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DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England)
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Pierrot Lunaire / Lied Der Waldtaube
Pierrot Lunaire / Lied Der Waldtaube
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £6.94

5.0 out of 5 stars ACT OF FAITH, 2 Mar 2014
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Well, the performers on this disc have unassailable pedigrees in this kind of music, whatever you think of the actual music itself. Dominating the stellar cast is none other than maestro Pierre Boulez, of all great conductors in his time the most closely associated with atonal music and the Second Viennese School. That leads directly to the question—would he countenance, let alone conduct and record – a version of Pierrot Lunaire that contravened the composer’s wishes? Schoenberg directs that the texts are to be spoken, but spoken using specific musical notes; and for good measure he adds that this declamation is not to resemble singing. It is all called ‘Sprechstimme’, and in an early review 12 years ago Christopher Forbes declared that fine though Yvonne Minton’s account is, she is singing and no two ways about it.

I can’t argue with that. Minton is singing all right; so the next question has to be – ‘does that actually matter?’ I shall duck out of a decision and take the issue to the court of Boulez. Why would/did he go along with this? I’m making an act of faith: maybe Schoenberg became less categorical and himself relaxed or even reversed his original demand. Maybe he agreed to allow singing as an alternative. What I can’t believe without really coercive proof is that Boulez would simply override Schoenberg’s wishes if they really were non-negotiable. In that case let me report to readers of this review, supposing it finds any, that they will find a first-class account of Pierrot Lunaire here, one that is musical Singstimme from first to last. Although the instrumental soloists submit to a conductor, there are only five of them. Barenboim and Lynn Harrell stick to their piano and cello, but Michel Debost plays both flute and piccolo, Anthony Pay handles both the regular and bass clarinet parts, and Pinchas Zukerman switches between violin and viola as required. Nothing surprising in any of that, and everything to welcome. In music like this the instrumental roles are even more important than usual, simply because there are greater restrictions than usual on the range of expression that can be provided via the vocal line. Alfred Schnittke got around after a while to the solemn discovery that atonal music had fewer expressive capabilities than tonal had. We could all have told him (or Schoenberg) that in the first place, and the voice’s limitations have to be compensated instrumentally.

Pierrot Lunaire is highly atmospheric all the same. The 21 poems are heavily, cloyingly, romantic. It all seems pretty dated by now, but it was avant-vanguard in its time, and the performers’ sheer belief makes a vivid impact. I have said it all about Minton singing, and you will not be surprised to learn that she sings superbly. One real advantage of singing over Sprechstimme is that powerful high notes can be given forcibly without making an ugly sound. That alone justifies the sung approach, so far as I am concerned. Singing is completely kosher in Erwartung (Expectation), which is a ‘monodrama’, or what we once called a ‘scena’, and indeed still do. The text of this has come in for criticism, but so far as the storyline alone goes I would call it highly effective in a grisly sort of way. Janis Martin handles the solo with aplomb, the BBC Symphony respond well in creating the creepy atmosphere, and the direction is, of course, in the masterly care of Boulez.

In case we have had enough atonality by now the disc ends with the great Song of the Wood Dove from the Gurrelieder. For its stand-alone appearance Schoenberg provided a version using a small orchestra, and that is what we have here. The singer is no less than the great Jessye Norman, displaying her mezzo range for the most part and not the laser-beam soprano that I expect most of us associate her with, the sound that pins me back in Ihr habt nunTraurigkeit from Brahms’s Requiem. She is a great singer in anything and everything she does, and for me she even surpasses the fine rendering given by Brigitte Fassbaender in Chailly’s Gurrelieder.

The recordings are variously from London and Paris in the late 70’s and the sound is in ADD. 35 years on we can do even better, but I have no criticism of the sound-quality here. Texts are provided, sensibly, in German and English only, but I hope that versions in French, Italian, Estonian or any other European tongue can be found as required. I found it worthwhile hacking my way through the thickets of the liner-note for the sake of some helpful background information. If you can take this sort of music at all, you will be in good hands with this issue. Then there is the Sprechstimme question, of course. I like to hear Pierrot that way at times, but for living with I think I prefer this.


Schoenberg: Gurrelieder, Verklärte Nacht, Chamber Symphony No. 1
Schoenberg: Gurrelieder, Verklärte Nacht, Chamber Symphony No. 1
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £13.64

4.0 out of 5 stars A SENSIBLE SELECTION, 28 Feb 2014
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This 2-disc set has so much going in its favour that it seems slightly shabby not to award the full five stars, but for me it’s the recorded sound (much praised elsewhere, to be fair) that is not quite as I want it. I mean the sound in the Gurrelieder – in the two smaller works I have no problem with it. The Gurrelieder uses an enormous orchestra, and the sound-technicians seem to have played safe. The sound is admirably clear and well balanced, but I want it socked to me in a way this recording strategy seems afraid to do. A little boosting of the sound-control helped up to a point, but there’s only so much to be achieved by that. I could make it louder, but I couldn’t bring it closer.

Otherwise it’s pluses all the way. Music-lovers still hesitant about Schoenberg could find this set a very considerate introduction. The first work on the first disc is actually the most ‘difficult’ – the First Chamber Symphony. Even there, get over the first few chords and you may find the rest quite easy to come to terms with, especially as the work is a little lighter of foot than much of Schoenberg. That occupies 20 minutes of the total 150; and at the end the final 30 are taken up by the famous Verklaerte Nacht. This started life as a string sextet, but the arrangement for string orchestra is what we are given here. Chailly’s performance strikes me as excellent, but let me admit that I don’t much care for the piece. Like Schoenberg’s bigger tone-poem Pelleas et Melisande it goes in for too much unremitting intensity and hand-wringing, and I find the effect rather tedious in any performance. Again, these are personal views, so rather than protract the discussion of the pros and cons of these fillers accounting for only one-third of the total music, let me propose as an alternative an excellent disc of Verklaerte Nacht (again in the string orchestra version) together with the two Chamber Symphonies from the Chamber Orchestra of Europe conducted by Holliger. A review of the present set should focus on the Gurrelieder. Presumably few if any of its purchasers will have bought it mainly for the two fillers which are easily obtained elsewhere if they are not to anyone’s taste as presented here.

The Gurrelieder form a cantata. Before we even get to the music, the story is an absolutely gripping one, deriving apparently from a Danish saga. In a review I shall not give away the details of this weird tale of love, death and the supernatural, but to any listener new to the Gurrelieder I say be sure to read the text first. There is nothing weird about the music, which is perfectly tonal in the late romantic manner. It all comes to a gigantic final choral climax in something like the manner of Mahler VIII or Delius’s Mass of Life. However the text is not philosophical like those and is more a Nordic tale similar to the story in Mahler’s Klagende Lied. There are five soloists, all excellent, and the stars are (as they should be) the Waldemar of Siegfried Jerusalem and the Tove of Susan Dunn. These are not household names, (at least not in my household), but they outperform the singer who is all of that, Brigitte Fassbaender as the Wood Dove. One famous name appears in an odd role – Hans Hotter as the speaker reading the poem that abruptly changes the perspective of the story just before the big closing chorus. He must have been in his 80’s when this recording was made in 1990, but his voice is youthful and his enunciation is crystal-clear. He is admirable here, and if I may say so that compensates me for a good deal of his singing.

The choruses are powerful, the orchestra acquits itself very well too, and I have said all I propose to say about a certain backwardness in the recording. You may need to read pages 2 and 3 of the liner more than once to understand which orchestra is playing in which works. If I have got it right, members of the Concertgebouw perform the Chamber Symphony but the string players in Verklaerte Nacht are drawn from the Berlin orchestra which brings us the Gurrelieder. The liner does its job very well for the most part. The full text of the Gurrelieder is provided with English translation – both absolute essentials. I just regretted a couple of absurdities that I noticed: ‘Extraordinary Tove’ is an extraordinary greeting from an infatuated lover; and ‘Gurre-on-Sea’ makes one think of Bexhill. The background small essay is not bad either and it need not have been anonymous, unlike many I have seen that would have been better that way.

When I last looked the set represented very good value, and I hope it stays that way. Even the recorded sound has a lot to be said in its favour, I have no criticisms worth mentioning in any other respect, I am delighted with all the performances and not just that of Gurrelieder, and I think many will also be.


Living on a Tightrope: Coping with Diabetes
Living on a Tightrope: Coping with Diabetes
by Chet Galaska
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars PERFORMS A PUBLIC SERVICE, 20 Feb 2014
It would probably be a good idea if everyone had at least a basic understanding of diabetes. Obviously, those who live with the condition depend for their very lives on understanding the symptoms and knowing how to act on them. Anyone in close contact with a diabetic also ought, as a plain human duty, to be able to recognise the major signs and have a reliable idea of how he or she can provide assistance. As for the rest of us – well, we could find ourselves in the second category at any time, and if we ever suspect we may be in danger of coming into the first bracket we should not waste time but act swiftly on some good practical advice.

You will find that kind of advice set out clearly in this short (<100 pages) book. Chet Galaska has lived with Type-1 diabetes for 30 years and he knows what he is talking about. He is not a doctor, but he is quite right in thinking that a certain theoretical grasp of how diabetes affects the human body is essential, much as it is essential to have at least some understanding of the way our car works in case we have to take appropriate action. It is fascinating in its own way. Chet Galaska likens the way that the liver and pancreas counterbalance each other to walking on a tightrope: for most of us there is a gyroscope on the tightrope so that we always stay upright; but for the diabetic the process needs micro-managing every day of life, else we are liable to fall off.

Some of the text is motivational, and I was deeply impressed by the willpower and even downright heroism that many diabetics show in dealing with their condition. Very sensibly, some common myths are mentioned and scotched. At the end the author has a few words on progress towards a cure, or rather cures, because Type-1 and Type-2 diabetes are very different things. Obviously, there is a way to go, but on the other hand it is not all that long since the discovery of insulin stopped diabetes being the sure-fire killer it once was.

This is an important book.


Dvorak: The Symphonies
Dvorak: The Symphonies
Price: £18.55

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TREAT YOURSELF, 7 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Dvorak: The Symphonies (Audio CD)
This set can be recommended enthusiastically both to collectors of the complete Dvorak symphonies and even – at this price – to more selective shoppers wanting just a particular symphony or two. Whichever you want, you will not find a bad performance here among nine symphonies and four overtures. The recorded sound is not at all bad either, although there is a particular issue with the recording of the great D minor symphony, #7.

Myself, I acquired the set for my own education in the matter of the Dvorak symphonies. At some stage in the 1950’s, it seems, the recognition finally dawned that there are 9 symphonies, not 5, by Dvorak. I can still remember a certain amount of transitional confusion as the old numbering - under which the D major featured as #1, the D minor op 70 as #2 and the New World as #5 – was being supplanted by the series-numbers that everyone accepts now. However I don’t find that the earlier symphonies nos 1-5 are even yet thought of as full participants in the Dvorak canon, the way the first five symphonies of Beethoven or Mahler are treated in relation to those masters. So this was where a complete set played its part: forget what the concert planners let us hear, forget the ingrained attitudes towards these first five and consider the Dvorak cycle as a unity. When I did that I got some surprises.

What I found myself thinking after several complete tours of the territory was that symphonies 2-5 were far better than the two most popular numbers, namely #8 and the New World. My surprise related to nos 2-5, not to nos 8 and 9, because I have always considered #8 to be thoroughly second-rate and even the New World lacks freshness in its inspiration. I pass over the Bells of Zlonice because it is too big for its boots, although interesting in its way. The next three numbers are full of fresh and spontaneous invention, and #5 is an absolute jewel, a rival for the second place on the Dvorak podium usually awarded to #6. Even #6 reappraised itself in my mind to some extent. For me, it has the most celestial opening sequence to be found in any symphony, by anyone at all, in the 19th century. However its scherzo is a bit dull, and Dvorak’s title ‘furiant’ for it should have been a warning. This is not the only case I can think of where the master calls in nationalism to divert attention from flagging inspiration.

These performances were recorded between 1965 and 1972 and that is something significant in its own right. As well as getting the facts straight about how many symphonies Dvorak actually composed, there was a renewed interest in how they should be performed. The Czech authorities were not being helpful because they were trying to protect what they thought of as the integrity of their musical culture from western contamination. Occasional recordings of the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Ancerl or Kosler were released on Supraphon, but in default of access to more Czech conductors the ‘west’ got as close as it could and started to establish its own Dvorak culture with the help of Kertesz, who was Hungarian, and Rowicki, who was Polish. Kertesz got more attention at the time and probably since, so another reason for having this collection is to rediscover the work of Rowicki in helping to create the new tradition. To help matters, this was the heyday of the London Symphony Orchestra, so given good enough recorded sound we should be well placed to hear Dvorak’s famous orchestration in all its majesty.

The sound has been remastered as ADD, and with one important caveat this has been well done. It took a few hearings before my ear adjusted to the sound of some of the noisier climaxes, but adjusted it has and in general I hope you will find no problem with them. However there is still an issue because for all its richness Dvorak’s orchestration can be ever so slightly messy as well, and a certain perversity in the nature of things has meant that this approaches the status of a problem where the music is at its very greatest, in the D minor Symphony #7. This is a symphony that stands comparison with anyone’s, come Beethoven come Brahms come who you like. It deserves all Tovey’s plaudits and more, but Tovey also hints, rather obscurely, at a problem with the sound in the climaxes and I am guessing that he means much what I mean. Should the remastered sound have done better? Modern technology could make brilliant sound out of Schumann’s orchestration let alone Dvorak’s, but maybe it was decided that there was a limit to propriety in the matter and the sound as we have it is the price (and not a high one) of that colossal inspiration.

It is unlikely that each and every one of thirteen performances will be the outright favourite for any one listener, but this is a distinguished set by any standard, and I for one feel better educated musically for getting to know it. It comes as a box containing six paper envelopes. The discs are a very tight fit and I had a struggle keeping my finger clear of the playing surfaces. There is a so-so liner note by Robert Layton, quite informative but a bit platitudinous when ‘discussing’ the actual music. How close all this comes to answering anyone else’s prayer I have no way of knowing, but it would be very special tastes and requirements that could be disappointed. As a footnote regarding symphony #7, the famous accounts from Kubelik and Monteux are still of course available, but if you search the UK market thoroughly you might be able also to find a particularly interesting performance by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt.


The Sudden Arrival of Violence: The Glasgow Trilogy Book 3
The Sudden Arrival of Violence: The Glasgow Trilogy Book 3
by Malcolm Mackay
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars STRIPPED DOWN TO BASICS, 2 Feb 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This author knows what he is doing. Here, first, are some things he is not doing: you would never have more than the sketchiest idea what any of the personae look like; and there is not the slightest attempt to focus on the localities and place-names within or around Glasgow. Chandler this ain’t, you will have gathered. He loved LA and the Glasgow Noir school love their city in much the same way. The one place that rates even a passing mention is the Cowcaddens, where the police station is located. The Cowcaddens is just below Garnethill, made famous by Denise Mina, but it might have been anywhere for all Malcolm Mackay lets on.

Just what Malcolm Mackay can do you discover within a few pages. The opening chapter is simply a terrific piece of narrative. This is a thriller that thrills all right. The style is as it remains all the way to the end – spare, laconic, economical, but literate at the same time and above all clear. Clear is as makes clear. If you want to understand the thought-processes of Malcolm Mackay’s gangsters and hoodlums you have the right guide here to all that. These are formidably lucid and fast-thinking killers, and in fact most of the narration is a matter of listening in on their debates and soliloquies. There is plenty of action of course, but it never comes out of the blue. Someone has always thought it out, although naturally some of the thinking is smarter than other some. The actors are all highly articulate too. There is a quarrel between two of the major players near the end, but these are no Sopranos in that sort of sense. I’m tempted to say they keep a rational tenor in their expression even with events crowding in on them and implacable forces circling around. Maybe that’s how crime is in Glasgow these days. When I was a boy it was drunken thugs with razors who could not put a sentence together. They killed far fewer people, but they had less style.

I’m not going to give any hint about how it all works out eventually. I have no right to tell any other reader how convincing or unconvincing he or she may find the ending, not least because I don’t know what I think about that myself. However I’ll say this – this story stays compulsively readable from that marvellous opening scene all the way to the end. It is the last of a trilogy, they tell me, I have not read its two foregoing volumes and I don’t propose to because greatly as I have enjoyed what I have just read one book like this is as much as I want. However a writer as talented as this writer is will surely have a few more strings to his bow. I can’t suppose he is the same Malcolm (or Malky) Mackay who managed Cardiff City football club until just recently, so probably his talents are mainly literary. In that case I shall be looking out for what else he might have for us.


Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos.1-3
Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos.1-3
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £12.37

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HOW PERFECTIONISTIC DO YOU WANT TO BE?, 27 Jan 2014
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This ought, surely, to be a very safe recommendation for most music collectors, but American listeners first need to be reassured that the set contains all Tchaikovsky's first three symphonies, not just numbers one and three. These are nearly always thought of as being among the master's lesser efforts and I really doubt whether many of his aficionados agonise over fine details of interpretation or grand overall concepts where they are concerned. If my reaction is of any help to anyone, Markevitch's performances for me tick every right box. The playing and orchestral execution are immaculate, from one of the finest periods of the London Symphony Orchestra's history. The phrasing is sensitive and fluent and tempi are without exception judicious, but more importantly Markevitch conveys a real sense of belief in the music. The lyricism is exceptionally beautiful where the music allows for that, notably in the slow movement of #1. Markevitch is not afraid of the rowdy sequences either. He never lets them become unmusical, and if I felt just a little unease at one or two of the noisier climaxes in the first movement of the same work, I think we can probably let the composer shoulder most of the blame.

Supposing that you, like me, are satisfied if you can find good accounts of these interesting early compositions without doing detailed market research, then this 2-disc set is a bit of a godsend. You are not likely to find performances that are much if at all better (however that is to be assessed) of any of the three symphonies individually on separate issues, and here you have them all together, and at moderate cost into the bargain. I should put in a word for the quality of the recording as well. The symphonies date from the mid-60's (Francesca from 10 years later), and although nothing is said about remastering or any technical upgrading there is very little to criticise in the sound. Nor did I notice that the sound quality was better in Francesca, despite the later date. It serves another fine performance admirably, and I liked particularly the way in which Markevitch and his orchestra convey the frantic sense of the fragmentary woodwind phrases without letting the musical line disintegrate. Francesca is of course mature Tchaikovsky, and listeners are likely to be more discriminating this time. The trouble is that Francesca is a 20-minute piece, so in the nature of the case it can only be a minor participant (in terms of duration) on any normal cd. Normal considerations of practicality will lead purchasers to weigh up their opinion of how well Francesca is handled in the context of whatever else is on the set in question, and even if I thought that this Francesca was the tops I would be loth to recommend any collector to invest in two whole discs just for the 20 minutes. In fact this strikes me as an excellent Francesca, but there are others of which that can be said. You may still be able to find Stokowski's version which was famous in its time, and many critics would award it the prize, but really I feel that there is little sense in trying to isolate one single `best' version of a short symphonic poem like this. Get a few of them in the normal course of collecting and see which suit(s) you best.

There is not a bad liner note by Bernard Jacobson, and I particularly enjoyed his brisk dismissal of the fanciful reasons for the nicknames (`Winter Dreams', `Little Russian', `Polish') that have been hung round the necks of the three symphonies. Nearly two and a half hours of music as well, so you are not going to be short-changed in any way by this fine set.


Weetabix Weetos 350 g (Pack of 4)
Weetabix Weetos 350 g (Pack of 4)
Price: £8.76

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GOING THROUGH HOOPS, 27 Jan 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This new cereal seems to tick the right boxes. Its taste is pleasant if not startling, but who wants to be startled by a breakfast cereal? It is not overly sweet and not overly chocolaty -- the chocolate flavour is in the cereal itself and not in a coating. Vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and vitamin D are all present together with riboflavin, iron and a few other presumably healthy ingredients, and the amounts of these that the product contains, together with the fat, sugar, salt and saturates you will find are listed, and apparently are as recommended by Nutrition Professionals (with capital letters). As I say, it tastes fine and not too sweet, so I guess 5 stars.


Dare To Be A Daniel: Then and Now
Dare To Be A Daniel: Then and Now
by Tony Benn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A DANIEL COME TO JUDGMENT, 22 Jan 2014
This book is certainly interesting as autobiography, because Tony Benn was an exceptionally prominent figure in post-war British politics. He never managed to lead the Labour Party, but I remember something he said about being better known (in 1980 or thereabouts) than all the Chancellors of the Exchequer since the war. However the really important core of the book is not how he came to the political beliefs for which he is so famous or notorious, but the beliefs themselves. They are strong stuff, as they should be. They are certainly socialist, and Benn himself would insist on that, but the underlying theme throughout is democracy. He is strikingly contemptuous of the socialism of Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission, for instance. Delors might (you never know) deliver better crèches, shorter hours of work and similar socialist goodies, but nobody elected him; and that, for Tony Benn, is what democracy is all about.

He depicts himself as formed by his nonconformist Christian family. His privileged education seems to interest him very little, at least for what they were trying to teach him: he seems to have been outside the tent even in his early days, forming his own judgments in the light of the values he had been brought up to respect. He had no cultural or intellectual interests, he foreswore alcohol from the first, he had little interest in food (and retained a youthful figure into late middle age and probably still does) but he cherished his pipe and I hope he still does that too. Thank goodness, he has nothing to say about sex other than that there was a good deal of homosexuality at the exclusive Westminster School which he attended as a day boy and consequently avoided the dorms. He served in the Royal Air Force in WW2, and shortly afterwards met and married the American left-leaning intellectual Caroline de Camp, with whom he has founded a new Wedgwood Benn dynasty which may carry on the tradition from him as he did from his own forebears.

From Christianity he takes the texts and themes that have resonance for him. I doubt that he has any belief in the standard Christian institutions or creeds, no doubt because they do not elect their officers by the popular will (he mentions the Pope specifically), that being the crucial Bennite test. Otherwise it's all politics. He is no revolutionary, but he sees representative democracy as hanging by a thread even in the countries that most congratulate themselves on embodying it as an institution. One of the most striking things about Benn the leftist was always just how perfect his manners were. He was a formidable debater, but he never seemed to lose his cool, and once again this was a principle that had been inculcated into him by his father. Otherwise this perfect gentleman with his posh voice was the unflinching critic of the interests and institutions that he saw as being engines of repression - institutions political, institutions financial, institutions military, institutions educational, institutions cultural. He was never pompous in the slightest, unlike poor dear Dr Allende in Chile whom he might be thought to resemble in some ways, and I use the past tense because his political career is over: happily he is still alive and hopefully will be for a good while yet.

His speeches impress me profoundly. He often seems to me not to get to the real problem with the popular masses whose expressed will is the basis of political legitimacy in Benn's view, but he is admirably candid too. I did not miss the remark about Britain being in no position to lecture newer nations on personal liberty given Britain's colonial record. The real problem is partly apathy, as he fully recognises, and partly the concomitant cynicism. It is more that, given very little provocation, the underprivileged masses whom he rightly supports in general can turn downright fascist, and that their deep underlying xenophobia needs no provocation at all to come to the surface it lurks beneath all the time. Benn, who had worked like a Trojan to save Upper Clyde Shipyards, must have felt even his patrician tolerance strained when he heard the contempt those very shipyard workers voiced for his opposition to Margaret Thatcher's campaign in the Falklands. These were self-professed socialists, as were some of the perpetrators of colonial incidents that I do not mention here.

Another vital theme is transparency, in government certainly but not only in government. The internet may be achieving, without a whiff of politics, some of Benn's objectives. In the cliché, the genie is out of the bottle. The masses are no longer dependent on what they are being told, they have various ways of making their opinions known, and I hope, as Benn does, that these stay the peaceful ways. Meantime the Labour Party, formed to represent an entire class in its struggle for justice and liberty, has lost its soul. In general it is hard to see what it stands for other than quick reaction to what focus-groups tell it is the current opinion trend, and it has been hard to behold its increasing lackeyism to the very forces that Benn sees, and many of us see, as being the things that led to the French Revolution. Benn is no rabble-rouser, he is no intellectual, he is now slipping out of sight, but what he says is only ordinary sense. Information should do something about all this - but what `something'? In fact one of the most interesting possibilities is that raised by Paul Mason in a recent book: now that capital has gone global, will labour do the same? If so, I hope I live to see it.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 2, 2014 6:22 PM BST


Grieg / Johansen: String Quartets
Grieg / Johansen: String Quartets
Price: £6.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A NICE CHANGE, 12 Jan 2014
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This disc gives us over 70 minutes of pleasant and interesting music that we don't get many opportunities to hear. The performances were recorded in 1993, which reminds us if we needed reminding that Naxos don't only deal in reissues. I may as well say at the beginning of this review what I usually say at the end, namely that the musical public owe a deep debt of thanks and appreciation to Naxos for their steady work in providing us with good and sometimes unusual music at modest cost.

Grieg completed one string quartet, and got as far as an opening movement and a scherzo for a second. The incomplete effort seems to me particularly interesting for its first movement. This shows greater continuity than its counterpart does in the g minor quartet, as if Grieg was getting the hang more of the way in which the Viennese masters put a first movement together. The `main' quartet is the Grieg we know and love: he starts off with a few big heroic gestures, but these come to a dead stop after which he trots out one of his cute little tunes. The other movements make no pretence of being anything but lightweight, but the slow movement in particular is a real charmer. The `filler' is a short 4-movement quartet by the 20th century figure David Monrad Johansen, and I'm not sure I had ever heard any of his work up until now. It is recognisably 20th century in idiom but not aggressively so, and firmly tonal in harmony although Johansen does not specify its key centre.

The performers are the Oslo Quartet, whose work I have got to know only recently but have been mightily impressed by. I recently came by their record of a quartet and quintet by Grieg's contemporary and compatriot Svendsen. That particular issue is one that I recommend cordially to anyone interested in music of this type, not least because it is outstandingly well recorded. On this disc the recorded quality is good without being exactly outstanding, but if it had been far less good I still think I would have wanted the set for the music and the quality of the playing.

In the usual Naxos way there is liner comment on the music together with notes on the players. The main essay is in English with German and French versions in addition. I found it interesting and helpful, and I should not close without expressing appreciation also to the Union Bank of Norway who have sponsored this excellent production.


Walton: Orchestral Works
Walton: Orchestral Works
Price: £13.80

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A TONIC, 3 Jan 2014
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This is a disc that I hope Walton enthusiasts will take a bit more notice of, because it is a particularly interesting one. Of the seven works here only three are what I would have thought of as familiar, and they are Portsmouth Point, Scapino and the Sinfonia Concertante. New to my own Walton collection - and to my experience as a listener - are the short orchestral lyric Siesta, a suite of ten pieces called Music for Children, another suite from an abandoned ballet entitled The Quest, and a Capriccio Burlesco. This last is a fairly late work dating from 1968, and it is thoughtfully placed at the end, forming an interesting juxtaposition with the `comedy overture' Scapino, written originally in 1940 although revised ten years later.

Walton himself is in charge and the recordings seem all to have been done in 1971, although Portsmouth Point, Siesta and the Music for Children are with the London Philharmonic while the other works are with the London Symphony. The sound has been given digital remastering, but it is not spectacular, only what I might call good average for the time. The real interest of the disc is in hearing this unique composer performing some of his own work that we rarely get a chance to hear from anyone. Another thing that I particularly like about the set is that it puts the second symphony and the cello concerto behind it and gives us the sort of Walton that appeals most to me. This is true in particular of the Capriccio Burlesco, which shows that even by its late date of composition he had not lost the knack of urban sophistication that previously marked not only Scapino but also Facade.

Another matter of interest is that the Sinfonia Concertante is given in its revised 1943 version. Walton himself later claimed to prefer the original score from 1926/7, but I suppose the rest of us are allowed our own preferences. What I hope will be welcomed by all is the reappearance of Peter Katin in the obbligato piano part. When I was young his was a familiar name. These days he seems to have been all but forgotten, so this is a very pleasant chance to reacquaint ourselves with him, or make his acquaintance for the first time as the case may be. This piano part is of course not a virtuoso role, and the recording balance is not `forward' in the way such roles are usually treated, but it can all be done well and appropriately, and it's done well here.

Walton's music, or at least a certain kind of Walton's music, is bracing and invigorating. He was no radical, but he was no conservative either, and indeed he was regarded as avant-garde in the 20's. In particular he stood out in strong contrast with the rather agricultural sense of much English music of the time, a kind of hedgerows -`n'- Housman school. I can leave that: give me what I find here. It all makes me realise just how near the next 20's are getting.

Another thing that commends this issue is the liner note by Michael Kennedy, one of the better examples of the genre to have come my way lately. It is genuinely informative, it has an interesting career to describe, and it does that in an interesting way.


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