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ASTJOHN Brown "StJohn" (East Grinstead, UK)

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Sergei Rachmaninoff: A Lifetime in Music (Russian Music Studies)
Sergei Rachmaninoff: A Lifetime in Music (Russian Music Studies)
by Sergei Bertensson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 17.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rachmaninoff The Man, 17 Mar 2011
A lovely biography because it gives you a real feeling for Rachmaninoff the man, much of it derived from letters from and to him. He was shy but great company with those he knew and was comfortable with. What I hadn't realised was how good a conductor he was, as well as being - according to the recent BBC Music article - rated as the greatest pianist of the C20 by his fellow pianists. There is not a deep analysis of his music, but a lot of good stories about their composition and the first performances. An excellent corrective to the Stravinsky "6ft scowl" comment. Thoroughly recommended for anyone interested in a great musician - and human being.

The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps Between Plans, Actions and Results
The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps Between Plans, Actions and Results
by Stephen Bungay
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 20.00

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Different sort of business book, 28 Dec 2010
I have largely given up reading business books because most of them seem to have one big idea which they advocate as the panacea for all, or nearly all, problems. Bungay is an excellent historian so I read this hoping for something different, as well as his insights on the Prussian/German military machines of the second half of the C19th and the first half of the C20th. I'm pleased to say I found it.

What is refreshing is the degree of humility in the book - which is appropriate given van Moltke's humility. There isn't a "one size fits all", there is - as Bungay himself says, a lot of applied common sense and even the Blindingly Obvious. Discussing the issue of friction (Clausewitz's word) is a good starting point in acknowledging all of the things that can go wrong with any plan, however well intentioned the executants might be. He doesn't use Rumsfeld's description of "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns", but "friction" is a nice way of summarising them. His view that there are often 3 "gaps" (Effects, Knowledge, Alignment) was new to me - and appears right - rather than the usual focus on what he calls the Alignment gap - the difference between Plans and Actions. His emphasis - from the Prussian military - on action and moving in roughly the right direction, rather than waiting for more and more information is also refreshing. His description of strategy as a framework for decision making and a guide to thoughtful purposive action also seems to sum up elegantly what its real role is. The quotation of van Moltke's directive to his commanders on 30th August 1870 (p125) needs framing in all strategic planning departments as a model for all communications.

Having stopped working for large companies a number of years ago partly because of the amount of useless internal processes - strategic plans that weren't, budgets that weren't believable, HR reviews that were politically correct - I have become uncertain how to develop a strategic plan in the small businesses I am now involved with. Thanks to the book, I am now clear in my own mind what I need to do to clarify what we, as a business, are trying to do (his boiler manufacturer example is brilliant), which gives the staff the clarity they want as well as the space to do what they do best, whilst enabling the strategic direction of the business to develop as circumstances change. The idea of writing a short brief does force one to really think (Richard Feynman's great response to a correspondent "Don't you have time to think ?!), which can be forgotten in the maelstrom of daily work. The backbrief is also an excellent suggestion for workaday use.

As I said at the start, I am somewhat out of touch with modern management literature, so can't compare his thinking with others. I suspect he wrote this book for an audience of mainly large company managers and leaders. Where I think the book may have a real impact is with the managers/entrepreneurs in smaller businesses, where the need for a strategic plan - as Bungay describes is real - but not for a strategic plan as practised by many Strategic Planning departments.

An excellent book that I read in two sittings, as I really wanted to understand how to use the insights.

Schubert Live, Volume Two
Schubert Live, Volume Two
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: 21.03

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Schubert of the highest order, 16 Oct 2010
I attended all of this cycle live, and thoroughly enjoyed it. What has impressed me is the perfection of the playing even when close miked. She gets a gorgeous tone from the piano. The odd cough which distracted during the performances is barely audible. Cooper has more than taken on the Brendel mantle and she is clearly a member of his "school" of playing, if one can talk about such a thing - along with the younger Lewis and Fellner. This is wonderful playing and this set (2) and the other two that have the other post 1822 pieces - (1) and (3) - are of the same very high quality. These are now my preferred recordings.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 22, 2012 5:20 PM BST

Pictures from An Exhibition (Pletnev)
Pictures from An Exhibition (Pletnev)
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: 19.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning playing, 16 Oct 2010
Pletnev's Mussorgsky is idiosyncratic - he leaves out one of the Promenades, and adds extra notes in the Great Gate of Kiev, but they work within the spirit of the piece. The variety of colour he gets in the opening Promenade is representative of the complete set. This is stunning playing of the highest order. His virtuosity goes without saying, whilst his touch and dynamic gradations are superb. I think this is better than the famous Richter 1958 recording, and any lovers of the Pictures/great piano playing should hear it.

The opening of his transcription of Sleeping Beauty is jaw dropping. His representation of the pieces he has transcribed is excellent, and the playing again stupendous.

This CD rates as one of my Desert Island piano recordings

A Million Bullets: The real story of the British Army in Afghanistan
A Million Bullets: The real story of the British Army in Afghanistan
by James Fergusson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.39

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book - the best of its genre, 17 Nov 2009
A lot of books have come out describing the experiences of the troops in Afghanistan, particularly since 2006. This book also tells what happens in that summer, and is rather more even handed than the Para experiences. For example, the Gurkhas had a similarly tough time, but were totally ignored when it came to medals being awarded. Whilst incredibly supportive of the troops and what they had to put up with, Fergusson gently points out all the shortcomings of what they were asked to do, and they were equipped. This is emphasised by the utterances from the out of touch senior officers in either Bastion or Kabul, who clearly didn't have a clue what the troops in the FOBs were having to go through. His two chapters on the different helicopters are the best I have read, drawing attention to the fantastic work the ground crews - as well as the air crews -do in maintaining and flying them. All of the equipment shortage issues are addressed, showing what the impact is on the troops in the front line, which tragically have still not been solved.

The other book - less analytical, more visceral - is Patrick Hennessey's The Young Officers' Reading Club which gives the best perspective from a front line soldier. These two together would be the two books I'd recommend anyone reads to understand how awful things are in Afghanistan - and they aren't improving.

One reads that Fergusson has the ear of David Cameron. If so, that is a real positive because he talks more sense about Afghanistan than anyone either in the Government or the Opposition.

Six Moments Musicaux Op 16
Six Moments Musicaux Op 16

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing Playing, 15 April 2009
In the early 1970s there were no recordings available of the complete Transcendental Studies. Then a 2LP Melodiya set appeared from Berman, about whom we had heard very little. It was electrifying. A couple of years later he made his western debut across Europe in a number of cities in the summer of 1976, and this is a live recording of a recital he gave in Italy. For those who never saw him he was a huge bear of a man, with broad shoulders and big arms and hence very powerful - but also capable of amazing delicacy.
I attended a similar concert at a packed Festival Hall where he played Prokofiev's 8th sonata (rather than the Rachmaninov) and the Transcendental Studies.
This recording of the Italian concert is similar to what I remember - peerless playing....interestingly he takes some bits slightly slower than other pianists with a beneficial effect. The lilting left hand in Mazeppa has real bounce, and Feux Follets is much clearer than normal, whilst in other places the virtuosity is breathtaking. The audience is irritating, breaking into tumultuous applause too often, but if you imagine the excitement of hearing such playing live, it is forgiveable.
The Rachmaninov is beautifully done, and his Orage - as a final encore - is jaw dropping.
A great record of a (series of) great concerts

Killer Elite: Inside America's Most Secret Special Forces: America's Most Secret Soldiers (Cassell Military Paperbacks)
Killer Elite: Inside America's Most Secret Special Forces: America's Most Secret Soldiers (Cassell Military Paperbacks)
by Michael Smith
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Importance of Intelligence, 15 April 2009
This is an excellent book about the US military which shows the importance of good intelligence before the brute force part of Special Forces can be accurately used. The constant fight between the conventional senior military powers whose fear of the "cowboys" means that Special Forces are either not used, or used in such a way that the likelihood of failure is higher, is well told. This is one area where Rumsfeld receives a lot of credit as he manages to put in place some sort of unification of the command structure. There is a lot of detail which seems to be credible - partly because it is honest about some of the organisational and operational shortcomings over the past 30 years.
The title is misleading as the Activity (as they are known) only tend to get involved in killing when things go wrong.
Given how little is publicly available on the British Special Reconnaissance Regiment, one can assume that they are being somewhat modelled on the Activity. In this context The Operators by James Rennie is a key read.

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