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Bacchus (Greater London - Surrey)

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The Crucible: A Play in Four Acts (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Crucible: A Play in Four Acts (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Arthur Miller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Great Play, 7 July 2014
I have just reacquainted myself with this play after seeing it live at the Old Vic. It was my 3rd visit to it.

My first time was as a 6th former when we did a read through of the play during General Studies. I understood that it was a parallel with the McCarthy witch hunts in the 1950s against potential Communists but as drama it fell a little bit flat. The addressing of women characters as Goody seemed so odd at the time.

My second time was 20 years later when I had the good fortune to act in a production of the play. Although I was undertaking minor parts, the characters I played were often observers in some pretty intense scenes. The effect of preparing for the production and taking part in the final performances were fantastic experiences for me.

I have now had the good fortune to watch a performance with the added understanding of the work. I have come to be enthralled again by the play's intensity.

The setting is late 17th Century Salem Massachusetts. The people are pious protestants living a harsh existence in America (then a colony of England) where they are coping with the ever present danger of attack from native Americans, harsh weather and the isolation from the European civilization they came from. The people are mainly farmers. The concerns of people are often petty and there is plenty of settling of scores.

Into this mix comes the accusation of witchcraft. The priest's daughter is sick and there is suspicion that she has been bewitched. It doesn't help that he has brought his Barbadian serving girl to live in this inhospitable atmosphere, her Caribbean superstitions have a strong effect on some of the girls in the neighbourhood. The priest's niece is a bit of a minx who has rather attached herself to a local farmer (and possibly had an affair with him) which has resulted in the farmer's wife firing her. His continued rebuff of her attempt to rekindle romance leads her to seek revenge. The results in the arrests trials and eventual executions (by hanging) of many of the women and some of the men of the community.

The play is highly charged throughout.

One thing to note is Miller's attempt to write in an archaic style of writing appropriate to the 17th Century. It was a bit hard for some of the teenagers in the cast to make natural when I performed in it and when we read it through at school. However, in the hands of skilled actors, this is not a stumbling block. Indeed the richness of the dialogue is one of the play's great strengths.

The thing that the play does now is to show that there is a universal message of tolerance and rationality. The director of the Old Vic production sees parallels with apartheid South Africa and I think that there are examples of collective madness in which societies turn against others in the most irrational ways possible. It is something we need to guard against.

All Quiet on the Western Front
All Quiet on the Western Front
by A. W. Wheen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Anti War Novel, 29 Jun. 2014
This 1929 bestseller about the First World War from Germany was among the "degenerate" books that the Nazis banned during the 1930s. Until I read it, I did not know why this should be - having now read it, I can now understand the Nazi's antipathy towards it.

War is always horrible for the combatants at the sharp end of fighting but patriotism and youthful ideals of heroism and noble self-sacrifice somehow make the horrors worthwhile.

Erich Maria Remarque obviously didn't think so. This book shows how young German soldiers, imbued with patriotism for their fatherland by their teachers became in a short time hardened soldiers facing the dangers of sudden death or permanent mutilation in the trenches. It is nothing to do with the glory of the German nation or of defeating the enemy but simply a struggle for survival. The narrator of the story, Paul Baumer, indeed reflects that the soldiers of the other nations (not enemies in this book) have their own "fatherlands" and who is to say who is the more right?

I think that this lack of enthusiasm for Germany and for war in general are the reasons why the Nazis hated this book so much. It communicates eloquently as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves and its appeal is universal. It is also beautifully written and I am glad I finally got round to reading it.

Crash and Beyond: Causes and Consequences of the Global Financial Crisis
Crash and Beyond: Causes and Consequences of the Global Financial Crisis
by Andrew Farlow
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £23.40

4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough but hard going analysis, 21 Jun. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This book took me a long time to read.

Until I read it, I thought I knew about the banking crisis and the global recession superficially and thought that after reading this book, I might actually have some conceptual and detailed understanding of what had caused it, who was to blame, what policies were adopted and by whom and how successful were they at sorting out the mess. I must say that after reading this book, I am more confused than ever.

I don't think I am thick. I passed A level economics and completed a gruelling 4.5 year accountancy qualification but then the people who were responsible for the problems were probably even more highly educated and qualified.

The writer of this book, Andrew Farlow, is very knowledgeable and has clearly studied the subject in enormous depth. He is a research fellow at Oxford University in the subject of health economics at Oxford University's departments of Zoology and Economics. However, he does attempt to write in a style that the everyday non-specialist reader might do. He is not as persuasive as J K Galbraith was on the 1929 Wall Street Crash The Great Crash 1929 but then, who is?

The problem for me with this book is that is written in continuous prose. I think that if you are going to present financial and statistical data, it is better to do it in the form of tables and graphs. The figures also need to be put into a clear context. For instance, I did not know whether £800 million was a lot of money when in another paragraph, a figure of £8 trillion was mentioned. When you are discussing such eye-watering figures, some context needs to be explained. Another aspect was that multiple lists were presented. When you get in the middle of a paragraph, "The twelfth reason for this...", I am afraid, I had forgotten what the previous eleven reasons had been and more worrying, what the reasons were for in the first place. I suppose I am saying that I found the book a bit indigestible. It did mean that much of the content went over my head - so I am very impressed with other reviewers for finding so much to say about it.

Having said all that, I did learn some useful bits from the book. The most important thing is the concept of Moral Hazard. It's a bit of a weaselly phrase because its meaning is not clear from the words. It concerns the idea that when an agency comes to fix a problem, the costs and risks are not fairly allocated to the perpetrators of the problem. The book makes it reasonably clear that the banking crisis was caused by the greed and incompetence of bankers yet the costs of fixing the problem fell on ordinary tax payers bailing out the banks. It made me understand much better the anger that people felt and continue to feel towards bankers.

Andrew Farlow does not have much time for politicians either. What interested me was his comments on the Coalition Government's austerity plan. I feel this most acutely having received no pay rise in my public sector job for 4 years while every cost has increased. Farlow does not think that it was at all necessary (the cupboard was bear, certainly not compared with countries like Greece or Spain) and that it may have damaged or delayed recovery. My take on it at the time was that the drive was ideological rather than economic simply because Conservatives on the whole prefer private sector/supply side factors to drive the economy. An austerity programme goes a long way to achieving that end.

Mahler: Symphony No.8 ' Symphony of a Thousand '
Mahler: Symphony No.8 ' Symphony of a Thousand '
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable - Stunning even - but not my favourite, 26 May 2014
One of the biggest problems that Mahler's 8th Symphony has had is the nickname, Symphony of a Thousand, something that Mahler himself never sanctioned. It implies that the work's selling point is its scale rather than it's intrinsic musical merits. Having listened to a number of recordings recently, I have come to appreciate these qualities and recognise it as a transcendent work of great depth and beauty.

This recording has long been regarded as the greatest rendition that the work has had and is generally better thought of than Solti's other Mahler recordings. Whenever a recording gets such extravagant praise, I tend to avoid it because I have a fear of disappointment. Before I purchased this recording I listened to recordings by Bernstein and Kubelik and Maazel and have since acquired LP recordings by Flipse (his 1954 live performance on Philps) and Abravanel. It has been interesting listening to this recording after reviewing the Flipse and Maazel recordings recently.

When this recording starts, the listener is pinned back to the wall with the massiveness of sound (the organ is prominent in the sound picture here). Mahler was said to have remarked on visiting the NIagara Falls, "Fortissimo at last!" It is also very fast in Part I. There is a breathless rush in this movement and I was really impressed with the sheer virtuosity of all the forces in performing at this pace. However it also sounds hard driven and aggressive and for all its speed surprisingly un-athletic and just a bit too bloated for its own good.

Part II is more ruminative and there are some gorgeous moments. However, in the final analysis, I did not feel as transported as I have with other recordings.

So this is a fine, brilliant even, performance that is never less than enjoyable but is somehow too virtuosic for its own good and I have found some of the other performances listed above more moving and satisfying.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 27, 2014 5:28 PM BST

Symphony 104 in D Major / Symphony 2 Op 61 C Major
Symphony 104 in D Major / Symphony 2 Op 61 C Major
Offered by tunesonline
Price: £4.76

5.0 out of 5 stars Bracing and refreshing, 15 May 2014
There are some reviewers on Amazon for whom everything Roger Norrington does is anathema.

They don't like his tempi and his insistence that strings play without vibrato, Not only do they not like the sonorities, they also find the music-making pedestrian.

My view is don't be put off. Roger Norrington was a leading conductor of groups who played on original instruments, especially his own London Classical Players. This orchestra's forays into late classical and early romantic music won much praise and quite a few awards.

Then in 1999, he became the chief conductor of a modern instrument orchestra in Germany the South West German Radio Symphony Orchestra. With this band, he revisited many of the works he had previously recorded with the London Classical Players and also covered some later romantic compositions by Mahler and Elgar.

Despite working with a modern instrument orchestra, Roger Norrington maintained the stylistic ideals he had approached with the original instrument bands. The most notable things include the avoidance of vibrato - something that Norrington regards as an accretion that crept into orchestral playing after Fritz Kreisler popularised it as a soloist.

Years ago, I made a conscious decision to give up sugar in coffee and tea. I did it because I thought that I was drinking it for its sweetness rather than the taste of the drink. I thought that if I could wean myself off sugar, I might enjoy the taste more honestly. I have these thoughts when I listen to this recording.

In this review, I am concentrating on the Schumann (the Haydn is equally fine and no-one should be disappointed in it). Listening to it, I was not bathed in gorgeously moulded string tone as I was when I made a direct comparison with Franz Welser-Most's recording with the London Philharmonic. Some of the string playing did sound a little acidic in comparison. Similarly, there was more edge to the wind playing.

However, I loved the performance. It had tremendous drive and there was much uncovered beauty and interest in the scoring that conventional performances missed. I think that Roger Norrington has much to say in this music and once I had got used to the sonority, I really started to enjoy it.

I haven't ditched my Welser Most recording. It is also very fine but ultimately, I am glad to hear a different recording, especially one that is done with as much authority and brilliant playing as this one.

The Testament of Mary
The Testament of Mary
by Colm Tóibín
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

3.0 out of 5 stars The Testament of Mary, 14 May 2014
This review is from: The Testament of Mary (Paperback)
I was inspired to read this book after hearing about the dramatised version performed by Fiona Shaw. For Roman Catholics especially, and Christians generally, Mary the Mother of Jesus holds a sacred place in their faith. She was visited by the Archangel Gabriel and was told that she was highly favoured as the virgin mother of the Messiah; the New Testament contains many references to her being told of her son's role on Earth.

Many of the notions that Christians hold dear are turned on their head in this short book. Here, Mary recounts her experiences of seeing her son become the centre of a huge cult (followed by people she regarded as misfits) and then eventually being executed in the most brutal manner possible. After the execution, Mary is taken to Ephesus (southern Turkey) for her safety where she recounts her tale.

Despite all these events, Mary does not seem to have any real inkling of her son's mission and significance. She is not convinced by the miracles and disapproves of the raising of Lazarus (I must say that the description of his raising and Lazarus' subsequent demeanor are the best bits of the book) and it is almost as if she thinks that Jesus is playing a role. She also notes that the followers of Jesus after his execution are not the misfits that Jesus gathered and are to some extent, "spinning" the story, inventing (I think) his virgin birth and exaggerating her role in the crucifixion story (something seen in paintings).

While I found the story engaging, I found it slightly frustrating that it plays around with the narrative shown in the Bible. There is no point going into this here. I don't know whether others will find it blasphemous; I think that is in many ways as potentially offensive as The Last Temptation of Christ.

Mahler: Symphony No.8
Mahler: Symphony No.8

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This really is a very special performance, 12 May 2014
This review is from: Mahler: Symphony No.8 (Audio CD)
Maazel's cycle of Mahler symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic has aroused some controversy. People tend to be in agreement that the orchestra plays divinely but that some spirit is missing from the performers. I have occasionally felt that Lorin Maazel does not always sound like he actually likes the music he is conducting.

This recording of the 8th symphony has been singled out for much harsh criticism. Critics have suggested that it is taken too slowly or that Maazel seemed rather aloof to the music making or that the massive second part has been performed in too episodic a manner.

Well, having listened to it this evening having listened to two other versions recently, I can say that this is to my ears a revelatory performance that had me marvelling at so much orchestral and vocal moments. The orchestra does indeed play divinely in every section from gorgeous silky strings to lovely rich brass sonorities. The grandeur of the work is fully realised and the engineers have done a superb job in getting it recorded without distortion or loss of amplitude.

I loved the sounds of the Vienna Boys Choir, who uniquely present the perfect blend of earthy sonority with musical precision.

The vocal soloists are also very fine. I loved Sharon Sweet's soaring soprano and Brigitte Fassbaender's rich alto sounds. Richard Leech is also perfect in the tenor solos singing with a tone that cuts through the massive textures.

This work has been the Mahler symphony I have had the most trouble getting to know. Part of the problem is the nickname, Symphony of a Thousand, which seems to imply that it may lack depth and focuses too much on the scale rather than any deeper qualities. Mahler of course did not sanction the nickname and I can say that it is the expressive qualities that I have come to appreciate in my recent hearings of this work and on this showing, I think that Lorin Maazel did a super job. I was quite numbed by the sheer visceral thrill of the music after playing it.

Mahler: Symphony No.8 - "Symphony of A Thousand"
Mahler: Symphony No.8 - "Symphony of A Thousand"
Price: £1.79

4.0 out of 5 stars important pioneering recording, 9 May 2014
I have the LPs of this recording from 1954.

To put it in context, this work had never been released as a recording until this time; Mahler's popularity was yet to come. As well as this, the 'Symphony of a Thousand' presented formidable challenges both to performers and to sound engineers.

The recordings are from a live performance at the 1954 Holland Mahler Festival. The orchestra was the Rotterdam Philharmonic under its long term (and sadly forgotten) conductor Eduard Flipse supplemented with players from the Brabant Orchestra. The choir was made up of a number of local well prepared choirs. Of the soloists, the only one I had heard of was Gottlob Frick.

The cover photograph shows a rather plain building that looks more like a sports hall rather than a concert hall. It is in fact a factory building which was used because the usual concert hall for the Rotterdam Philharmonic was not large enough for the massed forces in the recording.

I would not describe this as the most earth shattering or exciting performance but it is always musical and very nicely done. As sometimes happens, i found myself intending to listen to one side of the LP and found and ended up listening to the whole work. It is a live recording and there is (I think) rather polite applause at the end.

Surprisingly, few allowances need to be made for the recording quality. Although the fortissimo passages are a little congested, there is great immediacy elsewhere although it does at times reveal some weediness in the choral sound. The orchestra sounds very natually recorded though.

On LP there were fade outs at the ends of sides 2 and 3. I am looking forward to checking out the MP3 to find out whether this happens on this medium too. I will revise the review once I have found out.

So to sum up. It is a pioneering recording which every devotee of Mahler should take time out to hear.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 2, 2014 4:08 PM BST

Changing Places
Changing Places
by David Lodge
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious and great fun to read, 7 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Changing Places (Paperback)
Changing Places has been selected for my reading group and I have had so much fun reading through it.

For me, the book has a nice glow of nostalgia. I was myself a student at the University of Birmingham, the model for Rummidge and it is clear from the descriptions of buildings etc that Rummidge is no other place. Changing Places was written in 1975 and describes events in 1969.

The story concerns two academics, one from Rummidge, a mild mannered and rather buttoned up English academic called Philip Swallow and an American from the Euphoria State University of Esseph (which I suppose is San Francisco) called Morris Zapp, who is brash and opinionated. They engage in a 6 month exchange. While neither relishes the change of job, they both have reasons for escape.

The story turns into quite a journey for both, with plenty of bed hopping and cultural misunderstandings. There are plenty of different literary devices used from straight narrative, to the epistolary novel, to news articles (which are occasionally quite absurd) to a kind of Noel Coward drawing room comedy. David Lodge's literary background shows as bits of Shakespeare, WB Yeats and Jane Austen are slyly pushed into the dialogue - its great fun.

There are also moments of farce. One thing I had almost completely forgotten about from my time at Birmingham was using the paternoster lift in the library, a terrifying continually moving elevator which passengers just step on. The description of the chase involving a mad former professor was one of the highlights of the book for me.

Highly recommended.

The Irving Judgment (Law)
The Irving Judgment (Law)
by Anon
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars If you are curious about Holocaust revisionism, this is a great place to start, 3 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
You can of course read this judgment on-line. but I am glad to have it in book form.

If any reader doesn't know it yet, this is the judgment from the libel case in 2000 between David Irving, an English historian who specialised in military history in the Second World War and Deborah Lipstadt, an American academic and her publishers Penguin Books.

Lipstadt wrote a book about Holocaust denial called "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory" in which she surveyed a number of individuals and organisations who have written and published literature calling into question the authenticity of the generally accepted historical understanding of the Holocaust. The 3 sticking points are:
1. Whether there was a deliberate policy of extermination of Jews authorised by Hitler
2. Whether the death toll in German run concentration camps was 6 millions
3. Whether gas chambers were used as a means of mass extermination.

David Irving was mentioned in passing in the book on about 5 pages out of 278 and decided to sue Lipstadt and her publishers for libelling him as a Holocaust denier, a partisan of Hitler, a neo-Nazi and a falsifier of history. It was the job of the defence to prove these allegations in a court or face criminal sanctions and paying massive damages.

There are books by Richard Evans (the Cambridge University history professor who acted as the defence's expert witness) and Lipstadt herself as well as the journalist DD Guttenplan in which the case is described. However, this book sets out Mr Justice Gray's judgment in which he describes in detail the individual factors of the case in a manner of absolute objectivity.

One thing the judgment does not do is attempt to justify the generally accepted Holocaust history; Gray rightly says that this is the job of the historian. What it does instead is to set out a whole series of issues and put both the defence's point and Irving's response side by side. I don't think anyone reading this could possibly say that the judge has been anything but scrupulously fair to both parties.

Reading this judgment, I got the impression that Irving was tending to wriggle and prevaricate once the historical evidence was put to him. Justice Gray did not agree to every point made by the defence against Irving. He did not fully accept Evans' condemnation of Irving as a historian, finding much to admire in his industry and thoroughness. However, the judgment does not put Irving in a favourable light. I must say I felt a little queasy reading the chapter in which quotes from Irving's speeches and diary entries were transcribed verbatim in which his anti-Semitism and racism is exposed.

While the judgment does not purport to prove the Holocaust, it has by necessity had to examine the evidence of orders from the top and the use of gas chambers in Auschwitz. It is clear from the Judgment that Gray did not find the revisionist arguments put by Irving were convincing and accepted the case as put by Evans and others.

The even-handedness shown by Gray caused Lipstadt some upset and it is interesting to note that many revisionists quote bits from document our of context. I would recommend that readers do read the whole Judgment from beginning to end to understand the process which leads to the final line: "It follows that there must be judgment for the Defendants"

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