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Saving Mr Banks [DVD]
Saving Mr Banks [DVD]
Dvd ~ Tom Hanks
Price: £5.00

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars REALITY-BASED MASTERPIECE, 20 Dec 2013
This review is from: Saving Mr Banks [DVD] (DVD)
Yes, the movie had wit, warmth, and nostalgia, but what astonished me was its realism in dealing with the adult child of an alcoholic ... a brilliantly creative woman who hadn't recourse to therapy but used her fiction to process childhood issues, meanwhile resorting to outlandish control and intimidation tactics to cope with daily life.

Remarkably for a Disney production, the film doesn't flinch while addressing that childhood: British children's author P. L. Travers grew up with an alcohol-addicted father, and the movie shows him dying from cirrhosis of the liver ... in contrast to the pussyfooting Wikipedia bio, which blames "influenza."

I hadn't expected anything like this and was startled by the toughness and integrity of the script, direction, and Thompson's performance as Travers. I also applaud the production for not whitewashing the Disney studios or Disney himself. Only the very ending seemed to entail artistic license: it introduced a note of hope that the 1964 "Mary Poppins" premiere moved Travers to experience some psychic growth. After reading about her final years, I suspect it didn't and wonder if she died with unfinished business. Verdict: an unexpectedly great film with virtuosic but truthful work from Thompson and a Disney of believable humanity from Hanks.


Arthur Rubinstein Plays Great Piano Concertos
Arthur Rubinstein Plays Great Piano Concertos
Price: £13.85

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars KEYBOARD TREASURE TROVE, 23 Oct 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
"Rubinstein," a prominent conductor once quipped, "is the only pianist you could wake up at midnight and ask to play any of the 38 major piano concertos."

Hyperbole aside, Rubinstein was indeed one of the most versatile and commanding of all virtuosos, and he left a series of recordings for piano and orchestra that are still big sellers decades later. This new bargain box contains 26 different works, taped in stereo (with one exception) from the 1950s into the 1970s. Included are all the piano concertos of Beethoven, Brahms, and Chopin, five Mozart concertos, repertory favorites from Schumann, Grieg, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Saint-Saens, Franck, and Falla, plus offbeat showpieces by Chopin and Szymanowski. It's an in-depth survey of the literature, possibly the most comprehensive ever offered by a top-tier soloist.

Down through the years Rubinstein made multiple recordings of many of these pieces, and this blue-chip collection chooses his final RCA versions, which normally feature more vivid audio. With a couple of the older items, the sonics are quirkier though still listenable - the only mono entry is a trailblazing 1952 release of Szymanowski's Symphonie Concertante, which hasn't much room sound but otherwise is clear and powerful, whereas the Liszt 1st Concerto (1956) has livelier ambience but puts the piano in your lap. As for the rest, several are admired classics of early stereo, have never been out of the catalog, and remain prime choices for the works in question: the 1956 Rachmaninoff Rhapsody, the 1958 Franck variations, the 1961 Chopin 1st and Grieg concertos, the 1963 Tchaikovsky 1st.

In fact these are all splendid performances, though oldtimers may occasionally favor this or that earlier version. Myself, I'm fondest of Rubinstein's dashing, ripely phrased Brahms 2nd and Schumann concertos from 1958 (Krips conducting); here we get his 1967 and 1971 readings, more conservatively paced and inflected - though still warm and vigorous. On the other hand the collection gives us his 1964 Brahms 1st with Leinsdorf, which I prefer to his oft-cited 1954 collaboration with Reiner. Not only is the later version more cleanly and potently recorded, it's better organized: Rubinstein builds the first movement more astutely, doesn't oversell the octaves launching the development, and leaves power in reserve for the cataclysmic coda - which has more steel and intensity than in 1954. Plus there's tighter ensemble: Leinsdorf is fiercely incisive, while Reiner sometimes drags down the tempo and even falls behind (m. 338) early in the recap.

I've never been able to decide between Rubinstein's two stereo recordings of the Rachmaninoff 2nd. Here, of course, we get his later version with Ormandy, more lithe and precise in the finale than his prior outing with the Chicago Symphony, which, however, molds some of the lyric moments more lovingly. And there are comparable swings and roundabouts in the other Philadelphia readings. Rubinstein's 1968 remake of the Chopin 2nd isn't as fiery as his fifties rendition but offers warmer audio. Contrariwise, his final tapings of the Saint-Saens No. 2 and Falla's "Nights in the Gardens of Spain" not only boast showier sound, but the pianist seems unusually energized: the Falla has greater bite and propulsion than before, the Saint-Saens a speedier first movement plus less pedal and sharper scansion in the last.

There are a few textual issues no matter which version you go for: the violins' failure to play col legno during the mazurka sequence in Chopin's 2nd ... Rubinstein's occasional facilitations in the Liszt No. 1 ... his anachronistic practice of starting trills on the main note in Mozart. Otherwise this is mellifluous Chopin, the Liszt is a joyride, and the five Mozart concertos are robustly moving, with imaginative riffs inserted here and there plus idiomatic yet rousing cadenzas for K. 467. And at least two of these Mozart performances are irreplaceable: K. 466 for all-out dramatic power, K. 488 for the aching desolation of the siciliana, rising to a moment of genuine heartbreak in the bare-bones coda.

For some, the collection's most controversial contents will be the five Beethoven concertos with Barenboim. Why? Tempos are notably broader than in the pianist's earlier cycles under Krips and Leinsdorf. But forty years ago many performers (Serkin, Fleisher, Brendel) opted for speed, current soloists not so much; these days Rubinstein's statelier tempos seem unremarkable next to the spacious timings of Arrau, Gould, Perahia, etc.

So these final versions have their strengths. For one thing they sound better than ever on these remixed and remastered discs. Out of the entire collection, these 1975 recordings (by legendary UK engineer Kenneth Wilkinson) enjoy the most natural hall sound, the most convincing balance of soloist and orchestra, and the truest reproduction of Rubinstein's velvet cantilenas. As for Barenboim's accompaniments, they're richly textured, built from the bottom up, and exceptionally suited to the pianist's late-career approach.

Within this roomier framework, moreover, Rubinstein still packs his old power and eloquence - in the "Emperor" first movement, those roaring two-against-three passages are, if anything, cleaner and steadier than before. Plus there are other cherishable moments: the Largos of the 1st and 3rd concertos are his most inward and improvisatory, the Andante of the 4th is as intensely affecting as I've heard it. What's more, this is his most riveting performance of No. 3 overall: the presto finish is both cheeky and note-perfect, the soft playing in the Allegro's development astonishingly spooky and suspenseful - and when this material reemerges after the cadenza, it's floated and sustained with such mastery, you literally hold your breath.

Rubinstein's official discography has been admirably tended to in recent years, with complete, remastered compilations appearing in 1999 and 2012. Though advertised as 24-bit, these reissues seem identical to their immediate predecessors - i.e., they're as clear and vibrant as any so far. As with Sony's other box sets in its Masters series, the cardboard sleeves offer only track lists and recording data. There are a few bloopers: cadenzas for the Beethoven concertos aren't by Busoni, they're Beethoven's own - but Rubinstein uses Busoni's editions; more serious is the faulty labeling of Chopin's 2nd - it's the 1968 remake, but it's misdated and misattributed to Wallenstein rather than Ormandy.

Never mind, this is still a treasure trove: 26 stimulating and unquestionably stellar performances by one of the greatest of all pianists. It would be a phenomenal bargain at twice the price.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 29, 2013 5:49 PM GMT


[( Journey to the Centre of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Round the World in Eighty Days )] [by: Jules Verne] [Sep-2013]
[( Journey to the Centre of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Round the World in Eighty Days )] [by: Jules Verne] [Sep-2013]
by Jules Verne
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars EARLY TRANSLATIONS OF HISTORICAL INTEREST, 14 Oct 2013
When French novelist Jules Verne climbed onto the bestseller lists in the 1860s, British publishing houses rushed translations of his works into print. Three publishers competed with particular energy for this Verne-in-English market: Sampson Low ... Ward, Lock ... and George Routledge. All of their texts have been in the public domain for decades, though the latter's, for some reason, haven't been reprinted as frequently.

This new collection features Routledge versions from the 1870s of three Verne favorites, an anonymous translation of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH plus renderings by Henry Frith of TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and ROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS. Of course these novels are available in appealing modern translations, but this Everyman threesome has its points, particularly for specialists. For one thing, it's elegantly typeset and bound in real cloth. For another, these texts offer both historical interest and - sometimes - considerable narrative punch.

In fact I prefer Routledge's edition of JOURNEY (1876) to any of its Victorian rivals - it's respectful, good-humored, essentially complete, and doesn't embroider like its 1877 competitor from Ward, Lock. Of course its language is quaint, and there are a few blunders (those "3,000 square miles" on p. 153), yet it does the work real justice. On the other hand Routledge's 80 DAYS (1878) is less valuable. Its translator was juvenile author/adaptor Henry Frith, who reworks Verne's French into idiomatic Victorian English but streamlines specifics: when Fogg dines, Frith leaves out the condiments ... if Verne describes Japan's military in 70 words, Frith cuts them in half ... during a rollicking acrobatic performance, Frith skips the climax of the warm-up act. Yes, the work remains intact and entertaining, but its textures are thinner and its depths shallower.

20,000 LEAGUES, with its focus on nautical engineering and marine biology, is a translating challenge of fearsome difficulty. It received three Victorian renderings: Louis Mercier's (Sampson Low) appeared in 1872, is heavily cut, clogged with errors, and widely regarded as one of the poorer Verne translations of that era; two additional renderings appeared in 1876, an anonymous version published by Ward, Lock and this one by Henry Frith. Both texts are fuller and less accident-prone, but these virtues are only relative, and neither can be recommended as reliable or responsible - for that we must look to modern translators. Meanwhile Frith's attempt condenses the biological passages, garbles the coordinates at the head of II xx, shrinks an ice barrier to a single iceberg, turns a giant squid into a hybrid of cuttlefish, octopus, and calamary, and omits substantive and poetic details on nearly every page. Today's readers can do better.

So this volume will be more valuable for Verne scholars and collectors. It's good to have these rarer texts in such handy form, though the book's anonymous editor is wrong to claim that these translations have been "out of print for many decades" - Routledge's 80 DAYS is one of the earlier Kindle editions, and their JOURNEY has been available in Bantam and Dover paperbacks since 2006.

Oddly, the volume's editorial and scholarly work sometimes lets us down in this way, with carelessness in both the introduction and critical materials - e.g., Lidenbrock's compass wasn't "remagnetized" in a volcanic eruption ... Fogg didn't "waive" Passepartout's gas bill ... Verne's expanded edition of JOURNEY didn't premiere in 1871 ... 20,000 LEAGUES wasn't serialized in "Le Temps" ... MYSTERIOUS ISLAND wasn't published in 1873 ... a westbound balloon trip wouldn't face "insuperable winds" across Africa, since the trades blow west ... etc. As for the introduction by Oxford lecturer Tim Farrant, it's a general appreciation that contains plot spoilers. The anonymous bibliography is full of opinions but ignores the vast number of U.S. translations and editions, suggesting that the book is aimed chiefly at British readers.

As noted, this new Everyman entry can be easily recommended to Verne specialists - but what about the rest of the planet? Luckily, today's readers can find accurate, inexpensive translations elsewhere on Amazon. William Butcher has produced stylish renderings of all three of these novels for Oxford UP, complete with stimulating notes (search Books on "William Butcher"). Other enjoyable translations of 20,000 LEAGUES and JOURNEY are by Bonner and Miller (search Books on "Anthony Bonner" and "Ron Miller."). If you'd like all three novels in a single volume, the only modern omnibus is my own, entitled AMAZING JOURNEYS (search Books on "Frederick Paul Walter"); I daren't beat my own drum, but there's a "Look Inside" feature; you be the judge.


Journey to the Centre of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Round the World in Eighty Days (Everymans Library Classics)
Journey to the Centre of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Round the World in Eighty Days (Everymans Library Classics)
by Jules Verne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.04

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars EARLY TRANSLATIONS OF HISTORICAL INTEREST, 14 Oct 2013
When French novelist Jules Verne climbed onto the bestseller lists in the 1860s, British publishing houses rushed translations of his works into print. Three publishers competed with particular energy for this Verne-in-English market: Sampson Low ... Ward, Lock ... and George Routledge. All of their texts have been in the public domain for decades, though the latter's, for some reason, haven't been reprinted as frequently.

This new collection features Routledge versions from the 1870s of three Verne favorites, an anonymous translation of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH plus renderings by Henry Frith of TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and ROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS. Of course these novels are available in appealing modern translations, but this Everyman threesome has its points, particularly for specialists. For one thing, it's elegantly typeset and bound in real cloth. For another, these texts offer both historical interest and - sometimes - considerable narrative punch.

In fact I prefer Routledge's edition of JOURNEY (1876) to any of its Victorian rivals - it's respectful, good-humored, essentially complete, and doesn't embroider like its 1877 competitor from Ward, Lock. Of course its language is quaint, and there are a few blunders (those "3,000 square miles" on p. 153), yet it does the work real justice. On the other hand Routledge's 80 DAYS (1878) is less valuable. Its translator was juvenile author/adaptor Henry Frith, who reworks Verne's French into idiomatic Victorian English but streamlines specifics: when Fogg dines, Frith leaves out the condiments ... if Verne describes Japan's military in 70 words, Frith cuts them in half ... during a rollicking acrobatic performance, Frith skips the climax of the warm-up act. Yes, the work remains intact and entertaining, but its textures are thinner and its depths shallower.

20,000 LEAGUES, with its focus on nautical engineering and marine biology, is a translating challenge of fearsome difficulty. It received three Victorian renderings: Louis Mercier's (Sampson Low) appeared in 1872, is heavily cut, clogged with errors, and widely regarded as one of the poorer Verne translations of that era; two additional renderings appeared in 1876, an anonymous version published by Ward, Lock and this one by Henry Frith. Both texts are fuller and less accident-prone, but these virtues are only relative, and neither can be recommended as reliable or responsible - for that we must look to modern translators. Meanwhile Frith's attempt condenses the biological passages, garbles the coordinates at the head of II xx, shrinks an ice barrier to a single iceberg, turns a giant squid into a hybrid of cuttlefish, octopus, and calamary, and omits substantive and poetic details on nearly every page. Today's readers can do better.

So this volume will be more valuable for Verne scholars and collectors. It's good to have these rarer texts in such handy form, though the book's anonymous editor is wrong to claim that these translations have been "out of print for many decades" - Routledge's 80 DAYS is one of the earlier Kindle editions, and their JOURNEY has been available in Bantam and Dover paperbacks since 2006.

Oddly, the volume's editorial and scholarly work sometimes lets us down in this way, with carelessness in both the introduction and critical materials - e.g., Lidenbrock's compass wasn't "remagnetized" in a volcanic eruption ... Fogg didn't "waive" Passepartout's gas bill ... Verne's expanded edition of JOURNEY didn't premiere in 1871 ... 20,000 LEAGUES wasn't serialized in "Le Temps" ... MYSTERIOUS ISLAND wasn't published in 1873 ... a westbound balloon trip wouldn't face "insuperable winds" across Africa, since the trades blow west ... etc. As for the introduction by Oxford lecturer Tim Farrant, it's a general appreciation that contains plot spoilers. The anonymous bibliography is full of opinions but ignores the vast number of U.S. translations and editions, suggesting that the book is aimed chiefly at British readers.

As noted, this new Everyman entry can be easily recommended to Verne specialists - but what about the rest of the planet? Luckily, today's readers can find accurate, inexpensive translations elsewhere on Amazon. William Butcher has produced stylish renderings of all three of these novels for Oxford UP, complete with stimulating notes (search Books on "William Butcher"). Other enjoyable translations of 20,000 LEAGUES and JOURNEY are by Bonner and Miller (search Books on "Anthony Bonner" and "Ron Miller."). If you'd like all three novels in a single volume, the only modern omnibus is my own, entitled AMAZING JOURNEYS (search Books on "Frederick Paul Walter"); I daren't beat my own drum, but there's a "Look Inside" feature; you be the judge.


Journey to the Center of the Earth/Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea/Round the World in Eighty Days (Everyman's Library (Cloth))
Journey to the Center of the Earth/Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea/Round the World in Eighty Days (Everyman's Library (Cloth))
by Jules Verne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

4.0 out of 5 stars EARLY TRANSLATIONS OF HISTORICAL INTEREST, 6 Oct 2013
When French novelist Jules Verne climbed onto the bestseller lists in the 1860s, British publishing houses rushed translations of his works into print. Three publishers competed with particular energy for this Verne-in-English market: Sampson Low ... Ward, Lock ... and George Routledge. All of their texts have been in the public domain for decades, though the latter's, for some reason, haven't been reprinted as frequently.

This new collection features Routledge versions from the 1870s of three Verne favorites, an anonymous translation of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH plus renderings by Henry Frith of TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and ROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS. Of course these novels are available in appealing modern translations, but this Everyman threesome has its points, particularly for specialists. For one thing, it's elegantly typeset and bound in real cloth. For another, these texts offer both historical interest and - sometimes - considerable narrative punch.

In fact I prefer Routledge's edition of JOURNEY (1876) to any of its Victorian rivals - it's respectful, good-humored, essentially complete, and doesn't embroider like its 1877 competitor from Ward, Lock. Of course its language is quaint, and there are a few blunders (those "3,000 square miles" on p. 153), yet it does the work real justice. On the other hand Routledge's 80 DAYS (1878) is less valuable. Its translator was juvenile author/adaptor Henry Frith, who reworks Verne's French into idiomatic Victorian English but streamlines specifics: when Fogg dines, Frith leaves out the condiments ... if Verne describes Japan's military in 70 words, Frith cuts them in half ... during a rollicking acrobatic performance, Frith skips the climax of the warm-up act. Yes, the work remains intact and entertaining, but its textures are thinner and its depths shallower.

20,000 LEAGUES, with its focus on nautical engineering and marine biology, is a translating challenge of fearsome difficulty. It received three Victorian renderings: Louis Mercier's (Sampson Low) appeared in 1872, is heavily cut, clogged with errors, and widely regarded as one of the poorer Verne translations of that era; two additional renderings appeared in 1876, an anonymous version published by Ward, Lock and this one by Henry Frith. Both texts are fuller and less accident-prone, but these virtues are only relative, and neither can be recommended as reliable or responsible - for that we must look to modern translators. Meanwhile Frith's attempt condenses the biological passages, garbles the coordinates at the head of II xx, shrinks an ice barrier to a single iceberg, turns a giant squid into a hybrid of cuttlefish, octopus, and calamary, and omits substantive and poetic details on nearly every page. Today's readers can do better.

So this volume will be more valuable for Verne scholars and collectors. It's good to have these rarer texts in such handy form, though the book's anonymous editor is wrong to claim that these translations have been "out of print for many decades" - Routledge's 80 DAYS is one of the earlier Kindle editions, and their JOURNEY has been available in Bantam and Dover paperbacks since 2006.

Oddly, the volume's editorial and scholarly work sometimes lets us down in this way, with carelessness in both the introduction and critical materials - e.g., Lidenbrock's compass wasn't "remagnetized" in a volcanic eruption ... Fogg didn't "waive" Passepartout's gas bill ... Verne's expanded edition of JOURNEY didn't premiere in 1871 ... 20,000 LEAGUES wasn't serialized in "Le Temps" ... MYSTERIOUS ISLAND wasn't published in 1873 ... a westbound balloon trip wouldn't face "insuperable winds" across Africa, since the trades blow west ... etc. As for the introduction by Oxford lecturer Tim Farrant, it's a general appreciation that contains plot spoilers. The anonymous bibliography is full of opinions but ignores the vast number of U.S. translations and editions, suggesting that the book is aimed chiefly at British readers.

As noted, this new Everyman entry can be easily recommended to Verne specialists - but what about the rest of the planet? Luckily, today's readers can find accurate, inexpensive translations elsewhere on Amazon. William Butcher has produced stylish renderings of all three of these novels for Oxford UP, complete with stimulating notes (search Books on "William Butcher"). Other enjoyable translations of 20,000 LEAGUES and JOURNEY are by Bonner and Miller (search Books on "Anthony Bonner" and "Ron Miller."). If you'd like all three novels in a single volume, the only modern omnibus is my own, entitled AMAZING JOURNEYS (search Books on "Frederick Paul Walter"); I daren't beat my own drum, but there's a "Look Inside" feature; you be the judge.


Travel Scholarships (Early Classics of Science Fiction)
Travel Scholarships (Early Classics of Science Fiction)
by Arthur B. Evans
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.90

5.0 out of 5 stars STIRRING SEA STORY, 8 July 2013
Verne's British publisher, Sampson Low, essentially abandoned him in the last years of his life, and several of his late-career novels weren't translated into our language. As he'd always done, Verne rotated genres from book to book; his newest achievements in science fiction, adventure, and intrigue came out successively in French editions, but it made no difference - Sampson Low gave them all the cold shoulder, and English versions were delayed for decades ... sometimes, as with "Travel Scholarships," for more than a century. Why the snub? My guess is administrative shakeups and belt tightening. But in any case, as Wesleyan editor Arthur B. Evans acknowledges in his preface, "The exact historical reasons are difficult to discern."

It was a shame nonetheless. Even in his seventies Verne was the craftiest of old pros, a tale spinner with a huge bag of tricks, and "Travel Scholarships" shows him in solid form with one of his specialties. Published in Paris in 1903, this is the last holdout among his untranslated novels, and it's one of Verne's slickest, shrewdest sea stories. The yarn is laid in the 1870s and begins in the British Isles: escaped convicts hijack a charter cruise bound for the West Indies. The vessel's passengers are nine lads ready to come of age, student winners of a summer trip to select islands in the Antilles; their adult protector is the school's bean-counting bursar. The runaway thugs scheme to murder them all, plunder their scholarship money, and lead a life of piracy in the Pacific; but they need to move cautiously, playacting as good guys and able seamen.

Verne was a yachtsman for much of his adult life, so his sailing scenes have color and authority, plus he mixes in a variety of other attention-getting ingredients: low comedy, plot twists, word games, fascinating factoids, mysteries that keep piling up - all of it leading to a scary open-boat journey and a ferocious climax in the mid-Atlantic. Yet, though his overall tone is upbeat and theatrical, there are undercurrents. One ethical issue here often rears up in Verne's fiction, his longstanding hostility to colonialism, and this little-known tale features one of his slyest pieces of dramatized satire: students from Britain and France squabble (p. 222) over which of their nations owns the isle of Saint Lucia in the Lesser Antilles. Their verbal ping-pong (wittily caught by the translation) is a cagey metaphor for the back-and-forth fortunes of this island, which changed hands countless times between the two old rivals.

A second undercurrent seems downright subversive on Verne's part. His ship is a miniature cosmos: though their roots are multinational, the students manage to coexist peacefully despite their inept protector, the school's bursar. The latter's problems are psychiatric: like other obsessive-compulsives in Verne's stories (Otto Lidenbrock, Inspector Fix, Keraban, etc.), the bursar gets hopelessly seasick. Worse, he faints at the sight of a stuffed snake, is catatonic in a crisis, and needs the students to take care of HIM, rather than vice-versa. And yet - think about this - the bursar is the novel's adult authority figure ...

"Travel Scholarships" is the 31st volume in Wesleyan's series Early Classics of Science Fiction, also the last of four Verne novels that didn't appear in English till this publisher took charge. As edited by Evans, the translation by Teri J. Hernandez is an easy read, often catches Verne's humor, and rises to real thrills in the stormy climax. Like other titles in the series, this is a seven-course critical edition - it has an introduction by Verne scholar Volker Dehs, 30-plus pages of provocative endnotes, a succinct biography of Verne, an up-to-the-minute bibliography, and all the wash drawings and photos from the original French edition.

Verdict: a stirring sea story with literal depth ... also splendid accessories, a quality cloth binding, and a better than reasonable price. Click on that yellow bar up there to the right.

Frederick Paul Walter
Albuquerque, New Mexico


Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen
Offered by jim-exselecky
Price: £20.99

62 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The All-Purpose RING, 26 Feb 2012
You'll never hear a perfect RING. There are just too many variables, options, and difficulties, plus it's an organic entity that takes 15+ hours to stage. So the law of averages automatically kicks in: when you've got more things that can go wrong, more will.

And so it is with its multitudinous recordings. Among the live versions, the earlier ones (Furtwaengler, Krauss, Knappertsbusch) suffer from murky sound, while even those in decent stereo (Keilberth, Boehm, Sawallisch, Barenboim) feature thuds, clunks, and assorted live-performance anomalies that grow less endearing with every listening. As for the studio recordings, they're variously undermined by continuity problems (Solti, Karajan), subpar singing (Swarowsky), or deficiencies in tension and energy (Levine, Haitink).

Which brings us to this Marek Janowski set. I first reviewed it for Amazon.com in February 2005, and I'm now updating that review. One of the great unheralded achievements of the waning LP era, Janowski's was the first all-digital RING, recorded in just 2½ efficient years during the early 80s. Later that decade it was the first version to debut on CD, at the top of the 90s a mid-price edition emerged, then a dirt-cheap reissue marked its first appearance in the 21st century ... and finally here it is again, pricewise an even more astonishing bargain. After several return visits down through the years, I'm ready to call it the cycle with the fewest things wrong and the most right.

First off, it's registered in clean, ungussied digital stereo of exceptional radiance and lucidity - massed strings can be a tad opaque, hinting at its pioneer status, otherwise the color and fine detail are ravishing, plus the whole event has the definite feel of being recorded in long takes: it offers the commitment and intensity of a live performance minus the wrong notes and stage noises. Second, it showcases lithe, athletic playing from Dresden's underpublicized but authentically great orchestra - strings turn on a dime, woodwind staccati are needle sharp, brass are lean and subtly integrated. In contrast to their only continental peers in this repertory - the Vienna PO with its creamy sweetness and the Berlin PO with its iron power - the Dresdeners favor sheen, transparency, and fast reflexes, lightning as well as thunder. Yes, they can whip up a glowering storm in the SIEGFRIED Act III prelude, but you'll never hear a Rhine journey with more wit, sparkle, and agility.

Janowski's propulsive conducting is invaluable for two main reasons. 1) Beyond projecting the RING's well-known tempests and tensions, he also puts over its comedy and irony - the teasing mischief of the Rhinemaids, the gallows humor during the valkyrie confab, the sad silliness of the nibelung squawkfest in SIEGFRIED II iii. 2) He's continually alert to Wagner's dramaturgy, to its narrative ebb, flow, and movement toward crisis. Janowski's pacing is ideal at the great turning points - Alberich stealing the gold, Erda's intervention when Wotan won't give up the ring (Solti is oblivious here), the mounting violence in Siegfried's meeting with the Wanderer (here Karajan is gingerly), the tension gathering under Siegfried's narrative in GOETTERDAEMMERUNG III ii as he incriminates himself step by step. This is purposeful, goal-oriented conducting that I suspect even Wagner himself would have admired.

The cast, too, is exemplary. For one thing, it's a true ensemble with the same talent staying on board to the finish: out of 12 recurring roles, 11 are single cast (sole exception: Mime, not fatally disruptive). Plus these singers, with unbeaten consistency, are both listenable and characterful. The set's original manufacturer, Ariola-Eurodisc, was a major player during the decade prior, recording both operatic rarities (Schubert, Orff) and standards (FIDELIO, CARMEN). Eurodisc had the budgets to sign up the biggest names, and here even bit parts can be stunningly cast - Kurt Moll as Hunding, Lucia Popp and Hanna Schwarz as Rhinemaidens, Cheryl Studer and Ruth Falcon as walkueren. A couple of the supporting players are routine - Stryczek's rough-and-ready Donner, Noecker's decently sung but undercharacterized Gunther - otherwise Siegmund Nimsgern is the optimum Alberich, a full-bodied character baritone with a genuine legato and a meaty high G, while Peter Schreier doubles Loge and the SIEGFRIED Mime with imagination, gusto, and (gasp!) real singing.

And so it goes: Jessye Norman and Siegfried Jerusalem are a Sieglinde and Siegmund competitive with anybody's, Yvonne Minton a Fricka of icy loveliness, Ortrun Wenkel intense and specific as Erda and Waltraute, Norma Sharp cool and pretty as both Gutrune and the woodbird, while a young Matti Salminen turns in the most baleful Hagen since Frick - and a Fafner so innately cavernous, his dragon scarcely needs any special miking. As for the three leads, our Wotan is Theo Adam, who probably clocked more stage hours in the role than anybody in Wagner history. By the time of the recording he'd logged 22 RING seasons, but his high bass still has plenty to offer - interpretive savvy, trusty top notes, dead-center intonation. WALKUERE III iii finds the old pro in below-form voice, struggling for focus and steadiness; elsewhere, surprisingly, his sound is sometimes firmer than fifteen years earlier under Boehm (compare the "Abendlich strahlt" in RHEINGOLD). Overall he's a rugged, patriarchal Wotan and he catches the curve of the character superbly, politician, rageaholic, and shaman.

As his daughter Bruennhilde, California soprano Jeannine Altmeyer has been shamefully undervalued down through the years. I heard her LA Isolde in the mid 80s, and trust me, this is a big, carrying voice. Stack her against her recent peers: she has a fuller, steadier instrument than Behrens, a lovelier sound than Marton, the upper extension that Dernesch hadn't, and Jones's caterwauling is beneath discussion. No, she hasn't the slash and bite of dominatrix Bruennhildes like Nilsson and Varnay; instead she offers page after page of fresh, supple, centered sound, you pick the note. She's the aural equivalent of the young, willowy Bruennhilde in Arthur Rackham's watercolors, and it's high time we noticed: Altmeyer is the valkyrie easiest on the ears.

Lastly Rene Kollo's contributions are arguably his most valuable on disc. As John Culshaw once wrote, we must think of the younger Siegfried "as a youth instead of an adult," so dark-timbred tenors such as Melchior, Suthaus, and Windgassen can present big credibility problems. Kollo is near ideal: his silver sound is mainstream lyric tenor - even chest tones preserve a basic leanness and lucidity - but its fine-line definition means unexpected carrying power and maneuverability; in short, he's persuasively youthful yet he can cut through heavy orchestration. Some soft passages, though, catch him thinning the support out of the voice (e.g., "Es sangen die Voeglein" in SIEGFRIED I i), but it's still a splendid achievement, vividly phrased, both mercurial and meditative. And he's fine, too, as his elder self in GOETTERDAEMMERUNG, though not quite as indispensable.

All of which, taken together, accounts for this RING's front-to-back superiority - digital stereo of documentary directness and transparency; podium leadership that articulates narrative structure while projecting not only its passion and poignance but (rare indeed) its comedy and irony; and a repertory casting policy that generates both good sound and plausible characterization. Yes, a couple of the bit players are substandard, but the leads are astonishingly persuasive - Adam's leonine Wotan, Altmeyer's mellifluous Bruennhilde, and several who are arguably Best in Stereo: Kollo's Siegfried, Nimsgern's Alberich, Norman's Sieglinde, Schreier's Mime, Salminen's Fafner and Hagen. In short, it's the All-Purpose RING - ideal for the first-time listener who really hopes the epic will make sense, excellent for the score-in-hand professional who wants a clear, dependable reference edition that actually does what his score says. For me it's the version that has stood up best under repeated listening; so treat it as your basic set, then supplement it, if you like, with choice alternatives - Karajan's WALKUERE, say, or Solti's GOETTERDAEMMERUNG, or Krauss's mono edition.

Sony's bare-bones packaging offers cast and track lists but no synopsis or libretto. Not a problem. For under $20 Amazon can sell you WAGNER'S RING OF THE NIBELUNG by Stewart Spencer et al. (ISBN 0500281947), a reader-friendly modern translation complete with beneficial annotations, commentaries, and background material.
Comment Comments (10) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 20, 2013 7:43 PM BST


Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (Home of Opera)
Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (Home of Opera)
Price: £16.74

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wagnerian Bel Canto, 20 Feb 2011
A midprice reissue of the 2005 headliner, this set is still a treasure trove. It's not only Placido Domingo's long-awaited crack at a role he'd been approaching and avoiding for decades, it's an original, valid, long overdue, and genuinely moving reinterpretation of this disturbing masterwork.

What do I mean? Well, as the admired British critic John Steane once wrote, Wagner himself "is said to have constantly urged his interpreters to sing in the Italian manner." And what does this manner entail? Steane again: "smoothness of line, beauty of tone, and elegance of technical accomplishment." Handed the reins by EMI, Covent Garden music director Antonio Pappano has, at long last, set about giving us nothing less than bel canto Wagner.

You hear it from the outset of the Act I prelude -- the strings are warm and burnished, spin a continuous singing line, crescendo in arcs from the brink of inaudibility, then taper back into silence on phrase endings. And when the young sailor (Rolando Villazon in luminous voice) sings his love ditty, similar principles apply: long-breathed legato, mastery of a wide dynamic range (including echo effects and well-supported soft singing), and eager articulation of the text.

Clearly this is official directorial policy, because much the same can be said of every cast member here. Mihoko Fujimura's lyric mezzo traces Brangaene's lines with unusual delicacy and variety, perfectly in tune, finely focused, floating her high notes ("Welcher Wahn!" in I iii is sweetly nurturing, the Watch in II ii marvelously ethereal). As for Isolde, here the set serves instant notice that it isn't a Domingo ego trip but a whole-souled effort to do the work justice. Nina Stemme hasn't Fujimura's floated high notes (she sustains her pianissimo F sharp at the close of "Mild und leise" by discreetly widening the vibrato), but she has everything else: imaginative phrasing, gleaming tone, on-the-dot tuning, steady emission, well-knit scale, soaring top, melting legato ("Ich bin's, ich bins" in III ii is heartrending). Within seconds of her first entrance it's clear she's the real thing: she piles hair-raisingly into "Hoert meinen Willen" and you realize she's as accomplished an Isolde as we've had since the seventies.

Our two low-voiced leads aren't on this level but still have plenty to offer. Olaf Baer's lovely baritone is undersized and thin on the bottom for the rambunctious Kurwenal, but he really sells his taunting ballad and is sensitive and affecting throughout Act III. As for Rene Pape, his mellifluous basso cantate is choice casting for King Marke, though his forte top notes are chancier than they were on the Met DVD. But with Pappano's encouragement, his line readings are more probing and he manages a marvel of hushed poignancy at "Da kinderlos." Plus we sense the conductor's fine Italian hand even with the bit players: they all display this same balance of smooth legato and pointed articulation of the words -- e.g., the intimate delivery and silver sound of Ian Bostridge's shepherd, or Jared Holt's split-second ability to make a fearsome figure of Melot through ringing tone, energetic phrasing, and a telling subito piano at "ob ich mein Haupt."

And now the set's reason for being. There's no percentage in quibbling over Domingo's Tristan -- the voice is in excellent working order -- or in chiding him for not tackling the part onstage -- tenors who do seem not to enjoy long careers (Hofmann, Thomas, Jerusalem, Kollo, even Windgassen; Melchior doesn't count because he sang a drastically abridged and simplified version). But in the studio the role's characteristic high notes (A flat, A) aren't a problem, Domingo's bronze timbre aptly suggests Tristan the warrior, his soft singing is firmly supported and never crooned or declaimed (unlike the maverick Vickers), and he partners Stemme gallantly (in the duet passages of "O sink hernieder," they pitch the tricky intervals with breathtaking ease and accuracy). His could well be the most thoroughly SUNG Tristan in Wagner history -- yet, like the rest of the company, he's also alert to verbal and theatrical values, sardonically relishing the consonants at "seines flackernden Lichtes fluechtige Blitze," almost spooky at "Dem Land, das Tristan meint," downright bloodcurdling during his curse on the "furchtbarer Trank." Again, there's no percentage in quibbling -- this Tristan is intelligent, poetic, emotionally open, vocally qualified, musically immaculate, and desperately needed. In short, it's a genuinely significant piece of work and a fitting capstone to an extraordinary career.

As suggested, the Covent Garden orchestra is another eloquent factor. First violins come from your left speaker, seconds from your right, instantly clarifying the polyphony. Tempos are fleet yet cleanly executed, so nothing seems rushed. And in a crunch this band has no problem exchanging bel canto lyricism for crushing power: they're thrilling in the runup to Tristan's entrance in II ii, gut-wrenching with the famous discord that interrupts "O ew'ge Nacht."

The stereo sonics are warm, airy, and wide-ranging, locating events with exceptional variety and specificity between the two speakers.

So how does this new set stack up against the competition? Remarkably, I'd say. Despite monaural sound and variable vocalism, the 1952 Furtwaengler set remains a classic, with the 1966 Boehm another standard recommendation and the 1982 Kleiber a more recent favorite -- but for today's consumers, Pappano's is the most vibrantly recorded, appealingly sung, and immediately communicative performance available in stereo.

Includes a bonus disk with libretto and translation. As before, fervently recommended.
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Das Rheingold: Berliner Philharmoniker (Karajan) [DVD] [2008]
Das Rheingold: Berliner Philharmoniker (Karajan) [DVD] [2008]
Dvd ~ Jeannine Altmeyer
Price: £13.99

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing Representational RHEINGOLD, 16 May 2009
Karajan is still a polarizing figure. This item, one of the earliest tries at filming a Wagner opera, has earned wildly mixed notices: "They don't get any better than this," exults one reviewer. "Best left at the bottom of the Rhine," sneers another. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between.

The positives first. Orchestrally and vocally this is an unsurpassed RHEINGOLD. Karajan's 1968 DG recording is often acclaimed for its color and fantasy, but it features three pieces of much-criticized casting: Fischer-Dieskau's underpowered Wotan, Manglesdorff's squally Freia, and Stolze's rasping character tenor as Loge. This DVD replaces them with Stewart, Altmeyer, and Schreier, all distinct improvements. The enclosed booklet claims that the film's soundtrack was recorded in Salzburg's Grosses Festspielhaus during the 1973 Easter Festival. But it wasn't taped during a performance or even a dress run: there are no audience noises, no stage thumpings, and the singers don't budge from their microphones. Just like the earlier DG set, this is clearly a studio effort -- and since its producer and head engineer are the same individuals who generated Karajan's EMI opera recordings, one wonders if the UK firm considered releasing it audio-only.

In any case Stewart is in bronzen voice here, a little tight at the bottom but with top notes that soar over the orchestra with an exciting spin and gleam -- he makes the best recorded case for a dramatic baritone rather than a high bass in this role, and he etches the text with imagination: his Wotan is imperious, temperamental, smugly amused, and in the end deeply shaken by Fasolt's murder. With her full lyric soprano, Altmeyer is the most sumptuous of Freias, and Schreier's supple Mozart tenor provides a fresher, more mellifluous Loge than it would for Janowski in Dresden. Otherwise Salzburg's Fassbaender, Roar, and Finnila (Fricka, Donner, and Erda) are just as adept as the earlier Veasey, Kerns, and Dominguez -- Karajan being Karajan, he normally could get the best available. The Berlin PO, needless to say, is stupendous in both 1968 and 1973; as for the recorded sound, the anvil rapping in Nibelheim is cleaner in the former, the giants' entrance music better balanced in the latter. 1973 trumps 1968 by dint of improved casting: there has never been a more gorgeously sung or grippingly paced RHEINGOLD, and on that basis alone this DVD is worth your attention.

Now the visuals. Notwithstanding contributions from members of the original design team, this isn't a document of Karajan's Salzburg production. It was shot in a Munich film studio 5½ years later -- simply a lip-synched, ad hoc staging of a preexisting recording. Yet, despite the all-purpose critical sneering that Karajan's name sometimes evokes, this video RHEINGOLD is no worse -- and sometimes far better -- than the several Italian operas (LUCIA, PAGLIACCI, TOSCA, etc.) that had previously been put on film in the same way.

Sets here are similar in style but vastly different in layout from the Easter Festival designs. Scene 1 is a representational look at the Rhine's underwater depths: aquamarine color scheme, blurry views (vasoline over the lens?) and waves undulating past. Flown from invisible wires, topless rhinemaidens wear diaphanous houri pants; Alberich is a wide-eyed yokel who takes a nasty fall down the rhinegold's pyramidal throne. Sure, it's clunky at times, yet the action is clearer and more attuned to the lines than in any other video of the piece. Scene 3, Nibelheim, smacks of the crystal cavern in JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959). In Scenes 2 & 4, the realm of the gods is a lava field; back-projected on a cycloramic sky, Valhalla seems hewn out of the mountainside itself.

As for the overall cinematic effect, don't think Hollywood. Think documentary, think educational TV, think earlier BBC with THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (1981) or Tom Baker's HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1982). This RHEINGOLD is often fun, but it never approaches big-budget filmmaking. (Nor, in fairness, do 90% of today's opera videos.) Onscreen, Stewart's Wotan looks regal and Zeus-like but frequently has to stand around with little to do -- Karajan's directorial habit is to plant the gods in statuesque tableaux as if they were at an ambassadorial reception. Only Schreier's Loge gets to gad about and lounge on the lava rocks.

But the blocking and camerawork (5-man team) improve as the show goes along. Intense close-ups track Alberich's shift from dimwit to despot: blessed with both a fine voice and a fascinating character face, Kelemen is riveting in his Scene 3 menaces and Scene 4 malediction. True, some of the special effects are cheesy: a drab, sagging rainbow, dry ice for the gods growing old, Erda's disembodied face bleeding through a still photo, even more dry ice for Donner's storm. But there are a fair number of shrewd, evocative touches: sinister highlights repeatedly glinting on the ring; the tarnhelm's various vanishing acts, going more smoothly than on any stage; a vivid descent to Nibelheim through unfurling geologic strata, with glimpses of Nibelungs at work and looking like genuine dwarves; a dragon that's an authentic hoot (as it should be -- after all, Wotan laughs at it); and finally Fasolt's murder: a brutal collage of slashing blows and gasping faces that's legitimately shocking. Despite his jack-of-all-trades imperfections, Karajan is the only recent director to honestly grapple with the effects described in RHEINGOLD's lines and stage directions.

English subtitles are from the reader-friendly modern translation by Stewart Spencer (ISBN 0500281947). Warts and all, this is an intriguing production that easily holds its own with the filmed operas of that era. What's more, it showcases the leading Wagner singers of its generation, one of the greatest orchestras in the galaxy, and a conductor who -- love him or hate him -- definitely knew how to make this music work. In short, this is much more engrossing than some would have you believe. Us American operagoers don't get many cracks at a "live" RHEINGOLD, so we don't mind a production that follows the script.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 27, 2012 12:30 AM GMT


Artur Rubinstein-Piano Concertos [DVD] [2006]
Artur Rubinstein-Piano Concertos [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Hugo Kach
Price: £13.99

40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars REGAL CLOSE OF A COLOSSAL REIGN, 17 July 2006
Rubinstein was the ultimate concert pianist. He played 100-plus engagements a year for some seven decades. Even as an old man he had ten recital programs and twenty concertos at his fingertips. For half a century he maintained a busy recording schedule, ranging from Mozart to Villa-Lobos and including a full dose of chamber music. He was the Caruso of the keyboard, the Babe Ruth of the 88s.

Sure enough, back in the early 1940s American critic/composer Virgil Thomson headlined him as the "King of Pianists," and Rubinstein wore that crown for the next 35 years. Other big names made periodic splashes (Gilels, Richter, Cliburn, Gould) or emerged briefly from hiding (Horowitz, Michelangeli), but when the dust settled Rubinstein still sat on the throne. "Nobody will put up much of an argument," the N.Y. Times' Harold C. Schonberg once wrote, "when he's called the greatest living pianist." Yet in his day he was such a familiar and accessible commodity, listeners seldom pondered exactly where his superiority lay.

It was simple enough. As Lauritz Melchior was the greatest of heldentenors, Rubinstein was the preeminent "heldenpianist." Boasting both an enormous dynamic range and phenomenal stamina, he could play not only long seasons but heavy heroic programs (e.g., both Brahms concertos at one sitting). He was renowned for his deep full tone, his cataclysmic volume, his velvet cantilenas, his huge declamatory octaves. Rubinstein came honestly by it all: after a youthful brush with repetitive stress syndrome, he adopted a temperate practice regimen and developed one of the most efficient virtuoso mechanisms in the history of his instrument. Its foundation was a centered posture, participation of the entire torso, and exceptional lateral mobility; working strictly with moderate-action instruments, he could dig deep into the keys.

It's significant, then, that the end came for him not from fading fingers but failing eyesight--macular degeneration. His frontal vision suddenly went, and it was enough to take the edge off his accuracy and reliability. He prudently retired. At age 89.

Luckily the present video (three Rubinstein blockbusters--the Grieg concerto, Chopin's Concerto No. 2, Saint-Saens' Concerto No. 2) had been taped some months earlier on April 22-24, 1975. Of the assorted Rubinstein DVDs currently on the market, this is easily the most cherishable. Contrary to Amazon's specs above, it's in NTSC format and playable in all regions. Not surprisingly, picture and sound are far superior to the 1990 VHS release, and by any criteria this is first-rate analog stereo--though the piano is appreciably forward, sometimes upstaging the string tremolos in the Chopin middle movement. As for the picture, it's in plush technicolor: the camera favors both left and right profiles as Rubinstein digs in, close-ups of his hands ditto, head shots are framed by the piano lid. Previn and individual deskmen enjoy occasional close-ups as well, but the full orchestra is on view only from the rear of the hall.

With Previn and the LSO providing elegantly phrased backup, the performances themselves are invaluable. These, literally, are Rubinstein's final thoughts on a trio of audience favorites he'd performed over many decades (three-quarters of a century in the case of the Saint-Saens). Even at 88 he's easily equal to the stiff technical demands (cleaner and firmer with Chopin's passagework than in his Philadelphia recording seven years before). Unforgettable moments abound in each of these performances: tempos are generally more spacious than earlier, with the expected gains in precision and clarity; he's more economical, too, with half tints and pedal washes in cantabile passages, but the arching phrases and tapered cadences are as eloquent as ever. Astonishingly, his fortissimos are still colossal in the big Grieg cadenza, and the old man can still burn up the tracks in the finale of the Saint-Saens.

Further, and maybe even more affecting, Rubinstein was still reconsidering, still revising, still working on things. Here, for instance, you'll find the most intensely operatic of all his readings of the Chopin Larghetto--sharply phrased, stinging in the filigree, downright ferocious in the central recitative, ultimately turning gentle and nocturnal in the recap.

Finally there's a splendid bonus: a 29-minute conversation with PBS newscaster Bob MacNeil, recorded in the late 1970s after Rubinstein's retirement. The pianist tackles a range of material with humor and shrewdness: communicating with popular audiences, producing his famous sound, his concept of God, life after death. It's easily the most articulate and stimulating interview I've heard him give.

So this DVD paints the regal close of a colossal reign: as indicated, the bonus is a delight, and you'll never hear more opulent, more exhilarating performances of these three pet concertos. Heartily recommended for all viewers. Including folks who normally avoid classical music.


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