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Chopin: Ballades / Third Sonata
Chopin: Ballades / Third Sonata
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.50

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous and addictive, 23 Aug. 2005
I adore Chopin's Ballades, and as a result I'm pretty picky when it comes to listening to other people play them. But this cd rapidly became one of my favourites.
I admit, I was at first a bit underwhelmed by the understated opening of the 4th in F minor (the first track I listened to), but I found myself being lulled by it into a gorgeous dreamy haze. And this approach renders the fortissimos, sforzandos etc. when they come even moreso. They sound dramatic and -- for lack of a better word -- deliberate, while in other pianists' hands the effect is often lessened slightly by the more assertive character of what came before.
I mention the 4th specifically because for me this was the one that really allowed the distinctiveness of Demidenko's playing to come through. The others are beautifully played, too, though I would have liked just a little more fire in the presto con fuoco in the G minor. But that's more than made up for by his wonderfully controlled pianism.
The sonata -- again, great. I'm less familiar with recordings of this work than the Ballades so I don't feel as qualified to comment on it. But I will say that it didn't disappoint -- I really enjoyed it. The finale in particular (in my opinion one of the most exciting pieces of music Chopin ever wrote) was everything I could have wanted.
This is one of those CDs that, once it's finished, you feel compelled to hit the play button again, so much does it stay with you. A great buy.

Chopin In Paris: The Life and Times of the Romantic Composer
Chopin In Paris: The Life and Times of the Romantic Composer
by Tad Szulc
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Chopin bio I've read, 1 April 2005
Paris in the 1830s and 40s was a fascinating time for the arts. It was the Vienna of the nineteenth century; the place to be. The political and social climate was just right for the rise of Romanticism, and so Paris became a sort of Mecca for artists of all types. Among the names in Paris at the time were people like Chopin, Liszt, Berlioz, Delacroix, Dumas, Hugo, Balzac, and others. We can see how they influenced each other and what they thought of each other and how the interactions between so many great artists affected their respective arts and contributed to the general convergence between the arts at the time.
Tad Szulc's book, I thought, offers a near-perfect balance between a focus on Chopin (as both man and musician) and a focus on the time and place in which he lived. Obviously, the two are very closely related and each help in understanding the other. One of the many reasons I regard this book so highly is that it helped me *understand* the subject matter -- both Chopin and 19th c. Paris -- rather than just being able to reel off biographical or historical facts. It's written in such a way that no prior knowledge of either is necessary (although a knowledge of Chopin's music may be helpful), but it also gives enough detail to keep someone for whom it's more familiar ground satisfied, and you really feel like you've got to know Chopin by the end of it.
Szulc doesn't shy away from Chopin's bad points -- he lets us see every one of the personality facets (and Chopin had many) that make him such a fascinating man. His thoughts about Chopin's personality are very insightful. Chopin, from all that I've read, isn't an easy person to understand, but Szulc makes observations that shine that little bit more light on what made him tick. There's also a fairly extensive chapter on George Sand's life before she met Chopin. A lot of biographers introduce her only at the point where she enters Chopin's life, as a cross-dressing, cigar-smoking feminist author with a maternal streak a mile wide, but the look at her early life that Szulc provides offers us a much deeper insight into what she was really like and why she was the way she was. She's another fascinating figure; despite the fact that Chopin and Sand were all but polar opposites, it's easy to see what the attraction between them was.
All in all, I can't recommend this book too highly. It's ideal for both interested non-musicians and music students (like me), because it offers so much information in such an easy-to-read manner that you can read it once and enjoy it or, as I did, keep dipping back into it for reference. It doesn't go into much detail about the works themselves, but that's not what this book is all about. It's a great book and well worth the money!

Spanish Steps
Spanish Steps
by Tim Moore
Edition: Hardcover

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fun read, 2 Feb. 2005
This review is from: Spanish Steps (Hardcover)
Having read (and thoroughly enjoyed) Moore's other books, with the exception of Do Not Pass Go, which I plan to get to at some point, I had high expectations for this one. For anyone who hasn't read anything by Moore, the usual drill is that he embarks upon some sort of journey or "quest" (cycling the Tour de France, doing the Grand Tour, that sort of thing), and writes a highly amusing, historically informative book about his travels.
The premise for this book follows much the same pattern -- Moore decides to walk across Spain on a pilgrimage to Santiago, as thousands of Christians have done before him. But he doesn't go alone. Put off by the thought of having to carry bags of clothes and supplies while trekking under a burning sun, he enlists the help of Shinto the donkey, who becomes his reluctant companion, local celebrity, the centrepiece of many a tourist holiday snap and the cause of many of the funnier moments in this book.
If I were to be honest I'd have to say that Spanish Steps probably doesn't have quite as much in the way of embarrassingly-loud-laughter-on-the-bus moments as his previous efforts do, but the funny bits when they do come (and they're still pretty frequent -- often, as I mentioned above, as the result of Shinto and his bridge-hating, Moore-taunting antics) are every bit as good as I've come to expect from the author who wrote the funniest book I've ever read (Frost on my Moustache). Some of his descriptions of refugio living conditions and his fellow pilgrims -- a highly eclectic group of whom we see a lot along the way -- are priceless.
For all Moore's comedic, often cynical, outlook, there are some deeply poignant moments in the book, and no shortage of historical information. The end even brought a wee tear to the eye.
Like all Moore's books, it's great fun to read and has both utterly hilarious and deeply moving moments (the former outweighing the latter by a fair bit, admittedly). I thoroughly enjoyed it and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to others.

Angels And Demons
Angels And Demons
by Dan Brown
Edition: Paperback

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling, 21 Sept. 2004
This review is from: Angels And Demons (Paperback)
Like (I'd imagine) most people, I read this after I'd read the Da Vinci Code. I found Angels and Demons to be even more of a page turner because in this book you have a real, tangible enemy and a literal stopwatch. It adds a degree of tension and of time running out that keeps you absolutely on the edge of your seat (so to speak) -- something that isn't really there in DVC.
It's an absolutely fantastic read. Yes, the characters are a little cheesy -- beautiful, ingenious, mysterious Italian scientist meets handsome, slightly hapless, courageous and intellectual American, anyone? -- but it's the fast (VERY fast) pace and the abundance of interesting information, red herrings and dangling carrots that make Angels and Demons one of those books that you could easily read in one sitting. In fact, I read it so quickly I'm sure I must have missed bits. There's a bit in the book where the world's press is going mad in Rome, with news cameras broadcasting live to televisions all over the planet, the whole world watching the drama unfolding at the Vatican. With Brown's storytelling the excitement is totally infectious. It completely sucks you in to the point where it's just impossible to put the book down. It's as though you're one of the millions of people watching the news, dying to know what's going to happen.
One of the important concepts in the book is that of science and religion and the inevitable clash when they meet. I have no religious affiliations, nor am I any more interested in science than your average non-scientist, but I found the dispute fascinating. It's very thought-provoking stuff. One of the characters gives a very moving speech in favour of religion that really got me thinking, despite my complete antipathy for all things religious.
So suffice it to say that I adored this book and would recommend it to absolutely anyone. Who wouldn't be absorbed by a story of ancient brotherhoods, extremely dangerous and all but unknown scientific breakthroughs, murder and romance (I wasn't going to put that in because it happens at the end but really, who didn't see it coming?)?
It's a great read. Apparently Dan Brown's writing another Robert Langdon-centric book and I absolutely cannot wait for it!

Girl With a Pearl Earring
Girl With a Pearl Earring
by Tracy Chevalier
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understated and evocative. Gorgeous!, 3 Sept. 2004
The storytelling in this book is wonderfully understated. It is incredibly evocative, more because of what is left unsaid than what is written down in black and white. You are seeing through the eyes of a girl who doesn't fully understand her own feelings and doesn't know how she *should* be feeling or what she should be doing. As the reader, you know how she feels about Vermeer before she does. He is referred to as just "him" or "the master" throughout the book. There's no need for her to tell us who the "him" in question is because he's always just beneath the surface, in the back of the mind. Vermeer himself remains a fairly mysterious character; unknowable and untouchable, even in the few scenes where he interacts with his far more outspoken family, and his feelings for Griet are unclear. But again, it is what is implied that is so powerful. You know, even if it isn't spelled out.
For all the simplicity of the narrative, the paintings and the paints and colours that Griet helps Vermeer mix together are so beautifully, vividly described you can see them through her eyes as through you were looking at them yourself. And of course, the painting itself you'll look at in a completely different way. Who was that girl? It really makes you wonder.
Griet herself is a thoroughly likeable character. For all her submissiveness and quiet perceptiveness there's a childlike curiosity and straightforwardness which I found very endearing. She seems both older and younger than her years in the way she deals with the hostilities and unwanted attentions she receives as a servant in Vermeer's household.
Chevalier has created a wonderfully poignant story of a girl caught between two worlds: one that she grew up in, is familiar with, belongs in; the other that exists mostly in Vermeer's studio but that pulls her irresistibly away from what she knows. Unputdownable.

The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon)
The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon)
by Dan Brown
Edition: Paperback

4 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Controversy aside, it really is a captivating read, 22 July 2004
I find it interesting that because The Da Vinci Code has become so popular (and with good reason), some people feel the need to jump on the "actually, I know better" bandwagon and start listing in an increasingly frenzied manner its historical liberties and inaccuracies. Some seem to feel piqued that the book has done so well when it advocates something with which they themselves don't agree. (Revealing what that "something" is will spoil the book, but it *is* something over which temperatures seem to run high.)
Well, it's no historical textbook, but it isn't meant to be -- it's a STORY. It's fictional. Dan Brown has taken a story that most of us know to an extent and used it and the mystery surrounding it to create a highly enjoyable page-turner of a book. It is littered with historical and scientific tidbits that, even for someone not particularly interested in either, will have you wondering what else you thought you knew but didn't. I know that for me it renewed a waning interest in art and art history. But saying that, an interest in art isn't necessary, despite the title. The book's real merit lies with its great storytelling and characterisations.
You are sucked in right from the beginning, with plenty of well-timed cliffhangers, thoroughly likeable characters and an abundance of interesting information. Dan Brown knows exactly how the keep the reader wanting more, and does it admirably.
As for the mixed opinions surrounding the book ... as some reviewers before me have done, resorting to ad hominem attacks on the people who have read and enjoyed it is completely unnecessary. Taste is subjective, after all, and it's petty to suggest that anyone who found the book captivating is "shallow" or "ignorant".
If you're looking for something to keep you hooked (and fascinated), this is the perfect book for you (providing, of course, you don't become apoplectic at the first sign of something you don't like or didn't know). The hype has been piled upon The Da Vinci Code for a reason. All controversy aside, it really is an unputdownable page-turner, and isn't that what we all look for in a book? I for one absolutely loved it and couldn't recommend it too highly.

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