Profile for Jon Chambers > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Jon Chambers
Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,209
Helpful Votes: 1796

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Jon Chambers (Birmingham, England)
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20
pixel
Brilliant
Brilliant
by Roddy Doyle
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.79

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not so brilliant, 19 May 2014
This review is from: Brilliant (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Having read only one book by Roddy Doyle (Paddy Clarke) I was unsure what to expect of this one. Certainly, the subject of depression (both economic and psychological) is a bold and unusual one in children's literature. But although the idea of kids taking an adult metaphor about the Black Dog of depression literally, only to find that it actually exists in reality, is a good one, the story - and especially the chase through the Streets of Dublin - was overlong. And, for me at least, the realism of the first part, set in the family home, didn't sit easily with the surreal second part.

Only time will tell if the book becomes a children's classic (and maybe the kids themselves, of course). But it seems unlikely.


Tulip Fever
Tulip Fever
by Deborah Moggach
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hidden depths, 12 May 2014
This review is from: Tulip Fever (Paperback)
Yes, those reviewers are right when they talk about simple sentences and an 'easy read' – which Tulip Fever is on one level (although a single day's read is pushing it). But beware detractors who call it it shallow and predictable, for this is a book that's rather like the Herengracht canal – its mirrored surface hides something underneath. If you are a reader for whom a novel is more than just 'what happens next', then this one is likely to be of interest.

The book's context should alert us to the fact that not everything is as it seems. The setting is C17 Amsterdam, home to the Golden Age of Dutch Art, in other words, where artists and cognoscenti shared a commonly understood vocabulary of image and meaning. So a pet dog, for example, might represent fidelity. And a tulip shedding its petals might stand for the transience of all living things. But just in case we've missed something vital, the quotation which heads the opening chapter advises us to look beyond the obvious: 'Trust not to appearances' – Jakob Cats, Moral Emblems, 1632. Many subsequent chapters are prefaced by quotations from this same instructional and moralising work,

As well as containing 16 colour plates of Dutch masterworks and being steeped in references to art and painting, the book's events are often presented as artworks, while the characters occasionally view themselves and their surroundings as though they were merely oil on canvas. So we as readers are invited to view characters and events in the same aestethic and moral terms. At the end of the novel, for example, the 'dissolute' artist Jan van Loos ('loose'?) is seen strolling through the streets taking a bite from an apple, an action that acquires emblematic and biblical significance here, especially so given that Cornelis has just renounced his faith in God. A reading of the novel which pays attention to such details provides an ironic counterpoint to the narrative.

So not quite the 'easy read' that some imagine. If the twists and turns of Tulip Fever aren't sufficiently rewarding, then the identification and decoding of its images should further enhance your reading pleasure.


The Beats: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
The Beats: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by David Sterritt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Short Beats, 23 Nov 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
A highly readable introduction to a highly unconventional, and occasionally unsavoury, group of writers, The Beats by David Sterritt provides an accessible entry into their world.

Sterritt's task is sometimes made easier by the writers' candid self-assessments - all he has to do is quote them. Burrows, for example, considered that his experiments with rearranged cut-up prose made for writing that was 'simply not readable.' Elsewhere, Gary Snyder spoke of his intention of writing 'superb poems that have absolutely no outstanding qualities', and decided the goal was 'too difficult'. But Sterritt can often be cogent on his own: 'introspection put Kerouac in touch with things his fragile soul couldn't bear, fostering the disillusionment and drinking that led to his death.'

The essence of the book is an account of the group's leading figures (Kerouac, Burrows and Ginsberg) that relies more on narrative than in-depth literary criticism. But its placing of their emergence as a result of the 'Lost Generation' of the 20s and 30s in the opening chapter is skilful and succinct. Likewise the final chapter on their influence, in which claims that some Chinese college students are direct descendants is given short shrift. Sterritt considers their main interest is somewhat superficial, and lies chiefly in American brand names. He issues this wonderfully pointed reminder: Kerouac wrote 'On the Road', not 'At the Mall'.

First published in 2013, this is no mere repackaging of existing OUP material. So it's disappointing to see that poor editing can undermine things. Sterritt tells us that The Naked Lunch was banned in Boston in 1962 and then, nonsensically, that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court finally allowed the book to be freely circulated 'only in 1962'! (The favourable verdict actually came in 1965.)

So if a general introduction is what you're after, this slim volume does a fine job, but if you want something more lit-crit, you'll probably need to look elsewhere.


Fractals: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Fractals: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by K. J. Falconer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Real maths, 18 Nov 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Kenneth Falconer is the kind of person you wish had taught you maths at school. The 'simpler', traditional kind of maths. Judging by the ease with which he communicates fractals - the branch of mathematics which describes complex and irregular natural phenomena beyond the scope of Newtonian description (like clouds and mountains), he might have made the subject my best loved, not most loathed.

Falconer takes the trouble to explain why we should care about fractals, and what the practical purpose is of this kind of maths in the real world (something I don't remember my maths teachers ever doing at school). He then manages to convey the ideas underlying the mathematics in a homely way, using everyday objects with which we're all familiar - like photocopiers with their enlargement ratios. This new maths, it transpires, can adequately cope with complex, 'fractal-like' structures like ferns and trees. In his final chapter, Falconer leaves 'the idealised world of the mathematician' in order to consider how fractal maths applies to infinitely complex objects with their 'fine detail'.

So can the averagely intelligent non-mathematician hope to understand this complex subject without complex maths? Yes, apart from the last six pages which form the Appendix (deliberately left until last).

Professor Falconer wears his learning lightly in this entertaining and constantly illuminating short introduction.


Vivaldi: Concerti Per Fagotto III
Vivaldi: Concerti Per Fagotto III
Price: £8.00

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Creative interpretation, 26 May 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Despite the fact that Vivaldi's bassoon concertos are all the products of his ripe maturity (ie late 1720s on) and despite knowing that he clearly had a special affinity with this instrument (and indeed with another of the bass register - the cello), I was dubious about buying this CD. On the strength of my Naxos bassoon concerto recordings (seldom played) and others (ditto), I had strong reservations. But it is a mistake to dismiss Vivaldi's late work too prematurely. Even those concertos without striking rhythmic or melodic qualities eventually captivate the listener in their own magical way, and I've recently learnt from my mistake of thinking too lightly of the late violin concerto, RV243, once considered slight but, thanks to Carmignola's recent release, I now regard as one of his most sublime works.

The concertos that comprise volume III of Naive's series for bassoon provided the perfect taster for me. There was no concerto listed here with the immediate presence of RV484 or the lyrical charm of RV498, for example. This was an opportunity, therefore, to see if all the hype surrounding Sergio Azzolini and L'Aura Soave Cremona was justified.

It is. The big difference between this and lesser recordings is not so much the quality of the soloist, but the creative engagement of the ensemble as a whole. Azzolini is a more than competent bassoon player. His accompanying essay makes his passion for Vivaldi's work for bassoon very obvious, and so does his playing. But many other bassoon players are hugely competent too. For me, it is the imaginative variation of texture that is the real triumph. If it's true that the bassoon has many arresting solo passages in Vivaldi's non-bassoon concertos, then it is equally true that other instruments have starring roles to play in these works. Creditably, L'Aura Soave Cremona foreground solo violin, and later solo cello. As for Sig. Azzolini, he conjures some beguiling textures from his replica of a 1710 bassoon. In idle moments, I've often wondered what Vivaldi would have made of modern instruments, like the saxophone. Azzolini hints at an answer to such questions in some of his more improvisational and freewheeling 'fantasie', witness the cadenza to RV475, for example, in which both manner and timbre suggest the jazz saxophonist.

This release has scarcely left my CD player for the last fortnight or so, and the other two discs released in this series so far are eagerly awaited. Budget labels are very rarely worth the economy they promise. Like other late Vivaldi concertos, these are works to be savoured, and they deserve sensitive and inspired treatment.


The Bluffer's Guide to Cricket (Bluffer's Guides)
The Bluffer's Guide to Cricket (Bluffer's Guides)
by Nicholas Yapp
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Know your Onions, 21 May 2013
There are not, perhaps, all that many things about English culture that would be sorely missed if living abroad in permanent exile. Country pubs, Earl Grey tea, toll-free motorways, perhaps. But cricket, and cricket commentary, definitely. If you're the kind of person who prefers Test Match Special's convivial and humorous take on things to live, but bland, TV coverage of the sport, this is probably the book for you.

Things start auspiciously, with a quotation from GBS (and if you don't know who he is, you'll have to wait for the Bluffer's Guide to Literature). 'It has been said', he writes, 'that the English, not being by nature a religious people, invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity.' And the carefree, witty, anecdote-filled prose carries on from there. Here's an example of what I mean: 'Jonathan (Aggers) Agnew played for Leicestershire and, all too briefly, for England ... Geoff Boycott played for Yorkshire and England, forever ... and ever.' And of New Zealand's qualities as a cricket nation: 'Opponents aren't dismissed, they succumb to boredom.'

There is only one fly in the ointment for this guide, and that concerns the fortunes of the English team. As it astutely observes, interest in cricket fluctuates according to perceptions of the national team's cricketing prowess. Rated number one in the world rankings as recently as 2011, England are beginning to show signs of weakness: humiliated by Pakistan's spinners, and even embarrassed by the Kiwis last winter. This summer's Ashes series will do much to decide the fortunes of our national game. Success against the Aussies may continue to send cricket on its upward trajectory, in which case ignorance of cricket, its rules, personnel and history, will once again become a social handicap. We can be more certain about one thing, however. The English summer, and the frequent rain interruptions it brings to the national game, will give you plenty of opportunity to read this literate, wise and uplifting little book!


"Vivaldi con moto" Violin Concertos
"Vivaldi con moto" Violin Concertos
Offered by crucialmusic
Price: £7.97

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dramatic revelations, 20 Mar 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
In his liner notes, the distinguished musicologist Olivier Fourès observes that all the concertos on this disc date after 1729 - Vivaldi's final decade, in other words, when many of his energies were devoted to opera (and indeed Fourès highlights parallels between Griselda and RV189, for example). Much of this music is undeniably dramatic in character regardless of any direct correspondence between the concertos recorded here and Vivaldi's works for the stage, like the wonderful Concerto in e that opens the set. Remarkably, Fourès neglects to mention the slow movement to RV254 - not just the most dramatic movement on the CD but arguably of Vivaldi's entire output. It is spellbinding stuff that would surely find a place in any decent Vivaldi anthology.

The music recorded here could find no greater advocate than Carmignola, who combines lyricism with power, at times pushing the limits of bowed strings to breaking point (witness his attacks in the final Allegro of RV281, always threatenting to produce those horrendous squeaks we associate with novice violinists). He is admirably supported by the Accademia Bizantina, who add entrancing layers of interest throughout, from plucked strings especially.

This CD boasts a world premier recording (RV283) and offers another concerto (RV187) in its 'original' version. I'm not sure that such a decision is doing this particular concerto any favours. As Fourès points out here and elsewhere, Vivaldi's first attempts can be more inspired and spontaneous than later revisions (which often merely simplify difficult passages for soloists of limited capabilities). Carmignola, of course, doesn't have technical limitations. Even so, it's difficult to see the advantage of presenting RV187 in its unrevised and extended form. The beauty of its slow movement doesn't detract from the fact that the outer movements are weakened by over-long parallel passages of the kind that Vivaldi resorted to when composing in frenzied haste. Sometimes, Vivaldi's second thoughts are genuine artistic improvements. Reservations aside, however, there are treasures aplenty on this offering, including all of the middle movements, which show both Vivaldi and Carmignola at their sublime best. (And a final word on 'parallel passages' - Michael Talbot's term, I think. This is the first time that it's occurred to me that rather than suggesting Vivaldi's flagging inspiration, these repeated phrases, starting at different points of the scale, might occasionally be early essays in minimalism, given their relentless and insistent evocation of mood. With RV254 and RV243, at least, they actually become a compelling and attractive feature in themselves.)

For my money, Carmignola's astonishing and revelatory 2001 recording of Vivaldi's 'Late Violin Concertos' represents the absolute summit of Baroque music recording. This current disc is not far behind. Together with Naive's recent release of Vivaldi violin concertos with Dmitri Sinkovsky, we are very close to the summits once more.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 20, 2013 8:58 PM BST


Vivaldi: Concerti per Violino Vol.5, Per Pisendel
Vivaldi: Concerti per Violino Vol.5, Per Pisendel
Price: £14.78

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bravura with taste, 3 Mar 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This collection of Vivaldi's violin concertos, Naive's fifth, is entitled 'Per Pisendel'. All seven of these concertos connect with the Saxon violinist - he either collected them or served as their dedicatee. I still haven't made my mind up about Pisendel's influence on Vivaldi. It's largely thanks to him that the invaluable collection in Dresden is so extensive. But it's also due to him that Vivaldi's violin works are occasionally so unashamedly exhibitionistic. For me, the most musical and engaging of Naive's violin concertos so far has been volume 3, 'Il Ballo', in which invention and simple joie de vivre triumph over technique and showmanship. And the least rewarding has been volume 2, 'Di Sfida', in which the opposite is true.

As far as I know, only one of the works featured here is a world premiere recording: the Concerto in g, RV328 (if we ignore the organ transcription on the Tactus label). It was so nearly more: RV246 has only just been recorded (superbly) by Harmonie Universelle. Elsewhere, RV370 was recorded by Adrian Chandler and La Serenissima in 2007, and RV177 by Giuliano Carmignola in 2001. As well as providing stiff competition, previous recordings make it impossible not to make comparisons.

One example will have to suffice. The CD opens with the gorgeous Concerto in C, RV177, which imposes great technical demands on the soloist in spite of its 'simple' home key. There are interesting departures from Carmignola's superlative recording, in which the freewheeling and richly sonorous continuo played so conspicuous a part. The current recording's violin line can occasionally sound uncomfortably spare without these striking arabesques from plucked lute and theorbo, nowhere more effective than the echoing motifs (entirely absent in Naive's recording) which occur at the end of the opening Allegro. Perhaps Il Pomo d'Oro wanted to avoid sounding derivative. Or perhaps they found the VBO's accompaniment to Carmignola too intrusive and unwarranted by Vivaldi's manuscript - the score, incidentally, can be viewed on-line as part of the International Music Score Library Project, this one courtesy of Sächsische Landesbibliothek, Dresden. In any case, the relative blandness of the passage in question (starting at 3'52" into track 1) produces an effective contrast to the swashbuckling bars that preceded it. Elsewhere though, Il Pomo d'Oro's continuo shows a richness of its own. It boasts Baroque guitar and archlute, as well as double-bass, harpsichord and organ.

Sinkovsky has the required attributes for this collection - chiefly, a suitably Baroque performance style and unerring intonation. His technical prowess can be seen at its dizzying best in the cadenza at the end of RV212a's first movement. This is no act of musical sabotage, however. Vivaldi's manuscript instruction ('qui si ferma a piacimento') positively invites the soloist to flaunt his/her skill. True, everything must stop while we admire the violinist's stratospheric flights, but this is clearly the effect the composer wanted. (We should remember that he was something of a showman performer himself, evidenced by the fully written-out cadenza that ends the third movement of this work, which was indeed first performed by the composer.) This famous concerto is given here in its rarely-heard alternative, RV212a - its slow movement providing a muted contrast to the pyrotechnics of the outer movements.

In its combination of musicality and dexterity, volume V has closer affinities with Ballo (dance) than Sfida (challenge). Another combination is of better and lesser known works that, together with bravura extroversion, provide for listening pleasure as well as admiration.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 30, 2013 9:45 PM BST


Vivaldi: Nuova Stagione
Vivaldi: Nuova Stagione
Price: £16.95

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Novelties - at a price, 20 Feb 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Vivaldi: Nuova Stagione (Audio CD)
There are interesting parallels here with another new Vivaldi release - La Porta delle Muse, by Florian Deuter and Harmonie Universelle. Both feature cardboard CD sleeves (I hope this isn't a new trend - some of us like to take the CD out in the rain, to the car, for example!). Both also feature intriguing essays by Olivier Fourés. Fourés, indeed, is responsible for the music of both CDs, as editor or reconstructor. And both offer previously unheard work.

But despite the current CD offering wonderful playing, sparkling music and completely convincing reconstruction, it is the other CD that wins the plaudits. As with Amandine Beyer/Gli Incogniti's other Vivaldi release to date, world premiere work is coupled with very well-known pieces. This is strange programming, since completely new compositions (like the Concerto for violin and organ, RV 808, reconstructed by Fourés) are likely to appeal to those who already have the better-known concertos several times over.

This is not to deny the CD's obvious merits. Beyer herself plays with great sensitivity and assurance. Gli Incogniti are superb. The concertos are among Vivaldi's best. But they have been done before elsewhere, often superlatively - like the Concerto for violin in d, RV235, released by Carmignola back in 2002 and by no means surpassed here.

In her programme note which introduces the booklet, Amandine Beyer explains that this CD is intended to celebrate the mutlifaceted talents of Vivaldi, in direct defiance of the oft-quoted remark that he composed the same concerto 555 times. But she might have been better advised to offer a more radical programming mix, with the emphasis on the previously unheard.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 3, 2014 2:27 AM BST


A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting for Proof
A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting for Proof
by Roger Clarke
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unnatural history, 6 Feb 2013
Most of us secretly like to believe in ghosts - which, after all, offer spine-chilling excitement, mystery and the possibility of life after death. It seems natural then that, as Harry Price is quoted as saying, we prefer the bunk to the de-bunk, even if we admit that believing in ghosts is irrational. (Fewer could be more rational, by the way, than Albert Einstein: 'Even if I saw a ghost I wouldn't believe it').

In his Natural History of Ghosts, Roger Clarke occasionally hits the mark. He discovers a neat solution to the mystery of the ghostly centurion that haunted his childhood stretch of beach on the Isle of Wight, for instance - the area had apparently once been known as 'St Urian'. He also shows a neat turn of phrase: 'Belief in the paranormal has become a form of decayed religion in secular times: ghosts are the ghosts of religion itself'. His discussion of the Victorian flash-mob presents a colourful picture of entertainment-starved Londoners flocking in droves to sites of possible haunting, and he is particularly interesting when dealing with the sociological side of things (essentially, he claims, ghost belief is confined to the aristocracy and working class, with the middle class traditionally remaining resolutely sceptical).

The problem that Clarke seems to have in this book is that he is trying to do two irreconcilable things: maintain the frisson generated by the idea of supernatural phenomena while explaining them in a cool and dispassionate manner. He tells us that as a youngster he had been an avid reader of ghost stories and a keen hunter of spooks, eventually becoming the youngest member of the Society for Psychical Research. Occasionally, this former enthusiasm shows through. After a lengthy consideration of one case, he concludes that maybe the phenomenon was a ghost, after all.

He is quite right not to spend time debating whether ghosts exist or not. Ghosts exist, he argues, because some people see them. That ghostly phenomena may be no more than aberrations of brain function is not to deny their reality to the individual who 'sees' them. But despite often mentioning advances in brain science which might provide a key to understanding how ghosts are conjured up in the brain, he never really grapples with the nuts and bolts of neuroanatomy to explain precise mental processes. The book is consequently better in its parts than in its sum.


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20