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Thomas Neal (England)

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Chopin's Funeral
Chopin's Funeral
by Benita Eisler
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.06

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a dull biography and nothing more, 26 Feb 2008
This review is from: Chopin's Funeral (Paperback)
Being an aspiring musicologist and music historian, and indeed a fan of Chopin's wonderful music, and indeed of other recent music-based novels such as "The Piano Shop on the Left Bank" which was an amazing read, I was really looking forward to reading this. However, I was very, very disappointed. I had no preconceptions about the novel, what it should be like, how Chopin should be presented etc., so it was not the failure to meet my expectations that turned me against this book.

First of all, there has been a lot of thought but very little imagination put into writing this book. In short, it is basically a re-telling of Chopin's last years and no more. Filled with mystery and intrigue though they certainly were, I did not see how presenting this as a supposed novel made the subject any more interesting, nor any more approachable.

Eisler's style is brusque, to the point, and detailed - she displays everything I look for in a good writer, but perhaps she would be better in journalism, or writing composer biographies? Also, at times the writer seemed to be more interested in George Sand than in Chopin (actually, the most interesting part of the novel was in reading about the complicated relationship between the novelist and the composer). The book contains a few quotes from letters etc., but is presented as a biography (i.e. in the past tense, very factual, no dialogue, from the author's viewpoint etc.) But overall I admire the writing and indeed the idea of writing a novel based on the reality of a composer's tragic death, but the result is sadly lacking. I just found myself wanting to finish this book and get onto something more stimulating.

Handel: Messiah (1751 version) (Edward Higginbottom) (Naxos)
Handel: Messiah (1751 version) (Edward Higginbottom) (Naxos)
Price: 11.03

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a true masterpiece of baroque performance, 25 Feb 2008
As an organist, chorister, choral director, composer etc, etc... I have heard and sung Messiah more times than I care to remember (and I am just 17!) My parents raised me on a healthy diet of Handel and Bach, and so over the years I have come to know and love many works by these great masters, and indeed performing a great deal in more recent years. I have heard many, many recordings of Messiah and, to put it simply, this recordings beats them all into submission. From the moment of the first few chords in the overture to the last bars of the final chorus, this is a true masterpiece of baroque performance from every angle - and I do not say that lightly. The fact that I have now started listening to Messiah for pleasure, rather than for duty or necessity, speaks for itself.

In response to Mrs Barrowman's review below, I would question all the points she has raised. Firstly, whether one is a "baroque purist" or not, this is a hugely enjoyable disc filled to the brim with technical perfection and precision. She refers to the "white sound" of the trebles - I can only think she means "pure" sound - not pure in the sense of some 1980s recordings of King's College Cambridge, which on occasions verge on being quite dry, but truly clear-cut and precise.

Furthermore, I would dispute the so-called "richness" of the female voice in other recordings. Take the venerable Helen Watts in the aria "But who may abide the day of his coming?" (an aria Helen sings superbly), and compare it to the rich clarity of Iestyn Davies in this recording, and there is no competition whatsoever (and let us not forget this is an English oratorio, not an Italian Opera, even if the composer was fluent in both styles!) This recording succeeds in re-addressing the work in its proper light, and not in the hideous tradition of romping through the repertoire that has found its way into British musical culture (is it any wonder so many choirs and conductors are board to tears with it?!) One huge attraction for me was the performers' approach - simple, humble piety as opposed to the pretentious showmanship we normally experience in the concert hall - this recording is just so fresh and invigorating!

Apart from being more authentic (ah those purists again!), the sound produced allows for a crystal-clear annunciation of every syllable, every quaver, every ornament; whereas dear Helen & Co might as well be singing in Japanese. Overall, the soloists in this recording are truly outstanding, the counter-tenor in particular. Other soloists include three trebles from the choir (all of whom are rather good), and wonderful performances from the tenor, Toby Spence (a name many will be familiar with), and the bass, Eamonn Dougan.

One thing is for certain: this recording is different and definitely fills a gap in the market. Those who have heard or sung Messiah so many times they are bored to tears with it, they should buy this recording - this rendition is so fresh, so invigorating that it is like listening to a completely new work. The edition selected is the 1751 version (use by the composer for performances in London), which provides a very pleasant change without resorting to the dreaded blasphemy of Mozart's arrangement of the work. And so what if we're used to wobbly female voices? Alcoholics are used to drink, but it doesn't make it right, nor any good for their health.

Out of the many recordings I have heard, this is certainly the most technically assured, the most accurate and authentic (both musically and historically), and, more importantly, the most enjoyable.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 20, 2012 9:12 AM BST

Ives, G - Listen Sweet Dove
Ives, G - Listen Sweet Dove
Price: 15.53

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars wonderful harmonies, ethereal colour, and soaring melodies..., 25 Feb 2008
This was a journey of discovery for me, having only ever performed a few pieces by this splendid composer. The programme could possibly best be described as an overview of Ives' compositional output over the years, and offers some absolutely stunning pieces of music, from the sensuous title track "There is a land of pure delight", to the dramatic "Ego sum panis vivus", and the quasi-Bruckner "Nos autem". As the recording was directed (and on two tracks played) by the composer, I don't think I could comment on reading and interpretation.

Despite some unusual pronunciations (e.g. "deloit" in place of "delight", which is more than just a Southern accent!), the choir of Magdalene College Oxford is on top form, with that wonderfully round, resonant tone from the trebles.

My main criticism is the relationship between organ and acoustic. Although suitable for the choir and, strangely, not too bad for the two organ solo pieces, the acoustic seems far too dry for the organ accompaniments most of the time, particularly in the Mass. Added to this, the organ has some very unusual-sounding stops (I think on the full Swell) which, sadly, contribute some inappropriate sounds on occasions. Despite this, the organist executes his part with utter precision and complete assuredness. This is my only reason for giving this disc four stars instead of five.

Overall, a hugely enjoyable introduction to this composer's work which is itself of the highest standards - such wonderful harmonies, ethereal colour, and soaring melodies. Were it not for the organ, my breath just might have been taken away.

Schubert: The Symphonies
Schubert: The Symphonies
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: 13.80

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a stirring rendition of some of the finest symphonic literature, 25 Feb 2008
A stunning recording of some beautiful (and, I feel, very much under-rated) symphonies. The orchestra capture all that is necessary to bring these wonderful symphonies to life, with a brilliant, bright tone (neither too light nor too heavy - ideal for the repertoire) and a technically superb sense of ensemble. Expertly conducted by Harnoncourt, perfect tempos, clear and traditional readings whilst shedding new light on old masters. I particularly enjoyed listening to the third and eighth symphonies. Also included are two overtures in the Italian style.

The recording quality is perfectly clear without being "tinny". The CDs are presented in four sleeves inside a box with ample programme/sleeve notes - a booklet of some 62 pages outlining the history of each work, its place in Schubert's repertoire, the development of symphonic form, and of course the biographies of the performers. The only bad comment I can pass is that the works are not presented in order (they run as nos.1, 4, Italian overtures, 2, 6, 3, 5, 8, and 9), although this is a minor point and for most listeners will not be a cause for concern.

Do not be put off by the relatively low cost nor the fact that it comes from the Warner Classics label (who, I think it is fair to say, are not exactly renowned for the world's finest recordings) - this set is a joy to listen to.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 23, 2011 10:36 AM GMT

Chamber Music By French Composers
Chamber Music By French Composers

4.0 out of 5 stars beautiful and very relaxing, 25 Feb 2008
This is simply a beautiful, tranquil CD of little-known French chamber music. The quality of the compositions is superb, and the performance is technically assured and accurate, whilst maintaining that flowing romanticism the French impressionist composers are noted for. The ensemble is of the highest calibre - it is a blessing they took time to record these beautiful works, however rare they might be. There is some very fine playing here, from piano, 'cello, and flute - an unusual ensemble, but one which works when the right balance is achieved, as in this recording.

I particularly enjoyed Nadia Boulanger's three pieces for 'cello and piano, having played the composer's own transcriptions of these pieces on the organ. However, this was probably due to the absence of the flute, which I found to grate on the ear after the first few pieces. This is all very personal though, and is a minor point in what was otherwise a hugely enjoyable disc, although I'm not sure I would pay over 30.00 for it, as currently advertised on this site.

Evensong & Vespers From King's College Cambridge
Evensong & Vespers From King's College Cambridge
Offered by Music-Shop
Price: 27.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars perfect..., 24 Feb 2008
"First, we have to be patient and relaxed enough to allow a long tradition to have its say. Then we should allow our own thoughts and feelings to become closer to us than life outside admits. These two things are not separate..." (John Drury, commenting on Evensong at King's).

Fact: King's College are synonymous with perfection; and this wonderful recording is no exception. The disc is divided into two halves - the first is a service of Choral Vespers for the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the second is a service of Choral Evensong for the Advent season.

Vespers opens with a short, quiet, and charming organ voluntary, followed by the responses, and the four Psalms appointed for the day, each with the appropriate antiphon preceding it - all sung to plainsong (unison men). After this, the trebles and counter-tenors are added to sing Hassler's "Ave Maris Stella", another very brief antiphon, and then the beautiful "Magnificat" by Sebastian de Vivanco. The choir's execution of both plainsong and polyphony are superb, and men's voices in the psalms being particularly beautiful, aided by the superb acoustic of King's College Chapel.

Evensong opens with the Antiphon "Salve Regina" by Francesco Cavalli, the Preces and Responses by Radcliffe, and then Psalm 50 sung to Anglican chant by Thomas Attwood. However, the highlight for me on this disc was George Dyson's Evening Service in D, which is given a simply stunning performance here - I really cannot find any fault! The final "Amen" in the "Magnificat" is particularly well executed, although the "Nunc Dimittis" is also sung very well. This is followed by Edward Bairstow's glorious anthem "Lord, thou hast been our refuge". I confess I did not know this anthem until I bought this disc, but I was certainly not disappointed. After the hymn "Hark! A herald voice is calling" (the one track I found unnecessary, although it is a vital part of Evensong), there comes the dismissal responses (Radcliffe again?) and a superb organ voluntary by Herbert Howells (I have a feeling it is the Rhapsody no.3, although this is not stated).

The accompaniment is superbly played throughout by James Vivian (now at Temple Church London I think) and Robert Quinney, and of course conducted by Stephen Cleobury. The organ is simply perfect for the repertoire, and really shines in the Howells. The programme/sleeve notes provide a short commentary by Stephen Cleobury, a biography of the choir, and complete texts.

Simply perfect from every angle, and a must-have for any music lover!

Tchaikovsky / Myaskovsky: Violin Concertos
Tchaikovsky / Myaskovsky: Violin Concertos
Price: 14.56

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars truly magnificent, 23 Feb 2008
This is, surely, the finest recording of the famous Tchaikovsky violin concerto. I simply cannot find a fault - the soloist is sublime (tone, tuning, musicality...everything!), the orchestra is magnificent (never obtrusive, but a definite presence) and need I say anything about Gergiev? This famous, dramatic, but very beautiful concerto has been paired with Myaskovsky's violin concerto, which is also given a superb performance (although with only limited recordings and performances given of this splendid work, I have little to compare it to). The sound quality is also of the highest quality. The programme/sleeve notes were a little lacking in my opinion, although I am sure they would be ample for any casual listener and this certainly did not stop my enjoyment of what is otherwise a truly magnificent recording.

To make a claim such as "this is the finest recording of one of the most famous concertos ever written" seems a little stretched, but when you hear this wonderful disc through your speakers, I am sure you will agree.

The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz (Everyman's Library Classics & Contemporary Classics)
The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz (Everyman's Library Classics & Contemporary Classics)
by Hector Berlioz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.57

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars deeply inspiring, 8 Feb 2008
Simply one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. Like the previous reviewer, I was hooked from the first page. Berlioz's style (which thankfully has not lost its charm and wit in translation) is very readable and superbly constructed. He was obviously an eccentric character, but a deeply passionate man both as a composer and as a lover. He takes us through his life in chronological order, from the village he was born in, to his visits to Rome, Moscow, and London, and his life in Paris. An amazing read for anyone interested in French music from any period and on any level, but also a must-read for those interested in 19th-century Europe, especially Paris. Apart from this, I feel there are some very valuable lessons for life we can all learn from Berlioz. I can honestly say I am a different person from reading this book. It is the only book I have read that has moved me to tears. After reading this, your perceptions on life and on music will change forever...for the better.

Mendelssohn Remembered (Nick Ward Plays)
Mendelssohn Remembered (Nick Ward Plays)
by Roger Nichols
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.27

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating, 8 Feb 2008
This book is NOT a biography written by Roger Nichols, but a fascinating collection of letters, diary entries, and other such texts from the composer's contempories (such as Berlioz, Abraham and Fanny Mendelssohn) and provides a truly wonderful insight into the composer's life. Although I was originally looking for a biography of Mendelssohn, I bought this book instead and was certainly not disappointed. I'm not sure whether any musician or music-lover would enjoy this book, but for the Mendelssohn enthusiast or anyone interested in German music, this is a must-read!

The book is well thought-out and constructed in a chronological order. Some texts were originally in English and so remain unchanged, but some are translations and I did feel that occasionally these lost their charm in translation. A minor point for what is, overall, an amazing read.

Buxtehude: Organ Music, Vol. 1
Buxtehude: Organ Music, Vol. 1
Price: 6.01

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buxtehude on fire!, 4 Feb 2008
I do not claim to be an expert on the subject of North-German organ music, but I do have a great love and respect for it, particularly Dietrich Buxtehude, whose glorious music is given a fine airing in this wonderful Naxos recording.

The instrument is superb, the acoustics perfect for the repertoire, and Ellenberger's interpretations are really quite something. Once again, Naxos provide brilliant sleeve notes, which are brief without missing important details. Whilst Ellenberger's playing and interpretations might not be everyone's idea of "traditional" Buxtehude, these are far more invigorating and interesting than, say, Wolfgang Rubsam's, who is included in this same series of discs (incidentally, Rubsam is the recording producer on this disc).

The instrument itself (Evangelical Lutheran City Church, Buckeburg) is a wonderful example of Rudolf Janke's stylish building; and although it was completed as recently as 1997, the tonal colour and verve is everything I would want and expect from a good Buxtehude disc. Ellenberger has a great command of the instrument and demonstrates a huge variety tonal colour, stop combinations etc., not least in the first track "Magnificat primi toni" BuxWV203, which is the highlight of this wonderful disc - although the entire programme and combination of pieces has been carefully thought-out and presented as a wonderful sample of the most beautiful of Buxtehude's works.

Despite being an organist myself, I often find CDs of organ music quite unexciting, but this recording is truly magnificent in every sense of the word. For those looking for an exciting, invigorating CD of Buxtehude, look no further! I only wish others in this same series were as brilliant as this.

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