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Sid Nuncius (London)
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[CLASSIC CD] Guardian Angel - Works by Biber, J.S.Bach, Tartini & Pisendel) (1SACD Hybrid)[003kr]
[CLASSIC CD] Guardian Angel - Works by Biber, J.S.Bach, Tartini & Pisendel) (1SACD Hybrid)[003kr]

5.0 out of 5 stars A terrific disc, 1 Mar. 2015
This is yet another terrific disc from Rachel Podger. It's a collection of what she describes as favourite pieces played on solo violin. It's largely out-of-the-way repertoire, but it makes for a terrifically enjoyable and rewarding programme.

The Usual Suspects of the solo violin repertoire don't really feature here, but there is a wonderful transcription (Podger's owm) of Bach's Partita for Solo Flute BWV1013 which works extremely well on the violin - she says in her contribution to the notes, "I would often play it for fun as a warm up (which would disorient the flute player in the room!)". In addition there are works by Tartini, Matteis, Pisendel and the Passacaglia from Biber's Rosary Sonatas (the engraving for which gives this disc its title). It is a varied and fascinating programme which is just a pleasure to listen to but has genuine musical depth, too.

What makes this special is Rachel Podger's playing, of course. I have enjoyed her work for a very long time now and fell irredeemably in love when I heard her solo Bach discs - which remain my favourite recordings of the Sonatas and Partitas Bach: Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo. She has phenomenal technique which allows her to sound utterly natural throughout the most demanding passages, and is utterly at home in this repertoire. She also has a wonderful sense of the music's meaning which shines through every movement here and shows that her standing as an international star is wholly justified. I'm sorry to gush, but I really do think this is something special.

Channel Classics' recorded sound is excellent and the presentation is attractive with good notes. Even allowing for my pre-existing admiration for Rachel Podger, this is a cracking disc all round and very warmly recommended.


Bach: Vivaldi Transcriptions | Concertos By Vivaldi [Sophie Yates] [Chandos: CHAN 0796]
Bach: Vivaldi Transcriptions | Concertos By Vivaldi [Sophie Yates] [Chandos: CHAN 0796]
Price: £13.53

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine disc, 27 Feb. 2015
I like this disc very much. It is a selection of concerti by Vivaldi and the Marcello brothers which Bach transcribed for harpsichord. I was ignorant of these transcriptions until now and am very glad to have come across them because they are well worth hearing.

It isn't known exactly why Bach chose to transcribe these concerti, but he has made some excellent solo keyboard pieces out of them. In structure they don't differ much from the originals, with Bach changing keys in places and adding some counterpoint and ornamentation to the solo parts, so they're a lot more Vivaldi and Marcello than Bach but it's still high-quality music and a very enjoyable programme.

This is in no small measure due to Sophie Yates, who is a fabulous harpsichordist and on fine form here. She has superb technique which allows her to phrase and interpret these pieces beautifully, and she brings real individuality to every movement. The recorded sound is excellent and the overall effect is very rewarding.

With good presentation and interesting, readable notes by Yates herself, this is a fine disc all round and warmly recommended.


Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall (Milligan Memoirs 1)
Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall (Milligan Memoirs 1)
by Spike Milligan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still hugely enjoyable, 26 Feb. 2015
Just to add my voice to the chorus of praise for this book. It is over 40 years since I first read it, and I am glad to say that it stands up very well.

This is a record of Spike's training and preparation in southern England before embarking to war. It is often extremely funny and quite often extremely touching. It is also a vivid record of life at that time both in and out of the army, which is an aspect I had rather neglected previously.

It's well written and laced with vulgarity, wit and Milligan's zany humour which makes it a real pleasure to read, and quite often embarrassing in public because I kept bursting out laughing. Some of the attitudes of the time are uncomfortable now (especially those toward women), but are recounted without gloss, and they, like the vulgarity, are just an honest account of how it was then.

This remains a hugely enjoyable and worthwhile read. Recommended.


Rock Goes to College Keele University, Staffordshire United Kingdom 22nd May, 1980
Rock Goes to College Keele University, Staffordshire United Kingdom 22nd May, 1980
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Decent, but not great, 25 Feb. 2015
This is a decent live album, but I don't think it's a great one. It's a recording from 1980, very early in The Blues Band's career at the time of The Official Blues Band Bootleg Album, from which much of this set is taken. It's an album I've always loved and Death Letter remains an absolute classic for me, so a record of the band playing this material live is very welcome.

There's a lot to like here. Paul Jones is in good voice, the band are pretty tight and together, and there's some fine slide guitar work from Dave Kelly in particular...but somehow it doesn't really come together for me, and I don't get much of a sense of the excitement of a live gig - which, of course, is most of the point of a live album. There's a drunken, rowdy and slightly disrespectful-feeling atmosphere among the student audience which doesn't help, and the sound isn't that great. It's adequate, but the balance is poor in places and the bass and drums which ought to lift and drive the music (which they do on the studio albums) sound like a soggy mess a lot of the time.

I don't want to be too harsh. This is an album I'm glad to have heard and will probably refer back to at times, but it's not one I'll be returning to again and again like the Bootleg Album, Itchy Feet and other studio albums. If you're a Blues Band fan like me, you'll want it and will enjoy quite a lot about it, but I can only recommend it with reservations.


BiC Cristal Soft Ball Pen - Assorted Colours (Pack of 10)
BiC Cristal Soft Ball Pen - Assorted Colours (Pack of 10)
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Good, smooth-writing pens, 25 Feb. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
These pens are still the classic Bic Cristal design but are filled with a smoother-running ink. I was amused by the claim that they were up to 35% smoother to write with - how do you measure that to such accuracy? - but they do seem significantly easier and smoother in use, which is a help to those of us whose handwriting needs all the help it can get.

They also have a pale blue plastic barrel rather than the traditional clear one, which I like, and an opaque tube for the ink which I don't, because you can't see how much ink is left. This is hardly a major problem, though.

We've all been using Bic pens for years, so I won't bang on about them. If you need a basic Bic biro, these are very good and to me they seem a genuine improvement on the ones I have always used. Recommended.


Brainwavz S5 In Ear Headphones
Brainwavz S5 In Ear Headphones
Offered by Advanced MP3 Players
Price: £59.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb In-ear phones, 24 Feb. 2015
Length:: 4:44 Mins

Brainwavz sent me these earphones to test and review and I think they are superb. I have tested a lot of earphones and headphones and these are, for my ears anyway, the best in-ear phones I have ever tried, with a brilliant, accurate sound and quite remarkable bass response. Brainwavz have a well-deserved reputation for making high-quality earphones with excellent reproduction, and these certainly live up to that reputation.

They come very well packaged and you also get a neat, robust carrying case, a ¼" jack adaptor and excellent variety of tips, including a set of Comply foam tips, so that you may be sure the ear-buds will fit comfortably in your ears.

The earphones are wired (not Bluetooth) and have a flat connecting cable which is excellent; it doesn't tangle and you get no noise whatever when it rubs against clothing. The cable itself is oxygen-free copper which gives very good reproduction and the jack is gold-plated. The earphones themselves are machined aluminium with exchangeable silicone buds and are driven by neodymium magnets. The cable goes over the top and down the back of the ear to your device, and I found them very stable in my ears. It is plain that this is a very well designed and well made product.

The sound is excellent. I am very impressed with the clarity of articulation and overall balance. The trebles are bright and crystal clear, the middles are warm and full and the bass is quite amazing: when I listen I am still surprised that you can get such depth and richness from such a tiny unit. I have a Test Playlist which I use for audio products which begins with Tudor choral music and ends up with London Grammar and goes through most things in between. These earphones perform very well on everything. Choral and orchestral music are clear and full with every instrument audible (and the tympani in the Karelia Suite sound fantastic!), chamber music is beautifully balanced and so on. In rock the balance is great and the bass punch (especially with a bit of equalisation) is terrific. The final test is the second half of London Grammar's Hey Now which has a deep, deep bass rolling through the second half, and I have seldom heard it sound so good.

In short, the sound is just great, and goes plenty loud enough with no distortion whatever.

Position is everything with earphones like this, so be prepared for a good deal of fiddling about until you find the buds which suit you. There are nine different pairs supplied, including a pair of Comply memory foam buds, so you'll get the right ones for you eventually. Once I did, I found them be stable and comfortable for hours, with a pretty good sound-seal.

These earphones are a quality product. They are extremely well-made, nicely accessorised and give exceptional sound quality. I'm delighted with mine, and recommend these very, very warmly.


Igenix Convector Heater with Thermostat, 3000 Watt
Igenix Convector Heater with Thermostat, 3000 Watt
Price: £39.98

4.0 out of 5 stars A good heater, 23 Feb. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a good, basic free-standing heater. It's not a luxury item, but it does the job well and should be pretty durable. The heater has three settings - low, medium and high, effectively - which work well. It also has a thermostat which you can set to keep the room at the temperature you want, which again works well.

And, frankly, that's about it. There's not a great deal more to say about an auxiliary heater. You plug it in, you switch it on, you adjust it to the level you want and it just does the job. It has all the proper safety features and certifications and provided you don't abuse it or do anything silly like drape clothes over the top of it, it should serve very well.


Veracini: Sonatas /Holloway · ter Linden · Mortensen
Veracini: Sonatas /Holloway · ter Linden · Mortensen
Price: £16.77

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent disc, 23 Feb. 2015
This is an excellent disc of some very fine music by Veracini, whom John Holloway describes as earning "an honoured place on the short list of truly great violinist-composers," in which he includes Biber, Ysaye and Bach. For me, this is going a little far, but these are inventive and very enjoyable sonatas with some truly virtuoso writing for the violin.

Veracini was an eccentric and arrogant character judging by contemporary accounts, and that eccentricity and swagger can often be heard here. However, there is far more than that to the music, and there is a fine mixture of the vigorous the passionate and the tender in these sonatas, with some fine melodic writing and innovative harmonic invention. It all adds up to very high-quality early 18th Century music.

I tried this disc because I think that anything recorded by John Holloway is worth hearing, and it's certainly true here. Holloway and his excellent fellow musicians (both international stars in their own right, of course) give this music real meaning, and play together beautifully. There is a fine understanding between them and they really bring these pieces to life. Their playing and the quality of the music make this a pleasure from start to finish.

ECM's recorded sound is of their normal excellent standard, as is their presentation, and John Holloway's notes are interesting and readable. All round, it's a fine disc and I can recommend it very warmly.


Noontec Zoro HD II Fashion Hi-Fi Headphone - Sapphire
Noontec Zoro HD II Fashion Hi-Fi Headphone - Sapphire
Offered by Sentinel Brand Management UK
Price: £58.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Stylish and comfortable, with excellent sound, 22 Feb. 2015
Length:: 4:20 Mins

I was sent these wired headphones for review and I am very impressed. I thought they would be pretty good, but they turn out to be very good indeed. They are stylish, well made, comfortable and have excellent sound.

The sound is the most important thing for me, so to begin with that: it is really good. The depth, warmth and crispness of articulation far exceeded what I expected at this price. I have listened to a lot of music through them now, including my Test Playlist which begins with Tudor choral music, ends up with London Grammar and includes most things in between. It all sounds excellent: treble is bright and crystal clear, the middle is full but very well defined and the bass is strikingly good. The combination is a real pleasure; a string quartet sounds as though you're sitting there among them, every orchestral instrument is clear (and the tympani roll magnificently in the Karelia Suite) Leonard Cohen sounds as though he's present and murmuring "Amen" right in your ear, classic rock has a real punch, that fantastic deep bass in London Grammar's Hey Now is all there... In short, they're great.

I also find them extremely comfortable. I sometimes don't get on that well with on-ear headphones, but these sit really well on my ears, forming a good sound-seal and staying comfortable for hours. They have a good grip which keeps them stable but it's not too firm and the earcups pivot enough to allow good positioning.

The headphones seem well made and durable, and they are very stylish. The logo is a little flashy for my taste, but I like the gloss blue and the overall look of them. They fold for easy transport and you get a carrying pouch to keep them in. The cable is a flat ribbon design which is both smart and very practical - it doesn't tangle and there is no friction noise whatever. It has a simple key for answering and ending phone calls. (Note that these are wired connection only - there is no Bluetooth function.)

I am sorry to sound gushy, but I really do think these are excellent. I have been using Bose SoundTrue on-ear phones quite a bit for a year or so and I think the sound from these Zoro HD II phones is at least as good - and they're about half the price. If you want a pair of comfortable, stylish on-ear headphones with good build quality and excellent sound, these will do you very well. Warmly recommended.


The Serpent Papers (The Serpent Papers Trilogy)
The Serpent Papers (The Serpent Papers Trilogy)
by Jessica Cornwell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have been much better, 20 Feb. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I tried this book because of good reviews and because it seemed to promise genuine intellectual content, given the historical and alchemical background. It has very good things about it, but ultimately it wasn't well enough done and I found the whole thing a bit of a slog.

The story is a good idea: a researcher into arcane alchemical and mystical books and documents becomes drawn into an old investigation of serial killings in Barcelona, and also into the hunt for an ancient manuscript, both of which place her in danger and which, inevitably, are related. Jessica Cornwell plainly knows a lot about alchemy, its language, symbolism and its history and puts this across well. She also captures very well the passion and deep connection with books of her central character, who narrates much of the story, and generates a good sense of place in Barcelona. It could have been a great read, but I'm afraid the execution wasn't really good enough.

The story has a lot of threads and we jump between times and narrative voices. This can be very effective but here it all became very jumbled for me so that I spent so much attention on remembering where we were, when this bit was set and who the people were that I struggled to keep up with the plot. Even this would have been manageable, but the style also let it down rather. The protagonist has a narrative voice which is permanently at fever pitch, and it gets very wearing. Even routine work is presented as though it were high emotion. Just as a small example, a police officer is trying to determine how a criminal got access to the scene of the crime. We get this:

"He makes a call to his officers. They check the entry point. Sure enough, the lock of the metal chain that stretches across the turnout has been cut.

The bolt hacked through.

When Fabregat holds the cut metal in his hands, he runs his eyes over the surrounding apartments."

That level of emphasis on the simple, unimportant fact that a bolt has been hacked through by giving it a paragraph to itself simply dims the effect in other places when emphasis is really needed, and having everything - vital or trivial - presented at that pitch made this very hard going for me.

Similarly, there are some awkwardnesses and solecisms in the prose. "Sweat malingered," for example, or "I must bear this lodestone." (She just means "load," nothing to do with magnetized rock.) Correspondence dated 1851 contains enough small anachronistic usages (like "he's a career explorer," or "you're half way there" meaning "you have partially solved it") for it just not to ring quite true, and so on.

Perhaps I am being too picky, but style and context are very important in creating a story, and this one could have done with some firm editorial input. Others have enjoyed this book, and there is a good deal to enjoy so do read other reviews before letting me put you off, but for me this was only so-so. A shame - it could have been much better.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 20, 2015 11:27 AM GMT


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