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JB (Cambridge UK)

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La Oreja de Zurbaran
La Oreja de Zurbaran
Price: £16.49

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Divine Vertigo, 26 May 2014
This review is from: La Oreja de Zurbaran (Audio CD)
This project from Paul Van Nevel and the Huelgas Ensemble was inspired by the paintings of Franciso de Zurbarán, one of the masters of the Spanish Golden Age. His art was directed to a large extent by the then current obsessive goal of the mystical union of the self with the Church (acting as the embodiment of God). In the cloisters of Counter-Reformatory Spain, a ferment of religious zeal and a drive to achieve spiritual ecstasy was to be fuelled by powerful works in both art and music, uniting the temporal with the divine.

Spanish music of the period was of course heavily indebted to both Victoria and Palestrina, yet the old order was beginning to crack; the strict counterpoint of the Stile antico was under threat both from without - in the Seconda prattica which began in the early part of the century in Italy, driven by composers like Monteverdi and Caccini in their quest for heightened realism - and from within in the form of the villancico, very much the voice of the people. Both of these streams can be heard here, ratcheting up the intensity and allowing the visionary sparks to catch and ignite, moving the listeners closer to the experience of that great contemporary mystic, St Teresa of Avila.

Van Nevel has unearthed works by many hitherto unknown composers - mostly cathedral chapelmasters - whose music may well have been heard by Zurbarán, and what extraordinary music it is. Richly harmonic, melismatic and at times highly ornamented, one can well imagine the intoxication which might have resulted as the senses were elevated to a near trance-like state. Not all is sacred, there are some profane works here too, the voice of Lope de Vega by now clearly imprinted on Spanish poetry.

The Ensemble deliver performances in which the devotional focus is reflected with an unwavering resolve, the urgency and drive never seemingly compromised by technical or interpretative hesitations. Rich and visceral one moment, gauzy and minimal the next, the singers push ever onward, the occasional stab of chromatic contradiction only heightening the emotional ride.

Van Nevel's warning on the packet of his Eton Choirbook exhorted against breathing the music in too deeply, lest we too succumb. The same could be said, and possibly more so, of the contents of this quite extraordinary recording.

Rosa I Botnen
Rosa I Botnen
Price: £14.08

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Rose at the Bottom of the Bowl, 21 Mar 2014
This review is from: Rosa I Botnen (Audio CD)
The Hardanger fiddle is Norway's national instrument, and on this recording Knut Hamre and Benedicte Maurseth plays some of the earliest examples in existence. These venerable fiddles, dating from between 1651 and 1751 are heard both in solo and ensemble contexts, accompaniment coming in the form of organ (one of Norway's oldest) as well as viola d'amore and percussion.

The atmosphere created is raw but intimate, the ancient folk tunes echoing on down the ages with a simplicity and directness which is both beguiling and very moving. At times the music is reminiscent of the Bartok violin duos, and perhaps the composer heard sounds distantly related to these in the old Magyar folk melodies.

Listening to this album is a mesmerising trip and will appeal to anyone with an interest in Nordic music. I'd urge you to savour every drop.

"He who empties the bowl will see the rose at the bottom." Olav H. Hauge.

Xbox LIVE 3 Month Gold Membership  (Xbox One/360) [Online Game Code]
Xbox LIVE 3 Month Gold Membership (Xbox One/360) [Online Game Code]
Price: £12.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smooth, 20 Mar 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a brilliantly quick and easy way to test out the Gold Membership on Xbox. Buying from within the Xbox itself only appears to offer a full year's membership, and if you're not sure of whether you want to commit to this then the three month option is an ideal way of testing the water.

The process couldn't be easier: just a couple of clicks and the code appears. Once you've entered that on your Xbox screen you're away.

A piacere - Music for viola da gamba
A piacere - Music for viola da gamba
Price: £14.52

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Spanish Step Beyond, 14 Feb 2014
A piacere is gambist Fahmi Alqhai's chance to prove his argument for the viol's versatility and contemporary relevance, showcasing not just the traditional territory of the French Baroque, but also appropriating works originally intended for other instruments. So, we have the andante from Bach's solo violin sonata in A minor, pieces by Gaspar Sanz and Santiago de Murcia written originally for guitar, and even a bit jazz (courtesy of Joe Satriani).

The album is very much centred around Alqhai's solo instrument, and is thus something of a departure from his prior release on Glossa, Rediscovering Spain, which was more ensemble-based. Occasionally here the ambition of the transcription might seem to overreach the limits of possibilities, but, like Paolo Pandolfo, Alqhai is intent on extending previously perceived boundaries of the viola da gamba; as such it's an interesting experiment, delivered with enthusiasm and sparkling virtuosity.

Much of the music is Alqhai alone, but on some tracks he's backed by a band of assorted early instruments plus a double bass, with long time compatriot of Jordi Savall, Pedro Estevan on percussion.

Christina Pluhar: The Complete Alpha Recordings
Christina Pluhar: The Complete Alpha Recordings
Price: £22.78

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Major Arpeggio, 12 Feb 2014
This five CD box set catalogues L'Arpeggiata's pre-Virgin/Erato years, and comprises:

Kapsberger: La Villanella
Landi: Homo fugit velut umbra
Cavalieri: Rappresentatione Di Anima Et Di Corpo
La Tarantella

At the time of writing, each individual disc still retails at full price and so the box represents something of a bargain. The discography here is varied, ranging from early opera to the kind of folk/jazz/early music fusion which L'Arpeggiata have helped define and develop.

If you've caught snippets of the ensemble's output on the radio then you'll be familiar with the infectiously foot-tapping effect of some of the music. Beyond that though, the material is historically informed without being in any way stylistically confined.

An at times fascinating and immensely rewarding document of the group's early years.

The Image Of Melancholy [Berit Norbakken Solset, Jon Blake, Barokksolistene, Bjarte Eike] [BIS: BIS2057]
The Image Of Melancholy [Berit Norbakken Solset, Jon Blake, Barokksolistene, Bjarte Eike] [BIS: BIS2057]
Price: £15.47

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Modern Melancholy, 10 Feb 2014
Bjarte Eike and his band - Barokksolistene - made this recording in Sjøbygda, which stands on the shores of a lake in a remote part of Norway. The place, and the building (which from 1893 until 1956 served as a schoolhouse), inspired a journey into the spirit of melancholy using as a base songs and instrumental pieces old and new from northern Europe and Scandinavia.

Eike explains in the booklet how post production techniques were used to further enhance the already somewhat shadowy and spectral atmosphere in some of the works, whilst recording sessions were left uncut where possible in order to preserve the "spirit, sincerity and live feeling". The "soundscapes" by Jon Balke are far from being new-agey or intrusive, but instead subtly heighten the opacity and sense of mystery.

Conversely, pavanes by Holborne appear incisive and urgent in the set up of violin, viola and cello, as used here, and somewhat less wilting than they can on occasion with viols. A sense of vitality is perhaps surprising in an album which aims to soak itself in melancholy, but Eike seems intent on finding sweetness in the sadness.

Serenity is smudged by earthiness in this album, and there are some arresting moments of roughness, for instance in a Slovakian lament where you can almost smell the pine needles. Possibly the most surprising inclusion is a Norwegian wedding march, which, as Eike points out, reflects the conflicting emotions of hope for the future and mourning for a lost childhood.

A modern take on an Elizabethan obsession, The Image of Melancholy is poignant certainly, but also as offbeat as the surroundings in which it was created.

Jacobean Lute Music [Jakob Lindberg] [BIS: BIS2055]
Jacobean Lute Music [Jakob Lindberg] [BIS: BIS2055]
Price: £11.00

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Magic Lute, 15 Jan 2014
Elizabeth I had five lutenists in her employ and enjoyed the instrument herself, but when John Johnson died he wasn't replaced; even Dowland himself wasn't seen as having the measure of the task. It was left to James I to revive Dowland's fortunes and so after a spell in Denmark he returned at James's invitation (in what must have been some triumph) to court.

Jakob Lindberg's disc is devoted to this heyday of the English lute, those early years in the reign of James I when the developments in Elizabethan playing reached a zenith in the works of the virtuosi lutenists in the court circle.

Dowland is represented here with three works, including Sir John Langton's Pavan, a lesson in the grace and stateliness of this ancient form. Lindberg's instrument of c.1590 (one of the oldest playable lutes in existence) really does convey some of the poise and decorum which must have been so valued at the time, as well as the tinges of melancholy still carried over from the Elizabethan era.

Daniel Bacheler was clearly something of a wizard on the lute, and his sets of variations and his choice of unusual keys demonstrate Lindberg's consummate technique. Little is known about Cuthbert Hely, but his profound and sonorous Fantasia and Saraband offer an intriguing glimpse into the music of this dark and mysterious figure.

The survey continues further, extending into French music with Jacques Gaultier, who was so influential on the English composers of the period. A few Scottish tunes complete what is a masterful reflection on a golden era for the lute and lutenists.

Remember me my deir: Jacobean songs of love and loss
Remember me my deir: Jacobean songs of love and loss
Price: £9.05

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Broken Heads and Bloody Ears, 15 Jan 2014
When James VI rode south to London to take up the English throne in 1603 it must have seemed to some of those left behind that a large part of the musical culture rode with him. The religious convulsions which rocked 16th century Scotland had an at times brutal effect on the music making of the time; an ill advised attempt to celebrate mass in 1561 resulted in 'broken heads and bloody ears'. Now James was flying to the multi-faceted cultural embrace of the English court, leaving art music north of the border mainly confined to the scattererd enclaves in the great houses.

Following Love & Reconquest and Chansons a Plaisir, Fires of Love chart a course through Jacobean song, reflecting melancholy times certainly, but tempered here with some more upbeat pieces such as the heartily robust St Valentine's Day. The prevailing atmophere though is one of tenderness and vulnerability, love and loss.

The ensemble deliver these pieces with intensity yet subtlety, at times causing one to catch one's breath. Take for instance Go From My Window, where Frances Cooper builds a mood of quiet resignation, counterpointed by some disarming rhythmic shaping of phrases. We're gradually drawn into this stilled and contemplative world with singing and playing of understated refinement.

A superb release from the Scottish Delphian label.

Minecraft (Xbox 360)
Minecraft (Xbox 360)
Price: £13.85

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Block Party, 14 Jan 2014
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Minecraft (Xbox 360) (Video Game)
There's a paradox at the heart of Minecraft, at least for parents purchasing the game for their kids: how can an such a (seemingly) graphically primitive game, with no narrative structure, hold the user's attention, and continue to hold it, for apparently inexhaustible amounts of time?

The answer probably lies in the creative aspect; Minecraft is essentially a CAD program, the user manipulating 3D blocks to assemble pretty much everything, from a wall to a city (above or below ground). Once acclimatised to the environment, then the game really begins to grip as day follows night (at approximately 20 minute intervals) and various hazards reveal themselves, depending on whether you have chosen Survival or Creative mode.

At the heart of the game is the user's ability to maintain, control and grow their domains, to dominate their immediate world and pursue further ones. If you're contemplating this as a game for your child(ren) then I would say don't hesitate; it's an adventure in imagination and creativity.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 28, 2014 9:54 AM BST

Nikko Radio Control Vaporizr (Blue)
Nikko Radio Control Vaporizr (Blue)
Offered by Yachew LTD
Price: £48.96

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 4X4XFun, 30 Dec 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This toy might seem more expensive than the competition, but there's a reason for that: it's built to last.

The Nikko can crash into walls, burst through pools of water, execute 360 degree turns on a pinhead and clamber up the toughest of overgrown banks.

The controls are easy and intuitive (if you find them a bit stiff then a quick squirt of WD40 will sort it out) and the energy generated by the heavy duty battery is insane.

The real deal.

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