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Colin Fortune (Birmingham, UK)
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A Week in December
A Week in December
by Sebastian Faulks
Edition: Hardcover

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very successful "entertainment", 12 Oct 2009
This review is from: A Week in December (Hardcover)
Sebastian Faulks said on a recent television interview that people should remember that this book is "...just a story." So although the subject-matter is based on the history of the beginning of the bank collapse of 2007 and how it affected various parts of very rich London, it seems that the author's expressed intention is not to write a "world-changing manifesto about human rights" or any other obviously "deep" type of book. On the contrary, this novel stands in relationship to such books as "Birdsong" or "Human Traces" as does Graham Greene's "Travels with my Aunt" to something like his much more serious "The Heart of the Matter". Just as Greene wrote what he called "Entertainments" so too can Mr Faulks. And of course the book is essentially a satire on certain sorts of belief and behaviour ranging from the worship of money as a thing in itself or an expression of power and self-aggrandizement, characterized by John Veals and his Hedge Fund, to a sensitive examination of Islamic radicalization in the character of Hassan.

This satirical intent explains the tendency towards "flatness" in some of the characters as well as the egregious elements like the television show "It's Madness" with its Barking Bungalow. There is some obvious symbolism like the Circle Line connection the characters through the work of the train driver Jenni Fortune (get it?) and Faulks' fascination with the notion of "voices" as either madness or prophecy, which first emerged in "Human Traces" gets a treatment in the context of Gabriel Northwood's brother Adam's "prophetic" declamations of the voices of Axia and Disaster-Maker, the defining auditory hallucinations of his schizophrenia. Note here that it is the Angel Gabriel who both announces the incarnation of Jesus and who is the mediator of Allah to the Prophet and that Gabriel Northwood is reading the Koran in order to sympathize with the beliefs of some of his Muslim clients. The irony is further heightened by the fact that it is Gabriel Northwood who delivers the Darwinian anaysis of the provenance of "voices" and madness to Jenni. All this, together with the research that has gone into the financial and fiscal machinations of the Veals Hedge Fund tends to indicate that the soap-opera surface of the text is a deliberately sought-after effect based on some very profound elements: the recipe for good satire.

I found this book an entertaining and thought provoking departure from the style of Faulks' earlier books. One coincidence remains to interest me, however: how is it that both John Banville's "The Infinities" (published September 3 2009) The Infinities and this book both contain characters with the surnames Godley and Fortune? Just a bit of "happenstance" like so much of this novel purports to be?


The Infinities
The Infinities
by John Banville
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intense writing of the highest quality: a mythical investigation into the human condition, 12 Sep 2009
This review is from: The Infinities (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a magnificently written book. Banville's use of language is wonderfully intense and his capacity for observation of pertinent but small detail is remarkable. The Infinities of the title can apply to several things and I must duck giving a complete list in order not be be a "spoiler" of the way the book develops. One of the applications of "the infinities" is to the mathematical discoveries of Adam Godley (senior) which leads him to turn the understanding of time and reality on its head: instead of allowing the concept of infinity to spoil his equations he found that reality is an infinite series of infinities that interlock. And most importantly for this book, there is - has logically to be - an area beyond the infinities where the gods live...

Now old Adam lies on his deathbed in the Sky Room at Arden House om a hot Midsummer day. Part of the novel recounts his musings and memories whilst other parts are about the relationships between the other characters: Ursula his wife, young Adam and his wife Helen, Petra his daughter, Ivy Blount and Adrian Duffy, the enigmatic visitor Roddy Wagstaff and the decidedly strange final guest Benny Grace. The narrator identifies himself within the first few pages as Aregiphantes the Psychopompus (conductor of dead souls), better known as Hermes the messenger of the gods, son of Zeus and Maia and also known as Mercury. He proves to be an intriguing guide through the book with his narration spawning questions about reality and identity interpreted from within a mythical discourse.

At the centre of the book lies a paradox: Godley's mathematical discoveries are rigorous and certain and yet they lead to countless ambiguities and restatements of the real as the infinities intersect each other. Where and what is Arden House on this summer's day? When is it? What freedom do the characters have in a multiverse, no matter how things might seem for them? Why is it such a miserable thing to be immortal?

John Banville creates a haunting book with an atmosphere wholly its own. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will no doubt think about it for some time to come as it is that sort of book: one that does not yield its deeper meanings too quickly. A stimulating and challenging read.


Bruckner: 9 Symphonies
Bruckner: 9 Symphonies
Price: 70.99

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable historical set in good mono sound, 11 Sep 2009
This review is from: Bruckner: 9 Symphonies (Audio CD)
These recordings are in the special category of "historical performances" as they are a series of radio broadcasts recorded for RAVAG - the radio station in the Soviet Sector of Vienna - in January and February 1953. The sound is, therefore, not stereo and not up to 2009 SACD quality. Hence if you are thinking of buying a set, or you are not a Bruckner fanatic (be warned, people turn into fanatics like me when they start to listen to Bruckner!) then you might want to get the Barenboim Bruckner : Symphonies Nos 1 - 9 at a VERY reasonable current price, the first stereo single-conductor set by Jochum on DGG Bruckner: Symphonies Nos.1-9 or the cheaper remake on EMI Bruckner - Complete Symphonies /Eugen Jochum or the cooler, poised Haitink collection on Philips Bruckner: The Symphonies.

Initially this Andreae set seems very expensive for mono recordings of "suspect" editions of the symphonies. But the work of Volkmar Andreae in promoting Bruckner over the 50 years before he made these recordings - and the refreshing pragmatism that he adopted about using the versions of the score that he had to hand just so long as Bruckner's music was heard - mean that the interpretations are very special indeed. The Vienna Symphony Orchestra play magnificently throughout the set and the recording plus the clarity of line and flexibility of phrasing that is to be found in every single one of the discs means that all the layers of sound in the music are presented very well - though sometimes the horns are little recessed in comparison to what we are used to today, which may be no bad thing in itself.

The synmphonies seem to me to be presented with ideal pacing, with the possible exception of a rather fast Symphony 9 (but the disc is redeemed by a very finely sung, played, conducted and recorded Te Deum). There is, for example, a wonderful sense of "line" in Symphony 5 that completely precludes any suspicion of bombast and the manifold events of the Finale unfold with a sense of inevitability such as I have not encountered in any of the other recordings mentioned above with links. Symphonies 4 and 6 sound absolutely naturally "right" in themselves (the 4 Symphony in an 1878/1880 edition, by the way) and the first movement of Symphony 6 is perfect. Indeed, in this latter symphony the difficulty that Eugen Jochum once noticed, that the climax of the symphony really occurs at the end of the first movement, making the subsequent movements possibly anti-climatic, is completely eliminated and the whole thing ends triumphantly. Symphony 3 is in an 1889 edition and Symphony 2 is an 1877 revisionthat purposrts to be the Haas edition but then leaves out some of the accretions from 1872 that Haas had introduced. Symphony 1 is the 1866 Linz version (rather than the Vienna version that Andreae made commercially). Symphony 7 sings rhapsodically and lyrically from the moment the music starts and has just become my favourite version of the music! The great Symphony 8 is in the 1892 first published edition (pizzicato rather than arco in some places in the Adagio and with an extra cymbal clash in the Finale) and also receives one of the most satisfying performances that I know. The very fact that they were all recorded within a month with good rehearsal time by a conductor who knew all of the works really well, had performed them all regularly in concert (and had not just learned the early ones for recording purposes), makes this cycle extraordinarily of a piece.

Volkmar Andraea loved Bruckner's music and, listening to these magnificent discs, you can certainly tell. These performances are very special and the Bruckner lover with a bit of disposable cash could really do no better than investing in them as a superbly integrated view of this wonderful music.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 26, 2013 8:39 AM BST


Symphony 8 in C Minor (Davies, Bruckner Orchester Linz)
Symphony 8 in C Minor (Davies, Bruckner Orchester Linz)
Price: 7.94

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good enough, but not the best Bruckner 8 first version, 9 Sep 2009
Please note that this 2 disc set is of the 1887 first (and unpublished until 1972) version of this symphony. This means that if you have heard "Bruckner 8th" on the radio or in a concert and want a disc, then because this version is infrequently played, the music you hear on this recording is not likely to be the same as you are expecting. There are arguments about whether or not this edition is "better" or "worse" than the 1890 revision made by Bruckner, and the possible ways that "Bruckner 8" can be presented are at least four-fold and possibly confusing. Amongst lovers of Bruckner's music there are extremely partisan points of view about this, normally about whether or not the 1890 version should be presented in Robert Haas' 1939 Brucknergesellschaft edition or Leopold Nowak's competing 1955 edition, for the same Society. There has, however, only been one modern critical editon of the 1887 version, by Nowak in 1972, and this is the version and edition recorded here. For some light on this click on the link that follows Bruckner: Symphonies Nos. 8 (1887 Version) & 0 (Die Nullte) which is for Georg Tintner's Naxcs recording of the same 1887 edition. If you scroll to my review I attempt to clarify the editorial situation.

Briefly, there have been four recordings of this 1887 version: Eliahu Inbal's with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony (a trail blazing performance lasting just 76 minutes and probably the finest of the bunch, but alas no longer available from Amazon directly but only from a Marketplace seller at a high price Bruckner: Symphony No.8; Georg Tintner's reasonably priced and very good Naxos recording (see link in paragraph above); Simone Young's top-price SACD recording on Oehms (again spendidly performed and recorded) Symphony No.8 (1st Version) and this one.

The Dennis Russell Davies performance is good enough but is let down by the recording. The brass in particular sound rather dense and "throaty" and I do not know whether this is a peculiarity of the Bruckner Orchestra of Linz or of the acousitc of their concert hall, which is panelled in wood. This is a live performance and gives the impression of being a little careful when compared to theo ther three available recordings. You will not get a "bad" recording of this work if you buy this, but you will probably enjoy Tintner's more. And the two major competing recordings are at rouhghly the same price. Young's August 2009 is extremely good but over three times the price and hence for real enthusiasts only!


Symphonies Nos. 1 And 5
Symphonies Nos. 1 And 5
Offered by CDGirl-uk
Price: 17.25

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An odd set of Virgin Records' Mahler recordings collected together at reasonable price, 9 Sep 2009
This review is from: Symphonies Nos. 1 And 5 (Audio CD)
I wonder who this set is aimed at? First time buyers would surely be more likely to get either individual recordings of the Mahler symphonies as and when they heard them for the first time, or to buy something like the excellent Bertini Mahler: Symphonies 1-10; Das Lied von der Erde [Box Set] Kubelik Mahler: Complete Symphonies, or Tennstedt Mahler: Complete Symphonies cycles. In my own case I was interested in only ONE of the recordings initially - the 9 Symphony - and was happy encough to have a recording of the other works, especially at a Marketplace price rather lower than the Amazon standard price.

Symphonies 1 and 5 and the lieder actually turned out to be very good indeed so I was happily surprised. Overall there is a 4 star rating because in each case if one was buying just ONE recording of the works there are alternative recordings that may plumb deeper into the emotional/psychological world of Mahler - Haitink's wonderful Symphony 9 for example Mahler: Symphony No.9/Das Lied von der Erde is very special and the extremely good Pesek/Royal Liverpool Philharmonic performance cannot quite rival the very special moment that the Haitink captures (and Haitink himself could not in subsequent performances). That said, the 9 Symphony is given a very good performance here with some lovely string playing and a deep sense of involvement throughout the whole orchestra. The one quibble that I would have is that the very opening of the work falls prey to a fashion (started by Simon Rattle?) of playing music ridiculously quietly to demonstrate the virtuosity of the musicians. This Andante Comodo starts almost inaudibly and there is no warrant for this. Orchestras up to this time always managed to play pianissimo SO THAT IT 'SOUNDED' (i.e. could be heard). But after this glitch the performance is very involving (some lovely portamento in the violins give a "period" feel to the music in the first movement) with a meltingly lovely coda to the final Adagio. A rating for this would be ****(*).

The other works are well worth owning as alternative performances, and Thomas Allen is particularly good in "Revelge" and "Der Tamborg'sell" from "Des Knaven Wunderhorn". Salonen produces an enjoyable Symphony 5 and Litton's Symphony 1 is a sensitive and considered performance. A set worth getting for the Mahler 9 alone but with other works well worth having.


Symphonies No 8 (Hybr)
Symphonies No 8 (Hybr)
Price: 23.67

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent playing and recording of the 1887 version but at quite a high price, 5 Sep 2009
This review is from: Symphonies No 8 (Hybr) (Audio CD)
I mention the price of these discs as being "high" and so it is when compared with the available bargain price opposition, Tintner on Naxos Bruckner: Symphonies Nos. 8 (1887 Version) & 0 (Die Nullte), which is also coupled with a good performance of the number "0" Symphony, and Dennis Russell Davies Symphony 8 in C Minor (Davies, Bruckner Orchester Linz). The first recording in digital sound of this early version of Bruckner 8 was Eliahu Inbal's which at present only available as a very expensive out of print disc via Amazon Marketplace Bruckner: Symphony No.8 (this recording featured at the moment is about the same price as the Simone Young recording). The price is "low" when compared to the efforts undertaken by a friend of mine to get from the English Midlands to the concerts in Hamburg, from which this recording is taken! (He was well pleased, by the way.)

This Oehms recording is the only one available in 5 channel SACD and it is very richly recorded at the 2 channel stereo level also. It is richer and fuller than the difficult to get Inbal (its nearest rival) and recorded at a higher level and more immediately than the Tintner. The Dennis Russell Davies/Bruckner Orchestra of Linz recording is well enough produced, but. for my taste, is a peculiarly stiff interpretation. So in real terms the competition is between Simone Young and Georg Tintner, with Tintner already starting off with the advantage of being about one-third the price of Simone Young's version.

Tintner is 7 minutes longer overall and the quality of the orchestral playing is really good throughout, though it does not quite match the Philharmoniker Hamburg. Interpretation of both conductors is equally good and valid. If you are a real enthusiast then it is worth buying Professor Young's superb offering (there are one or two stifled coughs in the last movement, otherwise the audience is completely quiet). I bought my copy from Amazon Germany and got it a bit cheaper, even with postage added. This is easy and worthwhile to do. (Just set up an account as you did with Amazon and treat all the documentation in exactly the same way as you would if it is in English. The German Marketplace sellers that I used were deeply anxious to please and delivered the discs in record time. You get a good rate for the Pound against the Euro too.)

Young's recording is undoubtedly the best available one at present, as its superlative sound quality falls into the luxury category and the interpetation has line, vigour, energy and grandeur. The question is really if you want the 1887 version of this symphony. For a brief explanation of the different versions and editions of this work available please see my review of the Tintner recording mentioned above Bruckner: Symphonies Nos. 8 (1887 Version) & 0 (Die Nullte).

Though there are many lovely sounds in this version, which would not have been revised except for rejection by Hermann Levi, my feeling is that the booklet note goes too far in proclaiming the 1887 version as being THE work of genius. Mostly this is because Bruckner's inventiveness is so rich and fertile that the pages of the work are crammed with counter melodies and small joining decorative sections, some of which sound more Wagnerian (i.e. particularly like Lohengrin) than the later "Wagnerized" (so to speak) 1890 version. The bridge passages deliver the listener into more and more unusual keys and, although Bruckner brings the music back to satisfying tonal territory, for me I feel that there is more directionality in the later version. Which is as much as to say that I sometimes think that Bruckner flutters around before arriving at a "knockout moment".

This seems to me to particularly true of the Finale where, incidentally, the instrumentation is exactly the 8 horns and triple woodwind that pervades the 1890 version. The booklet says that the Adagio's great climactic moment is indicative of Bruckner's great confidence with its 6 cymbal clashes, and that the revision of 1890 shows a loss of confidence in the mere single clash that remains. Yet Georg Tintner makes it quite clear that this is very difficult to bring off without sounding lame and overdone (both he and Simone Young manage the moment wonderfully), and the drama of the single crowning cymbal and triangle is actually,in my opinion, better in 1890. Yet there are constantly moments that are so much more clear and unusual sounding in the 1887 version like when Wagner tubas and trombones play passages that were later given to strings and woodwind or the almost Mahlerian flute writing in the Scherzo.

To sum up: if you only want one recording of Bruckner 8 one of the best played recordings of Nowak's edition of the 1890 version (i.e. the revision of the music recorded on this disc), and also one of the best value is Lorin Maazel and the Berlin Philharmonic Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 in C minor. The sound is "good average" and you have to turn it up as it is at a low level, but it is a MAGNIFICENT interpretation of what might be said to represent best Bruckner's final thoughts. If you want to try the 1887 version then Tintner offers a superb performance and good value for money. If you are committed to investigating all the possible versions of Bruckner works and have the disposable cash, then this Simone Young recording is really very good indeed and you will not regret buying such a superbly well produced recording and performance.


Today I'm Alice: Nine Personalities, One Tortured Mind
Today I'm Alice: Nine Personalities, One Tortured Mind
by Alice Jamieson
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping read and very helpful in understanding Dissociate Identity Disorder, 25 Aug 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is an extremely well-written book and Clifford Thurlow is to be praised for shaping the experiences of Alice Jamieson into a narrative that engages the reader and clearly expresses what she wants to say to society around her. I idly opened the book to look at the first few pages after it arrived and, as I had a day off from work, found that I put it down fully read several hours later!

The book is valuable even in as much as it presents to the "sane" readership the fear and alienation of a person suffering from mental illness. Dealing with Multiple Personality Disorder induced by frequent sexual abuse in early childhood and with Alice's attempts to cope by using alcohol, prescription and street drugs, the story presents a truly heroic struggle with dreadful problems and ends with some hope for the future. I notice at the end of the book that Ms Jamieson has been able to take up her study for a PhD again, and I wish her well in this enterprise. Strongly recommended.


Bruckner: Symphony No. 6 in A major
Bruckner: Symphony No. 6 in A major
Offered by Direct Entertainment UK
Price: 4.39

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good Bruckner 6 in its own right and superb value at bargain price, 24 Aug 2009
Georg Tintner's whole Bruckner Cycle for Naxos is eminently recommendable and the standards of playing and recording engineering are always at least in the "very good" category. Sometimes this was won rather against the odds as is said to have been the case with this New Zealand recording. The Orchestra were not in a good mood as a proposed tour had been cancelled and the Tintner recording sessions took place in the space that had appeared in their schdule. It is a testimony to the humanity and musicianship of Georg Tintner that such a satisfying performance emerged and I hope that the orchestral musicians have been a little soothed by having produced such a fine disc.

All the movements are played at just the right tempo and Tintner is one of the very few to observe the speeding up at the end of Movement 1 just as it is written. His notes for the disc tell of the difficulty of making this (and other things required by Bruckner) work well and he is generally successful, especially in this recording. The Adagio is deeply touching, the Scherzo exhillerating and the Tintner makes good sense of the disperate Finale. The slight criticism I have is that (at least for my ears) the recorded level of the disc is a little on the low side, but if you turn up the volume this is easily cured. The direct competition with Klemperer's superb disc Symphony No. 6 (Klemperer/Philharmonia Orchestra) is fierce, however. The Philharmonia are gorgeously recorded on that disc and Klemperer's grip and logical approach to the tempo relations stands in contrast to Tintner's more fulsome appreach. It is worth paying the few pounds extra for Klemperer if you only want one recording of this engagning work, but the real solution is, of course, to buy both!


Cantata October
Cantata October
Price: 7.34

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five stars for the sheer effort and power - but one (red) star for the content, 23 Aug 2009
This review is from: Cantata October (Audio CD)
As far as I know this is the only currently available recording of this cantata. It is also probably the only extant recording of an example of this genre, the patriotic cantata in praise of the Motherland and Comrades Lenin and Stalin, that was prevalent in the 1930's. Prokofiev wrote this work to a commission and in the complete confidence that he would emerge as a leading Soviet composer - perhaps even with a Stalin Prize. In the event it was not performed until he had been dead for sixteen years. The musical-political climate in Russia was not good in 1937. In the world of Stalin's Terror, the attack on Shostakovitch in Pravda could have been the prelude to his disappearing into the Gulag. Nobody was sure of what the authorities wanted or would do and so the committee that assessed this work attacked Prokofiev for "...daring to set these words, that belong to the People, to such music." The composer quietly dropped the music, which must have cost him dearly.

The work is very large indeed, with huge orchestra and chorus and with three other "orchestras" attached, including military band made up with instruments from the Sax family, and an accordion group. The 10 movements last for 45 minutes and, at the end, one feels somewhat exhausted. Some commentators spoke of growing feelings of exhilaration when the work first appeared in the West and this is probably true. As it is, the music is so expensive to put on that it does not achieve many performances and Jarvi's excellent and well recorded CD is the way to get to know the work.

As regards to its content, Christopher Palmer, the writer of the booklet note, is as pains to encourage us to listen to the music and discount the words. The fact is that we should pay close attention to what was said by Lenin and Stalin (however hypocritically in the latter case) as a warning about good intentions going wrong in the hands of unscrupulous politicians. Of course the words matter: the Gramophone critic of the original review put it very well when he asked if we would feel comfortable if we were listening to a work "...written by Richard Strauss and glorifying the words of Goebbels and Hitler..." The 1930's was a terrible decade of dictatorship in Europe and we need to learn the lessons of history. This issue is worthwhile for that alone.


Mahler: Symphony No.3
Mahler: Symphony No.3

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably Horenstein's greatest Mahler recording, 23 Aug 2009
This review is from: Mahler: Symphony No.3 (Audio CD)
Unfortunately Jascha Horenstein did not make all that many Mahler reocrdings. We only have Symphony 1Mahler: Symphony No.1 In D and this 3rd from Unicorn in stereo (Horenstein conducts Mahler Symphony No. 1 & Bruckner Symphony No. 9 on Vox from the 1950's and Mahler: Symphony No. 1; Songs of a Wayfarer with the Bamberg SO are of variable quality), a Fourth Symphony Mahler: Symphony No. 4 in G on CFP , a Seventh on BBC Classics that unforunately starts wih a split note on the tenor horn Mahler: Symphony No. 7, an elderly (but very good mono) Vox recording of Symphony 9 Mahler: Symphony No.9/Kindertotenlieder [IMPORT] and an embattled Proms performance of the same symphony, again on BBC Classics Mahler: Symphony No. 9 / Kindertotenlieder easily available. The Unicorn recording of Symphony 6 no longer seems available. [If anyone knows of other recordings please add a comment and I will edit the review.]

This Mahler 3 is so fine that it has claims to be the single recording of choice in any CD collection - at least as for as the interpretation is concerned. I believe it could stand as Horenstein's "Mahler Monument".

That said there are problems with the balance in the first movement that I can only put down to some sort of error on the part of the recording engineers: at one point s single clarinet sounds approximately twice as loud as the entire second violin section, and the movement as a whole tends towards a recessive stirng balance. But the gradual burgeoning of power in this movement and its mad release in the coda shows very fine conducting and makes the balance problems seem less than they might otherwise be. But it needs to be said that if you have a very large concern for magnificent recording quality, you might become irritated by the shifting balances in this movement. Alas, you CAN get wonderful sound in this symphony by buying Chailly/Concertghebouw on Decca Mahler: Symphony No.3 but you will miss out on the extremes of light and darkness and the sheer depth of involvement that Horenstein brings to this score - especially in the last movement.

The other movements go well too and the Wandsworth Boys' Choir in particular make a charming raw and unsophisticated sound (especially the altos) that perfectly fits the folk quality of the poem in the fifth movement (listen to "Liebe nur Gott in alle Zeit" when the altos repeat "Liebe nur Gott!"). The final adagio is wonderfully phrased, building to a superb conclusion.

A very fine recording that you will not regret buying.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 9, 2013 9:56 PM GMT


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