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Bacchus (Greater London - Surrey)
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Verdi;La Traviata
Verdi;La Traviata
Offered by rbmbooks
Price: £36.46

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely performance if limited recording quality, 16 Jun. 2015
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.


Tonar Wet Goat Record Brush
Tonar Wet Goat Record Brush
Offered by Analogue Seduction
Price: £13.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Nice Brush!, 13 Jun. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I am a convert to wet cleaning of records. Some time ago, I purchased a record cleaning machine from America that works like expensive electrical machines but on this one you have to turn the records manually and suction is achieved using a domestic vacuum cleaner - it is far less expensive.

The use of fluids and the removal of both fluid and dust from the record surface makes them look like brand new records and the sound itself is cleaner.

I purchased this product because the applicator with my machine was wearing out. It appeared to be a block with cloth cover which was losing its pile. I did ask the manufacturer why this block was used rather than a brush and he told me it worked better. Well, I have continued to wonder whether that is the case, especially as the electrical machines I have seen use brushes rather than pads.

Anyway, I saw this product on the web and must say that on the records I have cleaned, I have been pleased with the result. I am finding that I am using more record cleaning fluid than previously, which makes me wonder whether the brushes enable deeper penetration into the groove. The bristles are made with goat hair I believe, which is soft but has sufficient resistance to enable the grooves to be cleaned.

So far, I am very happy with this product and am happy to recommend it.


Symphony 5
Symphony 5
Price: £24.14

5.0 out of 5 stars Great performance of this masterpiece, 13 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Symphony 5 (Audio CD)
Not many people would consider that this recording from the 1950s by an English conductor with an English orchestra would be a first choice for Tchaikovsky's fifth symphony but this recording is very special.

Everything seemed to come together on this recording

The LSO was in peak form with plenty of personality and individuality in the solo passages and plenty of impetus and weight in the overall sonority. Malcolm Sargent was truly inspired in his interpretation giving a strong urgent performance that has the listener in his grip. The recorded sound is superb. It used 35mm film tape rather than the usual half inch magnetic tape enabling far more orchestral detail to be recorded. There is a wonderful airy acoustic on this recording which give the sound a natural bloom. I can honestly say that I have enjoyed this recording more than any other recording I have heard of this work.

Sargent did record the work another time in the 1950s on EMI with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It is not a patch on this and it is amazing to reflect that it was the same conductor. It just goes to show that the greatest works can sound routine on the wrong occasion.

One thing to note on this recording however. In the finale before the restatement of the main theme there is a 2 bar "hurdy-gurdy" effect which sounds less inspired and a bit embarrassing. Sargent cut those 2 bars from this performance. I don't personally miss them but others might.


Mozart Arias
Mozart Arias
Offered by Qoolist
Price: £15.53

2.0 out of 5 stars Why?, 7 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Mozart Arias (Audio CD)
I have had this CD for quite a few years. I admire Placido Domingo in romantic Italian and French repertoire and I enjoy the operas of Mozart.

However, on the experience of rehearing this CD, I don't think the two go together. I was tempted to give it a further listen after listening to his rendition of Dies Bildnis from Die Zauberflote on the Radio. I didn't know it was Placido Domingo at the time but I did feel it was loud and unsubtle. Now, if I were listening to this rendition in the context of an entire performance of the opera, I would probably admire his power and ardent delivery. In the context of a recital of Mozart arias, I quickly found the singing to be forced, too loud and lacking in Mozartian finesse. After 10 minutes, I found it really grating and wearing on the ear.

Placido Domingo, I'm sorry to say, was not a natural at this particular composer and he has done his reputation no favours in tackling this music.


The Unwritten Order: Hitler's Role in the Final Solution (History of Nazism)
The Unwritten Order: Hitler's Role in the Final Solution (History of Nazism)
by Peter Longerich
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Important piece of literature in understanding the history of the Holocaust, 6 Jun. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
At just over 120 pages, The Unwritten Order is a short book but I must say that it was a bit of a slog to get through.

Peter Longerich is a German historian based at Royal Holloway College (part of the University of London). He was one of the expert witnesses at the libel trial between David Irving and Deborah Lipstadt/Penguin Books over comments made about Irving in Lipstadt's book "Denying the Holocaust".

There are three main sticking points for Holocaust deniers. The first is that gas chambers were never used to kill Jews in concentration camps; the second is that the numbers of dead (generally set at six million) is a hopeless overestimate by a factor of at least ten and third, there was no specific order by Adolf Hitler authorising the killing of Jews.

David Irving is known to be a great admirer of Hitler and for many years, his stance was that the killing of Jews was done without his knowledge and that he in fact did much to protect Jews.

Longerich was called upon to deal with the issue of Hitler's involvement in the Holocaust. No specific order has ever been found in which Hitler explicitly orders mass killing of Jews. In preparing for the case, Longerich found that no-one had ever tried to check this out and put those findings together in one book. This book is the result of Longerich's researches into this topic.

In a series of short chapters, Longerich traces the writings of Hitler, his speeches, the notes of various functionaries and the personal diaries of people like Goebbels and the speeches and letters of people like Himmler and Heydrich as well as many others.

The key thing that emerges is that Hitler, as an absolute dictator, had complete control over the anti-Semitic policies of the Third Reich and it is clear that main orders were given only after consultation with Hitler. Document after document is shown to state, "the Fuhrer thinks this" or "the Fuhrer says that." The other thing to realise is that the Holocaust was not a single event but a developing process.

The experience of reading and interpreting a vast range of documents is quite a mental slog and I did sometimes find it hard to follow.

This is a book describing administrative procedures rather than execution methods and in many ways was very turgid. The only thing that did give me pause was the sheer numbers involved. It is quite shocking when looked on the micro level when you learn on a single day, over a thousand people getting shot.

I think this is the kind of book you should read if you are already familiar with the history of the Holocaust; it is of quite a specialist nature. However, I think it very rewarding.


Elgar: Coronation Ode; The Spirit of England
Elgar: Coronation Ode; The Spirit of England
Price: £6.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Two comparative rarities given ravishing performances, 31 May 2015
I have both the original LPs of this work and this CD. It is regrettable that the words are not contained in the booklet of the CD because the sound is not entirely clear.

Some people have suggested that both works are jigoistic. Having studied the words carefully, I would disagree. Although Elgar appeared to be the quintessential English gent, his musical sensibilities were continental and he had many friends and colleagues in Germany.

The Coronation Ode was written to celebrate the crowning of Edward VII and was written at the time when Elgar was at his most celebrated. The words were written by AC Benson and it was the first vocal setting in which Elgar turned the nobilmente tune from Pomp and Circumstance March number one, "Land of Hope and Glory." Here the melody is not presented in an overly jingoistic way but with great dignity and pride. They are not quite the same words that were later used to this melody. The inner movements of the work are gorgeous. The work overall emphasises peace, lover and faith as much as strength.

The Sprit of England was written during the First World War and is less celebratory. He wrote the second and third parts, To Women and For The Fallen in 1915 and the first movement, The Fourth Of August in 1917. The words are by Lawrence Binyon. The most famous lines come from For The Fallen in which the choir and soloists sing,
"They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."
We hear these words ever Remembrance Sunday and they are always moving. Elgar's setting of this poem, and indeed the whole of this movement, which is an extended funeral dirge (but one that uses the more mature style of the violin concerto and Falstaff) is profoundly moving. The rest of the work is equally fine. The opening movement uses material Elgar had previously used in Dream of Gerontius (the Demon's Chorus - Low born clods of brute earth).

When this recording came out in 1977, both works were presented as World Premiere Recordings. I suppose they had previously been regarded as occasional pieces rather than ones that have universal appeal. Having listened to this recording, I would say that they do not deserve their neglect and I am pleased to see that there are other recordings of both works.

I do however recommend this recording very highly. Although I do find the words hard to make out without looking at them written downk the choir and soloists sing with tremendous verve and bite as well as deep sensitivity. I was especially taken by Teresa Cahill's gorgeous silvery singing in The Spirit of England and all four soloists in the Coronation Ode. Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Gwynne Howell were both in fine voice and Anne Collins was marvellously commanding in Land of Hope and Glory.

Wonderful stuff.


Family Quartet
Family Quartet
by John Catlin
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Family Quartet - worth a look if you are interested in Testament of Youth, 30 May 2015
This review is from: Family Quartet (Hardcover)
I was lent this book by a friend of mine after discussing Vera Brittain with her. For various reasons, I have read a number of connected books to her. I watched Testament of Youth on television and studied it for A Level (and subsequently re-read it twice). After watching the movie adaptation, I read (and have reviewed) The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner, a book that was very influential in Vera Brittain's burgeoning feminism. I have recently read (and reviewed) the sequel to Testament of Youth, Testament of Experience.

One of the (and for my generation probably the main) claims to fame of Vera Brittain is that she was the mother of the Labour Party cabinet minister, founder of the SDP and now Liberal Democrat peer, Shirley Williams. I knew that Shirley Williams had a brother and part of me has always been intrigued as to what happened to this person. This book goes some way to answering this question. It also fills in some of the other gaps that inevitably arise in autobiographies.

The quartet of the title comprises the parents, Vera Brittain and George Catlin, Shirley Williams and John Catlin himself. It also includes the writer and friend of Vera's, Winifred Holtby who spent much of her time living with Vera, George and John until her death in 1935.

George Catlin was a brilliant academic who held professorships at Cornell University in America and was a pioneer in the field of political science. He also had hopes for a political career and in this area he was disappointed. I think that John seems to show greater understanding of his father's feelings and aspirations than Vera Brittain showed in her writings. John suggests at some point that had it not been for his (and Shirley's) birth Vera and George might have drifted apart and separated.

Anyone who has read Testament of Youth will recall the almost hagiographical treatment of Vera's fiance (presented as a real poet/soldier) Roland Leighton and brother Edward. Of course they were dead before John was born and you might be tempted to feel sorry for those left behind. John considered that Roland had such a strong personality that any marriage between him and Vera would have resulted in what he describes as a "perpetual battle of wills."

Edward is more interesting still. A recent biography of Vera Brittain suggests that his death in 1918 was suicide as he was about to face a court martial for homosexual activities. There is no mention of this in any of Vera Brittain's writings and there is suggestion that the revelations of this led to Vera and Edwards' father committing suicide in 1935. Family Quartet (written in 1987) does not mention anything about any court martial but is clear that Edward was indeed homosexual and that Vera was herself very open-minded about sex generally. She was in possession of a number of books by the sexologist Havelock Ellis and John mentions an incident in which he came into his mother's room when she was naked. She was more concerned about John's embarrassment rather than her own and suggested that he knock if he didn't wish to see her naked.

Perhaps the most sympathetic person in this book was Winifred Holtby, who comes across as someone everybody would like and want to spend time with. One interesting comment that Vera Brittain made in Testament of Experience is that her children did not grow up with the erroneous belief in the innate superiority of people who possessed a white skin. Vera, Winifred and George entertained a number of foreign politicians and activists during the 1920s and 1930s including the future prime minister of India, Nehru. Winifred was also very active in campaigning for better treatment and political freedom for black Africans and many of them came to visit at Vera and George's house.

I would not say that it is a great book, rather a kind of family album. I wonder whether the comments John made might have gone down badly with the rest of the family - there is some airing of dirty laundry. I note that it was written long after both of his parents had died and Shirley's career as a leading politician had ended.


Beethoven: Fidelio (Gesamtaufnahme, deutsch) [Vinyl Schallplatte] [3 LP Box-Set]
Beethoven: Fidelio (Gesamtaufnahme, deutsch) [Vinyl Schallplatte] [3 LP Box-Set]

5.0 out of 5 stars Better than its reputation, 29 May 2015
This recording has proved to be an exciting discovery. I already had three other complete recordings (conducted by Fricsay, Bernstein and Karajan) as well as highlights of Klemperer's famous recording and critics have always panned this one by Solti. Having just listened to it, I can say that it is as as enjoyable and even inspired as any of the ones referred to above.

I will start with Solti's conducting. I have always got the impression that with Wagnerian sopranos and tenors usually being chosen to sing the main parts, that Fidelio is seen as a kind of precursor to Wagner. Fricsay showed that treating the score as an extension of Mozart and Haydn is equally valid. It is instructive to learn that as Leonora, Beethoven wrote this work in 1805 and that material that he had used when he was 20 in the Cantata for the Death of Joseph II was reused in this opera. Knowing of Solti's reputation in Wagner, Verdi and Richard Strauss let me to assume that he would approach it as a ripe Romantic grand opera. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that this is a fleet athletic and classically proportioned rendition of the score and one that I enjoyed immensely. It was also interesting that Solti did not artificially spotlight solo instruments but treated them as part of a warmer texture. The substance of the orchestration impressed rather than the soloistic writing.

The pacing is interesting. Solti was often faster than others and would be happy to up the tempi towards the ends of scenes, often to virtuosic effect with the singers he had on the recording.

I like the singing of most of the principals on this recording. Hildegard Behrens gives a lovely very personal sincere performance as Leonora. She has the big voice but it is never overwhelming and she partners the Marcellina on this recording Sona Ghazarian very well.

I think that this was Peter Hofmann's very first complete opera on record, singer who not only could get his voice round the Wagnerian roles he sang but also genuinely looked like a character from a Wagner opera. Critics have been dismissive of his singing on this recording but I rather liked it. I prefer the basic timbre to Jon Vickers or Rene Kollo and, while he does not display as much interpretive imagination as these singers, he is still pretty impressive.

Hans Sotin is the Rocco on this recording. He was the Pizarro on Bernstein's recording of this opera. I really can't fault his warm characterful Rocco at all.

The Pizarro here is Theo Adam. I must be honest and say that for me the perfect Pizarro was the one that Karajan used, Zoltan Keleman. I have never heard a singer exude as much danger and anger as Keleman and I have always been slightly disappointed with everyone since. It is a shame because Theo Adam is still excellent. I did find the voice a little uneven and lacking in smoothness. However, he did impress in Act II.

Don Fernando the minister is a bass/baritone role that does make a big impact in the right circumstances. He is a kind of deus ex machina who makes everything right at the end. Gwynne Howell sings the role here and in my opinion gives the best vocal performance of the entire cast. A lovely sonorous and authoritative sound.

The chorus and ensemble passages in the opera are handled brilliantly and I will say that was either close to tears or exhilarated by what I heard in this recording, which has renewed my love and appreciation for this fantastic work.


Beethoven: Fidelio (Vollständige Aufnahme in deutscher Sprache) [Vinyl Schallplatte] [3 LP Box-Set]
Beethoven: Fidelio (Vollständige Aufnahme in deutscher Sprache) [Vinyl Schallplatte] [3 LP Box-Set]

5.0 out of 5 stars Better than its reputation, 29 May 2015
This recording has proved to be an exciting discovery. I already had three other complete recordings (conducted by Fricsay, Bernstein and Karajan) as well as highlights of Klemperer's famous recording and critics have always panned this one by Solti. Having just listened to it, I can say that it is as as enjoyable and even inspired as any of the ones referred to above.

I will start with Solti's conducting. I have always got the impression that with Wagnerian sopranos and tenors usually being chosen to sing the main parts, that Fidelio is seen as a kind of precursor to Wagner. Fricsay showed that treating the score as an extension of Mozart and Haydn is equally valid. It is instructive to learn that as Leonora, Beethoven wrote this work in 1805 and that material that he had used when he was 20 in the Cantata for the Death of Joseph II was reused in this opera. Knowing of Solti's reputation in Wagner, Verdi and Richard Strauss let me to assume that he would approach it as a ripe Romantic grand opera. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that this is a fleet athletic and classically proportioned rendition of the score and one that I enjoyed immensely. It was also interesting that Solti did not artificially spotlight solo instruments but treated them as part of a warmer texture. The substance of the orchestration impressed rather than the soloistic writing.

The pacing is interesting. Solti was often faster than others and would be happy to up the tempi towards the ends of scenes, often to virtuosic effect with the singers he had on the recording.

I like the singing of most of the principals on this recording. Hildegard Behrens gives a lovely very personal sincere performance as Leonora. She has the big voice but it is never overwhelming and she partners the Marcellina on this recording Sona Ghazarian very well.

I think that this was Peter Hofmann's very first complete opera on record, singer who not only could get his voice round the Wagnerian roles he sang but also genuinely looked like a character from a Wagner opera. Critics have been dismissive of his singing on this recording but I rather liked it. I prefer the basic timbre to Jon Vickers or Rene Kollo and, while he does not display as much interpretive imagination as these singers, he is still pretty impressive.

Hans Sotin is the Rocco on this recording. He was the Pizarro on Bernstein's recording of this opera. I really can't fault his warm characterful Rocco at all.

The Pizarro here is Theo Adam. I must be honest and say that for me the perfect Pizarro was the one that Karajan used, Zoltan Keleman. I have never heard a singer exude as much danger and anger as Keleman and I have always been slightly disappointed with everyone since. It is a shame because Theo Adam is still excellent. I did find the voice a little uneven and lacking in smoothness. However, he did impress in Act II.

Don Fernando the minister is a bass/baritone role that does make a big impact in the right circumstances. He is a kind of deus ex machina who makes everything right at the end. Gwynne Howell sings the role here and in my opinion gives the best vocal performance of the entire cast. A lovely sonorous and authoritative sound.

The chorus and ensemble passages in the opera are handled brilliantly and I will say that was either close to tears or exhilarated by what I heard in this recording, which has renewed my love and appreciation for this fantastic work.


Beethoven: Fidelio
Beethoven: Fidelio
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £23.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Better than its reputation, 29 May 2015
This review is from: Beethoven: Fidelio (Audio CD)
This recording has proved to be an exciting discovery. I already had three other complete recordings (conducted by Fricsay, Bernstein and Karajan) as well as highlights of Klemperer's famous recording and critics have always panned this one by Solti. Having just listened to it, I can say that it is as as enjoyable and even inspired as any of the ones referred to above.

I will start with Solti's conducting. I have always got the impression that with Wagnerian sopranos and tenors usually being chosen to sing the main parts, that Fidelio is seen as a kind of precursor to Wagner. Fricsay showed that treating the score as an extension of Mozart and Haydn is equally valid. It is instructive to learn that as Leonora, Beethoven wrote this work in 1805 and that material that he had used when he was 20 in the Cantata for the Death of Joseph II was reused in this opera. Knowing of Solti's reputation in Wagner, Verdi and Richard Strauss let me to assume that he would approach it as a ripe Romantic grand opera. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that this is a fleet athletic and classically proportioned rendition of the score and one that I enjoyed immensely. It was also interesting that Solti did not artificially spotlight solo instruments but treated them as part of a warmer texture. The substance of the orchestration impressed rather than the soloistic writing.

The pacing is interesting. Solti was often faster than others and would be happy to up the tempi towards the ends of scenes, often to virtuosic effect with the singers he had on the recording.

I like the singing of most of the principals on this recording. Hildegard Behrens gives a lovely very personal sincere performance as Leonora. She has the big voice but it is never overwhelming and she partners the Marcellina on this recording Sona Ghazarian very well.

I think that this was Peter Hofmann's very first complete opera on record, singer who not only could get his voice round the Wagnerian roles he sang but also genuinely looked like a character from a Wagner opera. Critics have been dismissive of his singing on this recording but I rather liked it. I prefer the basic timbre to Jon Vickers or Rene Kollo and, while he does not display as much interpretive imagination as these singers, he is still pretty impressive.

Hans Sotin is the Rocco on this recording. He was the Pizarro on Bernstein's recording of this opera. I really can't fault his warm characterful Rocco at all.

The Pizarro here is Theo Adam. I must be honest and say that for me the perfect Pizarro was the one that Karajan used, Zoltan Keleman. I have never heard a singer exude as much danger and anger as Keleman and I have always been slightly disappointed with everyone since. It is a shame because Theo Adam is still excellent. I did find the voice a little uneven and lacking in smoothness. However, he did impress in Act II.

Don Fernando the minister is a bass/baritone role that does make a big impact in the right circumstances. He is a kind of deus ex machina who makes everything right at the end. Gwynne Howell sings the role here and in my opinion gives the best vocal performance of the entire cast. A lovely sonorous and authoritative sound.

The chorus and ensemble passages in the opera are handled brilliantly and I will say that was either close to tears or exhilarated by what I heard in this recording, which has renewed my love and appreciation for this fantastic work.


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