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M. Joyce (Cairo, Egypt)

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Une fête baroque
Une fête baroque
Price: £17.71

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I wish I'd been there..., 5 Aug 2013
This review is from: Une fête baroque (Audio CD)
"Une fête baroque" is a two-CD live recording of a gala concert held in December 2011 to mark the tenth anniversary of the Concert d'Astrée and to raise funds for the Gustave Roussy cancer research foundation. Concerts such as these do not always live up to their billing, but this one really sounds as if it would have been great to have been part of the audience at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris.

The roster of singers involved (they include Natalie Dessay, Anne Sophie von Otter, Rolando Villazón and Sandrine Piau) virtually guarantees aural satisfaction and they rarely disappoint. Although Emmanuelle Haim's tempi incline towards the brisk, her obvious affinity and, indeed, affection for this music shines through and there is some glorious playing from the instrumentalists involved.

The first CD focuses largely on the great French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. The disc gets off to a cracking start with the Danse du Calumet de la Paix from the "Sauvages" section of the opéra-ballet "Les Indes galantes", leading into a duet by Natalie Dessay and Stéphane Degout. There are many highlights on this disc; personal favourites are the Air de la chasseresse from Rameau's "Hippolyte et Aricie" and Anne Sophie von Otter's impassioned singing of Phèdre's aria from the same opera, but Patricia Petibon is good value as La Folie from "Platée". The remainder of the first disc is taken up by two excerpts from Lully's "Thésée", Christopher Purves as the Cold Genius from Purcell's "King Arthur" and a version of the same composer's "Sound the Trumpet"; my wife had this track almost permanently on repeat and I defy anyone not to smile with joy or even laugh out loud at this!

Disc 2 is devoted to Handel. Pleasures there are many (vocal standouts are von Otter, the countertenor Philippe Jaroussky and Sandrine Piau, whose performance of "Piangero" from "Giulio Cesare in Egitto" outclasses Natalie Dessay's singing of "Se pieta", another aria sung by Cleopatra in the same opera. Rolando Villazón (strained and rather shouty in an aria from "Tamerlano") sounds rather out of his comfort zone, but in truth every single track brings some joy.

Lovers of Baroque opera will, of course, love this disc, but so, I suspect, will music lovers of all tastes and inclinations.

Requiem & Magnificat
Requiem & Magnificat
Price: £9.71

4.0 out of 5 stars Serious works by a serious composer, 4 Aug 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Requiem & Magnificat (Audio CD)
A number of the CDs I've bought over the past few years have been on behalf of my wife, usually when she's been singing a new and unfamiliar work with her choral society. This is certainly true of this Rutter disc, which features his Requiem and Magnificat.

Much as I've his arrangements, I've never been a special fan of the composer, finding pieces such as a "Gaelic Blessing" and "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" almost unbearably cloying.

To my ears there are one or two trite moments here, but there is no denying that much of the music here is as beautiful as it is effective. My wife, who loves both these works, tells me that they are enjoyable and rewarding to sing, but far from straightforward.

Both pieces are given here in their orchestral versions and there is some excellent playing from the City of London Sinfonia under the baton of the composer. The Cambridge Singers at the time of these recordings (1986 and 1991) featured some illustrious names (including Mark Padmore and Gerald Finley) and they produce some lovely sounds here.

Make no mistake; these are serious works by a serious composer and notwithstanding my earlier preconceptions about Rutter, I have to join my wife in praising this CD.

Sullivan: The Golden Legend
Sullivan: The Golden Legend

4.0 out of 5 stars Serious Sullivan, 4 Aug 2013
My love of G&S is well documented in the many reviews I have posted of their operas. Sullivan aficionados make great claims for the enduring excellence of the rest of his oeuvre, but while I have found much to admire (especially in his Cello Concerto), I have always found his songs, orchestral and choral works and his attempts at "serious" opera to fall into the category of "good, but not great"; not second-rate certainly, but not quite of the first rank.

Although there are many beautiful moments and none of the work is less than listenable to, that just about sums up my reaction to "The Golden Legend", even though one has to be grateful to Hyperion (and the driving enthusiasm of the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society) for committing the work to disc back in 2001.

When it was first performed in 1886 (around the same time as "Ruddigore", perhaps my favourite Savoy Opera), it met with an initial overwhelming reaction and for a while only "Messiah" was performed more often in Great Britain. As is so often the case, however, it then fell into almost complete neglect, which is certainly unjust, as there is some beautiful music here and some especially effective orchestral scoring; as David Russell Hulme's interesting sleeve-notes observe, the work is an important milestone en route between "Elijah" and "Gerontius". While it would be foolish to pretend that "The Golden Legend" consistently touches the heights of these great works, you can definitely see (or hear) what he meant and the work certainly seems to have lit the way for Elgar.

The work is based on an adaptation by Sullivan's friend the music critic Joseph Bennett of Longfellow's narrative poem "The Golden Legend". The composer focused on the poem's more Gothic elements and the setting for the opening of the Prologue is, rather splendidly, "the spire of Salzburg Cathedral on a stormy night", with Lucifer, accompanied by the Powers of the Air, trying to tear down the cross. This opening scene is very effective, despite the unsteady tone of the Lucifer, the Australian baritone Jeffrey Black, whom I saw as a magnificent Posa for Opera North, but who is distressingly wobbly here. Mark Wilde is a rather pallid Prince Henry, though he sings very sweetly, but the two female soloists, Janice Watson and Jean Rigby, are both first rate. The London Chorus sings well, even though the choral music is, to my ears at any rate, not especially rewarding. The New London Orchestra plays well for their conductor Ronald Corp, even if some of the tempi seem to drag a bit.

As ever with Hyperion recordings, the presentation is first rate and the lovely cover illustration ("Aucassin and Nicolette") is by a female artist new to me, Marianne Stokes (1855-1927).

This is a work well discovering, both for lovers of Sullivan and for those interested in the British choral tradition.

Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Series 1 [DVD] [2000] [2004]
Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Series 1 [DVD] [2000] [2004]
Dvd ~ Larry David
Price: £6.10

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prepare to be hooked!, 22 Jun 2013
I'm a recent convert to "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (or "Curb", as one of my colleagues calls it) and perhaps this review will entice others to join its devoted band of admirers. Having watched a later series, I decided to start at the very beginning (a very good place to start, I am led to believe) and watch the ten episodes which make up the Complete First Series, plus the one-hour Special. In truth, I wasn't especially taken with the latter, but the actual series is quite wonderful and its "best bits" are as funny as anything I've seen for a long time.

At this juncture, I should add that on the whole I find American TV comedy series over-hyped and nowhere near as funny as the best British sit-coms (before I'm accused of excessive chauvinism, I should add that I find American comedy films generally superior to their British counterparts); my praise for "Curb" is, therefore, praise indeed.
Just how much you like the series depends, I guess, on how you react to the central character, Larry David; with whose sentiments you will both sympathise and be infuriated by. As the blurb on the DVD sleeve succinctly puts it, he is "prone to speaking the unspeakable and honest to the point of insensitivity...a walking victim of misunderstandings and missed opportunities".

To quote the blurb once again, he is "surrounded by an eclectic mix of real and fictional recreations of his friends, acquaintances and outright enemies" and the actors in these roles are without exception brilliant; it is astonishing to think that the whole thing is largely improvised.

This is not your sanitised, wholesome American sit-com; far from it, (alleged) erections, tampons, racial prejudice, the unfortunate misspelling of the word "aunt" all feature in this series and the moment which made me laugh out loud the most involved incest survivors...I kid you not!

I realize that I am preaching to the converted here, but if you don't already know this series, I'm sure that you'll soon be hooked!

Yvonne Kenny, Vol. 2, Great Operatic Arias, Opera in English
Yvonne Kenny, Vol. 2, Great Operatic Arias, Opera in English
Price: £12.57

4.0 out of 5 stars Soprano arias (and scenes) in English, 20 Jun 2013
I'm a big fan of the Chandos opera recitals in English; they tend to involve artists I've seen "in the flesh" and the repertoire involved is usually varied and interesting.

This is certainly true of this recital by the Australian soprano Yvonne Kenny, which was recorded in 2002. It is perhaps a shame that her considerable artistry had not been captured ten years earlier, when she was in her vocal prime. This is not to say that she does not sing well here; her voice is remarkably fresh and she is an unfailingly sensitive and musical performer.

This is Miss Kenny's second recital disc in this series and her programme ranges from Handel, Mozart and Richard Strauss to "lighter" pieces by Lehar, Kálmán, Novello and Gershwin. The splendid accompaniment is courtesy of the much missed Richard Hickox and the London Symphony Orchestra. She gives great pleasure in all the arias and excerpts here, but none more so than the extended sequences from Strauss's "Arabella" and "Capriccio", in both of which she is joined by the silvery soprano Rebecca Evans, another star of the Chandos Opera in English series. The American tenor Bruce Ford features in duets by Mozart and Kálmán; his is a fine voice and he is a very stylish singer, but he is not entirely to my taste.

This is a disc which will give a great deal of pleasure, both to fans of Miss Kenny and to opera-lovers in general.

Verdi: Il Trovatore
Verdi: Il Trovatore
Price: £11.75

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great price, great voices, but...., 17 Jun 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Verdi: Il Trovatore (Audio CD)
I bought this "Trovatore" for three reasons: its price; the fact that I used to have a cassette of highlights of this version; and the vocal forces involved.

I don't think that this would be many people's first choice recording of this opera, but many people will, I guess, be attracted by the names of the singers involved, even if one could have serious reservations about the suitably of at least three of them for their roles.

Before I address this issue, let me say that the sound is excellent (the recording dates from 1977) and while Richard Bonynge's conducting is little more than dutiful and he indulges his singers' desire to interpolate gratuitous high notes (his wife, Joan Sutherland, is a predictable repeat offender), it no way offends, even if the whole thing is somehow lacking in drama and excitement.

The title role is taken by Luciano Pavarotti, who had, of course, one of the greatest voices of the past century. I am not convinced that Manrico was really his role, however, and I find him a little lacking in heft; he is, to my ears at any rate, audibly stressed by "Di quella pira", undeniably exciting though it may be. I have to confess that I have something of a problem with Joan Sutherland's later recordings; the "money notes" are all there, of course, and she remained a mistress of coloratura, but I find her rather swoopy and swoony and not really my idea of a Verdi soprano at all. The same is true of her mezzo partner Marilyn Horne, whose phenomenal vocal range would seem to be ideal for the role of Azucena. Although she sings with keen intelligence, I am not convinced that this is "her" role either. The least starry of the principals is the Swedish baritone, the late Ingvar Wixell, but he is for me the most effective member of the cast; I love his rather grainy timbre and admired him greatly when I saw him sing the Count di Luna in Berlin around the time this recording was made. Nicolai Ghiaurov had one of the most sumptuous bass voices of the day, but his opening narrative fails to make the impact it should; the fault lies, I believe, more with the conductor than the singer. In the comprimario roles, Graham Clark makes an effective Ruiz, but Norma Burrowes, by nature a soubrette, is too light-weight for Ines.

...lots of reservations, therefore, but make no mistake; there is no serious vocal talent here and I am sure that this will please a lot of listeners, especially at this bargain price. There is, incidentally, no libretto and the sleeve notes are rudimentary to say the least.

Stories from The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Demon Barber, The Indiscretion of Mr Edwards & The Guile-less Gypsy [Classic Radio Theatre Productions]
Stories from The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Demon Barber, The Indiscretion of Mr Edwards & The Guile-less Gypsy [Classic Radio Theatre Productions]

4.0 out of 5 stars Good fun!, 14 Jun 2013
This is great fun, albeit in a "guilty pleasure" sort of way. As the blurb on the back of the CD makes clear (there are no sleeve-notes), we are transported back to classic radio plays from a bygone age, in this case that of the Second World War.

These particular stories were first aired in January 1946, but the sound quality is not bad at all. The programmes are sponsored by Petri Wines and each episode begins with an advertisement for the said company before the announcer, one Harry Bartell, calls upon the now presumably retired Dr. Watson for a chat (and a bit of shameless product placement) before we embark on the episode itself. Some people may find this rather tiresome; personally, I love it...the links have a certain "period charm" and are, it goes without saying, absolutely hilarious.

Each episode runs for about half an hour and features a new, original Sherlock Holmes story. The principal players are Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, for many people the definitive Holmes and Watson, who played these roles in a series of low-budget films at around the same time these radio broadcasts were made.

Rathbone is a fine, incisive Holmes (and takes on the odd supporting role too), while Bruce is a blustery Watson who sounds as if he might forget his lines at any moment. The supporting inevitably features some "Mary Poppins" English accents, but they certainly enter into the spirit of things. The stories are, in fact, very entertaining and the cheesy electric organ musical links only add to the pleasure.

Three stories feature here; "The Demon Barber" (the CD cover, incidentally, with its picture of Johnny Depp, misleadingly suggests that this is a version of the Sweeney Todd legend), "The Indiscretion of Mr. Edwards" and "The Guileless Gypsy".

This is a bit of a guilty treat, but you can pick this up very cheaply indeed if you look around...I did!

Berg - Wozzeck [Opera in English]
Berg - Wozzeck [Opera in English]
Price: £19.86

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful!, 19 May 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I studied Georg Büchner's play at university and it made a great impact on me; in particular, I found it quite astonishing that it was written in the early years of the nineteenth century. In truth, I'd always been a bit scared of the opera, even though I knew that its libretto was virtually a verbatim transcription of the play text.

Well, after all these years, I've eventually got round to listening to it and although it is a fragmentary piece and not an easy listen, there are many beautiful musical moments and the vocal characterization is quite striking.
There is substantial use of Sprechstimme in the piece and from what I gather, many singers pay scant regard to the vocal line and the actual notes! I'm not an expert, but my impression is that this is not the case here and even the grotesque roles of the Captain and the Doctor are musically sung.

All of the singers are superb and it is evident that most of them have actually sung their roles on stage, many in an Opera North production conducted by the estimable Paul Daniel, who oversees matters here. The title role is taken by Andrew Shore. Shore is one of the great buffo basses of his generation and on the evidence of this recording, it is a shame that he has not undertaken more "serious" roles; his Wozzeck is both harrowing and beautifully sung. I was a little apprehensive that Josephine Barstow recorded the role of Marie so late in her career (the recording was made in 2002), but she sounds appropriately young and fresh and she is, of course, one of the greatest singing actresses of recent vintage. The supporting cast is superb. Stuart Kale and Clive Bayley sing and act brilliantly as the Captain and Doctor, while Peter Bronder is a lyrical Andres. Alan Woodrow is a Heldentenor Drum Major and Jean Rigby makes her mark as Margret. The tiny (he only has 13 notes to sing!) role of the Idiot is vividly taken by John Graham-Hall and my only reservation concerns the insufficiently basso profundo Apprentice of that fine singer Iain Paterson. All of the singers project Richard Stokes' admirable translation with commendable clarity, but as ever with Chandos, the informative booklet includes a complete libretto.

This is a wonderful recording and I am now eager both to hear the work in the original German and to see the opera on stage.

Live In London
Live In London
Price: £8.54

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leonard live..., 17 May 2013
This review is from: Live In London (Audio CD)
Sometimes you post a review and actually ask yourself: what's the point? All Leonard Cohen fans will surely already own this two-disc set and Cohen "newcomers" will probably plump for a studio-recorded "greatest hits" package consisting of tracks made when the great man was in his prime and when his voice was not quite the basso profundo it is today.

However, I do have a few points to make about this recording, which may be of some interest/value:

* As the title of the CD makes clear, this was recorded live at London's O2 Arena in July 2008.
* There is plenty of evidence that this is a "live" recording (applause, audience reaction, "chat" between songs), but this enhances rather than detracts from the listening experience.
* Considering his age, Cohen is in fine vocal form here, even if he is nicely self-deprecating about his vocal capabilities.
* The supporting musicians and singers are absolutely superb.
* All the "greatest hits" are here, including some of a more recent vintage.
* This is it!

King Lear [DVD]
King Lear [DVD]
Dvd ~ Laurence Olivier
Price: £6.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable, 17 May 2013
This review is from: King Lear [DVD] (DVD)
I remember watching this when it was first shown on TV (on ITV, of all channels!) 30 years ago; at the time, I considered it to be a well nigh definitive version of what is, perhaps, my favourite Shakespeare play. Even then, however, I had some reservations about Laurence Olivier in the title role; he may have been "England's greatest living actor" at the time, but I hadn't always "got" him, finding him at times...dare I say it...a bit "hammy".

Watching it again all these years later, I have to say that I can happily cast most of my reservations aside, even if I find him a little frail (he was well into his seventies at the time) in the early scenes. He rises magnificently to the demands of the storm scenes and is almost unbearably moving in the final act (I have never seen a Lear quite so effective as Olivier is here).

The other players are very fine indeed. Dorothy Tutin and Diana Rigg are splendidly venal as Goneril and Regan, while Anna Calder-Marshall does well as Cordelia. David Threlfall and Robert Lindsay, caught early in their careers, are superb as Edgar and Edmund, while John Hurt makes one regret the Fool's departure from the action more than usual. Colin Blakely is as good a Kent as any I have seen, while Leo McKern is quite wonderful as Gloucester, by turns comic and tragic; this is a gift of a part and always seems to bring out the best of the actor playing it (the two finest exponents of the role I have ever seen...Michael Bryant and David Ross...both outshone their Lears, Anthony Hopkins and Tom Courtenay respectively!). Even the smaller parts are cast from strength; Robert Lang (great voice!) and Jeremy Kemp as Albany and Cornwall, Edward Petherbridge and Brian Cox as France and Burgundy, Geoffrey Bateman as a nasty, rather camp Oswald.

The play is well directed by Michael Elliott and although the Stonehenge-like sets are obviously studio-based, they are effective enough, as is the use of music throughout.

This is a very fine "Lear" and the performance of the 76 year old Olivier in the title role is quite astonishing.

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