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Hywel James "Hywel James" (Devon, United Kingdom)
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Berlin [DVD]
Berlin [DVD]
Price: £6.10

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent guide to the life and times of Berlin, 17 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Berlin [DVD] (DVD)
This three-part introduction to the city of Berlin is an excellent DVD and I recommend it strongly to anyone who is considering visiting the place for the first time, who may be familiar with the city or who simply wishes to enjoy an intelligent and well-illustrated insight into a European capital which has seen it all, so to speak.

It is true the visual effects in Programme 1 are a bit irritating and, like many television documentaries now, there's too much background music, but Matt Frei's commentary is shrewd, often drily humorous and always perceptive. He is an engaging and likeable presenter, and the fact that he is bi-lingual (English and German), and maybe of dual nationality too, gives this DVD special qualities.


I Brought This In Case: The 1960s, Four Art Schools and Me
I Brought This In Case: The 1960s, Four Art Schools and Me
Price: £6.07

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant screenplay waiting to be written, 5 Oct 2014
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I enjoyed Vaughan Grylls' book very much indeed. It is very funny and honest as autobiography, part life and times, part confessional. It also offers a sparkling account of what it was like to be an art student (or at least this particular art student), at first in the Midlands and later in London, between 1963 and 1970. Most importantly, it strikes me as authentic. By chance, I happen to have known at one time or another some of the people who crop up in Vaughan Grylls' story, and as far as I recall they are described accurately and very shrewdly. Attitudes of the time too, are reflected fairly, particularly the way that we men regarded women. His entire account has been written beautifully, candidly, and with great skill. It takes the form largely of dialogue, much of it quite hilarious, supported by a kind of internal, and very revealing, dialogue with himself where he rationalises or seeks to rationalise his motives for doing or saying this or that. The flow and sense of forward movement he creates throughout the book are compulsive and carry the reader almost bodily through a series of personal and professional adventures, highs and lows, which faithfully characterise life as a student and budding artist during what clearly was a wonderful time to be at art school in Britain.

Some reviewers here on Amazon make a comparison between the book and the work of Joyce Cary in "The Horses Mouth". I feel, however, and with no disrespect to Vaughan Grylls, that his account more closely resembles the voice of the young Adrian Mole, rewritten by Bruce Robinson of "Withnail and I" fame, and supplemented with a snatch or two of "Confessions of a Window Cleaner". Grylls may not thank me for that description but "I Brought This In Case" is a brilliant screenplay waiting to be written. Highly recommended.


Twelve Transcendental Studies Op. 11 (Kentner)
Twelve Transcendental Studies Op. 11 (Kentner)
Price: £13.40

5.0 out of 5 stars Legendary musicianship, 27 Sep 2014
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According to the notes accompanying this compact disc, Kentner's recording of these fearsomely difficult pieces by Lyapunov did not stay in the catalogues for very long, not because it offered poor quality or failed to gain the praise of the critics but simply that it was issued towards the end of the 78rpm era, and effectively disappeared from view when the long-play record entered the market. While these pieces demand enormous skill and technical command on the part of the player, they are far from being mere musical "bling". Each piece has a distinctive character which contrasts nicely with its fellows on either side, as it were, and the entire set has real emotional depth and clout. Kentner possessed formidable technical and emotional powers as a musician, and this recording by him fully deserves its legendary reputation. Seek it out on Amazon Marketplace. You will not be disappointed. Despite its age, the recording is very good indeed: rich, full and set within a realistic ambience.


On The Eve: The Jews of Europe before the Second World War
On The Eve: The Jews of Europe before the Second World War
by Bernard Wasserstein
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.69

5.0 out of 5 stars Readable, comprehensive and scholarly., 27 Sep 2014
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"On the Eve: the Jews of Europe before the Second World War" is a highly readable, yet thoroughly researched and scholarly account of the period starting roughly in the 1880s and taking the story up to the Holocaust. The book offers a comprehensive overview of Jewish life and culture ranging geographically from Spain to Russia and down into Central Europe and Greece. As I say, it is readable but of course the story is far from palatable and Wasserstein does not spare the reader from the extent of the outrage and hatred to which Jews were subject throughout the period. At the same time appropriate attention is given to the richness and diversity of Jewish religious and social life across Europe. Highly recommended.


Sibelius: Finlandia; Karelia Suite; Tapiola; Valse triste  (DG The Originals)
Sibelius: Finlandia; Karelia Suite; Tapiola; Valse triste (DG The Originals)
Price: £8.07

5.0 out of 5 stars Quality and fine musicianship, 26 Sep 2014
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Unless you must have a modern, stereo, digital recording, buy this compact disc of reissues of Sibelius recordings made in Berlin in the mid-1950s by the great musician, Hans Rosbaud. They were originally published on two 10 inch long-play records and, together, they offer a great programme of the shorter pieces by the composer. As other reviewers here on Amazon have said, Rosbaud was generally associated with the contemporary music of his time - he was an almost exact contemporary of Paul Hindemith - and was greatly respected by composers, including the young Pierre Boulez, for the care he brought to the performances of their music.

His Sibelius is clear, precise and rhythmically vital, without lacking atmosphere or passion, especially in "Tapiola", a late masterpiece. Highly recommended despite the recording being almost sixty years old. Quality and fine musicianship do not date.


DK Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide: Berlin: Berlin
DK Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide: Berlin: Berlin
Price: £3.79

3.0 out of 5 stars Not for older Kindles!, 22 Sep 2014
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Generally I'm a big fan of the DK Top 10 travel guides but I made a mistake in buying a Kindle version. I have the basic Kindle and it doesn't offer colour. The upshot is that I have a slate grey guide to Berlin with miniscule maps. My mistake! The book versions are terrific and if you have a more modern (and expensive) Kindle, you'll be pleased, I'm sure. But if you have the old Kindle, don't bother. As I say, it's my mistake...


Vaughan Williams: Stars of the Night, Songs and Violin Works
Vaughan Williams: Stars of the Night, Songs and Violin Works
Price: £12.07

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great programme of fine music., 26 Aug 2014
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This disc is the latest in a highly worthwhile series of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams produced by Albion Records, under the auspices of The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society. Each disc offers one or more world premieres of pieces by the composer, sometimes little-known, previously unperformed or unpublished pieces, or arrangements of his works by Vaughan Williams himself or other hands, usually highly distinguished (and occasionally very surprising) hands. I say surprising because this recording offers an arrangement for violin and piano - and a very beautiful one at that - of VW's Violin Concerto (Concerto Accademico) by Constant Lambert, a musician who had been particularly critical of the "folksong school" of British composers in the 1920s and 1930s.

The programme is both varied and very well recorded and performed. The performers are highly distinguished and it is a pleasure to hear artists of the calibre of Matthew Trusler, Roland Wood and Iain Burnside devoting such love to comparatively little-known but very fine material, such as the "Three Songs from 'The Pilgrim's Progress'", as well as the more familiar work. There is an exquisite arrangement by the composer of his own "The Lark Ascending" played with consummate artistryby Matthew Trusler. This is a version which thoroughly deserves to become as well known as its more familiar version for small orchestra.

The disc is called "Stars of the Night", a line by Robert Louis Stevenson taken from one of his verses from "Songs of Travel". The song cycle is also included in the programme. Altogether then a great programme of fine music. Highly recommended.


Normandy
Normandy
by Olivier Wieviorka
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.82

4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile and comprehensive survey of the Debarquements, 25 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Normandy (Paperback)
The review by Charles Vasey is a fair assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of this book and while there are more lengthy reviews on Amazon.com - indeed essay length reviews which I suspect have been undertaken to be handed in for marking at the end of the long vacation - I shall be brief here. It is always worthwhile to have a fresh perspective on a largely familiar subject and especially so in this case where a French historian has addressed D-Day 1944 - or Les Debarquements as the French understandably name the campaign - when there is a vast library of work by American and British writers. Wieviorka's book covers a great deal of ground, in a fair degree of detail, and in a largely balanced manner. It is not the first text to be recommended on the subject - no one text could fulfil that role adequately, but I believe it can be treated as a reliable and highly readable book certainly among the first ten on this fascinating piece of history.


The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010
The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010
by Selina Todd
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Passionate and committed history, 23 Aug 2014
Selina Todd's passionate and committed history of the Working Class over the century between 1910 and 2010 has elicited some essay length reviews - a few very highly critical - here on Amazon. I think the response has been a vindication of Todd's book. People have reacted either very positively or extremely negatively to it, largely depending, I guess, upon their own particular political positions. However some reviewers appear to attribute to the book views and opinions which it does not in fact express and in doing so seem to get quite hot under the collar. For example, Todd is not guilty of the charge that she believes "Labour is always good, while Conservatives are always bad". On the contrary, most politicians of whatever hue are given a good drubbing throughout, with the possible exception of the great Ernest Bevin - born in a tiny cob-built cottage less than a mile from where I tap these lines out on my keyboard.

I have no intention of writing an essay here. Selina Todd's book is a highly worthwhile work which is both passionate and committed, and whose political stance is entirely unambiguous. One reviewer on Amazon stated that historical writing should always be objective and quoted Ranke in that connection (that's Theodor von, not J Arthur, in case there's any confusion). Objective history can be very, very dull. Many of the experiences related in "The Rise and Fall of the Working Class 1910 to 2010" are now beyond living memory and for that reason alone we need this book. If any of us forget what our parents' and our grandparents' lives were like (assuming we are not the Duke of Westminster), the Old Etonians will be running the entire show and we'll only have ourselves to blame!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 19, 2014 8:29 AM BST


Secret Muses: The Life of Frederick Ashton
Secret Muses: The Life of Frederick Ashton
by Julie Kavanagh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.67

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and highly entertaining biography, 16 Aug 2014
Julie Kavanagh's comprehensive and highly entertaining biography of Frederick Ashton is wonderful in many ways, not least in offering a highly detailed - sometimes, indeed, day-to-day - account of the choreographer's life. She worked in close association with Ashton towards the end of his life and was thus able to take down reminiscences of his distinguished and colourful career. She also interviewed and corresponded with a great number of Ashton's contemporaries as preparation for her work.

I read the book chiefly to gain some insight into the music of the period and while there was a good deal of information about Ashton's professional and personal relationships with composers such as Walton, Berners, Lambert and others, the biography concentrates chiefly upon the choreographer and his work for the stage and with dancers, and offers fewer insights into the music. However that is not a significant criticism of what is by any standard an extraordinary achievement on the part of the author.

As to Ashton the man, he was clearly much loved by friends and contemporaries but Kavanagh spares the reader nothing in relating his chaotic love life, his feuds with other artists, his somewhat fawning attitude to royalty and women whom the author describes as "well born", his ignominious wartime service with the RAF, and his generally hopeless capacity to deal with the mundane practicalities of everyday life.

However, taken all in all this is a biography that is unlikely to be bettered as a fully-rounded portrait of its remarkable subject.


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