acute (Boito's contribution to Falstaff), with more emphasis on dramatic than musical values. Flashes of humor (""M. Gedda's high C was not so much banal as terrifying"") lighten the music pieces (especially an excoriation of Bayreuth) but are sadly absent from the guided tour through Eliot's faulty grammar and syntax (nit-pickery elevated to something of an art form), and--especially from the heavy-breathing sociology that Mary Hartman and Walt Disney elicit. Craft is a valuable, pesky critic to rub up against from week to week, but the same energies that can light quick fires are sometimes the first to go cold.