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Ivor Gurney and Marion Scott: Song of Pain and Beauty
Ivor Gurney and Marion Scott: Song of Pain and Beauty
by Pamela Blevins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 30.00

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The new Gurney biography, 13 Jan 2009
The first chapter of this dual biography pitches the reader headlong into the Scott story. Her colourful memories of visits to Crystal Palace in childhood show a fascinating insight into her surroundings, and throughout the book her poetic descriptions of places such as Switzerland and France leave a deep enough impression to rival Gurney's claims as a wordsmith. These diversions from Gurney are well integrated enough to make it a true dual biography, and Scott is never the least interesting half: it is her that drives the book along. Detailed footnotes are placed at the end of each manageable chapter, where they might be read without fear of missing an interesting snippet.
This book's only predecessor is now thirty years old. The late Michael Hurd's The Ordeal of Ivor Gurney dealt largely with raising the profile of Gurney the neglected composer. Gurney the poet was marginalised prior to Ordeal (despite efforts otherwise from the Finzi household), but arguably the poems are what has made his reputation really soar. Blevins's Gurney is a well-known poet-composer, and the book strengthens the argument for his being a literary figure, showing how his friends and acquaintances mainly tended away from music. This is not a critical biography, and there is no attempt at analysis of the poems (only in Marion Scott's words)--or the music for that matter--but a good deal about his illnesses and their causes. To read about Gurney is to enter into a man's inner torment.
The best section of the book deals with World War One: a fresh and vivid take on the revulsion felt daily on the Western Front. Vividness is a quality of the writing throughout, a laudable tendency to face up to the reality of Gurney's life rather than romanticise it. Life goes on, before and after Gurney. Scott's overarching story lends the book an almost metaphysical air, much in the way she would have wanted it herself. Her words often match Gurney's in poetic feeling.
Hurd's book must now move aside for this newcomer, which benefits from thirty years' worth of research and much newly unearthed material. Many of the sixty illustrations are in print for the first time.


The Film Music of John Addison
The Film Music of John Addison
Price: 14.08

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great overview, 22 Sep 2008
The Chandos film albums are a fine way to get hold of rare music and contain plenty of premier recordings (this have 5 plus a couple of suites). This one reminds me of the Clifton Parker album in that it can be quite tiring in one sitting . . . one can only take so many melodies!
Two favourites: 'Swashbuckler', which says 'cinema' to me, and 'Centennial', which brings back a fondly-remembered tv series. I remember the stirring music was a factor in me watching it in the first place.
Sound quality, as with all Chandos releases, is exemplary.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 8, 2008 1:37 AM GMT


In Zodiac Light
In Zodiac Light
by Robert Edric
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.91

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sombre, 14 Aug 2008
This review is from: In Zodiac Light (Hardcover)
This is the first Edric book I have read, after it was widely reviewed in the press. My interest was primarily in seeing how Ivor Gurney would be fictionalised.
I found the book to be a relatively easy read, despite its sombre setting, the City of London asylum at Dartford, and the grief-stricken memories of the doctor who narrates it. Edric is obviously a great craftsman, and is someone I would read again.
But as a fictional study of Gurney (remember this is why I bought it!) I was bothered by many inaccuracies in his background story. His teacher Hubert Parry is mentioned twice, despite having died five years before the narrative. Vaughan Williams is 'Sir', something he never was - yes, I know this is piddling, but it is disappointing from a book that should have been researched relatively well. Gurney is not portrayed in a way that sits beyond what what was known about him in Michael Hurd's 1978 biography, which, though irresistible, is now outdated. One of the characters appears to be a condensation of two, yet is presented with a real person's name. That kind of thing is fine with a disclaimer (such as Pat Barker supplies in Regeneration) and I hope the paperback edition remedies this. Had the author distanced himself from the real story by changing all the character names, it would have worked better for this reader. Is Gurney's 'name' being used to sell the story, even if he bears little resemblance to what we know of the real man? The Gurney poem that gives the book its title is not authentic either . . . All that said, the book is far finer than the abberation called 'Gurney' that Jon Silkin wrote several years ago.


The Sinking of the Titanic
The Sinking of the Titanic
Offered by positivenoise
Price: 11.01

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Submerge once more . . ., 19 April 2008
There are four earlier recordings of this piece: the first from 1975 (to fit on one side on vinyl), the second from 1990. The 1990 version was an hour long track, and sonically 'challenging' - it was partially recorded in a huge water tank and the music evolves/degenerates into an atonal rumble that requires a good sound system. But it's a fascinating, raw, experience, if hard to find now. The 1994 Point Music version took elements of that recording and was a smoother experience, with lots of fascinating sound effects. It was handily divided into sections - my favourite being the one including bass clarinet, as it resembles Bryars's less experimental works, and is haunting all on its own. The Smith Quartet's 'Ghost Stories' album of 2007 included a fifteen-minute reworking. All of these versions are different, all valid, and can be bought safely without fear of duplication. The spoken samples on each, for instance, are obscured to different degrees, and the opening and closing sections each offer an alternative conceptual reading of the piece.
This new version is the most radical. The piece as already recorded does not even register as the same until over ten minutes in. Preceding it is a strange radio-static crackle not unlike that which opens Pink Floyd's 'Division Bell' - the idea of 'communication' being behind both. My copy does not have points, as Amazon indicates, but is one long seventy-two minute track. Sound effects and individual instruments are well defined, with some fascinating new additions and expansions.
What the piece has in common with the others is the enfolding string quartet wash. I am lucky never to have found it repetitive, but always curiously comforting. Long may this piece have even more interpreters!
This disc is packaged in a greetings card-sized folder, with the disc itself in a paper sleeve. Full notes are printed, to help newcomers understand the brilliant idea behind this ongoing aural artwork.


Vaughan Williams - On Wenlock Edge
Vaughan Williams - On Wenlock Edge
Price: 15.01

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not to be overlooked!, 12 April 2008
Song enthusiasts are in the midst of an extremely rich period. Performers such as Roderick Williams, James Gilchrist and Andrew Kennedy are some of the 'greats' to have appeared in the last few years, brilliant advocates all. This disc contains Kennedy singing three Housman cycles. At least three RVW 'On Wenlock Edge' recordings have appeared lately, and two of the Gurney 'Ludlow and Teme' - but this is my preferred set. Kennedy has superb control of the passionate outbursts in the VW piece, which can tend to sound hysterical too often. Of the many new and old recordings, this is unreservedly now my front runner. The Gurney cycle is much rarer, and performed in a newly edited edition. It deserves as much notice as the RVW. The CD also comes with Ian Venables's recent Housman cycle, and I suspect buyers will want it most of all just for this: it's a superb work, and this disc really puts Venables on the map. Anyone interested in song, whether in composition or performance, should make this a mandatory purchase.


Elgar/Vaughan Williams: String Orchestra Works
Elgar/Vaughan Williams: String Orchestra Works
Price: 9.82

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific, 9 April 2008
Quite simply, terrific. A tremendously exciting performance of Elgar's Introduction and Allegro, recorded with an immediacy that has rarely been surpassed. Likewise with RVW's Tallis Fantasia, with its supremely moving close. I remember hearing an excellent live performance, and a friend telling me afterwards that despite it being almost perfect, 'Barbirolli's recording has ruined it for everyone since!'. That may be debatable, but this record remains an absolutely engaging document. I never fail to laugh at the end of the Intro & Alleg out of sheer joy.
Elgar's Serenade, Elegy and Sospiri (plus VW's Greensleeves Fantasia) are the fill-up, making an hour's worth of music. Buy this for any stick-in-the-mud who claims not to like English music, and watch 'em give in.


Music Of The Spheres
Music Of The Spheres
Price: 7.76

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Orchestral Tubular Bells 2?, 23 Mar 2008
This review is from: Music Of The Spheres (Audio CD)
Mike Oldfield could have learned orchestration after his first few albums, and given the world more of what was clearly there (a gift for melody and drama), and not written much of what long-term fans consider his weaker work after 1980, with a couple of returns to form, like 'Amarok'. (Though another type of Oldfield fan loves all the song albums that came after his 'side long' compositions. And then there's the acknowledged more recent fan of his computer-based work, to be fair.) The credentials were there before 1980, and he was even noticed by Gramophone and Musical Times.
David Bedford's 1970s Oldfield collaborations were a way into classical music for some people - it got rock fans attuned to the orchestral/choral sound. Bedford has a go at orchestrating Tubular Bells and Hergest Ridge for symphony orchestra, with mixed results: Oldfield's music was nearer to the chamber category. Their best work together was on a smaller, more intimate scale - 'First Excursion' (found on Oldfield's 'Boxed' set) and the awesome 'Instructions for Angels' for cathedral organ and electric guitar (on Bedford's 'Instructions for Angels' album).
'Music of the Spheres' is Oldfield's album-length crack at classical, and it should please lots of people. At the very least, he recording quality is marvellous, and naturally balanced (by any classical industry standards).
On the whole, I find albums like this hard to criticise. It has the potential to encourage people who might not otherwise try classical music to explore, and classical music is far more rewarding than this album. I noted down a few moments in this work that strongly resemble existing music, and offer these tips. Track 3: the piano part sounds just like the slow movement of Ravel's Piano Concerto. Only with Ravel it lasts over 8 minutes. Track 8 is quite like William Walton's music for Richard III ('Music plays'). The 2nd section of track 3 sounds uncannily like the 2nd part ('Spirit Lake') of the Symphony 50 'Mount St Helens' by Alan Hovhaness. Oldfield's own past work is there in Track 5 - 'Crises' and of course those Tubular Bells variations. Oldfield sounds best when it sounds like his old work. I felt quite at home when the twinkling glockenspiel came in. I'm not a Karl Jenkins fan, and dreaded an 'Adiemus'-franchise soundalike - but was surprised to find only a short passage in the 4th track with a superficial similarity. As a composition, it doesn't build to any huge climax - the end reminded me of Oldfield's undervalued The Wind Chimes. Bah, so what if Oldfield didn't orchestrate it! Many 'pops' are made by other people (Clair de Lune, Jerusalem two examples). I do object to the description of this work being 'the Planets for the 21st century' though. 'Music of the Spheres' will never be played or recorded quite as often as that . . .
The strong contrasts aren't quite there, and it's nothing to do with the orchestral garb. He doesn't want to throw in an avant garde/prog rock 'irritant' into the mix any more, or get any particular angst out. As such, it works in the background well. It's Tubular Bells with the notes in a different order . . . as Eric Morecambe might have said.


Blade Runner: The Final Cut (5-Disc Ultimate Collectors' Edition) [DVD] [1982]
Blade Runner: The Final Cut (5-Disc Ultimate Collectors' Edition) [DVD] [1982]
Dvd ~ Harrison Ford
Offered by g515tfl
Price: 43.99

50 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What DVD was invented for, 11 Dec 2007
This five disc edition is quite simply the best DVD set on any single film I own. Initially, I was going to go for the 2 disc version - the film and the 'making of' but went 'large' due to the very reasonable price. I mean, did I really want a load of discs with the same film, that I probably wouldn't watch? No such fears - three versions of the film are on just one of the discs, cleverly 'branched' together. Disc one has an amazing print of the film - words fail me . . . 'definitive' is right. Two discs have superb 'makings of', which truly are interesting, even to people like me who are fatigued by modern 'makings of' which largely consist of guys playing with computers ('Bored of the Rings'). In Blade Runner, we see some great sets, model shots, the lot. The final disc has an early print of the film - a very different take. When you have seen the whole set, you realise that the entire Blade Runner world is within. A bit like Deckard's photo machine that lets you see around corners, nothing is missed - there's even an 'outtake and alternative' version of the movie, which is astonishing and kind of disorientating. No doubt some day a fan will assemble one long six-hour version from all the footage within. I'm not kidding - there's that much to browse through.
I'm amazed that most of the reviews here focus on the packaging (and those 'free' gifts you look at once) - has nobody actually been blown away by the content?? Don't hesitate.


The Prisoner - 40th Anniversary Special Edition - Complete  [DVD]
The Prisoner - 40th Anniversary Special Edition - Complete [DVD]
Dvd ~ Patrick McGoohan

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless, 15 Nov 2007
I'm one of the generation who first caught this series on Channel 4 in the early 80s (when it was a decent channel). I didn't see more than 6 episodes, but it was enough to be intrigued forever. I went to Portmerion, quoted it when an idiot student, and bought my favorite (remembered) episodes on video. Over the years, I've shied from buying it on DVD: not wanted to be drawn into the cult, not wanted (perhaps) to sit through 17 episodes of old telly. But I've also felt like a charlatan every time I've said that I'm fond of The Prisoner.
Something about this box set made me buy it at last - surely not the nice box? I think it was seeing a preview of the (restored) picture quality . . . it's fantastic. The packaging is good and solid, yes, and all the waffle that can get interminable on film is presented in a thick paperback book. It doesn't have a 'fanboy' feel.
The discs have very good menus (not often I enjoy a menu!!), and the extras are very comprehensive (I've not got through them all yet) - including over half an hour of old cine film, a film-length 'making of', alternate version with fascinating editing and score differences etc etc.
One drawback is the '5.1 stereo' version: I got through lots of episodes without realising it wasn't in mono, and that was only because some dialogue dropped out of my favourite episode 'Many happy returns'. (Watch where McGoohan reacts to 'hold it!' in London, or Patrick Cargill speaks on the airfield) So I immediately switched to the mono option.
The series itself? As a 'new' viewer of the whole lot, it is both frustrating and addictive. It has a fraught quality, more than I'd noticed before - McGoohan almost broke himself (and others) during filming. Watch the extras! It's a highly inventive series, with a vast array of great actors.
If you've held back on a set before, don't hesitate now.


U.F.Orb
U.F.Orb

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still great fun, 6 Oct 2007
This review is from: U.F.Orb (Audio CD)
Gosh, this is fifteen years old . . . and it hasn't aged. Where The Orb got it so right is in the solidity of sound. There is so much of this 'ambient dance' stuff from 1992-ish which is nothing better than car boot sale or charity shop fodder now: it sounded ok at the time, but lacked the polish to survive. But it's not true of this album (or the ones either side of it).
Anyone who loved this album should not worry about hearing it again, or upgrading, simple as that (note that the Amazon cover is for the booklet - the actual cover is reproduced from the original.)
I've docked a star only for the content of the second disc. In fact it's a shame that three discs couldn't have been included, like they were with the 'Adventures betond the Ultraworld' deluxe edition, the third disc was the best of all. The UFOrb extra disc is a little like an alternative version of the main album, and is OK in itself. I really enjoyed the different versions of 'Close encounters' and 'Majestic' - much more atmospheric and beefier than the originals (I always thought the album tailed off after 'Towers of Dub', but even so, there's a great gag at the end . . . the album quite literally goes down the plug hole!). It would have been more useful to have the long version of 'Blue Room', and the 'Another live version' of 'Assassin', which was a marvellous track - a sort of mickey-take of 'rave' - than the versions of 'Towers of dub', Blue room' and 'Oobe'. I don't want to give the impression it's not a decent second disc, just not as good as it might have been - we are usually so spolied by these deluxe editions!
'UFOrb' is still a great, entertaining listen.


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