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M. Joyce (Cairo, Egypt)

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Heaven and Earth
Heaven and Earth
Price: £8.66

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A heavenly compilation, 6 Oct. 2014
This review is from: Heaven and Earth (Audio CD)
I do not wish to pontificate on Robert King’s fall from grace a few years ago, but he seems to have been integrated back into the musical establishment, which is no bad thing, as he has produced some of the finest recordings of the past 20 years or so, originally on Hyperion and latterly on his own label, Vivat.

This CD, recorded in the wonderful acoustic of St Jude on-the-Hill, London, was actually made in 2002 for a private client. Entitled “Monteverdi; Heaven and Earth”, it is in many ways a “greatest hits” package, focusing especially on the joys and sweet pain of love. Beginning with the Toccata from his opera “Orfeo” and ending with the triumphant madrigal madrigal “Hor che ‘Il ciel, e la terra”, the disc covers most of Monteverdi’s musical output, including his madrigals, laments and excerpts from his operas. There are many highlights, including Carolyn Sampson’s lovely rendition of Music’s strophic aria from “Orfeo”, Charles Daniels’ virtuosic performance of “Possente spirito” from the same opera and, best of all, Sarah Connolly, typically impassioned in Ottavia’s moving farewell to Rome from “L’Incoronazione di Poppea”. Another “must hear” track is Daniels and James Gilchrist in the ebullient tenor duet, “Zefiro torna”, but every track on this lovely disc will give pleasure.

The authoritative liner notes are by the distinguished Monteverdi scholar, Professor John Whenham.

Porterhouse Blue [DVD] [1987]
Porterhouse Blue [DVD] [1987]
Dvd ~ David Jason
Offered by HalfpriceDVDS_FBA
Price: £13.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A comedy classic, 26 Sept. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I haven’t found all Tom Sharpe novels entirely to my taste, but “Porterhouse Blue” made me laugh out loud when I read it as a student. The TV adaptation was first shown in 1987 on Channel 4 and I found that equally hilarious.

I was, therefore, eager to purchase a DVD version of this production on Amazon, especially as I managed to pick one up at a bargain price, and was intrigued to see whether I would find it equally funny nearly 30 years on. The answer, I am pleased to report, is a resounding “yes”.

This is a very classy production; it is well filmed and directed and features a clever and literate script by Malcolm Bradbury which if anything improves on Sharpe’s original. The main reason for the success of this DVD is, however, its extraordinary cast. “National Treasure” David Jason is not always my cup of tea, but he is on career-best form here as the irascible but strangely sympathetic head porter Skullion, while the ever-watchable Ian Richardson proves an implacable foe as the new Master of Porterhouse, Sir Godber Evans, backed up by Barbara Jefford, perfect as his battleaxe Lady Mary. We also have John Sessions as the hapless postgraduate Zipser, Paula Jacobs as his buxom bedder Mrs Biggs, Griff Rhys-Jones as the TV presenter Cornelius Carrington and one of my all time favourite voices, Charles Gray, as the splendidly named Sir Cathcart D’Eath. My personal favourites are, however, the marvelous roster of character actors of embody the various eccentric and grotesque members of the academic governing body. Headed by the inestimable Paul Rogers and John Woodnutt as the Dean and the Senior Tutor, they include Harold Innocent as the unctuous Bursar, Willoughby Goddard as the obese Professor Siblington and the opera singer Ian Wallace as the Praelector, whose orotund Latin utterances make me laugh out loud. Pride of place, however, must go to Lockwood West (father of Timothy) as the sex-obsessed Chaplain; he really is quite priceless!

A great cast, then, and a splendid script. This DVD will give a lot of people a great deal of pleasure.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 12, 2016 1:35 PM BST

Un'opera immaginaria
Un'opera immaginaria
Price: £7.18

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very clever compilation, 19 Sept. 2014
This review is from: Un'opera immaginaria (Audio CD)
This CD is the brainchild of one Ivan A. Alexandre. It is an “imaginary opera”, a pastiche which is intended to (and indeed does) preserve he individuality of Handel’s style. The composer was himself not averse to stitching together his own pasticcios and was prone to recycling musical items from one work to another.

Like all of Handel’s operas bar one, it is divided into three acts and features the whole range of traditional types of numbers taken from the whole of the composer’s career.

So, a bit more thought has gone into this enterprise than into the production of your standard compilation CD, but whether this amounts to a praiseworthy artistic endeavour on its own terms is, I would suggest, open to debate.

What cannot be denied, however, is the fact that this is a very enjoyable compilation and although I already have some of the tracks on the original CDs from which they are taken, this disc has given me a great deal of pleasure and the fact is that it “works” on its own terms. A major reason for this is, of course, the excellent recorded sound (the recordings date from 1986 to 2008) and the participation of some of the best baroque conductors (Curtis, Haim, Rousset, Bicket, Christie, Hickox and Norrington included) and singers would include the sopranos Dessay and Auger, the mezzos DiDonato, Blythe and the ever wonderful von Otter, the counter tenors Daniels and Jaroussky and the tenor Bostridge.

This is one of the best Handel compilations out there.

English National Songs
English National Songs
Price: £14.32

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars National songs, 12 Sept. 2014
This review is from: English National Songs (Audio CD)
I mean it as no disrespect to this very entertaining CD when I say that it is the sort of thing you might pick up in a National Trust shop. Recorded in 1992, it is a collection of popular English national songs, some of which will be familiar to all, others less well known. The disc covers four distinct periods – the late renaissance, the baroque, the late baroque/gallant and the classical and early romantic – and ranges from “Greensleeves” (c 1580), not, apparently, by Henry VIII as widely believed, to Sir Henry Bishop’s “Home, Sweet Home” from 1823.

Although some of the works on this disc were originally written for full orchestra (“Rule Britannia”, for example, comes from Arne’s masque “Alfred”), the performances here are rather more intimate, reflecting a domestic setting, and the instrumentation is by and large “authentic”.

The performers on the CD are, of course, experts in this field; Lucie Skeaping and The Broadside Band have made some wonderful recordings of “authentic” street music and if her soprano is most definitely on the “thin” side, she uses it with unfailing musicality and points her words with wit and humour. By the same token, John Potter’s rendition of “Tom Bowling” cannot compare with that of, say, Robert Tear in terms of heroic tone and sensitive shading, but he too delivers his music with style and panache.

A few years ago, Hyperion released a similar disc, “Fairest Isle; on balance, I prefer this, but there is much to enjoy here too.

Dvd ~ Philip Franks
Offered by IMSSALES
Price: £6.89

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic!, 29 Aug. 2014
This review is from: MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT [IMPORT] (DVD)
This is a different packaging from the two-disc set I own, but my comments on the production and the performances may still nevertheless be of some interest.

I love Dickens (cue for optional joke) and have read most of his major novels. "Martin Chuzzlewit" remains an exception, but I have recently caught up with the BBC television adaptation first shown in 1994.

This adaptation is by the distinguished writer David Lodge and the music of Geoffrey Burgon (of "Tinker Tailor" fame) adds much to its appeal. It is, however, the all-star cast which will, I suspect, attract most purchasers. Although young Martin gets a rather insipid portrayal by Ben Walden, the great Paul Scofield is ever watchable in the ambiguous role of old Martin and does equally well as his brother Anthony. The stars for me, however, are those in the juicy character parts, right down to marvellous comic vignettes by legendary comic actors Joan Sims and Graham Stark. Pride of place must go to the deliciously hypocritical Pecksniff of Tom Wilkinson, but not far behind is Keith Allen as the villainous Jonas and Pete Postelthwaite, who chews up the scenery as Montague Tigg. Julia Sawalha and Emma Chambers (very funny) offer contrasting performances as the Pecksniff sisters, while Philip Franks is a lovable Pinch. If this were not enough, we have Elizabeth Spriggs as Mrs Gamp and Sir John Mills as old Chuffey.

The BBC has produced some marvellous Dickens adaptations over the years and this is right up there with the best of them; I must get round to reading the book!

Trevor Howard/Viv Stanshall - Sir Henry at Rawlinson End [DVD]
Trevor Howard/Viv Stanshall - Sir Henry at Rawlinson End [DVD]
Dvd ~ Trevor Howard
Price: £8.98

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not to everyone's taste, but definitely to mine!, 11 Aug. 2014
(I have already posted a review of the boxed set which included this film)

I’ve been aware of this film for a while, but I’ve only just discovered its weird delights.

It is like no other film I have seen before or since; the word “surreal” barely does it justice.

The film was the brain child of the late great Vivian Stanshall (it’s worth trawling the net to read about Stanshall, his death and the origins of the film, but the fascinating commentary by the director Steve Roberts fills you in on much of the detail) and is a fitting tribute to his lunatic genius.

He is one of the film’s co-stars and although pride of place has to go to Trevor Howard as Sir Henry (the sight of him blacked-up and wearing a tutu on a monocycle is priceless), plaudits must also go to Denise Coffey’s Mrs E, Harry Fowler as Buller Bullethead, a ravaged Patrick Magee as Reverend Slodden (how great a departure is this from the Beckett roles for which he was so celebrated?) and, especially, to the Old Scrotum of the veteran Irish actor J.G. Devlin. Further adornments are “Benidorm’s” Sheila Reid, “The Royle Family’s” Liz Smith, “The Vicar of Dibley’s” Gary Waldhorn, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s” Simon (Brideshead) Jones and the eerily sexy Suzanne Danielle.

Stanshall’s music is, of course, delightful and the sepia print of the film adds to its strange charm.

This will not be to everyone’s taste, but by God, it is to mine!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 2, 2014 12:00 AM BST

The House in Nightmare Park [DVD]
The House in Nightmare Park [DVD]
Dvd ~ Frankie Howerd
Price: £9.14

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Frankie's finest film?, 10 Aug. 2014
This is something of a forgotten film; not a classic, certainly, but definitely worth rescuing from obscurity.

I remember seeing a clip from the film on Grenada’s “Cinema” programme when it was first released, caught it on late-night TV a few years later, but since then, nothing.

Until my purchase of this DVD, that is. Frankie Howerd has always been something of a “guilty pleasure” for me, as were Hammer horror films, but how would this film hold up today? Well, as I say, it’s far from being a masterpiece, but it is jolly entertaining nonetheless.

It’s a comedy thriller, very much in the vein of “The Cat and the Canary” and “The Old Dark House” and benefits from a choice cast of British character actors, notably Hugh Burden (very funny as the splenetic Reggie), a cringing Kenneth Griffith and the ever-sinister Rosalie Crutchley. The producers even drafted in an aging Hollywood star Ray Milland; American “imports” (although Milland was actually British) in British “B” movies often put in rather tired performances, but Milland positively chews up the scenery here. Another interesting piece of casting is Elizabeth Maclennan as Verity, the nearest the film can offer to love interest. Miss Maclennan was a founder and co-director of the famous Glasgow theatre company 7:84.

In what is, I suppose, the “Bob Hope” role, Frankie Howerd is very good; it would be erroneous to suggest that his performance is understated, but it contains fewer asides to the camera than we expect and, yes, comes close to real acting. He is just right and you can see why he himself considered this to be his favourite film role.

The workmanlike script is by Clive Exton and Terry Nation (of “Dr Who” fame) and the direction courtesy of Peter Sykes.

“Extras” are minimal, but this can be picked up at a budget price and fans of Mr Howerd and lovers of 70s horror (although this is an A certificate, it is no less scary than many films of the time which received an adult rating) will, I am sure, enjoy it.

Mozart - Cosi fan tutte
Mozart - Cosi fan tutte
Price: £18.43

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mozart in English, 7 Aug. 2014
This review is from: Mozart - Cosi fan tutte (Audio CD)
Mozart's operas somehow work better in English translation than works by other composers; there is a strange tendency for even the most dramatic of composers, such as Verdi, to end up sounding like Gilbert and Sullivan. An advantage of this recording is the excellent diction of the cast, notably Leslie Garrett and Thomas Allen, both equally adept at singing words as well as notes. The venerable translation by the Rev. Marmaduke Browne (albeit in an adaptation for the stage by John Cox) proves to be eminently singable and the recorded sound is very clear, if unnaturally reverberant to my ears.

This is, make no mistake, a very fine "Cosi" (as the work is rather fancifully entitled on the CD cover), but, let's be honest, it's not going to be your first choice version of the work, as the best recordings are in the original Italian and not subject to the cuts inflicted here; Charles Mackerras in his sleeve note tries to justify the implementation of these traditional cuts as making the recording closer to a staged performance, but it would have been good to at least include the excised arias as an appendix.

Mackerras is in my opinion the best of Mozart conductors and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment play splendidly for him. Vocal appoggiaturas and ornamentation are consistently effective and musically this is a highly recommendable version.

It boasts, of course, a splendid group of singers and is much more starrily cast than the other recordings in this series. It was recorded in 2007, by which stage three of the cast were approaching (or had already attained) veteran status. The "on session" photos which adorn the excellent booklet reveal Diana Montague to be an attractive middle-aged woman (looking, I thought, a bit like the cookery writer Prue Leith); hardly one's image of a girl scarcely out of adolescence. Her singing is astonishingly youthful, however, and I much prefer her Dorabella to the perfectly competent but rather anonymous singing of Janice Watson as Fiordiligi. Their suitors are played by two of today's star singers, Toby Spence and Christopher Maltman. Neither is ideal, however; Spence is marvelously adept at the florid passages of the Act 1 finale, but there is no escaping the fact that his tone sometimes verges on the strident (not helped by the recording, perhaps), while Maltman is not always ideally steady. They are both characterful, communicative performers, however. The stars of the show are the two intriguers, sung by a pair of singers who have a fair claim to national treasure status, Leslie Garrett and Sir Thomas Allen. I saw the former as Despina years ago for Glyndebourne Touring Opera and her voice has retained a remarkable freshness. Like Spence, she is not always flattered by the recording and her singing is at times a little hooty and nasal, but she is a true creature of the stage and her recitatives are a delight to hear; unlike some reviewers, I don't find her performance at all "hammy", just "larger than life". Sir Tom's voice seems to defy the passage of time and his diction is as notable as his characterization is acute.

Newcomers to the opera will find this a splendid introduction, but this is a highly recommendable version on its own terms too.

Beethoven: Mass in C major
Beethoven: Mass in C major
Price: £13.48

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Less familiar Beethoven, 30 July 2014
The Mass in C major is not one of Beethoven’s most familiar works; indeed, it represents his first foray into liturgical music. It was written at the behest of Prince Nicolaus Esterhàzy, Haydn’s last employer, and the critical reception it received from its patron after its first performance in 1807 was a negative one. It is, in fact, a traditional piece…on the cautious side, one might even suggest…but it is wholly delightful.

It is splendidly performed by the Collegium Musicum under Richard Hickox; what a terrible loss to classical music was the untimely death in 2008 of this most versatile of conductors! The four soloists (largely the same team used in Hickox’s series of Haydn mass recordings) are first rate and the recording quality is excellent (the disc was recorded in 2002).

The two “filler” items on the CD are, if anything, even more delightful than the main work. “Elegischer Gesang” was written in 1814 and has surprising resonances with Beethoven’s only opera, “Fidelio”, while “Meeresstille und Glückliche Fahrt” (“Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage”) was a setting of two poems by Goethe and was first performed on Christmas Day 1815; ironically, the composer had never seen the sea! Both pieces, as I say, are absolutely lovely and almost worth the price of the disc in themselves.

To Saint Cecilia, Works by Purcell, Handel and Haydn
To Saint Cecilia, Works by Purcell, Handel and Haydn
Price: £25.30

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful packaging, fine performances, lovely music, 30 July 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
You shouldn’t really judge a CD set by its cover, but it has to be said that the presentation by NaÔve of this set is quite breathtaking, illustrated by a sumptuous collection of Old Masters and containing three fascinating essays on the music here recorded.

The recording was made in Grenoble by Mark Minkowski and his Musiciens du Louvre in 2009, the year which marked not only the anniversary of the birth of Henry Purcell (1659), but also of the death of the other two champions of St Cecilia, George Frideric Handel (1759) and Franz Joseph Haydn (1809). I recall seeing a television broadcast involving the forces featured here, but whether or not this is a “live” recording, I’m not sure.

The three works featured here are hymns to the power of music, odes to St Cecilia, the patron saint of the art.

Henry Purcell wrote no fewer than four odes to her glory, But “Hail! Bright Cecilia”, written in 1692, is particularly memorable. The tenor’s florid, embellished arioso “Tis Nature’s voice” describes and embodies the passions both roused and expressed by music and is sensitively performed here by Anders J. Dahlin. Another highlight is the great chorus “Soul of the World”, while the famous bass aria “Wond’rous machine” celebrates the organ as the iconographic property of Cecilia herself.

The most familiar of the three works is probably Handel’s “A Song for St Cecilia’s Day”, a setting of Dryden written in 1739. The most famous number, “The trumpet’s loud clangour”, is thrillingly done by the American tenor Richard Croft, even if he is danger of shouting from time to time on these discs. The soprano Lucy Crowe produces some ravishing sounds (as she does in the Purcell), but my admiration for a singer who attended a school where I used to work has been recorded elsewhere.

Haydn’s “Cäcilienmesse” dates from 1766. In its longer form, it is the composer’s longest, grandest and most extrovert mass setting, featuring 18 movements and five separate fugues. For reasons of expediency (fitting three works onto two CDs), this version only features the Kyrie and Gloria, but Minkowski includes a couple of movements from the longer version. I’m sure that some purists won’t like this, but as I didn’t already know the mass, it doesn’t bother me unduly. It is a wonderful piece, but both Crowe and Croft are less at ease than in the earlier two works (she has some very florid music to dispatch). The bass Luca Tittoto copes well with some difficult intervals and low notes, but his tone is not especially individual. The fruity contralto of Nathalie Stutzmann is, however, an adornment in this work; what an amazing voice!

Two members of the chorus put in very accomplished solos in the Purcell, but the chorus is decidedly idiosyncratic in its delivery of the English text in the first two works.

This is a fascinating two disc set, with enjoyable recordings of three marvelous works, some splendid solo singing and the packaging is, as I say, very fine indeed.

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