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Bernard Michael O'Hanlon (Melbourne, Australia)

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Mozart: Requiem in D minor, KV 626
Mozart: Requiem in D minor, KV 626
Price: £15.08

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Will Someone wake up the Grim Reaper?, 9 July 2014
Being a liberal member of the Old Firm, I know a few priests. Many of them detest those instances where children are baptised for the hell of it (so to speak). It's meaningless. Funerals are different. With death in the air, they bring people into gun-range who would not normally shadow a church in a month of Sundays. Moreover, the proximity of the Scythe sharpens receptivity: here today and eternalised tomorrow.

Equally, the Requiem (is there another?) is barely classifiable as a choral work. Its genesis is well known. Suffice to say, Mozart bets the house with every fibre of his being. Nothing meant more to him in those last few days. The Confutatis should not exist in the realm of mortals and dust. The grandeur of Mozart's conception was enough to drag the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei over the line. A great performance of K 626 should terrify and console the listener in equal measure. I've retained the LP of Hogwood's 1983 performance as the translation of the Sequence itself in the booklet is so damned scary:

When the damned are cast away
And consigned to the searing flames,
Call me to be with the blessed.
Bowed down in supplication I beg Thee,
My heart as though ground to ashes:
Help me in my last hour.

That's the problem here. At a subcutaneous level, everything is in place: drama and polish, commitment and reverence. All the right gestures are made at a lively pace. The singers are estimable (particularly the baritone and soprano). The recording is excellent. Nevertheless, there is no reason here to check one's compass and turn windward. The "undiscovere'd country" remains terra incognita. With me at least, this professional, first-class outing failed to reverberate in the deep. O Death, where is thy sting?

More widely, taste has surely changed when critics describe this performance as being on a large scale. Compared with the Nimitz-class Giulini (EMI), it's a lightweight. A slimmed down Concertgebouw is in play.

Upon hearing this live performance from the Concertgebouw, Macduff exclaimed, "Shake off this downy sleep, death's counterfeit, and look at death itself!" If you want to have the bejesus scared out of you, turn rather to Mozart: Requiem and its Confutatis in particular. As Bernstein said in his dying breath: what is this?

Symphonies 28, 29 & ,35
Symphonies 28, 29 & ,35
Offered by FastMedia "Ships From USA"
Price: £20.63

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Open wide and swallow your Abbadokugels!!!!, 8 July 2014
This review is from: Symphonies 28, 29 & ,35 (Audio CD)
Here, Uncle Claudio - a saintly figure who refused to hurt even tapeworms or mozzies -cooks up his own version of Mozartkugels - namely, Abbadokugels (Abbado Balls). They're confectionery: nothing more and nothing less. Assuredly, they're low on sugar, salt, nuts, taste and those harmful saturated fats. They won't cause you any indigestion, be it intellectual or intestinal in pith. Ok, they're somewhat bland but there's nothing more in play than mere ingredients so there won't be any nasty surprises "when the next train pulls into the station". Indeed, they provide a short burst of energy with no lasting side-effects. They won't offend anyone: in an overcrowded world, that's surely a good thing, is it not?

Waterloo 1815 1/32 Italian (WWI) Infantry WWI # 029
Waterloo 1815 1/32 Italian (WWI) Infantry WWI # 029
Offered by AUTOMODELLSALON Stuttgart
Price: £8.10

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wanted: Extreme Pacificism, 8 July 2014
= Durability:5.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:3.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:1.0 out of 5 stars 
As a boy, my collection of 1:32 Airfix soldiers was one of the wonders of the world. It consisted of Germans, Russians, British Commandos, Americans, Aussies, British Eighth Army, Afrika Korps, British Support Troops, Japanese and paratroopers both British and American. Defiant of time, Airfix's Cowboys and Indians and Napoleonic soldiery joined the fray: it was all in. In the blessed absence of computers, I spent days staging conflicts on the dining-room table that were more sanguinary than the Battle of Kiev - the so-called Super Cannae. Being plastic, my legions are immortal: age shall not weary them nor the years condemn. My own children fell in love with them too and flamboyantly painted them in a fashion that pays tribute to the Mardi Gras.

Anyway, Airfix's boxes of French and Italian troops never came my way. On a recent trip to Sydney, I came across this "no-name" box of the latter which I failed to resist. Truth to tell, I was disappointed by this purchase. Airfix prided itself on its historicity. For instance, its Japanese soldiers are clearly in banzai mode whereas the Germans are nasty buggers (black paint was forthcoming) and the Russians are somewhat phlegmatic. Here, (a) most of the Italian infantry are actually holding their weaponry and (b) in certain instances are firing them off and (c) countenance-wise, look ever so heroic and (d) only one of them appears to be laying down his gun.

In the interests of historicity, the manufacturer of this collection should commission a new set of moulds which better reflect reality where the Italians did much to vanquish the Beast - their nominal ally - in a manner of their own.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 9, 2014 7:58 PM BST

Sibelius:Sym 3/5
Sibelius:Sym 3/5
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £13.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Pretender to the Throne, 7 July 2014
This review is from: Sibelius:Sym 3/5 (Audio CD)
In the Land of the Blind, the one-eyed man is king. When Simon "Patch" Rattle does a Dunkirk in 2018, who will be empurpled by the legions of Berlin? Heavens to Betsy, let it not be one of the prospective "boy-emperors" - namely, Paavo Järvi, Yannick Nézet-Séguin or Andris Nelsons - good lord. It could be the Day of the Tadpole. Thielemann is in the mix even if his inspiration is fitful. Barenboim will covet Berlin until the day he is entombed: his age notwithstanding, discount him not.

Recently that old campaigner - Mariss Jansons - was nominated by the Chief Procurement Officer of the Australian Knappertsbusch Association (in lieu of anyone else suitable). In the early Seventies, Karajan asked him to become his assistant at the Philharmonie; for whatever reason, the Soviets blocked the initiative. I've never been impressed by his output. I cannot comment on his Mahler or Shostakovich. Mention his Tchaikovsky cycle and the CNBF factor kicks in and profoundly so. His recent Bruckner, Haydn and Beethoven are underdone. Mozart is absent and ominously so. While Jansons will need to avoid Boot Hill in the interim (he'll be 75 in 2018), could he serve as a competent Nerva-like emperor of a shortish reign in the hope that better days come?

This discussion was enough to send me back to my collection and ferret out this old recording. Here, MJ faces stiff competition: Karajan in the Fifth Symphony (I prefer EMI over DG) and Okku Kamu and the Helsinki Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Third (it's an instance where participants were touched by the Hand of God).

Again, I would be hard-pressed to say that these performances are anything more than competent, polished and thoughtful. Janson's pacing cannot be faulted. He elicits a spirited response from the Oslo Philharmonic - a solid, second-tier orchestra with an underwhelming lower string-section. Both symphonies are portals of Otherness - or should be. Here, in contrast to his rivals above, no transfiguration is on offer. Jansons, in this instance at least, fails the Hotspur Principal: anyone can summon the spirits from the vasty deep - but will they come?

"Yes, these are the dog days, Fortunatus." In the hope of averting a greater disaster, may empurplement be his even if such a prospect is not the stuff of dreams.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 9, 2014 8:01 PM BST

Bruckner: Symphony No. 9, WAB 109 & Te Deum, WAB 45
Bruckner: Symphony No. 9, WAB 109 & Te Deum, WAB 45
Price: £7.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More of the Same, 6 July 2014
As I understand it, Herbie was more of a Zen-Buddhist than anything else in his metaphysical allegiances. Nevertheless whenever he was on the podium, he channelled the neo-Platonist within to address archetypes (as he saw them). In consequence, his interpretations differ little down the years. His Bruckner is famous for being "sub specie aeternitatis" in its exposition of sacred geometry. In this domain, his five performances of the Ninth Symphony, where the composer scares the bejesus out of himself, are exemplars of terror, ferocity and eschatological drama. We can add this 1962 performance of the Ninth to their number. It diverges not from the archetype. The Vienna Philharmonic can be ever so complacent at times but not here: it sups of darkness.

There is the wider question of whether the Te Deum can serve as a finale to the Ninth Symphony. Here's an instance where they dovetail into one another. I fail to hear any synergies.

Much the same could be said of the performance of the Te Deum: in its elation and thrust, it mirrors performances elsewhere. Much of the heavy lifting in this work is done by the tenor: here, Nicolai Gedda is in stellar form. One also wonders anew at Wilma Lipp and her upper register.

Both performances are in solid mono. Coughing is minimal. Herbie - photographed at the Maikop oil-field in '42 - looks hale and healthy. Nevertheless if you have the other performances (recorded in better sound), you're not missing out on much if you forego this release.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 7, 2014 12:18 PM BST

Mozart: Symphonies Nos 40 & 41
Mozart: Symphonies Nos 40 & 41
Price: £34.22

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Boys from Berlin, 5 July 2014
During his lifetime, I continually reminded Herbie "to stay out of Poland!" and all the more so when I knew he was keeping an old Jagdtiger in his garage at Anif Salzburg. Equally, I told him to cancel those flying-lessons with Hans-Ulrich Rudel. My advice made him grouchy and did much to poison our relationship. When a few of Eliette von Karajan's slosh-of-blue paintings showed up in the mail, it confirmed my status as persona non grata. Nevertheless, I'm highly annoyed by Universal Japan's re-release of his 1978 performances of K 550 and the Jupiter as it shows that my advice was being ignored at the time: that's not a score in his hands - it's a map of bridges crossing the Vistula. Worse still, my old friend is dressed up for the occasion too . . . . .

I have never liked these performances either. Here is the solitary instance where Karajan observed the repeat in the first movement of the Jupiter (insofar as that is an asset). The second version of K 550 is used (I prefer the cleaner lines of the alternative). While the Berliners of the time cannot help but be impressive, this is the triumph of beauty over truth. Not once does one sense that the participants are reckoning with "frightening perfection". It's all so suave and polished to the detriment of vitality and vision. My Herbie soup-o-meter always goes nuts whenever these performances are in earshot: who can blame it! If you want to hear my old friend's big-band Mozart at its finest, turn rather to his EMI versions from September 1970 where he curbs his worst instincts (and by that, no, I don't mean his Warsaw-or-bust mindset).

Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross
Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At the Place of the Skull, 4 July 2014
In 1970, Clarence Enzler published a Lenten devotional called Everyone's Way of the Cross. It's a classic. It transposes the events of Good Friday to the bric-a-brac, wastage and sufferings of our daily lives with an invitation to carry one's cross in whatever guise it might take. Golgotha, it discloses, can be glimpsed in the old man sitting on a park-bench, the sparrow-in-death or merchandise arrayed arbitrarily in a shop-window. Its great forerunner, needless to say, is Haydn's Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross. It's arguably the toughest nut to crack in the domain of chamber-music. It too is an invitation to shoulder one's cross where Sunday is too far away.

As I should have foreseen, this performance of Opus 51 by the Czech-based Panocha Quartet rivals Haydn: Seven last Words of Christ in its intensify and identification with the anguish of the Christ. This is less an aesthetic experience and more an immersion in suffering which may or may not be redemptive. Intonation is flawless. The recording is exemplary.

Ask the Simon-of-Cyrene-within: do you really want to go there?

Mozart: Oboe Quartet K. 370, Divertimento K. 334
Mozart: Oboe Quartet K. 370, Divertimento K. 334
Price: £14.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars North of the Wall, 3 July 2014
What's more inedible? Grandma Muireall McGillicuddy's haggis (consisting of sheep's pluck [heart, liver and lungs] minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, where the concoction is encased in stomach and simmered for three hours) or the Scottish Chamber Orchestra's Mozart as exemplified by its performances of K 334 and K 370?

It's hard to say. On one side of the equation we have an offal-inspired delicacy (that's an acquired taste to say the least); on the other, there's the haggis.

Needless to say, this disc was the Gramophone's `Choice' in February 2012. Stopping all stations - we're going to the end of the line!

On my part, this circumnavigation was a trial of strength; the Magellan in me almost carked it. Vibrato and headcount are minimal in K334. God help us if these strings are the principals of this over-recorded ensemble: there is not one bar here that predicates warmth, let alone mastery. When I think of the great ensembles which have tackled this masterpiece, one can only laugh at their scratchy, `umble and whiney tone, not least in the second movement variations where, one hastens to add, the horns are likewise not at their best. Consider the great Adagio where Mozart recalls the realm of Cythera; what a shallow, hesitant, prosaic reading this is. It's an Ode to a Glaswegian Bus Terminal in the middle of winter. Much the same could be said of the Finale - the last dance at the ball. To have come so far for so little.

The performance of the Oboe Quartet is less problematic even if the strings equally lack lustre and zest. Robin Williams sparkles as a soloist. The immortal melody that bestrides the finale is delivered with aplomb.

K 334 has the most glaring misnomer in Köchel. What does `divertimento' mean in the face of such plenitude? The likes of Karajan (throughout his career) and Végh correctly entrust it to a small orchestra of distinction. If you prefer a more intimate approach, there is always Mozart: Divertimento K. 334; March KV445 with its luminous cover and fullness of tone. As the Chinese say: there is the front-door - why don't people use it?

Let's close with a poem: Robert Burns' "Address to a Haggis" whose wisdom is instructive, minatory and semi-understandable.

"Is there that ower his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit:
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
Oh how unfit!
Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if Ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!"
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 6, 2014 11:08 PM BST

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 9 & 25 by Alfred Brendel, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras (2002) Audio CD
Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 9 & 25 by Alfred Brendel, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras (2002) Audio CD
Offered by Book Seashore
Price: £17.35

1.0 out of 5 stars Wanted - A Sphincter, 2 July 2014
Those among us who grew up in the Seventies or thereabouts would remember Milton the Monster and its famous opening scene:

"On top of old horror hill in a secret laboratory,
Professor Weirdo and Count Kook were in their monstrous glory.

`Six drops of the essence of terror, Five drops of sinister sauce!'
`When the stirring's done may I lick the spoon?'
`Of course ha ha of course.'
`Now for the tincture of tenderness, But I must use only a touch,
`For without a touch of tenderness, He might destroy me! `
(Professor Weirdo, bumped) `Whoops too much!'
(Prof) `Better hold your breath it's starting to tick!'
(Count Kook) `Better hold my hand I'm feeling sick!'
(Milton) `Hello Dad!'
(Prof) `What have I done?'
(M.) `I'm Milton, Your brand new son!'"

Here, history repeats itself. Yes, three `evil scientists' - Uncle Alfred, Charles Mackerras and my beloved Scottish Chamber Orchestra - create the most sterile, soulless, thin-lipped, cold-bottomed performances of K 271 & K 503 in existence. This is not Mozart. This is a latter-day update of Young Milton in a state of zombification. I suspect that the participants took their lead from the pianist who puts Wernher von Braun to shame in his Sleep of Reason - why perpetrate such bloodletting? Most of Uncle Alfred's recordings from his last decade on the podium are unlistenable; here, monsters reign.

Haydn: Erdödy Quartets Op.76
Haydn: Erdödy Quartets Op.76
Price: £40.09

5.0 out of 5 stars Reparation and Harvest, 1 July 2014
You stumble through life. You squander grace. You worship idols of metal and paper. Being prodigal, you spend both capital and interest. The child in you putrefies. Time the Ripper - you're putty in his hands. Bereavement is the order of the day. What is left of your remnants of promise? What of great expectations? When did you last matter in the scheme of things? When, if ever, did you sense the hand of God in something that you did?

And yet here it is, six in number: it's a pure gift, from the Giver of Gifts. Mere notes become reassurance: it's transubstantiation without the host.

And you thought you were alone!

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