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Bacchus (Greater London - Surrey)

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David Bowie
David Bowie
Offered by Assai-uk
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great debut, 31 Jan. 2016
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This review is from: David Bowie (Audio CD)
Please note: Amazon appear to be bundling reviews of David Bowie's Deram album entitled David Bowie and ones on RCA (AKA "Space Oddity") with the same title. This is a review of the Deram one from 1967. I will be reviewing the Space Oddity recording in due course and append the same caveat.

Although I have always enjoyed listinging the David Bowie's music (certainly the 1970s stuff), his death has led me to start exploring his work from the beginning.

Here is the self titled debut album released in 1967 when David Bowie was only 20. It was not a great commercial success and Decca/Deram dropped him. His subsequent work is very different and it is hard to link it with the music he made in the following decade. So should anyone take time to find out what it is like?

After listening to this album four times this weekend, the answer for me is emphatically yes. Yes it is different to what Bowie did the following decade but then the 1980s and later work is equally different and no-one suggest that we should not listen to that.

Furthermore, it IS a very good album in its own right. The album has a superficially breezy quality as if David Bowie is assuming a Tommy Steele or Tony Newley persona. However, the words are of a much darker hue and there are some rather disturbing lyrics concerning child murder, alien invasion etc.

The production values are also very high. Decca hired a number of very good session players. David Bowie said that his own musical knowledge was limited (derived from a crash-reading of the Observer's Book of Music) and he expected the session musicians to leave in disgust and the silly things he asked them to do. They didn't and it is clear that David Bowie had a fantastic instinct for experimentation in sound and harmony which makes this a far more creative experience that you might initially think.

The album is also quite cheeky. He shamelessly nicks the riff from the Spencer Davis Group song, Gimme Some Lovin' in Join the Gang. I think that the Who (in Sell Out and Who By Numbers) tapped into the same influences that Bowie was using on this album.

So yes, if you don't know this recording, I would definitely recommend listening to it.

Bruckner: Symphony No. 4
Bruckner: Symphony No. 4
Offered by JB's CDs DVDs
Price: £15.94

5.0 out of 5 stars Super performance and recording, 30 Jan. 2016
Geog Solti is not the first conductor one associates with Bruckner. I have had this recording in my collection ever since it was first released in 1982 and I recall critics not being that impressed.

Well listening to it again today has been unalloyed pleasure. While people might expect brilliance and brittleness (fantastic playing but not much spirituality), it was not my experience. Solti was in fact quite a gentle interpreter who didn't jump fences or go for extreme brilliance here at all. It is fantastically played, especially the Chicago brass but it also has tremendous warmth.

Occasionally, it did seem TOO steady but in the end I just found the whole listening experience enormously enjoyable. I cannot imagine anyone being disappointed with this recording.

The Man Who Sold The World (2015 Remastered Version)
The Man Who Sold The World (2015 Remastered Version)
Price: £5.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars V Good Album, 24 Jan. 2016
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Like everyone else not entirely indifferent to David Bowie, I was saddened by news of his death which came just days after the release of his last album. His music has been a part of my life since childhood although I have to be honest and say that I stopped listening to his new output after Ashes to Ashes but carried enjoying his 1970s output.

I ordered this not having heard it since the late 70s. Having more time to listen and judge and more patience to tease out the secrets of the music, I have listened to this album a couple of times. The title track and All the Madmen were the two songs I recall from those days and it has been great to hear them again.

Taking this album as a whole, I would say that Bowie was still finding his feet as an artist. The subsequent album, Hunky Dory feels much more the work of a mature finished artist. This one is very different. It is much heavier in tone. The bass and drums are much louder in the mix and the lyrics have a very disturbing tone. I love Mick Ronson's guitar playing and Bowie's singing on this recording.

In all I would definitely say that this is well worth exploring and enjoying on its own terms and I recommend it highly.

The Humans
The Humans
by Matt Haig
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.50

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Being Human, 21 Jan. 2016
This review is from: The Humans (Paperback)
This was a book chosen for discussion at a book group and I write this in anticipation of that discussion.

After 751 other reviews, I fear that I don't have much more to add so I will give my own personal impressions.

As I read it, I thought of the 1970s comedy, Mork and Mindy, in which an alien who has taken human form interacts with and reports back to his home planet his observations of the planet he visits. Earth, it appears, is a very backward primitive place. However, it is clear that a brilliant mathematician at Cambridge University has finally cracked a particular problem regarding the laws determining prime numbers. To the visitor's home planet, this would result in a disastrous advance in the human race which must be prevented. I don't think the reason for this is ever really explained.

The unnamed visitor's mission is not just to observe but to destroy. The only problem is that he goes native and starts to care and he gradually begins to understand the humans and the ways that they deal with their problems.

The author of this book evidently has had a number of mental health issues and in many ways his journey through these issues may mirror those of the alien visitor.

The book is a highly entertaining read which is both touching and funny. I enjoyed it so much that I have purchased another Matt Haig book which I very much look forward to reading.

Bartůk: Orchestral Works
Bartůk: Orchestral Works
Offered by crucialmusic
Price: £17.97

5.0 out of 5 stars Great performances, 19 Jan. 2016
This wonderful coupling of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra and the Miraculous Mandarin ballet shows what a fantastic orchestra the CBSO had become in the first 14 years of Simon Rattle's tenure as its chief conductor.

The Miraculous Mandarin is Bartok at his most astringent and uncompromising. There is hardly ever a "beautiful" moment in the score but in the right hands it is exhilarating and magnetic. Listening to Simon Rattle's recording, I was struck by its concentration and its strangeness. This is a super performance.

The live performance of the Concerto for Orchestra is awesome. There is tremendous power in the first movement which was quite overwhelming in its intensity but the movement which really had me sitting up was the fourth. The outer sections present the most gorgeous folksy picture. It is of course interrupted by Bartok at his most purposefully banal, a take off either of Shostakovich or or Franz Lehar. Other conductors seem to bulldoze their way through the vulgarity but Rattle is more subtle. The contrast is there but somehow it registers more effectively by being treated seriously. The finale is a little bit underpowered but is still brilliantly played.

I really loved this performance.

Strange Glory: A life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Strange Glory: A life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer
by Charles Marsh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.54

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, 15 Jan. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This forbidding looking tome landed on my doormat at the end of 2014 and it has taken me over a year to get round to reading it, a gap that saddens me because it is in fact a very readable and interesting book.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, spy and christian martyr is not someone I knew about. I know that there is a statue of him on the front of Westminster Abbey and he is mentioned in most histories of Nazi Germany. For a number of years, I have wanted to know more about him. This book has more than satisfied by curiosity.

Bonhoeffer was born into a wealthy, highly educated and well placed Berlin family; he was one of seven children. From an early age, he took an interest in theology, which is an interesting choice given the more scientific background of the rest of his family. One of more of his brothers were atheists. The book shows that he was a brilliant theologian who completed his doctorate at a comparatively early age.

What is also clear is that Bonhoeffer was never constrained by his Lutheran background. His travels in Spain, Italy and the United States showed that he had a universal and ecumenical view of religion. He was also highly cultured and a magnetic preacher and pastor.

Bonhoeffer's faith was tested by the rise of Nazi Germany. The Lutheran Church, which has traditionally been highly supportive of the state found itself in the invidious position of supporting the distorted nationalism of the Nazi regime. The German Reich Church pledged allegiance to Hitler, condemned Jews and even rejected Jews who had converted to Christianity. Worst of all, they even viewed Hitler as a latter day messiah in a religious sense. It was clear that Hitler had no real interest in religion, which he used cynically for his own ends.

Bonhoeffer was among a number of German Christians who refused to accept this new faith and he joined an unofficial German church called the Confessing Church. He established his own seminary which was eventually closed down by the authorities and became involved loosely in activities which saw the assassination of Hitler as a goal.

Bonhoeffer himself did nothing which would have directly led to any assassination but after the July 20 1944 bomb plot by Stauffenberg, he was implicated and was among a large number of people (including his brother Klaus and brother in law Hans von Dohnanyi) to be executed as the war was ending.

The book contains many extracts from letters and writings by Bonhoeffer and his friends and relatives. I don't think I have fully conveyed everything in this book but can say that it is a fascinating read that I am glad to own. I really wish I could have met Bonhoeffer.

The Free
The Free
by Willy Vlautin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The Free, 13 Jan. 2016
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This review is from: The Free (Paperback)
This book was chosen for discussion at a book group I belong to. The person whose choice it was had a CD of music made by the writer and was intrigued that this musician was also a writer. I had never heard of Willy Vlautin before this. Unusually for a book group there was universal agreement that everyone enjoyed it.

Other reviewers have commented on Vlautin's spare writing style. I really appreciated this as it brought absolute clarity to what was happening in the story and really drew the reader into the lives of the main characters.

This is a novel set in (I presume) one of the western states of America, either Washington or Oregon. All characters are damaged and poor. This is not the well heeled optimistic America you see in movies but one in which industry is moribund and people have to work more than one job in order to make ends meet.

The characters are all engaging and in their small way heroic. We have the catatonic wounded serviceman, Leroy, Freddie, father of two girls, one seriously disabled whose disability has caused his family to break up causing him to work two or three jobs to cope with the medical expenses and Pauline a nurse at the hospital who shows a great deal of compassion to her patients.

Alongside this, Leroy is constantly dreaming lurid dreams of being pursued by The Free, a vigilante group seeking out "unpatriotic" Americans and killing them in the most brutal way imaginable. These victims have "the Mark" which distinguishes them. Presumably, the dreams are a reflection of Leroy's brutalised condition from his Iraq war days.

A very worthwhile read

Verdi: La Traviata
Verdi: La Traviata
Offered by FastMedia "Ships From USA"
Price: £48.67

5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely vintage performance, 6 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Verdi: La Traviata (Audio CD)
A number of things surprise me about recordings of La Traviata. The first is that Maria Callas never sang the role in a studio recording on EMI despite it being one of her most celebrated roles we only have a number of live recordings. I understand that there was a recording in 1953 on 78rpm records on Cetra conducted by Santini with indifferent cast members. Contractual difficulties prevented Callas from recording the role for at least 5 years. A second is that there does not appear to be a truly ideal recording of the work in which great singing is combined with inspired conducting

For many years I have avoided listening to this recording. I considered that despite its cast of three fantastic principals, an obscure Italian conductor Franco Ghione and an even more out of the way opera house (Lisbon doesn't conjure up the glamour of houses in London, Paris, Berlin, Milan or New York) and relatively primitive mono recording ffrom the 1950s would put it out of contention as a general recommendation.

Well I am pleased to say that the actual experience was more enjoyable than I was expecting. The recorded sound is indeed limited and the recording does suffer from stage noises and even conversations from a prompter but having said that it does conjure up the atmosphere of a live performance and in reality the sound isn't really terrible. The orchestra does play pretty well as do the chorus and ensemble parts. Franco Ghione was a veteran conductor by 1958 having been principal conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in the 1930s.

What makes this recording special though is the singing of Maria Callas, Alfredo Kraus and Mario Sereni and I can say that they make an unbeatable team. Callas had one of the most distinctive soprano voices I have ever heard. It is instantly recognisable. I personally find it beautivul and this beauty is combined with expression and interpretive imagination. Maybe at this stage in her career, it was starting to lose its steadiness and bloom but you can't have everything. Alfredo Kraus was only 31 at the time of this recording and he was later to sing the role in the studio twice (in 1980 when he was 53 and again in 1992 when he was 65). His careful choice of roles and excellent taste and musicianship ensured a long career and these qualities are on display here. He sings the role with bel canto refinement and doesn't push the voice. I have rarely heard such an easily produced top C. This in combined with ardent vocal acting in which you really can see Alfredo Germont as the rather stupid headstrong lover. Mario Sereni sings a lovely sensitive Georgio Germont. Like Kraus, he was noted for his refinement. His scenes with Callas are heart stopping in their beauty and tenderness.

So, not a perfect recording in any way but its imperfections are more than compensated by wonderful singing.

Stravinsky: Persephone (Wunderlich, Schade/Sinfonie-Orchesters des Hessischen Rundfunks/Dixon)
Stravinsky: Persephone (Wunderlich, Schade/Sinfonie-Orchesters des Hessischen Rundfunks/Dixon)
Price: £12.47

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful stuff, 26 Dec. 2015
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Persephone is a rarity among Stravinsky's works and until now I did not have a recording of the work in my home. I was very excited to see that there was a recording of one my all time favourite singers, Fritz Wunderlich and thought it worth a go.

To be honest, given that it was a live performance from 1960 in mono, I was not expecting great sound or a particularly inspired performance. I have other obscure off air recordings where plenty off allowances need to be made. You put up with it because you admire the performers.

Well, here no allowances need to be made at all. It is a wonderfully clear sound with no interference or distortion and where every musical sound is crystal clear. The liner notes state that the recording was from the original master tapes of the performance from the broadcasting arm of Hessian Radio in Frankfurt.

Fritz Wunderlich is, as expected, an exemplary singer singing the work for the one and only time in his sadly very short career. While his lyric voice is well on display, there is plenty of declamatory power and command in his singing.

Persephone is a "Melodrama." As well as a solo singer, it has an orator playing the part of Persephone. The orator here is the German actress Doris Schade. My German is not good enough to understand every word but what I hear is beautifully produced delivery with absolute clarity of diction.

There is a children's choir and two German radio choirs in the work who perform their parts with great artistry.

The orchestra is shown as the "Sinfonie-Orchesters des Hessischen Rundfunks". This was the earlier incarnation of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra which became well known in the 1990s under Eliahu Inbal. They play extremely well although I was aware of the odd fluffed horn note.

The conductor is the American conductor, Dean Dixon, who was the orchestra's principal conductor at the time. He was a black American conductor who had a successful career with European orchestras but was largely ignored in his own country.

I haven't written much about the work itself, which was completely unknown to me and I suspect is to most people, even those familiar with Stravinsky's output. It is a substantial 50 minute work reflecting Stravinsky's neo-Classical leanings in the 1920s (like Orpheus, Apollon Musagete and Oedipus Rex), not just in its homage to older forms of musical composition but also in its use of classical mythology. However, Persephone is far less austere than these other works and is in my opinion one of Stravinsky's most approachable works.

This is a performance in German whereas Stravinsky wrote the work in French. For this reason, I suspect that this recording will never be a general recommendation but I have enjoyed it too much to care about this.

Highly recommended

Oedipus Rex
Oedipus Rex
Offered by encorerecords
Price: £9.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I like this recording very much, 25 Dec. 2015
This review is from: Oedipus Rex (Audio CD)
While I respect the opinions and thoughts of the other reviewer of this recording, I have a much higher estimation of Solti's recording of Oedipus Rex.

I have 3 other very fine recordings of this work and would say that it is just as enjoyable. Perhaps surprisingly, Solti's is not the most extrovert or exciting recording I have. He takes his time and gives a highly refined and disciplined performance that makes the listener really enjoy the purely musical rather than the dramatic aspects of the work. I think that the soloists all fit well into this view of the work.

The other reviewer did not like Peter Pears' singing of the title role. I do. I have always liked his basic timbre of voice and his total identification with everything he sang, whoever composed it. This recording is no different.

Similarly, Kerstin Meyer as Jocasta need fear no competition from other mezzo sopranos who have sung this role. Jocasta's first aria has a rather 'slinky' quality that other singers make the most of. The performers don't do this on this recording and it is no worse for it. It has greater dignity this way.

I have no complaints over Donald McIntyre's Creon and it is luxury casting to have such wonderful singers as Benjamin Luxon and Ryland Davis as the Messenger and the Shepherd. Not many recordings have these parts so beautifully sung.

I also like the spoken delivery by Alec McCowen. His perfect clipped diction avoids the fruity histrionics of some narrators or the pomposity of others (I really don't like Ralph Richardson on Colin Davis' early 1960s recording).

Solti directs exemplary performances by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the John Alldis Choir.

I have no complaints about this recording at all.

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