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Britten: Saint Nicolas; Hymn to St. Cecilia; Rejoice in the Lamb
Britten: Saint Nicolas; Hymn to St. Cecilia; Rejoice in the Lamb
Price: £13.16

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent tribute to Britten, 8 Nov 2013
King's College Choir's contribution to the Britten centenary is an attractive programme of three masterpieces from the 1940s. All three pieces are well represented in the catalogue already, and if these performances don't break new ground then at least they maintain the standard of the classic performances on record.

Saint Nicolas is the most substantial piece in terms of length, and the main selling point of the disc (I should say discs, as the package includes two - a CD and an SACD, containing the same music). The reverberant acoustic of King's College Chapel gives the performance an inherent advantage over others in its conveyance of the sense of occasion, and any performance of Saint Nicolas, like the arguably better known Noye's Fludde, should be an occasion, and ideally a community project. That is the case here, with the girls of Sawston Village College Choir providing the gallery chorus, and CUMS Chorus drafted in to boost numbers for the congregational carols (fine, though I'd have preferred the sound of a real audience).

Horses for courses, but I slightly favour King's over the superb Trinity College recording that came out a year ago, largely because the boys' voices in the choir are a particularly good fit for a piece that, after all, was originally written for children to sing. Britten famously favoured the full-throated 'continental' sound of Westminster Cathedral Choir over the traditional Anglican hoot, and you might fear the trebles of King's would be too well mannered for a piece like this, but in fact the choir's performance is amiably rugged, unfailingly musical but not polished to the point of blandness. I've rarely heard 'The Birth of Nicolas' executed with such evident joy. Nicolas's revival of the Pickled Boys is another highlight (the boys don't sound very pickled, but they do at least make a beautiful noise). As Nicolas, Peter Pears is a hard act to follow. It's not an iconic role like Grimes, say, but it was written expressly for Pears' voice, and so bears its imprint. Andrew Kennedy is a fine soloist, perhaps at his best in the dramatic sections like 'Nicolas from Prison'. (I marginally prefer Allan Clayton with Trinity - his tone is brighter, his voice lighter, his pitching perhaps a little nearer the note, and Kennedy is occasionally inclined to moo; but what you lose with one soloist you gain with another.)

It's not really fair to describe the other two pieces, the Hymn to St Cecilia and Rejoice in the Lamb, as fillers. They may be comparatively brief, but they are no less great. The recordings of these pieces I return to most often are King's recordings of yesteryear - the Hymn to St Cecilia under Willcocks, and Rejoice in the Lamb (with added percussion, sanctioned by Britten) under Ledger, both available on this release - and if these new recordings do not surpass those then they are at least perfectly enjoyable additions to the discography, capturing the spirit of each piece. There are some tuning issues with the upper voices in parts of the Hymn to St Cecilia, particularly on the return to E major tonality towards the end of the first section, but that is followed by an 'I cannot grow' of such pace and lightness that you forgive everything. It's a sign of a performance that fulfils the composer's intentions that it leaves you marvelling, as this one did, at the genius of the music. Rejoice in the Lamb receives a performance of charm and beauty, though I would have liked the opening and the Hallelujah sections more hushed.

All in all, a self-recommending issue. Two caveats: the Hymn to St Cecilia and Rejoice in the Lamb are presented as single tracks on the CD, not subdivided by sections as is more common, which will bother some people; and there is an informative booklet essay by Mervyn Cooke that is printed as minuscule text. The production values of the new King's in-house record label are generally excellent, but if your sight is defective you will need to get out the magnifying glass.


Portrait of a Disciplinarian (Nexus)
Portrait of a Disciplinarian (Nexus)
by Aishling Morgan
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £7.46

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Good, Jeeves!, 6 Aug 2008
I don't think I'm the typical reader for this type of book, but I seldom find a P.G. Wodehouse pastiche easy to resist, and this one was most impressive. The set-up is very Wodehousian - caught trying to steal a policeman's helmet, Stephanie "Stiffy" Truscott (let's not forget Stiffy Byng in the Jeeves and Wooster books, lest Aishling Morgan be accused of gratuitous smut, God forbid) is sent away to live with her corporal punishment-obsessed aunts and ends up doing a spot of pig-rustling with a good deal of sex thrown in for good measure, as I believe is typical of this author. I must admit I enjoyed it so much that at times I wondered whether the vital ingredient missing from some of Wodehouse might just be the occasional sex scene. From a personal viewpoint, I found the reading experience educational too - there is so much to spanking that I hadn't previously realised. And the whole thing is done with such elan, in the best tradition of Wodehouse, that it may be something of a comedown to return to Blandings or Mr Mulliner after this... It's the first Aishling Morgan book I've read, but I don't think it will be the last. Beastly Behaviour and The Old Perversity Shop both look similarly entertaining. If you think you can take it, I recommend it most strongly. Tinkerty tonk.


Annie on My Mind (Aerial fiction)
Annie on My Mind (Aerial fiction)
by Nancy Garden
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very important book, 18 Feb 2004
So, these two girls fall in love. Big deal.
Well, it is a big deal if it happens to you. There is a dearth even in this day and age of books for teenagers about growing up gay, but this particular example has stood the test of time. The date of its publication, 1982, will inevitably lead to comparisons with Edmund White’s “A Boy’s Own Story,” yet while White’s semi-autobiographical work is perhaps the greater achievement, “Annie On My Mind” is the one I would recommend most strongly to teenagers.
The emphasis, quite rightly, falls on the love between the two main characters, but Nancy Garden also takes the chance to highlight the prejudices of others and the awkwardness of young, self-conscious gay couples to express their feelings for each other outwardly – not because they are ashamed, but because they are aware of the bigotry surrounding them.
There are uncomfortable moments in the book, but Nancy Garden is to be applauded for tackling prejudice in a mature way, rather than by forcing her own morality on the reader. We are encouraged to see both pro- and anti-gay opinion, but are ultimately left in no doubt about which is the stronger.
This is a book which will both affirm the acceptability of being gay to teenagers struggling with their sexuality and also inform straight readers of the difficult choices facing gays to this day. It is also emphatically not a book purely intended for adolescents, and can be enjoyed by anyone who is prepared to approach a book open-minded. After all, in the end it’s a book about love.


Shootenanny!
Shootenanny!
Price: £7.88

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A triumphant return, 13 Dec 2003
This review is from: Shootenanny! (Audio CD)
I'm an Eels fan, I'd better get that off my chest before I begin. This doesn't mean that I'm biased towards them, but rather that, like most Eels fans, I'm inclined to be pessimistic that any new album is unlikely to match up to previous offerings.
However, in the case of Shootenanny! my first impression is that it is a masterpiece to rank alongside Beautiful Freak and Electro-Shock Blues (an album which the Melody Maker derided as unlistenable and then promptly and amusingly went bust). The subject matter of the new album still relates and appeals to the outsider in society, but the music reverts to the melodic pop/rock of Beautiful Freak.
A melancholic, bluesy influence is apparent in the tracks All In A Day’s Work, Agony and Restraining Order Blues, with its repeated plea, "Everybody knows that I'm not a violent man", contrasting with the touching poignancy of the most beautifully realised song on the album, Numbered Days (the equivalent, if you like, to Manchild on Beautiful Freak).
As for Saturday Morning, E has not created a more wide-eyed, childlike, magical vision of the world since Tomorrow I'll Be Nine on his solo album Broken Toy Shop. The Good Old Days is another throwback to E's solo material, exhibiting a gentle world-weariness, while the laid-back, funky Love Of The Loveless is the album's summer anthem. The dry humour which pervades the album is probably best exemplified by Fashion Awards, a satire on the fashion industry.
From the muso's point of view (and skip to the end of the paragraph if this is likely to bore you to death), Rock Hard Times is the most interesting track on the album. The descending bass line which provides the basis for the chorus is first played in the key of B-flat, and later in F, C and G. I don't know if there is a precedent for a song in which the chorus is stated on separate occasions in four different keys (something by Frank Zappa maybe?), but it's undoubtedly a striking innovation.
The final track, Somebody Loves You, is the happiest, most optimistic closing song on any Eels album to date, and its understated, downbeat last few bars constitute probably the most perfect ending to any album I have ever heard.
Only the uninitiated would deny that E has a serious claim to being the greatest singer-songwriter of his generation. In my mind, Shootenanny! is the album which cements this claim, and an album which is unlikely to be surpassed as the best of the year 2003. It is difficult to choose standout tracks, but the songs which I rate most highly are Saturday Morning, Agony, Rock Hard Times, Numbered Days and Somebody Loves You.
In short, it's a great time to be an Eel.


The Night of the Hunter (Film Ink)
The Night of the Hunter (Film Ink)
by Davis Grubb
Edition: Paperback

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent complement to the film, 13 Dec 2003
Most readers will approach this book after having seen Charles Laughton's masterful 1955 film starring Robert Mitchum. I recommend the book unreservedly as a complement to the film.
Grubb's prose is beautiful throughout and all the characters are excellently drawn, even if the absence of speech marks takes a little getting used to.
The book is more affecting than most I have read, and the reader experiences frustration at the naïveté of Willa and Ruby, anger at the satanic evil of Harry Powell and the hypocrisy of Icey Spoon, and perhaps most strongly of all, pity for John and Pearl. In fact, the most moving part for me is a lengthy monologue by John towards the end of the book, not included in the film, where we see the full extent of the psychological disturbance he has suffered.
On the surface, the story is simply a parable about false prophets and the struggle between good and evil. In actuality it is much more than that: a paean to lost childhood and the dreamlike state of a child's life. Strongly recommended.


Pete's Dragon
Pete's Dragon
Price: £21.19

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Missed Opportunity, 26 Jan 2003
This review is from: Pete's Dragon (Audio CD)
This CD is a welcome and overdue release from the Disney stable, yet in some ways an unsatisfactory one.
First of all, a caveat that the quality of the songs is variable. Even as a fan of the film, I am obliged to admit that numbers such as Bill Of Sale and The Happiest Home In These Hills are instantly forgettable, and Boo Bop Bopbop Bop will be too saccharine for some. On the other hand, Candle On The Water was Oscar-nominated, and It’s Not Easy, Brazzle Dazzle Day and There’s Room For Everyone are truly exceptional songs, which rank among the best in musical history. There’s Room For Everyone in particular is remarkable for its political message of inclusiveness, especially applicable in this troubled age. By contrast, The Happiest Home In These Hills contains exhortations to tie the child protagonist “screaming to a railroad track” and “fill him full of lead”, lyrics which would rightly be censored today.
The quality of the cast’s singing is totally acceptable to me, even that of the young Sean Marshall, which has in the past prompted raised eyebrows from some quarters. However, the voice of Helen Reddy in Candle On The Water seems rather weedy, due perhaps to poor remastering. That said, the sound is generally fine.
The editing of Passamashloddy is shoddy, omitting the voice of Red Buttons altogether. Some of us would have appreciated less of him in the first place, but his interaction with Jim Dale is essential to the song’s success. The omission of some of the dance sequence music incorporated into the songs is also regrettable, especially the round dance in There’s Room For Everyone and the wonderful lighthouse-cleaning sequence in Brazzle Dazzle Day.
It is odd and maybe detrimental that the order of the songs on the CD is random, as this affects the listener’s sense of continuity, especially if the film is familiar, though of course this problem can be solved by programming the tracks to play in the right order. The CD booklet contains no pictures, which is a shame, and also the odd misprint (“lock” for “lop” and “be loved” for “belong”).
To sum up, this is an essential purchase for the Pete’s Dragon lover, but undoubtedly a missed opportunity – the DVD is a better bet if you can find it at a reasonable price.


Enemy At The Gates [VHS] [2001]
Enemy At The Gates [VHS] [2001]
VHS
Offered by dyerwilliams
Price: £9.95

2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The acting's good..., 4 Jun 2002
One of the first things to note about Enemy at the Gates is that it is about people as much as it is about war. If you are looking for a mindless gung-ho war movie with millions of unnecessarily violent deaths then this film will cater to some of your needs, but not all.
Another interesting point is that the heroes are played by English actors, the main villain by an American, which marks this out from many modern war films.
As for the film's content, the story (for me) is interesting but not engrossing, and the script little more than mediocre. The film's saving grace is the acting.
Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz are all excellent (Fiennes particularly so), and I agree with the reviewer who thought that Jude Law's (occasional) cockney accent was less off-putting than a Russian one would have been. Perhaps the finest performance is that of Ed Harris, who manages to elicit sympathy from the viewer despite his character's cold-heartedness. Praise must also go to the young Gabriel Thomson who gives a quality performance in his first important film role - a definite star of the future.
In short, a film remarkable for its acting, but not very satisfactory as a whole.


The Mighty Walzer
The Mighty Walzer
by Howard Jacobson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mighty by name..., 21 May 2002
This review is from: The Mighty Walzer (Paperback)
When I first read this book, I was not bowled over by it, but as time went by a nagging thought in my mind became increasingly apparent – “You have to read this book again.” And thank goodness I did; The Mighty Walzer is a minor masterpiece.
I think the main reason I love this book so much is that Walzer is something of an anti-hero, but sympathetic nevertheless – Alexander Portnoy rather than Holden Caulfield. He is a character with whom any teenage misfit is able to identify.
The novel’s humour is largely down to Jacobson’s deadpan delivery, without which the book would be much more heavy-going. There are moments which misfire – I was not convinced of the necessity of the Cambridge scenes, though maybe necessity is not the point – Jacobson is telling a story, and not everything in life makes sense. I found the reunion scenes particularly powerful.
I would urge anybody to read this book, but would advise that some prior knowledge of Yiddish (or at least Hebrew or German) could be useful. “The Joys of Yiddish” by Leo Rosten is a sound investment for the first-time Yiddish-user.


Halliwell's Film and Video Guide 2002
Halliwell's Film and Video Guide 2002
by Leslie Halliwell
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed but indispensable, 11 Mar 2002
Halliwell's is widely renowned as the King of Film Guides. The reputation is deserved insofar as it is extremely comprehensive and generally very accurate, with a user-friendly format.
The reviews of individual films can leave something to be desired, however. The rating system of 0-4 stars is an excellent idea, but is, for example, Autobus (Aux Yeux du Monde), a fairly average drama, really worthy of a higher rating than François Truffaut's genre-defining Les Quatre Cents Coups? The appraisal of Bill Forsyth's wonderful Gregory's Girl claims the film to be "handicapped by impenetrable accents", a statement which would be offensive to the people of Scotland if it weren't so patently incorrect. And the quotes selected from other sources to accompany reviews often disagree with the reviews themselves: for instance, Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice is awarded a creditable three stars, but accompanied by the quote from Time Out, "a prime contender for the title of Most Overrated Film of All Time".
In short, the opinions voiced in Halliwell's are often questionable and on occasion self-contradictory, but the guide is nevertheless essential, if only for its thoroughness.


Death In Venice [VHS] [1971]
Death In Venice [VHS] [1971]
VHS
Offered by EWARDS SPECIALS
Price: £4.80

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The visible personification of absolute perfection, 26 Feb 2002
Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice, like no other film I know, seems to have as many detractors as admirers. Critics refer to the apparently muddled storyline and infidelity to Mann's original Novelle.
The Novelle is undoubtedly a masterpiece of late Romantic Symbolism, but in my personal opinion the film stands on its own as a work of art. For me, the performance of Dirk Bogarde, Pasquale de Santis' stunning photography and the inspired choice of Mahler for the soundtrack unite to form a quite unforgettable tour de force, quite the most moving and awe-inspiring film about beauty ever created.
I would also add that Björn Andresen, who plays the androgenous youth so perfectly, was never a member of Abba, as a previous reviewer believes to be the case.
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