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Colin Fortune (Birmingham, UK)

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Bruckner: Symphony No.8
Bruckner: Symphony No.8
Price: 14.36

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alert beauty and spiritual grandeur: a truly live performance, 11 Oct 2010
This review is from: Bruckner: Symphony No.8 (Audio CD)
This is one of the most satisfying versions of the 1890 Version in the Haas Edition that I have heard. There are hundreds of moments of insight and beauty in this performance, demonstrating a wonderful rapport between the orchestra and conductor. Rubato is applied to bring out the yearning tenderness and the rich nobility of this work in turn. The first movement's wonderful horn-led Gesangsperiod (lyrical moment) is breathtakingly fine; the Scherzo is full of well-sprung rhythms; the Adagio is a ravishingly sustained 27 minutes of the greatest beauty, capped by a mighty climax about 22 minutes into the movement; and the Finale's many changes of mood are mapped with the greatest of attentive virtuosity, ending in a marvellous Coda. I do not know if the ensuing silence was the result of a request by the orchestral management for a pause as the concert was being recorded, or if it was a completely spontaneous expression of amazement. When the audience DOES express its opinion the applause is ecstatic.

This is all the more surprising when you realise that Thielemann was a replacement for Fabio Luisi at this concert and that the Bruckner 8 was not the originally planned work for performance.

The Staatskapelle Dresden play wonderfully and their unique sound is quite well caught by the recording. The bass strings are particularly richly recorded.

This is a remarkably fine performance, worth having in its own right. If it is sold as a "two for the price of one" deal it comes into direct comparison with Boulez Bruckner: Symphony No.8 and would be a very keen competitor even though the recording quality is not quite as vivid in Dresden as it is for the Vienna Philharmonic. If it is sold at a pricing of "two medium price discs" then its attractiveness is diminished as there are is also a fine recording by Wand available that would be cheaper Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 (and this is just sticking to Haas Editions). If, however, you are a Bruckner fanatic like me then I suggest you press your one-click button now!
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 19, 2012 3:05 PM BST

Learn Spanish with Paul Noble
Learn Spanish with Paul Noble
by Paul Noble
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 34.09

22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great fun - and the language sticks!, 1 Oct 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I was initially very sceptical about this product as, like Paul Noble himself, I had been very disappointed with language courses. Also, I have had no particular desire to learn Spanish in the past, and no experience whatsoever with it, other than ordering tapas whilst on holiday (which mainly got done by pointing!).

So I am pleased to report that this is really good fun to use because as you listen you are encouraged to CREATE VOCABULARY AND PHRASES FOR YOURSELF out of the bits of structure that you are picking up. Not only is it a completely non-threatening process but it is also entertaining in itself. Time and again I found that a question about how to do something would pop up in my mind - and it was as if my mind had been read because the answer was immediately forthcoming!

It is really comforting to be told at the outset that it is all right to forget things because they will be repeated in several different contexts and the act of remembering them will underline them for the future. It works too! Alternative pronounciations are provided for South American (male voice) and Castillian (female voice) Spanish. By the end of the first disc (of 12) you are able to book a table for two people for tonight, or ask if a table has been booked, or say that a table has not been booked. But more importantly YOU WILL KNOW HOW AND WHY YOU ARE SAYING IT because of the structured approach. Progress through the other discs is almost exponential.

Great method and superb value.

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8
Price: 14.86

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good central interpretation, 25 Sep 2010
This recording is from a live concert (or live concerts) though you only know this from the applause at the end: there are no intrusive noises like coughs. The tempi in all movements are very "central" with no distortions or self-regarding rubato and the sound of the the excellent orchestra is very well caught. This is a very good interpretation and performance of a difficult and fraught work though it falls just short of the elusive "greatness" that has you hardly daring to breathe during the final quiet moments of the last movement. For that go to Rostropovich Shostakovich - Symphony No 8 (LSO, Rostropovich) at just over half the price. Just occasionally there is evidence that the recording has been "limited" in very loud sections by the engineers and sometimes the extensive work of the solo wind performers is louder than the full orchestra. This is not a major concern, however.

This is a good performance of a difficult work but does not represent the best value for money.

Bruckner: Symphony No.4 (Symphony No.4 In E Flat Major Romantic)
Bruckner: Symphony No.4 (Symphony No.4 In E Flat Major Romantic)
Price: 12.07

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine modern SACD/Hybrid recording of 1888 Version of Bruckner 4, 13 July 2010
This is a noble interpretation and a beautifully natural recording of the final version of the Bruckner Symphony 4. It is in Benjamin Korstvedt's 2005 edition for the International Bruckner Society.

If this seems a tad pedantic, this information really does matter because there are THREE major versions of Bruckner 4 that are now available on CD and this one has not had an easily available modern stereo recording until now, despite being the version recorded by Knappertsbusch and Furtwaengler in the 1950's.

The current CD holds music that was wildly out of fashion with the Bruckner critics from about 1935 until 2000 (give or take a few years). The late Deryck Cooke called this version " abominable bowdlerisation [by the Schalk Brothers and Loewe] that does not reflect Bruckner's authentic vision and should be immediately discarded." And that is what the editors of the Bruckner Critical Edition of the International Bruckner Society (Robert Haas and later Leopold Nowak) most certainly believed. Anybody coming to Bruckner in the 1960's, when reasonable recordings started to appear, was taught that the first published editions were false versions. This meant that although from about 1890 to 1935 the version on this CD was the one that was performed, it became a tenet of critical belief that research into earlier manuscripts had uncovered the "real" or "Originalfassung" (original version) of this symphony and that this "original" version was "pure" compared to the "adulterated" version in the First Published Edition that had held sway up to that time. Even now CD booklets label Bruckner symphonies with the phrase "Original Version" from time to time.

But the version on this disc has been shown by Korstvedt's recent research to have been strongly supervised by Bruckner himself and prepared for a performance in 1891. The intention would have been to "improve" the music but that is a matter that has huge critical implications and it is not possible to address that here.

What potential buyers need to know at this point is that this is a powerful and noble version of the "Romantic" Symphony very beautifully played and recorded. And for those who worry about this sort of thing, the Version in this edition is completely "authentic Bruckner" (as are, actually, all the other Versions mentioned in this review).

At the least, just like in the 1890 Vienna Version of Symphony 1, the 1889 Version of Symphony 3 and the 1890 Version of Symphony 8, this 1888 Version of Symphony 4 represents the last written wishes of the composer, for whatever reason. This will matter more to people who think that there is "one right" version than to those who rejoice that there are actually three major versions of Symphony 4, each rather different and each available today. Remember, in 1935 this music was NOT available in multiple versions or relatively cheap recordings. These days it is possible to have good recordings of all the versions, to see the development of the composer's thought in the music and to revel in the riches uncovered by scholars and conductors.

There is a difference between VERSIONS and EDITIONS. In the case of the Romantic Symphony there are THREE MAJOR VERSIONS:

1874 First Concept Version
1878 - 80 First Revised Version [First Performed Version]
1888 Final Revised Edition

But then it gets more complicated. For example, there is an interim version of the Finale from 1878 known as the "People's (i.e. Volks) Festival" which Bruckner abandoned for the first performance (by Richter) in 1881, replacing it with the 1880 version. Hence this 1878 - 80 version, the one that has been the most performed for about 70 years, has a Finale that seems just a little out of balance witht he rest of the music. This is one of the things that the 1888 revision sets out to trim back, and the Finale on this Vanska disc is wonderfully well handled and very integrated. But what I have called the "First Revised Version 1878 - 80" had more work done to it for a possible performance in New York in 1885. The differences between the Haas Edition of the 1878 - 80 Version and the Nowak edition of what might be thought to be the same music, come from using these different texts. Most recordings of Bruckner 4 are actually one or other of the incarnations of this First Revised Version.

The 1874 Original Concept Version has a different Scherzo and is a much more complicated piece of music with layer on layer of counter themes and developments. In the right hands this can be very stimulating like Simone Young Bruckner, A.: Symphony No. 4, "Romantic" (Original 1874 Version) (Hamburg Philharmonic, S. Young) (available as a download: get link for CD from that page as I cannot at present insert a direct product link from Amazon), Russel-Davies Bruckner - Symphony No 4 (1874 Version) or Norrington Bruckner - Symphony No 4 It was never published or performed in Bruckner's lifetime.

For the "middle" version, Enoch zu Guttenberg's superb disc Bruckner - Symphony No 4 has yet, in my opinion, to be bettered. But this is confusingly labelled "Third Version" and derives from the changes made for the projected New York performance of 1885.

There is no easily available disc to compete with this Vanska recording in the Final Revised Version and certainly not one in such very good sound, so BIS have the field to themselves here. The interpretion is very subtle. For example, compared with all the other versions there is a greater use of timpani rolls to underpin climaxes. Furtwaengler's recordings (for example Bruckner - Symphonies Nos 4 - 9 - Furtwängler 1942-1951 recordings ) have rather loud drums, but Vanska's timpanist uses a variety of dynamic levels and to great effect. Some of the transition sections in the first and last movements are so tenderly handled that I was completely won over.

So in summary, if you have heard Bruckner 4 in concert and want to buy a disc this is not quite the same music that you will have heard. See the Enoch zu Guttenberg disc above. If you know the other two versions of this lovely work then you will probably want to hear this recording. Vanska makes the best case for this version that I have ever heard. If you grow, or have grown, to love Bruckner's music then this disc will be an essential buy as it is without peer in the current catalogue - there IS no other mainstream label recording of this version. If you have NEVER heard Bruckner 4 before and learn the work on this recording you will be responding to a version that Bruckner was very proud of and you will be in no way short-changed as it is a truly lovely disc in every way.

Mahler: Symphony No. 9 in D major (Philharmonia Orchestra / Esa-Pekka Salonen)
Mahler: Symphony No. 9 in D major (Philharmonia Orchestra / Esa-Pekka Salonen)
Price: 9.74

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good performance let down by the recorded sound, 10 July 2010
At the price on offer from Amazon this comes into the super bargain category and as a super bargain it represents good value. Salonen's interpretation of this live performace has plenty of passion and bite and the orchestra play very well for him in all the movements. The final Adagio is, as one would suspect, deeply moving and there is a good sense of the flow that delivers Mahler's multiple lines of music with great intensity in the other movements.

Alas the recording lets the production down, managing to mask the all important trumpet parts on several crucial occasions (like towards the end of the Andante Comodo) and to sound dull and a little distant. Increasing the playback volume (at least on my equipment) did not bring greater clarity. So a good interpretation but only 4 stars because of a less than clear recorded sound.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 6, 2012 9:10 AM BST

Schubert: Symphonies Nos 5, 8 & 9 /OAE  Mackerras
Schubert: Symphonies Nos 5, 8 & 9 /OAE Mackerras
Price: 7.15

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the great CD bargains: glorious performances, 7 July 2010
Believe everything the other reviewers have said about this wonderful Schubert bargain. Sir Charles Mackerras's interpretation of this music is second to none and the recordings are good to excellent. Given the current Amazon asking price this is surely one of the great bargains of the classical music CD repertoire. If you don't know these works you are in for a great treat and if you do you will be astonished as the way they come up clean and refreshed.

For an alternative view of Madkerras' Great C Major there is a Philharmonia recording on Signum that is worth getting if this Virgin set is not available Schubert Symphony No. 9.

Mahler: Symphony No 7
Mahler: Symphony No 7
Price: 9.89

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Relentless emotionally monochrome concerto for orchestra, 3 July 2010
This review is from: Mahler: Symphony No 7 (Audio CD)
This issue almost merits two stars to commemorate the efforts of the Hague Residentie Orchestra's conentration and professionalism in following Neeme Jarvi's maverick interpretation. But the interpretation itself cannot be recommended. We have arrived at the polar opposite to Klemperer's 1967 performace that clocked in at 90 minutes plus (no longer available and not worth the astrononmical prices that some private sellers on Marketplace are asking) Mahler/Klemperer: Orchestral and Chamber Works. This one barely makes one hour and ten minutes and, like the recent Bruckner 5 with the same orchestra Bruckner: Symphony No.5 it seems to be saying "anything you can do I can do faster." The Bruckner's supposed monumentalism was exploded by Jarvi (leaving a pile of rubble in its wake) and here in this Mahler 7 the fantastical and mysterious are banished entirely.

There are no contrasts. Everything is done quickly. The urgent accuracy of the performance quickly palls despite the brilliant playing and the fine recording. For example, there is no Adagio in the introduction to the first movement: everything is allegro risoluto and this seriously unhinges the interplay of light and dark in this movement. Yes, if you take Mahler's view that the first movement is amongst the happiest he wrote then there is a certain cheerfulness here, but Rosbaud Mahler - Symphony No 7 in his late 1950's recording (avoid ALL other Rosbaud recordings as he spent years trying to make poor quality orchestras play music they didn't understand) manages breezy happiness coupled with mystery and intensity in the darker moments - the introduction and the "moonlight" incident with cowbells. The speed and single colour emotion makes this great and complex movement into a collection of well and speedily played notes: lots of trees and no forest, so to speak.

If Nachtmusik I is sometimes romantically thought of as a night patrol of medieval Landesknecht soldiers, Jarvi's band appear to be equipped with Scorpion tanks. I did not initially believe the tempo which is much faster than that of, say, Boulez Mahler: Symphony No.7 "Song Of The Night". The Scherzo is marked "Shadowy" but in this interpretation should be labelled "Lurid" and Nachtmusik II (which could be said to go on a bit) is dispatched abruptly. "Nachtmusik" = "night music" (literally) which = "serenade". But serenades are supposed to charm and neither of these productions manages this.

After the frenetic first four movements the Allegro ordinario Finale seems strangely slow. It isn't by clock time, of course, but in comparison this celebratory romp seems heavy footed. Perhaps the one really stirring moment comes with the huge slowing down at the end but by then it is too late.

I cannot recommend this performance except for its "strangeness factor". Buy it if you know the Mahler 7 well and want to see what can be done to the music (and you have masochistic tendencies). Otherwise the many and varied performances by the likes of Kubelik on Avie Mahler - Symphony No. 7 (Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Kubelik) (one of my favourites) or the remarkable Tennstedt on BBC Mahler - Symphony No 7; Mozart - Symphony No 41 are contrasted and interesting interpretations. Bernstein's classic New York performance Mahler - Symphony No 7 which was a groundbreaker in its day, can be had more cheaply than this performance.

Mahler 7 can be played in many ways (it is the Mahler symphony most represented on my CD racks) and if you don't know it the best thing is to try to hear different approaches before you buy. But don't buy this one unless you like the idea of somebody breaking moulds: one could be kind and say that Jarvi is experimenting with what can be done. That said I hope that there are not many people who, attracted by the alluring cover art and reletively cheap pricing, end up thinking that this is the way Mahler 7 should be played. It isn't.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 23, 2012 11:33 AM BST

Schubert: Symphony No 9 (The Philharmonia Orchestra / Charles Mackerras)
Schubert: Symphony No 9 (The Philharmonia Orchestra / Charles Mackerras)
Price: 9.65

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Mackerras magic in Schubert, once again, 2 July 2010
Sir Charles's interpretation of Schubert's Great C major symphony is one of the most satisfying in the recorded repertoire. It is fresh and exhillerating and moving and profound. All the speeds are on the fast side for anybody who has heard a more late romantic approach like that of Furtwaengler or Klemperer and they are all the better for that.

This is a wonderful symphony but it needs the controlling hand of a commited and great conductor to make it work. The main reason for this is the length of the work and the repetition of rhythmical cells, especially in the last two movements. Not only does Mackerras possess all of the qualities necessary but he also goes on to include every single possible repeat (as far as I can tell) including the second repeat in the Finale. His Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment recording Schubert: Symphonies Nos 5, 8 & 9 /OAE Mackerras also does this but he is a bit more sparing of them with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra recoding Schubert: Symphonies Nos 8 & 9. The performannce is excellent but there are some drawbacks.

Firstly, the Philharmonia play wonderfully, but they are a bit more rounded in sound than the Orchestra Of the Age of the Enlightenment. The sound recoding does not do them any favours: I find it a little dull and the trumpets are rather backward at important moments in the Scherzo.

Secondly, although Amazon offer this disc at bargain price, it is more expensive than the OAE/Virgin recording (see above), which also offers Symphonies 5 and 8 (the Unfinished) in very good performances. The sound is also preferable (and note that the pitch of the tuning of the orchestra is a semitone below that of this Philharmonia recording, offsetting any possible shrillness in the "original instrument" band). This is why I have only awarded four stars. This is very good but Mackerras's earlier recording with the OAE on a Virgin superbargain twofer is better recorded, cheaper, and has couplings. Buy that one instead of this Signum issue if you have the choice, but if you do not, this Philharmonia recording is worth considering.

Started Early, Took My Dog (Jackson Brodie)
Started Early, Took My Dog (Jackson Brodie)
by Kate Atkinson
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read but a bit implausible, 29 Jun 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Kate Atkinson has been compared to Dickens in some of the publisher's "blurb" that you find on her books and there are some resemblances: interest in characterization, particularly in background and motive; reliance on coincidence as a driving force in the plot, especially in unravelling a mystery buried in the past (c.f. "Bleak House" as an example); and detailed reference to the milleau in which the plot unfolds. It is this latter characteristic that helps to make her books extrememly attractive to a present-day reader and will furnish scholars in the future with plenty of work in writing explanatory footnotes (e.g. "Woolworth's: a chain store that used to be a byword for cheapness and value that suddenly went out of business in the beginning of the economic slump of 2008 - 2012. Its goods were on open display making petty theft in childhood an almost cultural experience in some parts of Britain."). The aptness of her style of writing and her keen eye for character and place will probabaly ensure her abiding place in the canon: she is, like Colin Dexter, more than "just" a crime writer.

Reading this book is helped a little by an acquaintance with her earlier writings (especially "Case Histories") where some of the remembered events and people in Jackson Brodie's life - especially Julia - are very clearly drawn. But it is not necessary to enjoy the book. It is, in itself a thrilling and entertaining read and the weaving together of three plots based on the characters of ex DCS Tracy Waterhouse, Tilly, the elderly actress fighting with dementia, and Jackson Brodie the investigator, whilst relying heavily on the ideas of coincidence in the interconnectivity of all things, is largely successful.

The major theme in the book is the fact that things can alter irreversibly for good or bad depending on often trivial decisions we make and the superscription of the book has the traditional rhyme "For want of a nail a shoe was lost" coupled with a quotation from the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe. This just about sums up large areas of the book's concern as it moves in and out of the world of Leeds' "working girls" and a couple of gruesome murders.

I have no intention of mentioning the plot as it would spoil the enjoyment of the book but I believe that this book will delight Kate Atkinson's loyal readership and ahould win her many more fans. It is well constructed and rather more than a "read for the beach in summer" - not that it would NOT read well in those circumstances as well.

Mahler: Complete Symphonies
Mahler: Complete Symphonies
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: 30.37

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some superb recordings but the package needs tidying up, 15 Jun 2010
Firstly why 4 stars and not 5 - and why 4 stars and not 3? This set contains a substantial number of top rank performances and this makes it good as a SET. No set is better than buying individual recordings of the symphonies but one buys a set for convenience of hearing all the symphonies easily or out of interest to see what the conductor's view is overall. There are too many good performances to give it three stars, but it only rates four because the performances are split a little strangely over the discs and the price is really rather heavy for a set of recordings 40 or more years old. That said I would prefer this set to Chailly's Mahler: The Symphonies (much more modern and also with the Concertgebouw but lacking in the natural flow and fresh atmosphere that the Philips Haiting discs produce - despite stunning sound), or to Abbado or Bernstein on DGG Mahler: Complete Symphonies and Mahler: The Symphonies respectively.

The recordings that are really worth hearing are, in my opinion, Numbers 2, 3*, 6,7* and 9*. Where there is an asterisk I believe the performances to be outstandingly good. As far as I can tell only Symphony 3 and Symphony 9 are available as individual purchases and this is really annoying as Symphony 7 is a model of musicality and very naturally recorded. Similarly, the Scherzo of Symphony 6 (movement #2 in this case) has some of the most beautifully deliniated playing of the set and has really well thought out contrasts between the scherzo and trio sections. The only quibble I have here is in the Finale where the hammer blows are not as powerful as they might be.

The First Symphony is from the early 1960's and Haitink did better later on. Symphony 4 is perfectly adequate but not a contender against Fischer's single disc Mahler - Symphony No.4. I find Symphony 5 a little pale in conception and there is a "hole in the middle" of the stereo. This is explained if you see the video of the Christmas Day concert from about this time where there seems to be a distinct left/right split in the setting out of the orchestra on the stage. Symphony 8 has fine soloists but the choral work is rather too recessed. Get Solti on Mahler: Symphony No.8.

Let us hope that this set will emerge in rather cheaper form. Knock 20 off it and it would be a contender for the best value around. As it is, and good as it is, it seems rather expensive at the moment.

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