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Dermot Elworthy "Contra Posaune" (Florida, USA)

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The Few: The American Knights of the Air Who Risked Everything to Save Britain in the Summer of 1940
The Few: The American Knights of the Air Who Risked Everything to Save Britain in the Summer of 1940
by Alex Kershaw
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 17 Nov. 2009
Sadly, this book reads like a "pot boiler". There are too many factual inaccuracies and repeated phrases - "the black Bakelite telephone" is a particular irritant. Nevertheless, the narrative is quite well constructed and it does flow.

However, from the standpoint of one who was around in 1940, I think the book has defined some of the debt we owe these Americans who, regardless of initial motivations ascribed to them by the author, served selflessly (and most of whom died) in the cause of a country not their own. Alex Kershaw may not have produced a literary triumph here but he succeeds in reminding us of the obligation we have towards these people and those like them. In that sense alone, the book is a worthwhile undertaking although, in my view, the personal contributions of these brave men deserve a chronicle better than this.

Haydn, J.: The Creation
Haydn, J.: The Creation
Price: £13.03

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good, 13 Nov. 2009
This review is from: Haydn, J.: The Creation (Audio CD)
This is a very satisfying rendition of Haydn's most popular oratorio. Joseph Haydn is at his inventive best here with a great "creation" in its own right. But I am given to wonder if the musical foundation of the chorus "Die Himmel erzaehalen die Ehre Gottes" written in 1798 might not have been pirated from Mozart's "Flute" of 1791. Similarly Raphael's recitative "Gleich oeffnet"; there are remarkable similarities.

Certainly, as already has been suggested, this recording is of unusually wide dynamic range - a characteristic allowed by the digital process in comparison with analogue pressings - and there are several occasions throughout the performance where I am caused to regret the absence of a remote volume control of my equipment but the dynamics are consistent with a live performance and I make no criticism in this regard. Generally, the recording quality is excellent although the bass strings are a little forward and sometimes boomy. However, in other respects, the recording balance as well as the acoustics of All Saints church, Tooting, are just right.

The ensemble work - orchestral and choral - is very fine as are the soloists; I have admired the American Rodney Gilfry for a long time. Both the sopranos, Sylvia McNair and Donna Brown (the latter having only a brief appearance on stage) give excellent performances with voices fitting well with the musical material; so often soloists are drawn from the grandly operatic world and have voices/styles not best suited to the scale of the oratorio.

Not without its minor imperfections but nevertheless, a performance deserving five stars and recommendation.

The Bellringer's Early Companion
The Bellringer's Early Companion
by Steve Coleman
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent and much needed book., 11 Oct. 2009
From the standpoint of the beginner for whom this book is intended, of all the books available on the subject of English full-circle ringing, this one really is outstanding.

The "standard works" on the subject all assume a level of achievement usually in advance of that had by the early learner and so leave something of a vacuum at a time when help is most particularly needed. For example, Charles Troyte, that doyen of method ringing, having started from describing the rudiments of The Exercise introduces hunting, dodging and place-making before he's reached page 19 and still in the book's "Introduction"! It is unlikely that a bright 15 year-old would assimilate things at this pace - someone 50 years older and at a time in life when many take up the challenge of ringing, stands absolutely no chance!

However, in this instance where technical things are covered, such cover is in easily understandable form; the author, quite rightly, has left the myriad technicalities and complications to others. What makes Coleman's book refreshingly different is that he acknowledges human frailties and that we don't all absorb things with the same facility and at the same speed. "The Bellringer's Early Companion" in a very readable fashion identifies the many everyday problems faced by all who set off on this journey. These concerns are not always recognised by teachers or Tower Captains and often remain unaddressed; so many of those dispirited to a point where they give up learning ringing in the belief that they are unsuitable or incapable would be spared these supposed inadequacies if they had the sort of understanding and encouragement provided by Steve Coleman. I know of several people who, on the point of quitting, have gone on to become accomplished ringers as a consequence of having their confidence restored by the experience and wisdom contained in this book.

It will be evident that I wholeheartedly recommend this excellent work.

Mendelssohn - Piano Trios 1 & 2
Mendelssohn - Piano Trios 1 & 2
Price: £14.31

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 29 May 2009
Whilst it could be argued that these two piano trios follow the sonata-formed pattern established by those of Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert in that the writing for the piano part tends to relegate the violin and 'cello to roles of little more than accompaniment, there is a better distribution of musical responsibility achieved with Mendelssohn's offerings. Nevertheless, care still has to be taken with performance/recording to compensate for the mechanical advances and increased power afforded the piano since the middle of the 19th century. Nimbus and the Vienna Piano Trio have done well in achieving a successful balance here.

These are very satisfying works typical of this composer's virtuosic and lyrical style. The trios are very well played here and well recorded although my disc has a couple of instances where someone seems to have bumped into the furniture during the recording session. Given the versatility of digital editing, there is no excuse for the inclusion of these, albeit minor, irritations although they don't really warrant a reduction of the five-star rating of a recommended example of these lovely pieces.

The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village
The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village
by Eamon Duffy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.20

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing, 26 May 2009
"The Voices of Morebath" has received much acclaim and justly so.

Generally, the histories written of the English Reformation and counter-Reformation have taken a national perspective. This book, however, is an account of how decisions made and policies adopted by members of the Tudor dynasty and its various executives, culturally and geographically remote from a small Devonshire village, so profoundly affected the life of that village and how, with remarkable pragmatism, its equally remarkable priest guided his flock through the upheavals of the iconoclasm and head-spinning changes in liturgical orthodoxy accompanying this turbulent period.

Little of the outside world directly penetrates this small society absorbed with just "getting by" on the upland fringes of Exmoor - Father Trychay tries to shield his flock but there is the occasional rude intrusion; Dean Heynes - one of Thomas Cromwell's creatures, a real piece of work and a sort of 16th century Senator Joseph McCarthy - and the imposition of the 1549 Prayer Book creating fury sufficient for this small village to send men to Exeter, some of whom were accounted in the 4,000 lost in the ill-fated Prayer Book Rebellion of that year.

Professor Duffy provides a seemingly balanced story (an achievement in itself given the polemical nature of the subject) drawn from Christopher Trychay's entries in the parish records. The author puts flesh on the bones of what otherwise might be a detached history to create real people living at the close of a long-established and conservative era, their communal confidence having been shaken and facing an uncertain future. It is difficult not to personally identify with these simple parishioners.

"The Voices of Morebath" could be regarded as a (long!) chapter from Duffy's excellent "The Stripping of the Altars" but it is not necessary to read these works with any conjunction.

"The Voices" is a remarkable book - the value of which in no sense is diminished by the author's occasional lapses of historical objectivity - and a fascinating, unusually well-written account.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 14, 2012 10:35 PM BST

Mendelssohn: Cello Sonatas
Mendelssohn: Cello Sonatas
Price: £6.95

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 25 April 2009
For reasons best known to the record companies (but no doubt devised to increase sales), the two Mendelssohn 'cello sonatas very seldom are coupled on one CD. So it is a refreshing change to find them together on this excellently recorded Deutsche Grammophon offering.

Instrumental balance is good and Maisky gives a fine performance. So too does Sergio Tiempo who's playing I prefer to the often unnecessarily aggressive style of his former mentor, Martha Argerich. All around, this is an excellent performance of an interesting programme and has my recommendadtion. However, to my mind at least, it does not quite equal the superb Sebok/Starker recordings of the sonatas.

Haydn: Piano Sonatas 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47
Haydn: Piano Sonatas 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47
Price: £6.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent production, 25 Mar. 2009
Rather irritatingly, Naxos do not offer the Haydn sonatas as a set.

Haydn was a truly remarkable man. He bridged the divide between the Barok - he was 18 when Bach died - and what later became known as the Classical period (which has no evolutionary difference from the Romantic epoch but we are required to respect these often silly semantics) and he did this almost single handedly. The lengthy span of this bridge is measured, at least in part, by the development of his keyboard compositions and his expansion of the sonata form from probably before 1760 to 1794 - the year in which he, with almost seamless musicality (and neatly bypassing the likes of Clementi and Mozart in the process), passed the baton to Beethoven who accepted the Haydn legacy in his Opus 2, Nr1 Sonata but barely completed the second movement before he was off in pursuit of his own unique destiny! I am reminded of the oft-quoted observation that Brahms's first Symphony was Beethoven's tenth; here Beethoven's first Sonata might have been Haydn's sixty-third.

Joseph Haydn did not write any more piano sonatas after the publication of Beethoven's first; I suspect he might have felt that anything further to be said on the subject would be better coming from the young prodigy and former pupil who, even then, was recognised as the herald of a different future.

Although the Naxos volumes are not numbered sequentially with the Hoboken listings, within the constraints of time available on each disc, it is possible to chart the inventive progress of Haydn's writing from the relatively simple construction of the early works to the sophistication of those written at the dawn of the 19th. century. This was a period of rapid musical development; that Haydn kept up where others fell by the wayside is creditable. That he was in many respects the "pace setter" in this evolution is remarkable. I think it a pity that he is better known for his symphonies than for much-less-appreciated but more innovative contributions like the piano trios, string quartets and these 62 piano sonatas which are of great charm and quality.

Naxos are to be commended for publishing this collection which is unlikely to be a huge money spinner for them but, thanks to the really excellent readings, is a valuable contribution of historical importance to the recorded piano inventory. It also happens to be very good fun!

It is evident that Jeno Jando has devoted as much preparation to the performance of the earlier, simpler works as to the later and more complex compositions. I find his playing immensely satisfying.

Naxos can be relied upon to provide above-average quality recordings - this one from the Czech studios is really excellent.

Wholeheartedly recommended.

A Little History Of The English Country Church
A Little History Of The English Country Church
by Roy C. Strong
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.79

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Treat., 16 Mar. 2009
That quietude and sense of belonging to be found in most English country churches is something very precious. It is easy to forget that the apparent timelessness is born of centuries of evolution and, occasionally, revolution.

Sir Roy Strong's history, whilst displaying his characteristically scholarly approach, does not pretend to the highest academic accuracy so he is able to allow himself some historical assumptions. In this he follows his inspirational lead; Eamonn Duffy's "The Stripping of the Altars" - a work not without its own assumptions - to provide an excellent little book serving to remind us in a delightfully readable fashion that things were not always so ordered. I think, along with the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and Hymns A&M on the table inside the country church door, should be found (for sale) copies of this small volume to remind congregants and visitors alike not only of the history of the institution and the inestimable value of a genre uniquely English but also the degree in which it currently is imperiled.

The future of these buildings in what seems a burgeoning post-Christian era - the subject with which Strong (with little enthusiasm) concludes the book - should be a matter for urgent national debate. The church's function is and should continue as a place of worship but demographic shifts and fundamental changes in rural life have pushed many churches towards a functional obsolescence. The Church, despite introducing alternative liturgies usually "dumbed-down" in the manner of a newspaper proprietor desperately seeking to boost a flagging circulation, no longer has the financial wherewithal necessary to the maintenance of these ancient buildings and in the face of dwindling congregations, reasonably could (and does) withdraw them from "public worship". Clearly, assistance from redundant church charities must be limited and the overheads, without substantial support, are beyond the ability of most small villages.

We really can't afford idly to luxuriate in a roseate, Betjemanic perspective of these buildings and their essence in the fabric of rural community. The destruction of these ancient edifices would be nothing less than cultural catastrophe. Similarly, the loss of the bell towers and the old, uniquely English practice of full-circle change-ringing would be no less catastrophic. Leaving the "world to darkness, and to me" outside a Norman bingo hall, Perpendicular tandoori palace or Gothic discount carpet warehouse is a horror too ghastly to contemplate. It must be avoided.

These are some of the things the author seeks to address at the conclusion of a serious, well-produced work (although the printed quality of some of the illustrations could be better). A thoroughly readable book made additionally enjoyable by the author's obvious affection for his subject.

Bells and Bellringing (Discovering)
Bells and Bellringing (Discovering)
by John Camp
Edition: Paperback

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable reading, 16 Mar. 2009
This small book of some 56 pages provides an outline of the history and general composition of English bell ringing. However, of those 56 pages, there are only 8 pages of text given to the methodology of the subject so this book is not a primer for those seeking to learn full-circle bell ringing.

Nevertheless, it is an inexpensive and charming introduction to "the arts and mysteries of the Exercise" of this ancient and fascinating but little-understood thread in the fabric of English life and which is so in need of support.

The Landships of Lincoln
The Landships of Lincoln
by Richard Pullen
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent account., 3 Mar. 2009
"The Landships of Lincoln" is the story of the conception, design and development of the military tanks manufactured by William Foster and Company of Lincoln. Before the Great War, the company principally was engaged in the production of steam traction engines and related agricultural equipment.

The author, Richard Pullen whose grandfather was employed in tank production at Foster's works during the Great War, has provided a very readable account of a fascinating, if somewhat recondite subject. The book has been well researched, is comprehensive in content and has plenty of illustrations including the author's fine line drawings of the various generations of these crude essays into mechanical warfare.

However, the reading of this book becomes an enjoyable exercise only after one becomes partially reconciled to the absence of apostrophes in the text; there is only one such marking to be found in the whole publication! There are so many irritating instances where one has to read a sentence more than once in order to determine whether a word's final "s" makes it plural or possessive. One wonders if this is some modish affectation or whether the typesetter is just another sad product of a debased English education system. In any event, that this nonsense should have been published - and in a second edition, no less - is extraordinary. In this respect, Pullen has been ill-served by his publisher; a pity for this is a fine undertaking and a successful account of a fascinating enterprise. Perhaps, in future editions, the author might include more specific detail of the engines, (particularly the double sleeve-valve Daimler), transmissions and final drives.

In years past, whilst suffering the plangent moan from my Riley Kestrel's transmission, I had no idea that its Wilson pre-selector gearbox was the brainchild of none other than the co-inventor of "Little Willie" and the succeeding leviathans which had such an influence on the outcome of the First World War. I might never have known if I had not read this excellent book.

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