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Philoctetes (England)
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Philips MCM2150/05 70W Micro Music System
Philips MCM2150/05 70W Micro Music System
Price: £100.96

9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Attacca! Attacca! Attacca!, 5 Jan. 2014
I'm using this in a fairly small study room, so the 70W output has plenty of oomph, especially with rock music. But even with the popular end of the music spectrum, an annoying flaw is soon exposed.

Attacca.

The designers had never heard of it. When the music plays without a break, even as the CD moves from one track to the next. For other systems, no matter how basic, the transition is seamless, but not with this baby. Classical music enthusiasts are in for particular pains. Every time the track moves over there's a little gulp of an interruption to the music, often on the brink of a climax, so you might even feel a tad queasy.

Complaints about the remote control are also justified. It's dinky and the buttons barely work. Another annoying feature is that the CD draw closes after about ten seconds, whether you want it to or not, and the CD starts immediately, so if you want to start on a later track you ahve to press stop. The mechanism is a bit noisy, kind of like spiders in the Forbidden Forest.

Adding all that up, I think I'd better mark it down again to 2.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 8, 2015 11:25 PM GMT


Vaughan Williams: The Complete Symphonies, The Lark Ascending, Tallis Fantasia, etc.
Vaughan Williams: The Complete Symphonies, The Lark Ascending, Tallis Fantasia, etc.
Price: £14.71

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haitink's RVW re-released and revisited, 26 Dec. 2013
EMI Classics swallowed up by Warner and the Haitink cycle of RVW symphonies is reissued in mud brown rather than the old mustard and spinach monstrosity. Pick your poison. Ugly packaging aside, the qualities of the Dutchman's RVW interpretations remain undiminished and clear for all to hear. Mostly magnificient, one should conclude.

An all digital offering, started in the late '80s and concluded roundabout the millennium. Why not start at the end, with sublime readings of the tintinnabulating 8th and the visionary Hardyesque 9th. A little further back and Haitink is fully attuned to the offbeat appeal of Antarctica and the apocalyptic 6th Symphony; the 5th is given a more earthy and grieving account than the usual rarified soundings, and like the 6th the 4th is a wonderfully potent impression of Beethoven in the world of Shostakovich. Haitink coaxes all the substance out of RVW's Pastoral inspiration and gives London its multinational head (No.2). The Sea Symphony remains my least favourite but no-one has ever disputed the qualities of this recording.

Alongside the biggies, enjoy ace renditions of Norfolk Rhapsody, Wenlock Edge and wholly professional takes of Tallis and Lark Ascending. Amongst the digital cycles you could not do better and the analogue generation scarcely had more authority. Wholly recommendable.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 20, 2014 11:44 AM BST


Geysir, Op. 51 (Vanska, Iceland So)
Geysir, Op. 51 (Vanska, Iceland So)

5.0 out of 5 stars Vanska's finest hour, concluding with six minutes of passion music, 25 Dec. 2013
This CD appeared in BIS's 30th anniversary promotion and the quotes on the sleeve speak sincerely but optimistically about the prospects for Leifs' music following his rediscovery by the great Swedish record label, as well as the intriguing bio-pic, Tears of Stone. At present, we're still waiting for european orchestras to wake up to the wonders of Leifs' artistic vision so Reykjavik remains the geothermal hotspot for hearing Iceland's greatest composer in concert.

Not that one could ask for a better performance of any of the pieces featured on this inspiring collection. It is one of the plums in the ever growing discography of Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska, who has done so much to promote music by his compatriots, Kalevi Aho and Rautavaara etc. To date, he has made two CDs of Leifs' music with the Iceland Symphony, the other being the uncut world premiere recording of Saga Symphony Leifs - Saga Symphony, Op 26, but it is Geysir which is the more immediately appealing and best recommended to newcomers.

I used to think that the acoustic of Hallgrimskirkja was too resonant for the Icelandic Dances, but not anymore (maybe because I've got better speakers now); as with compositions like Baldr or the Organ Concerto, you should feel the quieter music first and foremost, rather than be distracted by the fortissimi. It's there that you discover the vistas and the air of Nordic climes. Leifs' overture to Loftr, op.10, is the most naive-sounding item, reminiscent of a horror movie soundtrack (actually inspired by a ghoulish play concerning black magic); his Op.1, Trilogia Piccola, lasting 12 minutes, will blow your mind, if it hasn't already been wrenched off its hinges by track 1, Geysir, a fantastic outburst of creative inspiration. The later trilogy, Trois Peintures Abstraites, is more intensely concentrated and pregnant with power: half the duration of the Trilogia, the pieces fill the mind as bold visions, prophetic dreams, leading one inexorably to stand on the shores of Iceland's green and tumultuous land. BIS's superlative production values pay the richest dividends, blowing what little competition there is out of the water.

The last item, Consolation, op.66, was written - one understands - from the composer's deathbed. He had already composed one Elegy for strings, several years earlier, but the difference between the two is like the difference between Lohengrin and Parsifal. Hardly morose, Leifs' farewell is 6 mins of passion, glacial beauty metamorphosing into northern lights. It fades into silence and is the most devastating music for strings I'll ever know.

Vanska has made many recordings that have been praised and lauded, a Beethoven cycle, boatfuls of Sibelius, Nielsen, some Bruckner, but when he turned his attention to Iceland, however briefly, his artistry and that of his source were truly in accord.


Eternity - Quarterts - Reykjavik Chamber Orchestra
Eternity - Quarterts - Reykjavik Chamber Orchestra
Price: £14.35

3.0 out of 5 stars Smekkleysa's survey of chamber music by Jón Leifs continues., 19 Dec. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
It has been nearly twenty years since a recording of Quartets 1-3 became widely available. Immediately apparent is the difference in timings between the members of Reykjavik's Chamber Orchestra and the Yggdrasil Quartet on Bis Jón Leifs - String Quartets: the newcomers from Iceland fly at this music with almost indecent haste, crossing the line several minutes ahead of their predecessors in both the 2nd and 3rd quartets. Theirs is an utterly unsentimental treatment of the music, regardless of its autobiographical associations. Quartet No.2 was directly inspired by the death of Leifs' daughter, Lif, and is a spirited and distressing work of filial tragedy that invites comparison with the quartets of Smetana and Janacek.

The Quartet No.1, composed in 1939 and thus at the outbreak of world war, is for me the harder nut to crack. All in one movement, 14:15 (17:10 with the Yggdrasil Qt), an "epitaph for peace" according to one authority, it is a brooding, elegiac, fretful monologue with violent interruptions along the way. The Quartet No.3 (El Greco), an artist's response to the work of another, draws on five paintings by the Renaissance master, and the sheer immediacy of the Smekkleysa recording pays rich dividends in this composition; having said that, the overall approach is rather more brittle, less burnished, than the rival group on Bis, a factor that might prove wearying with repeat listening.

This production comes with handsome artwork and notes which shed more light on the life and compositional circumstances of Leifs' chamber oeuvre. For that, English language readers and non Icelanders must be profoundly grateful. This CD completes a two album survey of chamber music by Leifs:Elegies - Karlakor Male Choir which makes for essential listening.


Bruckner: 9 Symphonies
Bruckner: 9 Symphonies
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £29.37

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Karajan's Bruckner Box Knocked Off It's Pedestal!, 14 Dec. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Bruckner: 9 Symphonies (Audio CD)
Is it true that those giant Karajan reissues by DG of complete recordings by decade, such as the 82CD box of 1970s recordings, are freshly remastered? Very good news if it is, although fans of the Bruckner sessions won't relish having to buy both '70s and '80s box-sets to get the complete Bruckner package. This slimline reissue is cheap and cheerless: an unappealing greyish-white with cardboard sleeves imprinted with giant vulgar numbers on the front. The previous incarnation, if nothing else, was handsome and imposing on the shelf. An eye-catcher. But times change.

By the very late '70s and into the '80s, the Berlin Phil under HvK's aegis were capable of producing such a gargantuan, saturated symphony that the music could be brought down by the sheer burden of imposed weight. Try the Sibelius 5 from that era. This Bruckner cycle, recorded from 1975-83, has fierce analogue and then fierce digital stereo, the latter afflicting Karajan's debut with the early symphonies (Nos.1-3, "Die Nullte" excluded from condescension). When you add the full force of the BPO, Bruckner's little minx and his other problem children are decimated. Some Brucknerians will love that sort of thing, and I'm certainly no fan of the vibrato-free/strings lite/quick-as-we-can school of interpretation, but this is too burdensome to be borne. On the plus side, HvK does choose well - the Linz edition, the 1889 3rd - but as he himself demonstrates elsewhere in the set, an exercise of power need not be one of aggression.

But then, the avalanches keep coming. However beautifully shaped his final version of the 4th, HvK disfigures it by using a corrupted text, one that includes a revolting 'octave-doubling' of the strings in the introduction which can ony be greeted with mind vomit; it's a hangover from the 1889 Lowe edition, generally scrapped (although Vanska recently revived it). Knappertsbusch used to play it but then he was thirty years older than Karajan and never produced Mantovani-like effects in his performances, or maybe those noisy old concert recordings spare us. Even without that, it's another battle zone reading, strings and brass going all out to burst the eardrums. As with the slow movement of No2, HvK's studio take on No.5 has an adagio which feels neverending (and that's not because it's approx. 22mins; Celi's Stuttgart concert went further and his reading was mesmerizing); if you make it to the next stage you'll witness a slaughterhouse, Austrian villagers trampled to death by heedless trolls they inadvisedly invited to the festivities, repeat-repeat. Going back to the adagio, it's worth noting that not one of Karajan's concert renditions went anywhere near as long. I guess he mostly did it better standing up.

No.6 is no great shakes. The Seventh is given a superb reading, more adrenaline than the later Vienna recording but also less sublime, less characterful, less euphoric. the 1975 8th is, overall, a great one, at its best in the second half, though again compare it with his performances in Austria and you find him dancing the music along in a different spirit. The set concludes with a masterful 9th, the great studio 9th and peerless as such. But even at budget price, this box is a hard sell for only 3 great performances out of nine.

Some say Karajan's Bruckner is marred by its transfer from LP to CD. That may very well be true, but no such affliction was incurred by the transfer of Haitink's Concertgebouw cycle when it reappeared in the early 1990s (rec. 1960s-70s). The box is now back in the Bernard Haitink Symphonies Edition (Decca), retailing around £60. Haitink can't compete with Karajan in the popular 7th & 8th but for the rest - which does include No.0 - he and the Dutch orchestra are unmissable, transforming Bruckner's genius from a lumbering teutonic giant into a bold, heroic alpine deity. The readings are very different and a true Bruckner addict would want both conductors, but given the relative scarcity of outstanding interpretations of the early symphonies, themselves in no way negligible despite the popularity of the later epic canvases, Haitink's energetic, sumptuous and maybe more classical take on the form and emotional content of these works make his set a priority. His 'Romantic' is perfectly paced, as is the 5th, and the elusive 6th is given a noble, autumnal reading.

Nothing will part me from Karajan's last ever recording, Bruckner 7 with the VPO (DG Karajan Gold) but this traversal is, in its present incarnation, past its prime.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 13, 2014 7:55 PM GMT


The Symphonies and other Orchestral Works
The Symphonies and other Orchestral Works
Price: £18.04

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Shaken but not stirred..., 11 Dec. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Two 'z's and 'k's: the very name means business, bespeaks authority. An all digital bargain set of 5 discs conducted by Naxos stalwart and Polish music specialist, Antoni Wit. The vivid toothpaste blue of the box makes a bold statement and it certainly stands out on the shelf next to the other P composers. Still, isn't Naxos slumming it a bit with a quote from DH on the back? I always think of him as that bloke standing in line behind Woody Allen in the movie Annie Hall (only instead of Fellini it's Simon Rattle getting a drubbing). At the super budget price you could hardly do better, but there are composer-conducted sessions available on EMI and Wergo so presumably they carry even more authority.

Penderecki is one of several composers who did their difficult music bit early and then moved onto more traditional/approachable sounds, presumably to prove they could be as provocative as any in the post-Boulez generation but would prefer to make music for people with ears. Think of Arvo Part, Henryk Gorecki, even Einojuhani Rautavaara. Lutoslawski. I've turned my attention lately to the Polish voices - Lutoslawski, Kilar, Penderecki - and felt most drawn to the latter. Having said that, this is pretty sombre stuff. 'I am a serious person' music.

The Christmas Symphony speaks of wintry blasts and the slaughter of the first born, rather than yuletide cheer. Symphony No.8, built of lieder settings, described by Naxos as about the cycles of death, decay and rebirth, is a dismal teutonic dish which had me longing for the warmer humanity of Szymanowski. The oratorio-like 7th ( 'Seven gates of Jerusalem' ) has a livelier blend of choral and solo singing, oustandingly committed, but I did wonder about the shaping of the music as well as the designation 'symphony'. Shades of Brian's Gothic period and suchlike. Nos. 2 & 3 are substantial symphonic fare, little concerned with sweetmeats or emotional ecstacies.

Amongst the big beasts there are of course Penderecki's smaller and more dangerous early works, like the famous Threnody and the eclectic Fluorescences. Some listeners will prefer these and maybe feel them to be more Penderecki than his later more generalized style - generalized because reminiscent of other more convivial composers. For all the talk of a neo-romantic streak in KP's symphonies from No.2 onward, it was the Symphony No.1, a product of the '70s and a kind of heir to the example set by early symphonies of Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Schnittke - all factory noise and mechanical experimentation - which captured my imagination most intensely.

I'm still working on this and I still think it was a good buy, but hardly pleasurable. Yet I recall being outraged as a teen when a bookseller dismissed the copy of The Brothers Karamazov I was tryin to buy as dreary and dour: there will be those who hiss at this review for implicitly designating Penderecki's music an act of forbearance, so let me just say that I am thankful that there is a composer out there trying to work within the symphony genre, with serious-mindedness and respect for the past. Will persevere.


Homeland - Season 3 [DVD]
Homeland - Season 3 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Damian Lewis
Price: £14.99

8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Empire Strikes Back..., 8 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Homeland - Season 3 [DVD] (DVD)
Homeland II was often scintillating. It ended with an explosion at CIA headquarters. The new season has everyone whirling about and disorientated and until the twist comes, which it does, after several episodes in, we're all at sea and bored of the waves. Once you take this big reveal on board, process it, the fact remains: we weren't much entertained by the messy beginning. At this point, if not sooner, something finally clicks into place.

Brody.

Brody was always the most compelling character. Forget Carrie. Brody is the one who fascinates us. Homeland III forces you to do without him for long, long, long stretches of time. Saul does his best but he's not exactly George Smiley. Quinn remains underdeveloped. Carrie? Overdeveloped. Jessica and Mike are practically invisible; instead we get a heavy dose of Dana, the world's most annoying teenage girl. The adolescent analogue to Carrie's (Claire Danes) gurning motormouth. In one scene Jessica comes to Carrie's home to ask for her help with something: if you can even buy that answer me this, how could she know where Carrie lived?

Eventually Brody does get more and the tension level rises and rises, but it's a long time coming and you start to wonder, where's it all going to end? Where is home?

Watching Carrie climbing the walls or Saul sigh into his beard can only hold you for so long. I've always thought Claire Danes was miscast (Carrie-Ann Moss would've been a cool alternative). How much does an actor's performance influence the way the writing progresses, or peters out, as the case is.

There's a late burst of excitement, but for the best of Homeland, Seasons 1-2 offer the richer plotlines.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 30, 2013 9:47 AM GMT


The Gold Collection - Debussy; Suk; Ravel; Scriabin; Bruckner
The Gold Collection - Debussy; Suk; Ravel; Scriabin; Bruckner
Price: £17.60

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lustrous 4CD selection of recordings by Libor Pesek, 4 Dec. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Having previously bought the Sawallisch box from Supraphon I sort of assumed these would be live concert recordings as well, but in fact they're studio sessions and very warmly recorded and ambient DDD as well. One newbie is the Bruckner 7, a gratifying addition to the Czech Phil's slender Bruckner discography; for the most part we are in heady romantic territory in this bargain Pesek sampler.

The music of Josef Suk dominates and it's hardly surprising. For most people, Pesek on CD is the guy who recorded a Suk series for Virgin. I won't be separated from his wonderfully sombre Asrael Symphony with the RLPO. Supraphon offer two rarities, Under the Apple Tree and also extracts from Fairy Tale; the former put me in mind of the theatre music of Grieg and Sibelius, warmed up of course by the Czech accent; Fairy Tale is dreamy, glossy romantic fare. Suk's Serenade is plenty charming and this as fine a recording as you could wish for. A Summer's Tale, Op.29, which lasts about as long as an Elgar symphony, containing five movements with somewhat enigmatic titles, was re-recorded in Liverpool to better effect but Pesek still falls short of Mackerras' confidence and sultry sensuality (Decca) and the piece itself approximates Suk's mightier utterances, Asrael and Ripening; nonetheless, well worth exploring.

I was really looking forward to this CPO Bruckner 7th. It takes a proper fool or madman to mess up Bruckner's most beautiful work and I'm pleased to say this is a sunny, even cidery account lasting 60mins, despoiled only by a clunky ending and a couple of slack episodes. Intriguingly, a period of two weeks is listed for the recording sessions in January 1986, the next longest being one week for A Summer's Tale.

Overall this is a cheap and very cheerful box-set full of colourful music intelligently handled and skilfully performed. One could easily live contentedly with these versions as library choices.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 10, 2014 6:54 PM GMT


Bruckner: Symphony No. 8
Bruckner: Symphony No. 8
Offered by rbmbooks
Price: £46.69

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful Eighth from Günter at the Dom, 3 Dec. 2013
Günter Wand was always a master conductor of Bruckner's giant Symphony No.8. A fiery live recording from Cologne has recently reappeared on the market; as the years went on, Wand's interpretation got more spacious, noble, heartfelt. This 1987 Lübeck Cathedral broadcast is much the same length as the Gramophone Award-winning 2001 Berlin concert, but where in the latter one is struck by the physical impact of the playing and the sheer passion of the then 89 year-old conductor, here it is intensity married to a deep feeling of reverence, in a very reverential setting. The depth of acoustic, the resonance of the venue, these magnify somewhat the grandeur of the composer's symphonic vision and I felt the music anew, which after countless eighths was no mean feat.


Korngold/ Schoenberg: String Sextet [The Raphael Ensemble] [Hyperion:CDH55466]
Korngold/ Schoenberg: String Sextet [The Raphael Ensemble] [Hyperion:CDH55466]
Price: £6.46

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Souvenirs of fin de siecle Vienna, 19 Nov. 2013
You might never want to go back to that slushy full string orchestra arrangement after you hear the Verklarte Nacht in its sextet assembly. The Raphael Ensemble give an outstanding account, coupled as it is with Korngold's opulent masterpiece, worlds away from the schmaltz of later years. The Helios reissue is a must have for the have nots.


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