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On Playing the Harp
On Playing the Harp
by Yolanda Kondonassis
Edition: Sheet music
Price: £21.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful exercises, 9 Dec. 2009
This review is from: On Playing the Harp (Sheet music)
I've found this book very useful - no harp book is going to be absolutely comprehensive, and I treat this as a supplement to other older tutors such as Grossi and Lariviere, but it is definitely a valuable addition.

The first quarter of the book is text (with pictures), with useful tips on technique as well as motivation and musicality. The chapter on getting the most out of lessons is a good reminder to students! There is then a short section on harpistic notation, symbols and special effects, useful as a reference. The remainder of the book consists of exercises, arranged in chapters so that it is absolutely clear what the exercises are meant to achieve. The volume of exercises is nowhere near as extensive as Grossi's, but they are very well thought out, and tend to be longer than Grossi's short pieces. The exercises are definitely exercises rather than etudes.

Where Grossi and other tutors often fall down is on pedalling exercises - Kondonassis's pedalling exercises are excellent - students are introduced to simultaneous pedal work with both feet from the beginning, with exercises including all the pedals in all positions - including a simultaneous A & E pedal change, with both feet on the right of the harp. The pedal exercises are also well thought out in getting students' feet used to the likely pedal combinations. Her approach seems to be to throw students in to multi-pedal work, taking exercises very slowly to start with, rather than introduce pedals one at a time in faster pieces, and it's an approach I now find I prefer and have had no complaints with.

The book ends with three extended warm-up exercises for beginners/intermediate/advanced level - these are, for me, incredibly useful, and really do get hands working (no pedal work in these).

Kondonassis seems to be Salzedo-method through and through(which comes out more in the written chapters than the exercises), but nonetheless her book is still excellent for teachers/students of the European method.

Henriette Renie - Harp Works (Legende/Danse de Lutins/Harp Trio etc - Xavier de Maistre)
Henriette Renie - Harp Works (Legende/Danse de Lutins/Harp Trio etc - Xavier de Maistre)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Virtuoso performance, 21 April 2009
Henriette Renié's work so often only appears as one item on harp compilation CDs, so this opportunity to explore her compositions in more breadth is very welcome. The two chamber works for harp, violin and 'cello are the highlight of this CD for me, and suggest Renié's skill as a genuine composer, rather than simply a harpist composing for other harpists. Renié's status as a virtuoso player and a composer means that her writing can be exceptionally challenging to play - the Ballade Fantastique for harp, violin and cello is often referred to as the most difficult piece in the harp repertoire, which explains the scarcity of recordings of it. Xavier de Maistre is completely up to the challenge though - as in his other CDs, his technical mastery is balanced by musical sensitivity.

This should be in every harpist's collection, but is also something for anyone interested in early twentieth-century French chamber music. And it is so cheap as to be unbelievable!

Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio (Penguin Classics)
Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio (Penguin Classics)
by Pu Songling
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strange Tales!, 19 April 2009
This is a collection to dip in to again and again. The "Strange Tales" vary from tales of "fox spirits" and the supernatural, to reports of strange natural phenomena and simply amusing tales of the "a friend of a friend" type. The stories range in size from a single paragraph to extended short stories, and the thematic range is wide. I found reading tale after tale far less effective than dipping in according to the time available - a short page-long tale over a cup of coffee gets you back to work with a spring in your step, while a single longer short story can fill a pleasant early evening.

Fox spirits appear again and again, and the introduction is useful in giving a sense of their position in Chinese culture - not ghosts in the European sense - and it is worth reading through the introduction either before reading the tales themselves, or dipping into it as you go. But the tales are such fun and so well told that you don't need an in-depth (or even basic) knowledge of seventeenth-century Chinese culture to enjoy them.

This volume of tales is only a selection from Pu Songling's whole work, and it left me pining for more.

Six Records of a Floating Life (Classics)
Six Records of a Floating Life (Classics)
by Fu Shen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful approach to autobiography, 19 April 2009
Of the "Six Records of a Floating Life", only four survive. These, entitled "The Joys of the Marriage Chamber", "The Pleasures of Leisure", "The Sorrows of Misfortune" and "The Delights of Roaming Afar", treat the author's life thematically - each chapter covers the same life, but from a different viewpoint, so that significant events are seen from several different angles. Shen Fu's love for his wife Chen Yün is a memorable part of the book, but their relationship is a complex one: she becomes obsessed with a young concubine Han-yüan, whom she engages as a concubine apparently for her husband's behalf but, Shen Fu hints, also so that the two women can be together. Chen Yün's death from a mysterious illness hangs over the four records, creating a sense of melancholy. But there is far more than just the story of Shen Fu and Chen Yün's love and marriage to delight the reader - Shen Fu's disgressions on flower arranging and interior decoration on a (sometimes very) limited budget in "The Pleasures of Leisure" were nothing short of life-enhancing! Likewise, the descriptions of his journeying with friends to spend the day in monastery gardens, only to have the day spoiled by fellow visitors' noisy insensitivity are a joy to read.

Shen Fu's life was not one of noticeable worldly success and he is modest and self-effacing in the telling of it, but his technique of writing his life story from different thematic viewpoints allows us to see a delicately nuanced humanity which makes rivetting reading.

The Haunted Dolls' House and Other Ghost Stories, Vol. 2  (Penguin Classics)
The Haunted Dolls' House and Other Ghost Stories, Vol. 2 (Penguin Classics)
by S. T. Joshi
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good companion volume to "Count Magnus", 19 April 2009
This is the second volume of Penguin Classics' Complete Ghost Stories of M R James. All of the stories included work as good entertaining ghost stories, and the volume also includes James's essays on the ghost story format, plus his translation of twelve medieval Latin ghost stories. The best of his stories are included in the first volume, "Count Magnus and other ghost stories", so for a good introduction to James, I would recommend the "Count Magnus" volume first. But otherwise, "The Haunted Doll's House" makes a good continuation volume - none of the stories are a disappointment, but also none of them rise to the type of greatness of "Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You My Lad" in the first volume. I'd recommend buying both, and reading them through late into a winter's night!

LEnfant/ Peter & The Wolf [DVD] [2000]
LEnfant/ Peter & The Wolf [DVD] [2000]
Dvd ~ The Nederlands Dans Theater

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Ravel, disappointing Prokofiev, 19 April 2009
Like the previous reviewer, I found the Ravel beautiful. Before watching it I was wary of the use of recorded singers as accompaniment to the dance, but the separation of voice and dancer only enhances the dreamlike/nightmare-like quality of the piece. The sets are ravishing, and the transformation from house interior to nighttime garden is beautifully handled. Setting L'enfant et les Sortilèges as a ballet has rescued the work as a stageable performance piece for me. On its own, the Ravel deserves a five-star rating.

However, pairing the Ravel with the Royal Ballet School's Peter and the Wolf is a mistake - in comparison to the Nederlands Dans Theater's professionalism and high production values, the Royal Ballet School's children performing Peter and the Wolf against a bare set looks like woeful amateurism. I found it scarcely watchable. As a piece to encourage young dancers to continue/take up ballet it might work, but when paired with such a sophisticated piece of adult dance theatre as the Ravel it simply looks like an insult to the customer.
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