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Rumpole of the Bailey The Complete Collection [DVD] [1978]
Rumpole of the Bailey The Complete Collection [DVD] [1978]
Dvd ~ Leo McKern
Price: £20.14

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An old darling worth keeping around, 17 Jan 2014
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Perhaps the best people for this box are those under ten or over 30. Maybe together. You need to have a certain wonder at character on display. This is a character driven piece, one writ large. Rumpole is not a glamorous lawyer, instead an old hack of the Bailey, but he's a grand older man who dwarves the lanky young buds who surround him; voice booming, poetry everywhere, a witty retort for the judge, a nod of co-conspiracy with the jury. Initially I found his apparent indifference to truth shocking but that reservation drifts away as the character develops. He's not indifferent to the facts, he just doesn't allow his ignorance of them to inhibit his work, and his work is defence.

This is rich, hearty fare of a bygone era. Everyone smoking and knocking back the spirits, steaky kidneys without apology, and a healthy dose of interior monologue revealing the deeply reflective nature of a bluff old cove who's cunning is underestimated by juniors and leaders at their peril.

Savour.


Conducts Bruckner and Liszt [IMPORT]
Conducts Bruckner and Liszt [IMPORT]
Price: £13.10

4.0 out of 5 stars Golden oldies worth rediscovering, 15 Jan 2014
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I had always thought of Symphonies 3 & 7 as Bruckner's 'Wagner' symphonies, so imagine my surprise listening to the Wagner Faust Overture and hearing pre-echoes of the adagio of Bruckner's 9th. I must have heard it before but this was the first time the information became real to me. To be honest, the piece loses interest as it goes along but as a souvenir of Wagner and the 19th C. response to literature, it's perfectly enjoyable.

I'm not sure if Jascha Horenstein was a pupil, certainly an assistant to Furtwangler, and I guess probably a protegé. One thing is for sure, he was his own man as an interpreter of the classics, for despite being quite zippy in the first two movements, Horenstein's Bruckner 8 (Vienna, 1955) is not much like his legendary mentor. Straightforward, less emotionally complex, but very gratifying and despite its age smelling of roses (well, potpourri) in the Vox reissue. Gracious and compelling.

The Baden-Baden orchestra's performance of Liszt's Faust goes a long way towards bypassing the work's longueurs and is altogether charming and full of character (as well it might be). The tenor soloist has a beautiful, clear voice, the choir atmospherically caught.

All in all, a delightful reissue and one that holds its own with other oldies and more recent offerings.


Gerard Depardieu (Screen Icons) [DVD]
Gerard Depardieu (Screen Icons) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Gérard Depardieu
Price: £16.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The tip of the the treasure pile..., 6 Jan 2014
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Four faces from the epic canvas that is the career of wayward French actor, Gerard Depardieu. A mere four, but what a quartet and a cost effective way of getting hold of Tous les matins du monde, the beguiling portrait of musical life in 17th century France, Depardieu in tandem with his own son (now deceased). Then there is the superb contest with Fanny Ardent in Le Colonel Chabert (1994), a sort of Martin Guerre without felicity and as rich a historical drama (the Napoleonic era) as you could wish recreated on screen. Superlative use of music, once again. On the other side, two comedies: Buffet Froid (1979), a cheerfully bizarre and macabre comedy noir, Depardieu playing alongside writer/director Bertrand Blier and Jean Carmet as clowns held together by metropolitan disquiet. Until there are none. And then, Mon pere ce heros (1991), Depardieu at his most lovable, almost falling in love with his beloved daughter on holiday as he prepares to let her grow up. The US remake is good too, but the French has a particular charm and warmth.

How one other could write that these were boring films, I guess, can only point to one out of faith with French cinema, which can admittedly be exasperating. But not here, not now...


Philips MCM2150/05 70W Micro Music System
Philips MCM2150/05 70W Micro Music System
Offered by Tech Nuts
Price: £149.99

6 of 10 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.


Vaughan Williams: The Complete Symphonies, The Lark Ascending, Tallis Fantasia, etc.
Vaughan Williams: The Complete Symphonies, The Lark Ascending, Tallis Fantasia, etc.
Price: £13.73

14 of 16 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: £15.70

4.0 out of 5 stars 3 String Quartets, 19 Dec 2013
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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 buzz bomb 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
Price: £21.61

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
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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 anorak 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 Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 13, 2014 4:21 PM BST


The Symphonies and other Orchestral Works
The Symphonies and other Orchestral Works
Price: £14.50

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Shaken but not stirred..., 11 Dec 2013
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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: £19.00

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


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