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Steve (Leeds)
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Tchaikovsky: Symphonies 1-3 (LSO/Gergiev)
Tchaikovsky: Symphonies 1-3 (LSO/Gergiev)
Price: 9.03

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What happened here?, 3 Oct 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I thought I was going deaf. I'd put the first disc in the player, listening to the SACD layer, and could barely hear anything. I cranked up the volume - a bit better. Raising the volume a lot, at last things are audible. Why such a low level? I've gradually accumulated a fair number of hybrid SACDs over the years but have never had to increase the playback level so much. But even at audible levels, the sound is dry and seems to sap the life out of the first two symphonies. I couldn't work out whether it was the orchestra, the conductor, the recording, or all three that took the enjoyment out of listening to these tuneful early symphonies of Tchaikovsky.

Just in case it was me, or my equipment, I immediately followed up by listening to the 1st symphony as recorded (also live) on the other side of the Thames by the L.P.O. under Jurowski on the LPO label. What a difference! The orchestral playing is superb, pointed woodwinds playing with character, the whole experience completely engaging, a band clearly enjoying itself. The sound quality is top class (you wouldn't know it was the Festival Hall), plenty of immediacy and space. The second symphony under Gergiev didn't do much for me either. Neither is a 'bad' performance, but there are so much better ones out there. This time I compared with Giulini's recording with the Philharmonia on EMI. Again the recording is far more immediate and open. And it was made in 1956! The performance is compelling, the orchestra on absolutely top form, playful woodwind, strings really biting, especially in the final movement, the whole thing rhythmically tight. Terrific.

The second disc improves somewhat. I enjoyed the performance of the third ('Polish') symphony very much. Everyone sounds more engaged, and the sound is more open and has more presence. I liked Gergiev's touch at the end of the third movement, almost playful. This was recorded in the Victoria Hall, Geneva although I wasn't aware of that at first hearing. And I must applaud the LSO's piccolo player who is a joy throughout these performances.

Lovers of the first three Tchaikovsky symphonies, like me, will want to hear these recordings. But if you are starting out, either get the recordings with the LSO under Markevitch on Philips (not the Newton Classics reissue), or, my personal favourites, combining elegance, excitement, and occasionally a little humour:

1st Symphony: USSR S.O./ Svetlanov (Melodiya); Boston S.O./ Tilson-Thomas (DG); LPO/ Jurowski (LPO)

2nd Symphony: Philharmonia Orchestra/ Giulini (EMI)

3rd Symphony: USSR S.O/ Svetlanov (live in Edinburgh, on BBC Legends)


Martinu: The Six Symphonies [GRAMOPHONE AWARD WINNER 2012]
Martinu: The Six Symphonies [GRAMOPHONE AWARD WINNER 2012]
Price: 22.25

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 29 Sep 2012
I bought this set in 2011 and was so pleased with it I meant to write a review, but never got round to it; one of those things. I see that this has just been been given a 'Gramophone' magazine Orchestral award. I don't always go along with these awards, but they've got it spot on this time. These performances of Martinu's six symphonies are in every way superb. The BBC S.O. were recorded live, and their playing is not only exciting as only the best live performances can be, but they play as the equal of any orchestra on earth. Clearly they clicked with their then chief conductor Belohlavek, and the interpretations, well, they just blow away the competition. Hardly a week passed without my playing a couple of the symphonies; these were by far my most-played CDs of 2011 and continue to visit the CD player with regularity.

I have the Neumann set (very good, with typical spacious Supraphon recording); Bryden Thomson, which I now find more rewarding than when I first encountered them (on L.P.s); and the much-praised Jarvi set at an amazing bargain price on Brilliant Classics - I have tried to join the consensus here, but failed- I find that Jarvi makes Martinu sound too much like Shostakovich in places. But Martinu certainly isn't Shostakovich. You may disagree.

An important factor is the recording quality. These performances were recorded 'live' in the Barbican, London, by the BBC. That is significant, as many recordings from that hall, particularly on the LSO Live label, sound terribly dry and and close-miked. These sound far more 'open', with a hall acoustic, as though the engineers had placed the mikes further back. Also I believe there has been some limited, but very beneficial, post-recording treatment to open out the recordings further. Yet they remain full of detail that gets lost in the other recordings. The result is that these are technically the best recordings I've yet heard from the Barbican.

All these factors combine to make this a number one choice for the Martinu symphonies, in my humble opinion. A fantastic tribute to Belohlavek, the BBC S.O., and Martinu.

Definitely worth saving up for.


Cabin Pressure Series 2 (BBC Audio)
Cabin Pressure Series 2 (BBC Audio)
by John Finnemore
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 13.25

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cabin Pressure Series 2, 1 Sep 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I liked Series 1 and this is very much more of the same. The one-aircraft airline is a good setting for a gentle comedy with all sorts of silly things happening. My favourite episode in this series was the Polish symphony orchestra being flown across Europe. The introduction of these characters (and their instruments) gave plenty of opportunities for gags. As before Roger Allam is First Officer Douglas Richardson, a seen-it-all cynic who is perfect against the risk-averse (and unpaid) Captain played by Benedict Cumberbatch. But all the characters contribute to this undemanding comedy.

Like some other reviewers, I'm not sure how well this will stand up to repeated hearings, but we need all the comedy we can get these days and I recommend you get to try this.


Borgia - Complete Season One [DVD]
Borgia - Complete Season One [DVD]
Dvd ~ Isolda Dychauk
Price: 14.59

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Borgia - (NOT the Jeremy Irons version), 26 July 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
No, this is not 'The Borgias', but 'Borgia'. I must be one of the few people who haven't seen the Irons version (although I've certainly heard plenty about it), and it may be a good thing as I can judge this on its own merits.

The subject matter, is, unsurprisingly, the Borgia family in late 15th century/early 16th century Rome and further afield. At the heart of this is Rodrigo Borgia, a sort of early Godfather, who, determined to become Pope, uses every means possible to achieve his aim. His (very) extended family, rival Cardinals, ongoing feuds and vendettas between other families and the Borgias themselves, the discoveries of Columbus, and numerous other events, all make up what is a spectacular historical soap opera.

It's also a very bloody one. The acts of violence tend to be short, but very brutal. In one, two men who have upset the Pope over something or other, are bound, upside down, naked to poles. Then two sturdy men stand above them and, holding a ....No but wait. That would be a spoiler for this scene.

You will not forget it.

The main positives of this series are the script (although there are a number of jarring anachronisms), and the production values. The sets and costumes are lavish. The cinematography is wonderful - superbly lit (often chiaroscuro-like, bright light contrasting with rich darkness), deep-focus, capturing the vast spaces of the Vatican. The acting is variable, as are the accents. The American, John Doman, plays Rodrigo. His accent took a little while to adapt to, but such is the strength and pace of the story that one does adjust. He has for me the right sense of threatening presence. Otherwise the casting is at least acceptable, often much better.

But the real test is this: I started by watching Episode 1. I immediately wanted to watch the next. And then the next. And so on. And it runs for a total of twelve episodes (over four discs). I found the whole epic (that's what it is) excellent entertainment, highly enjoyable. I would have taken far more interest in history if teaching had included this, however unlikely.

Recommended.


Cabin Pressure Series 1 (BBC Audio)
Cabin Pressure Series 1 (BBC Audio)
by John Finnemore
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 5.72

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cabin Pressure Series 1, 23 July 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I first heard this series broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra. It has already been around for four years and only now has it appeared on CD. Amazing. Why the wait? (The other series are following very shortly).

Well it was certainly not due to lack of quality. This is a really good, gentle, radio comedy using an economy one-aircraft airline as the setting. The four main characters are played by Benedict Cumberbatch (no less) as an utterly ineffectual Captain; Roger Allam as his First Officer; Stephanie Cole as Manager Carolyn (bearing a passing resemblance in behaviour to the formidable Sybil in Fawlty Towers); and John Finnemore as Arthur, Carolyn's son, as what passes for the airline's cabin crew. Finnemore also wrote all the episodes. So we have an excellent set-up with four interesting, and in their own different ways incompetent and very funny characters. Using this as the base, Finnemore has added ingredients putting each character, and the whole airline team, into ludicrous and daft situations with a variety of guest actors (including the lovely Helen Baxendale in one).

Added to all this is the relationships between the four main characters - like another reviewer I particularly like Roger Allan's First Officer's superior attitude to his inept Captain (Cumberbatch - pre Sherlock).

But the best thing is just to listen. It's relaxed easy-going comedy, no great issues here, although the airline setting gives plenty of room for wonderful 'situations'. Like having to deal with an aggressive American passenger insisting on smoking in the toilet until the hapless Arthur tackles him, resolving the issue rather too permanently. Is there a doctor on the aircraft?

A true radio sitcom.

I love it. Give it a try.


Creative Live Camera Connect HD Webcam
Creative Live Camera Connect HD Webcam
Offered by M H TECHNOLOGIES
Price: 37.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Creative Live Cam Connect HD Webcam, 23 July 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Firstly, the supplied software is fairly easy to load. I am no expert on webcams, but the image quality is very good, except in lower light conditions when things deteriorate significantly. The sound quality seems fine. It is a nice looking product but the lead is very short, presumably just meant for laptops, not desktop computers. Overall, worth considering.


Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5/ The Year 1941 (Naxos: 8.573029)
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5/ The Year 1941 (Naxos: 8.573029)
Price: 5.87

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prokofiev from Brazil, 13 Jun 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This release crept out in the late Spring schedules; no great fanfares. Even the presentation doesn't exactly shout out to be noticed; you could easily overlook this CD whilst looking for a Prokofiev 5.

Don't. This is an outstanding new recording of Prokofiev's most popular symphony. From the very opening, this is clearly an orchestra of the first class. Not only is the playing very fine, it is totally committed. This is one of those rare releases where there is the electricity of a live performance, although it is in fact a studio recording, made in the excellent acoustics of the Sala Sao Paulo, Brazil. Marin Alsop has a fine track record of recordings for Naxos, with the R.S.N.O., Bournemouth and Baltimore Symphony Orchestras (although I do not entirely share the adulation given to the accounts of the last three Dvorak symphonies, which sound rather ordinary to me). Alsop has clearly thought out her approach to Prokofiev 5 and allows detail to emerge; an example is the plaintive woodwind figure in the second movement, taken slower than is usual. The final movement has an underlying drive, although it's not taken particularly quickly, and has an unusually fatalistic final blow.

Naxos has done it again; a brilliant combination of orchestra and conductor, recorded in excellent sound (every bit as good as the fine BIS recordings from this orchestra and hall), plenty of depth, space and range. Wonderful stuff. And the even better news is that this team is recording the whole Prokofiev symphonic cycle; we badly need a really fine recording of Prokofiev's greatest symphony, the Sixth; my favourite performance, Mravinsky and the Leningrad Phil., suffers from all sorts of recording problems.

So, don't hesitate.

No matter how many Prokofiev Fifths you have, you must hear this.


Dick Barton and the Li-Chang Adventure (Radio Collection)
Dick Barton and the Li-Chang Adventure (Radio Collection)
by Edward J. Mason
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 16.52

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dick Barton and the Li-Chang Adventure, 7 Jun 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is the latest four-CD set of recordings made by the BBC for broadcast to Australasia after the original recordings were destroyed. As before, the formula is: a series of 15 minute episodes (each opening and closing with the 'Devil's Galop', the instantly memorable tune by one Charles Williams); a frankly preposterous story (but these were aimed at youngsters); fiendish villains, often foreign (this was the late '40s); appalling accents, normally 'Cockney' but this time also featuring a dire 'Bradford' accent (one expects references to flat caps and whippets); and lots of gung-ho japes from our hero Barton and his chums. Look it's easy to send all this up, but I find these stories immensely entertaining, and even educational in a way, as they reflect the society which produced them.

If you've heard earlier releases and liked them, don't hesitate.


Holst: Cotswolds Symphony / Walt Whitman Overture / A Winter Idyll / Japanese Suite / Indra
Holst: Cotswolds Symphony / Walt Whitman Overture / A Winter Idyll / Japanese Suite / Indra
Price: 5.95

33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Holst, 7 Jun 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is an interesting collection of what will be to most of us lesser-known Holst. The Whitman overture which opens the CD is pleasant enough; maybe I was expecting something with a bit more depth, and the Cotswolds Symphony is an enjoyable piece, easy to listen to, with a darker slow movement. The Japanese Suite is highly enjoyable, Holst's orchestration reminding us of his Planets Suite. But the piece I found profoundly satisfying on this disc was 'Indra'; Holst was influenced by the poetry and philosophy of India and wrote 'Savitri', based on Indian poetry and also 'Hymns from the Rig Veda' (which are available on an Eloquence re-issue of an Argo recording). Indra is an Indian God, and Holst's music evokes something powerful, it's a piece quite different from the preceding works on the CD and I have returned to this a number of times.

The playing by the Ulster Orchestra is excellent, and JoAnn Falletta is clearly in total sympathy with the music. I must mention too the really excellent sound quality the Naxos team of Tim Handley and Phil Rowlands have given us; plenty of space and depth to the sound, a relief after hearing so many dry, close-miked recordings these days.

All credit to Naxos for making more fine British music recordings which would have been made by EMI and Decca, when those companies mattered.

Recommended.


1812 Overture; Capriccio italien; Swan Lake
1812 Overture; Capriccio italien; Swan Lake
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: 7.71

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome, friend..., 28 May 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Most people remember the first records they bought. My first was an L.P. called 'Famous Overtures', played by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Nikolai Malko. That had an 1812 Overture. It was O.K., no more. But then I got to hear, on a Decca Ace of Diamonds L.P., this performance, in stereo, and it blew my ears off. It still sounds terrific. It was made for Decca's first official stereo release in 1958. (My copy was a later reissue). If memory serves me right, the 1812 occupied the whole of one side; the high cutting level, together with Decca's customary excellent pressings, made this record a classic, often used for demonstrating one's hifi. The performance is terrifically exciting; even though the LSO cellos at the opening sound a mite thin, this does not matter. Things move to a fine climax, bells pealing, cannons firing. What a discovery, to read in the really excellent sleeve notes, that the 'cannons' were in fact recordings of pistol shots, slowed down. Those clever Decca engineers!

The Capriccio Italien bursts into action with brass antiphonally placed, a really rousing opening to a performance every bit as good as I remembered.

I must mention those sleeve notes again, as, although they don't tell you anything about the actual music, they describe (often in his own words), how conductor Kenneth Alwyn, the (overworked) London Symphony Orchestra, the producer, and the legendary engineer Kenneth Wilkinson all came together to make this classic account of these Tchaikovsky warhorses in Kingsway Hall.

There is a stirring Marche Slave, and a short five-movement suite from Swan Lake (with the LPO, not the LSO), but it's the 1812 and the Capriccio Italien you'll be buying this for, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

All thanks are due to the highly enterprising Australasian arm of Universal Classics for re-releasing a recording that helped many of us discover the excitement of classical music.


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