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Listen to This
Listen to This
by Alex Ross
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars provocative and humane, 27 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Listen to This (Paperback)
I spent an unseasonably cold weekend camping in a cabin next to the Tamar Lakes, on the border between Devon and Cornwall. Any distress at the cold was made up for amply by two things - the beautiful scenery and (particularly) this book, which I had brought with me. I have always been a big fan of The Rest Is Noise. As a collection of essays, rather than as a grand narrative, this book has quite a different feel but it still moves and convinces.

One of Ross's assets is his fine disregard of genre boundaries. Another is his mysterious ability to empathise with creative musicians. This came through clearly in The Rest Is Noise where he showed unflagging interest in the creative motivations of a very wide range of composers - including some composers with deeply flawed characters and questionable political records.

For me the highlight of the book is the concluding trio of essays, about Bob Dylan, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Brahms. The piece about Dylan is revealing and often very funny. That about Brahms is downright moving. Some of the insights may have come from Jan Swafford's superb biography of Brahms, but I have Ross's book to thank for encouraging me to read it. Even as a child, I somehow felt that Brahms's music spoke to me in a startlingly direct manner - Ross's comments may have helped me start to understand why his music has had such an effect on me, and continues to do so.


Meddle [Discovery Edition]
Meddle [Discovery Edition]
Price: £9.90

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars light and shade, imagination and power, 1 Sept. 2013
I first wanted to hear this album having seen the Live at Pompeii film. Playing One Of These Days, they were in full flight - thrilling.

An earlier reviewer rightly points out that this album captures Floyd at the moment before alienation set in as the predominant theme in their work. These guys must have enjoyed making this record. There is imagination, variety, power and a kind of creative ease. Also, it sounds like a partnership in which all four band members are fully engaged, before the famous power battles and distrust set in.

This is my own favourite Floyd album. It just makes me feel good. They are pushing the boundaries and experimenting but doing so with complete conviction. There's always more to hear every time you listen again - especially in Echoes but in many other tracks too (listen to the interplay between the synth and the howling slide guitar in One of These Days).

I'm sad some reviewers are unhappy about Seamus. I love to hear a band that don't take itself entirely seriously - and they did enjoy playing 12-bar blues too, even if it doesn't feature on their classic albums.

This release drops a star for the packaging. I like it made of card; I like it slimline. But how on earth are you expected to get the CD out of the tight-fitting envelope without your fingers gripping the playing surface?


Elgar: Symphony 1, 2, Pomp and Circumstance Marches
Elgar: Symphony 1, 2, Pomp and Circumstance Marches
Price: £12.07

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars full of love and understanding, 20 Aug. 2013
There's no accounting for individual taste, but I have been soaking up Elgar for 40 years now and these are my favourite modern recordings of these symphonies.

The RPO's playing is very fine. The sound seems beautifully natural and clear - in fact, it seems an object lesson in how to record a big orchestra. There is no "spotlighting" of solo instruments and the balance is natural, but somehow you can hear EVERYTHING. Listen with a score for a few minutes and you'll see what I mean. Elgar's astoundingly effective orchestration is laid bare for us to enjoy.

I especially enjoy the recording of the First Symphony. Sometimes this piece can come across as rather stately, but not here as Menuhin is warm and engaging. The performance of the first movement is a marvel. The motto theme at the outset moves forward at a natural, flowing pace. The transitions from one section to another of this wonderfully complex music move naturally and songfully. As the minutes pass you are drawn into the heart of the movement, and to a rapt tenderness that's a million miles from the idea that Elgar's music is stately and bombastic. The end of the second movement, too, unfolds into soft mystery in just the way that it should. Hearing the Adagio reminds me once again why some people have compared it with Beethoven. Again, the coda of this movement seems beautifully judged, bringing things to a conclusion and yet still with an air of suspense about what's still to come.

I could go on but I'll resist the temptation! To my ears, Menuhin just knows what he is trying to achieve, and the RPO go with him all the way to leave us with these wonderfully songful performances.


Symphony 8
Symphony 8
Price: £7.80

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars very surprised this is not a more celebrated recording, 17 July 2013
This review is from: Symphony 8 (Audio CD)
There are different interpretative approaches to the great Bruckner symphonies - there is no one way through this canon, although we as individuals may prefer different approaches and styles. Jochum and Tennstedt bring a raw subjectivity to this music. Other conductors like Karajan and Guilini have taken a more measured approach and breathe what Robert Simpson described as a "calm fire".

Maazel's Berlin recording is in the second school and is completely outstanding. The pace is (to my ears) unhurried and unerring, especially in the Adagio which is rapt and sustained - so long as you don't object to Maazel's use of the shorter Nowak score.

The playing is stunning in all departments. It's almost impossible to single out highlights, but just listen to the first ff brass entry in the first movement and you will get the idea! The hall acoustic is rich and natural.

In the post-Karajan era there has been some degree of backlash against "measured" Bruckner performances that sound opulent or well-uphostered. Benjamin Kortsvedt and other scholars have argued that Bruckner himself would have expected a far more dramatic and subjective approach in the Furtwangler vein. They may well be right - but I still feel there is a place for the "calm fire" as well as the "apocalyptic" approach. This recording provides it almost to perfection.


Dvorak: Slavonic Dances
Dvorak: Slavonic Dances
Price: £6.02

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars before the flood ..., 8 July 2013
This review is from: Dvorak: Slavonic Dances (Audio CD)
A great orchestra playing its heart out in its core repertoire. Passionate and quick witted performances full of idiomatic and sometimes unfamiliar phrasing that never ever sounds affected or calculated. Within 10 seconds or so you will probably have adapted to the 1930s sound. It is priceless to hear an orchestra speak to us from the past so vividly.

During the 1930s the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra made regular visits to London and these performances were recorded then. It is so poignant to realise that central Europe then lay on the brink of catastrophes that would have changed forever the lives of these musicians, and of their families.


Berg: Violin Concerto
Berg: Violin Concerto
Price: £11.41

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beguiling and frightening, 8 July 2013
This review is from: Berg: Violin Concerto (Audio CD)
A previous reviewer describes this as awesome and I can only agree. Twenty years or so have done nothing to diminish it. I played it to a friend recently who was genuinely shocked by Mutter's phrasing and musicianship, and her ability to give so much and yet conserve her tone for "when it really matters". The hollow, haunted quality of much of the orchestral accompaniment is so vivid, but at the work's climactic moments there is both weight and fire. The accompaniment is very sympathetic indeed.

I give this performance five stars without liking the sound, which has an extreme dynamic range. My concern here is purely practical. I often wish I had a detached house, or a listening room where I can let rip with CDs like this without disturbing other people - but I don't. This makes listening to a recording with as much range as this one a problem. If you want to hear the quiet music at all, you have to set the volume at a level which requires you to turn it down in the louder passages.

I'm not going to let myself be irritated by the sound. This is one of the finest recorded performances I know.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 26, 2014 10:44 PM BST


The Bowler's Art: Understanding Spin, Swing and Swerve
The Bowler's Art: Understanding Spin, Swing and Swerve
by Brian Wilkins
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Best book of its kind I've read, 5 July 2013
I have been a cricket nut for over 30 years but this book transformed my view of bowling. As well as debunking a number of myths (with the aid of experimental data!) it explains very clearly the distinction between swing and swerve, and between cut and spin. I found it especially interesting on spin bowling, and particularly about the way in which different kinds of spin affect the ball's trajectory through the air.

You should be warned that the author (writing in the late 1990s) takes a hard line on the 'reverse swing' phenomenon, regarding it as an unworthy and illegal practice however it is achieved. Some of us may agree to differ with him about this. Leaving that aside, this is a great book. If you are a bowler or a coach you will not be unaffected by reading it.


25 Years On
25 Years On
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £15.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Calvert and Brock's creative peak, 9 April 2013
This review is from: 25 Years On (Audio CD)
Listening to this again after a long break from it, I have been blown away. Calvert's surreal, chiselled poetry - the hypnotic drive and variety of Brock's guitar - the surreal humour combined with an ever-present scent of threat and impending madness. In some ways the production is understated. It is certainly not as lush as on many Hawkwind albums but it is very clean and focussed, and when you listen to "25 Years On" you can hear it has huge impact at moments when it is really needed.

I feel a real sense of loss, actually, that this marked the end of Bob Calvert's career with Hawkwind. Who knows what this combination might have gone on to achieve?

It is fantastic that Atomhenge have now re-released this great album in such an attractive package.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 6, 2013 11:13 AM BST


Astounding Sounds; Amazing Music
Astounding Sounds; Amazing Music
Price: £9.36

4.0 out of 5 stars Steppenwolf!, 6 April 2013
In my opinion this album is worth it just for Steppenwolf - Calvert's lyrical delivery and Brock's riffing combine perfectly. Lots of other good stuff on here, in a collection of songs that is full of depth and good humour.

This album would have been released on the cusp of the punk explosion. I don't deny the righteous influence and power of the "new" three-chord music - but a record like this reminds me that a lot of the progressive/space rock of the mid-70s was actually very good indeed, and was performed by very talented and imaginative people.


Odds & Sods
Odds & Sods
Price: £6.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a grower, 19 Mar. 2013
This review is from: Odds & Sods (Audio CD)
I bought this CD with fond memories of the original LP - a flatmate of mine many years ago had a copy. More precisely, I bought it for a handful of tracks - Glow Girl, Pure and Easy and Naked Eye.

It is clear that this isn't the same album that I remember, despite the fact that the name and cover art are the same. There are more tracks, and the order of the 'familiar' ones is different. I'm sure, too, that some of the mixes are different.

So far, so confusing. But I'm listening away and finding more and more of interest. I feel that sometimes with Who out-takes, it is easy to see why they didn't make the cut, but many of these do repay a listen - actually several listens! As a sucker for Quadrophenia, I am really enjoying the 1973 material on the CD. Also, I'm fascinated by the studio version of Young Man Blues - a track so famous from Live at Leeds, and which surely did so much to launch the more visceral hard rock of the 70s.


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