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Jon Chambers (Birmingham, England)
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Vivaldi - New Discoveries
Vivaldi - New Discoveries
Price: 14.99

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New work from Vivaldi!, 30 July 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
In his definitive study of the composer's life and work, Michael Talbot spoke of the prospect of 'perpetual discovery' in respect of Vivaldi, resulting from a neglect spanning centuries. 'Scarcely a year passes,' he wrote in 1978, 'without the announcement of some fresh discovery'. This CD gives an excellent example of what we might expect even now, 30 years after Talbot's study, with a collection of new finds from just the last year and a half!

Talbot himself is something of a sleuth when it comes to discovering Vivaldi. He identified some very important violin sonatas (in Manchester's Central Library) in the 1970s, and one of this CD's many strengths is his authorship of the liner notes with an endorsement of the music's authenticity - a major reason why the CD scores over the MP3 version, despite its higher price. If you are interested in the nature of the 'finds', it's the CD option you will probably want.

Although Talbot might (just) be right in suggesting that none of the works in the current collection is from the very top drawer, they are all nonetheless engaging and deeply satisfying. A special feature is the quality of the cantabile slow movements - that of the Concerto for oboe and bassoon in g especially. This concerto, currently the very last numbered in the Ryom catalogue (RV812), is captivating from start to finish. Whether or not 'top drawer' is a matter of opinion (and a question of how big the drawer is!). Equally important, the performances are uniformly excellent. Paolo Pollastri's recorder playing, to take just one example, is highly bravura.

Despite Talbot's validation, and despite the very Vivaldian feel of these works, there can be no absolute guarantee of their authenticity. Several pieces have been (?erroneously) attributed to other composers in the past. But regardless of authorship, this assortment of sonatas, arias and concerto inspire and entertain. And, at the very least, they are supremely suggestive: firstly, of Vivaldi's prodigious output and, secondly, of the fact that he was a master of all genres, not just the concerto.


August Heat (Montalbano 10)
August Heat (Montalbano 10)
by Andrea Camilleri
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One for the deck chair, 23 July 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
At one point in August Heat Camilleri, through his alter ego Montalbano, has a dig at those highbrow readers who dismiss mystery novels as 'entertaining puzzles'. While the Montalbano novels are themselves denied high literary status (the characters are too formulaic to pass EM Forster's test of three-dimensional roundedness) they nonetheless succeed in doing what they are supposed to: entertain. This, the latest in the series, shows its author on top form.

There is a single plot-line, concerning the discovery of a body in a hidden underground apartment. The body, that of a beautiful young woman, has a live twin, a medical student whose existence Montalbano thought he'd merely invented by way of playing a practical joke on the perverted public prosecutor, Tommaseo. It is an irony of the kind that we have come to expect in this wonderful series. Even the obtuse Catarella seems inspired. Following the body's discovery, he uses the word 'corporeal' instead of corporal.

For crime cognoscenti this novel could disappoint. It wouldn't take a genius to 'solve' the mystery. The ending is indeed rushed and contrived - but why not? This is art, for art's sake! Above all, the Montalbano series is about much more than mere mystery and crime. It encompasses food, passion, poetry and humour - one delicious example of which occurs when Camilleri describes a suspect as being so hirsute and simian that Charles Darwin would have hugged him for joy had he seen him! So although you might not want to write an essay on it or even re-read it (hence the four stars) this is definitely one for the holiday suitcase.


Classical Mythology: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Classical Mythology: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Helen Morales
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Demystifying the myth, 8 Jun 2009
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Emphatically not a narrative survey of Classical myths, this guide is firmly analytical. For Morales, 'Myth is a complex game of production and reception'. It is a game which invites reinvention and reinterpretation, selection and manipulation, and is one which is very much alive today.

Her approach is radical and invigorating. One modern 'myth' tackled early on is that of Greek 'cultural purity'. Martin Bernal's controversial study, 'Black Athena', is discussed and found wanting, as one of its its central arguments about the value of myth in helping to reconstruct cultural origins is rejected.

Morales references her points convincingly. Her argument about the malleability of myths, whose meanings depend on context, is illustated by examining the myth of Marsyas. To the Greeks, the myth can be interpreted as a warning that mortals 'know their place' and do not challenge the authority of the gods. To Romans of the Republic, however, Marsyas is a laudable figure, a freedom-fighter who resists the authority of the patrician class. In the myth's Roman guise, he is not killed by Apollo but rescued by Liber (god of liberation) and taken to Italy.

As with Beard and Henderson's 'Classics' in the same series, every effort is made to present the subject in a lively and topical way. Some characters make it onto the A-list of mythological heroes (Theseus), while others, despite their positive qualities, do not (Lycurgus). Trying to find out why A-listers 'make it' (John Lennon) while others remain resolutely B-list (John Major) makes for an absorbing discussion.

Morales is succinct and perceptive on the impact of Christianity, philosophy and psychology upon Classical myth (and vice versa), while her style is incisive, even provocative: the grand tradition of Western art, with its 'alibis' and its lascivious depiction of rape, has contributed to a view 'that ancient Greece and Rome were pornotopias.' By such means is a potentially dead(ly) subject brought vividly to life.


Eating Up Italy: Voyages on a Vespa
Eating Up Italy: Voyages on a Vespa
by Matthew Fort
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Food for Fort, 16 May 2009
I'm not in the least a 'foodie' and, much as I appreciate Matthew Fort et al.'s Guardian newspaper, its food & drink pages usually go unread. In fact, had a friend not been presented with the hardback, I would never have read Eating Up Italy. It was so good though, I had to buy my own copy.

What makes this book so appealing is that it is about so much more than food. Part social history, part travelogue, part meditation, and with vivid prose and insights aplenty, it succeeds in its aim: to understand the country through the medium of food. Although self-indulgent and self-confessedly sybaritic, Fort writes about his subject with lucid understanding, wit and enthusiasm. He is quite right, I think, to talk of 'the essential plainness, and grace, of Italian food', with high-quality, primal flavours characterising the nation's cuisine.

Another triumph is that as Fort travels through the regions on his Vespa (again, nothing flashy, and slow enough to allow for an unhurried digestion of food and ideas) the individuality and culinary variety of the country is sharply and entertainingly observed. Fort has the gift of meeting the right people and quoting the right words. About to fly home at the end of his gastonomic odyssey, his taxi driver explains that Italians 'speak in dialect and they eat in dialect.' By this time, though, Fort has given us an ample taste of such dialects.

My only reservation concerns the production standards of the paperback which, with unusual hyphenations (ubi-quitous, gastro-nomic) omissions and wordsruntogether, suggest poor proof-reading and undue haste.

As well as being sensuous and gourmandising, Fort is also level-headed. Early on, for instance, he questions his infatuation with Italy, and wonders if his own love-affair, like that of so many other Englishmen, isn't based on 'the distorting glass of sentimentality and self-delusion.' But there is a healthy scepticism and objectivity mingling with the purple prose. A hugely enjoyable, if not vital, read for anyone interested in Italian cuisine or culture.


Tom Stoppard Plays 5: The Real Thing; Night & Day; Hapgood; Indian Ink; Arcadia: "Arcadia", "Real Thing", "Night and Day", "Indian Ink", "Hapgood" v. 5 (Faber Contemporary Classics)
Tom Stoppard Plays 5: The Real Thing; Night & Day; Hapgood; Indian Ink; Arcadia: "Arcadia", "Real Thing", "Night and Day", "Indian Ink", "Hapgood" v. 5 (Faber Contemporary Classics)
by Tom Stoppard
Edition: Paperback
Price: 13.59

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Be dazzled, 27 April 2009
Before reading this volume, I was still in two minds about Stoppard. All dazzling surface and no meaningful depth? Or though-provoking themes combined with Wildean wit? The current collection of plays in volume 5 of Faber's Stoppard series, containing five full-length works for the stage written over four decades, should provide convincing evidence to settle the argument.

To my mind, no other Stoppard play can match the beauty and power of Arcadia, his 1993 triumph which, in the words of Jim Stewart, is the least likely of the plays to seem dated and the most likely to be revived. Reminiscent of Jumpers in its impossible juxtapositions (gymnastics and moral philosophy there), Arcadia's unlikely terrain of landscape gardening, thermodynamics, academic rivalry and chaos theory is unsurpassed in theatricality and invention. As a whole, the collection proves as scintillating on the page as on the stage and critic Michael Billington is surely apt in talking of Stoppard's Technicolour brilliance, 'delighting in language and the illusions of theatre', which privided a welcome antidote to the kitchen-sink realism of post-war English theatre.

Although some of the dialogue can seem outmoded (like that of the very un-p.c. Wagner in Night and Day) this is the Stoppard collection to top the rest. Plays like these delight and stretch the mind in equal measure.


Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Op 109, 110 & 111
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Op 109, 110 & 111
Price: 14.99

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling, 28 Mar 2009
I couldn't disagree more with the last reviewer. Listening to this CD of Opp109-111, it is Beethoven who enthrals us. Brendel, although marvellous, does not draw attention to himself in the least.

Perhaps a blindfold test is something that would make us all a little more objective. I am certainly no pianist - it's impossible for me to comprehend how anyone can play this instrument without having two brains to control two independently moving hands. And I am pretty sure that, unlabelled, I would NOT be able to identify Brendel's playing from a host of others. But I think I know outstanding playing when I hear it - as here. In a recital at Birmingham's Symphony Hall (?1990), Brendel was completely assured and unusually undemonstrative in a mixed programme that included Beethoven. And while being 100% accurate is, perhaps, a quality more prized in a touch-typist than a pianist, his flawless recital did at least demonstrate an absolute technical mastery of the piano. Creatively, he's no slouch either, occasionally producing a sound so different from anyone else that even I can distinguish it. (His Rondo of 31/3, for example, dispenses with some of the upper notes altogether - whether because of artistic licence or because he's using a different edition, I don't know.)

But back to Beethoven. These last sonatas are spellbinding. Bernard Roberts, in a fascinating short essay that accompanies his Beethoven cycle, said that the composer thought the piano too limited a vehicle to express his musical ideas after Op111. Interesting thought though this is, it seems to me that Beethoven transcends the 'limitations' of the instrument by being so extraordinarily diverse in his musical language. The Arietta of No32 exemplifies this best. One minute, we are reminded of Bach, the next we enter the realms of Chopin, Rachmaninov and even Scott Joplin, as syncopated motifs (5') become fully fledged jazz rhythms (6'45"). Why on earth isn't this sonata as well-known as his Pathétique Sonata or Piano Concerto No3, both also in c?

I can't pretend to have heard other takes on these sonatas beyond those of Roberts, Pollini and Schiff. While Brendel's version is not necessarily better than those of the last two, it certainly isn't inferior. And as an MP3 download, it probably represents better value.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 15, 2011 11:27 AM GMT


Beethoven: The Piano Sonatas, Volume II (Opp 10 & 13)
Beethoven: The Piano Sonatas, Volume II (Opp 10 & 13)
Price: 15.65

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful, insighful playing, 28 Feb 2009
András Schiff is one of those rare musicians who is rewarding to listen to in both word and deed. In his outstanding Guardian lecture series, Schiff makes the point that these Opus 10 sonatas were, for commercial reasons, intended for the amateur market. Compared to the previous sonatas (opp2 & 7), they are shorter and technically less demanding - while remaining characteristically uncompromising. And, although early works, these are certainly no apprentice pieces. Schiff makes some illuminating observations: that the word amateur derives from 'amatori', suggesting passion rather than lack of prowess; and that the 'fate motif' in the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth makes its first appearance in the Sonata No1 in c, for instance.

Serious alternatives to these sonatas on CD are thinner on the ground than they should be. That by Brendel (Philips) is marred by being a live recording, with enough coughs and splutters to hurry the soloist between movements. Brautigam's (BIS), played on authentic fortepiano, is very much an acquired taste. The pianist is excellent but the instrument refuses to 'sing' - to what would have been Beethoven's almost certain annoyance as well as ours. Kemp's third and final recording (DG), meanwhile, is annoyingly clipped and idiosyncratic in its phrasing. And so on.

If you are looking for a classic interpretation of Beethoven sonatas without wanting to go as far as the fortepiano, with its harsh tonalities and limited capacity to sustain, this is the one for you. Schiff plays with the utmost respect for this music. He doesn't allow himself liberties, even during the silences. As always, he gives the impression of being very much in tune with Beethoven who, as a pianist, habitually composed from the keyboard. He associates certain colours with specific instruments (eg horn), or certain textures with string quartet writing, for example. The ambition, therefore, is to make the piano a microcosm of the orchestra, and this wider understanding informs Schiff's playing. My only reservation concerns Schiff's keyboard. Some of the notes in the upper register sound uncomfortable and penetrating. If it weren't for the rich and resonating bass, I'd occasionally wonder if he weren't playing on Brautigam's fortepiano.


Beethoven: Piano Sonatas No4, 15 & 20
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas No4, 15 & 20
Offered by dischiniccoli
Price: 17.57

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intimacy and Pastoralism, 18 Feb 2009
As a kid, I used to wonder why so many Philips LP covers featured Alfred Brendel - balding, bespectacled, mac-wearing and with an expression that wavered between the comical, avuncular, confused and self-deprecating. Surprisingly, Brendel remained just as prominent in the CD age. But Philips know a winning brand when they see one: Brendel's face suggests the expressive range found in the music he plays.

The three Beethoven piano sonatas recorded here (in 1995) are full of gentle lyricism - a quality that Brendel seems to be able to conjure effortlessly. The 'order of play', meanwhile, juxtaposes the outer movements of sonatas 4 and 15 (ie 4iv and 15i). These movements, forming the heart of the CD, share a common romanticism and melodic charm not always associated with their composer. But they create a sound world that we don't want to relinquish. In particular, Sonata No 4, his Opus 7 written when he was 27, belies the adage that Beethoven was 'a late developer'. This work is as polished as any in the canon, and is my discovery of the year, so far.

As well as Beethoven's lyrical grace and Brendel's artistry, the CD boasts an excellent essay (by William Kinderman) entitled 'Intimacy and Pastoralism', in which he tells us that the intimacy of the music matches the circumstances of its composition. Evidently, Beethoven used to visit the young Countess Keglevics (Sonata 4's dedicatee) in his dressing-gown, slippers and tasselled cap in order to give lessons!

This is a superb CD. While Brendel may not hold all the aces in the Beethoven sonata cycle, he's on top form here. The Pastoral is deservedly well-known, but András Schiff is surely right to call the Opus 7 one of his great neglected masterpieces.


Otto giorni con Montalbano
Otto giorni con Montalbano
by Andrea Camilleri
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.84

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Salve, Salvo, 7 Feb 2009
Yes, this book is in simplified Italian. Anyone wanting an English version must look elsewhere (but will probably be disappointed - Picador haven't got round to publishing it yet).

'Otto giorni' is for those looking for something engaging, contemporary and not impossibly difficult to hone their Italian skills on. It is a 'Band C' easy-reader (ie with a vocabulary base of 1800 words). It does use words outside this range and glosses meanings (in Italian) at the foot of the page. Illustrations also assist. They aim to expand vocabulary, labelling, for example, gun parts, and generally help avoid misunderstanding, by making sure you've grasped the fact that a hob-nailed boot has nails in the sole, for instance.

If, like me, you are a student with some Italian, reasonable motivation and a good dictionary, this book will give you the sense of having understood the gist of each story (and there are eight of them, all told). The tricky bit is, of course, the grammar - for which a coursebook, or a course, is indispensable. Italian has the frustrating habit of allowing you to translate each word, but often leaving you short of a satisfactory understanding of the whole (unless, of course, you're beyond Band C). Anyway, here's the very first paragraph - actually one of the more challenging - to give an idea of the level of difficulty: 'Da sempre a Vigàta la festa di Cannalivari non ha mai avuto senso. Per i grandi, naturalmente, che non fanno cene speciali. Per i bambini, invece, è tutt'altra musica, se ne vanno in su e in giù per il corso a farsi vedere nei loro costumi.' I, for one, wouldn't have minded had the last sentence been simplified a little more! After a few runs, however, I think I've finally got it.

Although simplified stories, being 'literary' they occasionally pose greater difficulties than the average Italian newspaper article which, for the most part, will probably use simple past and present tenses. The stories are fond of grammatical niceties, like the subjunctive and conditionals. They are also literary in referring to works of literature. The advantage of this collection of shorts, though, is that you get Camilleri's characteristic wit, plot-twists and style. And anyone who knows Montalbano from Stephen Sartarelli's translations will be able to work out the meaning of such sentences as: 'La porta si spalancò, sbatté contro il muro. Era Catarella' without needing to be told that 'spalancare = aprire al massimo'.

So, those who persevere should be able to improve their Italian while being entertained by a master story-teller.


Vivaldi: Concerti per molti strumenti Vol. 2
Vivaldi: Concerti per molti strumenti Vol. 2

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vivaldi with verve, 6 Feb 2009
Some of Vivaldi's most colourful and adventurous concerti feature 'molti stromenti', of the kind that featured in the orphanage where he taught and composed - the Pietà. Here he found not just the incredible range of instruments to inspire him but the talented female players who brought such works to life. This recording brings together Vivaldi's peak of inventiveness and Biondi's acclaimed creativity. The result is invigorating.

Biondi is, of course, a virtuoso violinist and viola d'amore player and this CD features his exceptional playing on both instruments - notably the opening work, the Concerto in D RV562, and the Concerto in d for viola d'amore and lute RV540. Biondi is as sprightly and idiomatic as ever. Prestissimo passages are clearly articulated; final cadences are provocatively clipped; bowing effects sometimes substitute for vibrato (in RV569ii) while the exotic east is suggested with just the hint of a slide (in RV562). Although Biondi is occasionally disparaged for taking excessive liberties, it would be churlish to criticise him here. Each member of Europa Galante plays with equal verve and commitment, meanwhile, and the recording is detailed and spacious.

Europa Galante, while not exactly a conventional ensemble, don't take too many liberties to make their interpretation irritatingly unorthodox, either. Biondi permits just so much creative licence. Occasionally, the sounds are startlingly modern - some bars of the final Allegro of RV569 might have come from Michael Nyman, for example - but this modernity is latent in the music as written. Biondi merely helps draw attention to this engaging facet of Vivaldi.

This is very much a 'many instrument' Vivaldi for our times. Both playing and recording are exemplary. Highly recommended.


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