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Serghiou Const (Nicosia, Cyprus)

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Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
Price: £9.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Revisiting Goldberg Variations with Murray Perahia, 11 Mar. 2015
I wish to explain 'revisiting': I have recently written a review on a rendition of Goldberg Variations with Angela Hewitt. At the time and for reasons of comparison, I had listened to all three renditions of the music I have in my CD collection which in addition to Angela Hewitt's includes Murray Perahia's and Andrass Schiff's. In the review while highly praising Hewitt's, I mentioned that Perahia's rendition was also exemplary.

'Revisiting' has the meaning that I listened again to Perahia's rendition but this time with the sole purpose of writing a review of it.

I have to acknowledge that listening to Perahia's for a second time in a short time span made me to love it even more. This is hardly surprising: because the Goldberg Variations are wonderfully varied, colorful and emotionally differentiated pieces and for this reason, one cannot possibly grasp in a single listening all the subtleties and nuances of this immensely varied, joyous, and fulfilling masterpiece.

Would I venture an amateur ranking? Personally, I would give Perahia's the edge, with Hewitt's a close second, and Schiff's a distant third.

Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology
Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology
by Jim Al-Khalili
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

5.0 out of 5 stars Life: a bridge between the classical and quantum realms, 10 Mar. 2015
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The book the first on the subject for lay audience, bringing together quantum physics, biochemistry, and biology, is exemplarily written while quantum biology promises to become a landmark in the field of biology. The authors do not assume any prior knowledge of the reader particularly in counter intuitive quantum mechanics but also molecular biology and consequently explain lucidly the relevant terminology making extensive use of analogy but explaining clearly to the reader the limits of the analogy.

When thinking of physical reality we usually compartmentalize it into the sub atomic micro cosmos where the weird and counter intuitive quantum mechanics operates and the macro cosmos of the classical realm which is the way we experience physical reality.

Also when thinking of life we assign to it two attributes namely self-replication and self-sustainability.

But the authors, and this is the focus and essence of the book, assign an entirely novel attribute to life which differentiates it from the inanimate world: that life has roots that reach down from the Newtonian surface through the turbulent thermodynamics waters to penetrate the quantum bedrock, allowing life to harness coherence, superposition, tunneling, or entanglement. This macroscopic sensitivity to the quantum realm is unique to life and allows it potentially to exploit quantum-level phenomena such as the preceding to make a difference to us all. This recent unraveling of the mystery of how quantum weirdness manages to survive and retain its coherence long enough in hot, wet and messy bodies as to be meaningful to life came as a complete surprise and the idea was mocked by brilliant physicists at MIT as recently as 2007.

In the ensuing I shall cite vital life functions in which quantum phenomena play an important role but first I shall touch upon the weird and counter intuitive characteristics of the quantum realm while the reader can obtain a more comprehensive treatment in the book text.

wave-particle duality - the intrinsic ability of elementary particles to behave simultaneously as particles and waves - the authors present in this regard very neatly the two-slit experiment.

quantum tunneling - the ability of sub atomic particles such as electrons and protons to seep through seemingly impenetrable energy barriers.

superposition - whereby particles can do two or a hundred or a million things at once; for example we say that electron's spin state is a superposition (combination or mixture) of spin up and spin down.

quantum entanglement - allows particles such as electrons that were once together to remain in instant, almost miraculous, communication with each other despite separated by huge distances.

coherence - the maintenance of the wave function

decoherence - the collapsing of the wave function through measurement which is not confined to physical measurement but also by its surrounding with an ocean of atoms or molecules which function as measurement.

In the ensuing I shall cite life functions in which quantum mechanics has been confirmed following the book sequence rather than the vitality of functions to life:

magneto reception - the ability in species of birds and butterflies (Robins and Monarch butterflies) to detect the direction and strength of the earth's magnetic field and use it to navigate around the globe; there is experimental evidence that the underlying mechanism is quantum entanglement.

enzymes - the life's catalysts, which are so central to life are able to reach down into a deeper level of reality than classical chemistry and make use of some neat quantum mechanics; substantial evidence has been amassed that proton tunneling occurs commonly in many enzymatic reactions at the kinds of temperature at which life operates.

olfaction - although considerable controversy still remains the only theory that provides an explanation as to how flies and humans can distinguish the smells between normal and deuterated compounds is based on the quantum mechanical mechanism of inelastic electron tunneling.

photosynthesis - living cells do manage to keep decoherence at bay for long enough to transport excitons in photosynthetic complexes.

heredity - Watson and Crick in their landmark paper published in Nature in 1953 elucidated the double helical structure of DNA and described a set of simple rules as to how biological information is encoded and inherited. The specific pairing between the bases on opposite strands (an Adenine:Thymine pair or a Guanine:Cytosine pair) is actually provided by weak chemical bonds called hydrogen bonds. This 'glue' holding two molecules together is essentially a shared proton. The Swedish physicist Per-Olov Lowdin was the first to point out what seems obvious in hindsight: that the proton's position is determined by quantum, not classical, laws thus ensuring the high fidelity of heredity.

mind- quantum coherence plays an 'indispensable' role in the conducting of ions through nerve channels and is thereby an essential part of our thinking process. On the other hand quantum mechanics is not involved in consciousness and the binding problem. The binding problem relates as to how information encoded in disparate regions of the brain come together in the conscious mind. Current findings suggest that the brain's own electromagnetic field, generated by nerve firing, also influences nerve firing, providing a kind of self-referencing loop that many theorists argue is an essential component of consciousness.

the origin of life - the possibility that quantum coherence in biology played the kind of role in the origin of life as it does in living cells. By providing more efficient search strategies, quantum mechanics may have made the task a self-replicator enormously easier.

The book impacted on me a whole new and huge dimension in my perception of life.

Bach: Art Of Fugue [Angela Hewitt] [Hyperion: CDA67980]
Bach: Art Of Fugue [Angela Hewitt] [Hyperion: CDA67980]
Price: £9.81

5.0 out of 5 stars Music of Spartan severity and sublime beauty masterly rendered, 12 Feb. 2015
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To put it succinctly, a masterpiece masterly rendered. The rendition sets standards of excellence against which renditions for years to come will be judged.

In her very detailed liner note, the exemplary pianist and avid performer of Bach's Keyboard music, Angela Hewitt acknowledges that she purposely deferred performing 'The Art of Fugue' after performing and recording all the rest of his Keyboard music. To stress the daunting nature of the work she explains that 'The Goldberg Variations' seem like child's play by comparison.

After realizing the difficulties presented in the various movements, the near impossibility of performing Contrapunctus 11, the difficulty in deciding the sequence of certain movements ultimately deciding on the merits of musicality, the daunting problem posed with the uncompleted Contapunctus 14, and finally her decision to conclude with the chorale prelude 'Wenn wir in hochsten Noten Sein' which has nothing to do with the 'Art of the Fugue' but which was included in the origin edition, one is prepared to listen to music not only of utmost complexity but also somewhat dyspeptic. Not so. One listens to smoothly flowing divine music without really being conscious of the underlying complexity and without even a trace of impediment. One is immersed in spirituality and transported to an altogether higher level of purity. Personally I prefer listening to this music in solitude and in a background of absolute silence.

Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
Price: £13.03

5.0 out of 5 stars Music as therapy, 8 Feb. 2015
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In the concluding part of her detailed and insightful narrative in the liner note accompanying the disc, Angela Hewitt writes: 'We might ask ourselves why this work has such an enormous effect on us, as I believe it does. It is certainly one of the most therapeutic pieces of music in that we always feel better for having listened to it. The beauty, joy and fulfillment that Bach shares with us are powerful healers, and give us momentarily the sense of completeness we seek.' After listening to her exemplary rendition, I can attest to the healing power of this piece of music which served as an inspiration for my subject heading.

Bach described the Goldberg Variations, merely as a keyboard 'practice-piece', composed for his talented student Gottlieb Goldberg to play on the harpsichord. But in the hands of a genius resulted in a masterpiece which requires daunting virtuoso skills to handle its extraordinary musical, technical and intellectual difficulties.

The theme is a sublime aria symmetrically devised in two halves of sixteen bars each with beguiling melody anchored on the bass line. This ground bass is like that of a passacaglia or a chaconne, it serves as the backbone of the construction. There are thirty variations, after which the Aria returns in its initial shape, thus uniting the beginning with the end. The thirty variations are divided into ten groups of three. Each group contains a brilliant virtuoso toccata-like piece, a gentle and elegant character piece and a strictly polyphonic canon. The canons are presented in a sequence of increasing intervals starting with the canon in unison up until the canon in ninths. In place of the canon in tenths, we have a quodlibet (what pleases) which combines fragments of two folk songs with the ground bass.

The characteristics of her exemplary rendition comprise lightness of touch, deeply felt musicianship, dexterity, and dazzling independent finger work while the drama in Bach's music is profoundly palpable. Murray Perahia's rendition is of a similar exemplary quality.

Martha Argerich & Friends - Rachmaninov
Martha Argerich & Friends - Rachmaninov
Price: £9.23

5.0 out of 5 stars Rachmaninov compositions for two pianos with Argerich and friends, 14 Jan. 2015
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The two disc compilation comprise Rachmaninov's compositions for two pianos/piano four hands but additionally in Disc 2 there is a lovely brief work for piano six hands beautifully performed by Lilya Zilberstein and her two children, Daniel and Anton and warmly applauded (all six pieces in the two disc compilation are live recordings).

In the compilation we enjoy the exemplary pianist, Martha Argerich sharing her talent with the talents of younger pianists at her Lugano academy. The compilation showcases the results gleaned between 2005 and 2009. The rendition is exquisite throughout while the compositions vary from youthful works - Suite No.1 was composed in 1893 by the then barely 20 years old Rachmaninov while the last chronologically 'Symphonic Dances Op.45' in 1940, three years before the composer's death.

Disc 1 commences with the 'Symphonic Dances'. This composition was written for symphony orchestra, specifically the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. At the same time Rachmaninov made a second version of the work, an arrangement for two pianos. We listen here to Martha Argerich and Nelson Goerner in a masterful rendition rich in orchestral timbres, somber tones and an inward-looking interpretation. The youthful but full with color and chromatic romanticism 'Suite No.1' is performed elegantly by Argerich and Zilberstein while the disc concludes with 'Suite No.2' with Argerich and Gabriela Montero in perfect harmony. Disc 2 commences with another youthful work '6 Duets' while it concludes with the rarely performed but beautiful 'Russian Rhapsody' in which Libya Zilberstein is joined with Alexander Mogilevsky in a lovely rendition.

Shostakovich: Symphony No.13, Prokofiev: October Cantata
Shostakovich: Symphony No.13, Prokofiev: October Cantata
Price: £11.03

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling rendition of Shostakovich's Symphony No.13 'Babi Yar', 14 Jan. 2015
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I bought the disc after listening to and reviewing a performance of 'Babi Yar' with Vasily Petrenko conducting the 'Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra' with soloist Bass, Alexander Vinogradov and Men's voices of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and the Huddersfield Choral Society. I had characterized the rendition as accomplished. But I was intrigued by the fact that while reviewers gave favorable comments still some of them felt that the male choir was inferior to Russian ones.

To form a personal opinion and arrive at my own verdict, I listened in sequence to the Petrenko rendition and the present, a legendary second performance recorded live, Moscow, Large Hall of the Conservatory, December 20, 1962 with Kirril Kondrashin conducting, Vitaly Gromadsky, soloist bass, RSFSR Academic Choir, Yurlov State Choir and the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. The disc is a hybrid SACD 2014 remastering; the disc includes a 23:26 minutes excerpt from Prokofiev's 'October' Op.74 but I felt that this piece was entirely different in character to the symphony, that the combination of the two in the disc was rather unfortunate, and consequently I confined my review to the comparison of the two renditions of the Symphony.

The Kondrashin rendition came first in flying colors and this was particularly true for the bass soloist and male choir. But the Kondrashin rendition as a whole impacted on me as particularly inspired and passionate and listening to it offered me a rare fulfillment; by comparison the Predenko rendition pales.

The disc is a very rare gem which will grace your disc collection.

Piano Duos
Piano Duos
Price: £10.57

5.0 out of 5 stars A stellar rendition of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, 30 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: Piano Duos (Audio CD)
The subject heading is not coincidental.

The note on the disc cover reads 'This live recording captures a magical moment: the reunion of two legendary superstars and soul masters of the keyboard (Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim), who both launched their careers as child prodigies in their native Buenos Aires and here team up once again for a 'breathtaking' piano duo recital.'

The disc comprise Mozart's Sonata for two pianos in D major; Franz Schubert's Variations on an Original Theme in A flat for four hands and a single piano; and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, a two piano arrangement of the orchestral score.

The rendition of both the Mozart and Schubert pieces is elegant, beautifully flowing, and attractive but it is the Stravinsky's Rite of Spring that it is truly awe inspiring. It is Stravinsky himself that had prepared a four-hand piano arrangement of the orchestral score and an early performance with Claude Debussy. I intuit that both Stravinky and Debussy from their graves must have listened to Martha Argerich's and Daniel Barenboim's rendition with appreciation and envy. It is difficult to convey the impact that the rendition had on me. It is amazing how two pianos can convey the feeling of a whole orchestra. The performance is rich, fluid and vivid, with compelling thematic and chromatic variations of this exceptionally fascinating work. A truly awe inspiring rendition.

The Establishment: And how they get away with it
The Establishment: And how they get away with it
by Owen Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A contemptible UK establishment finds its deserving critic, 29 Dec. 2014
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The special character of the book is that it focuses on the neo-liberal agenda as it relates to the UK and describes its actors - business, politics, and the media - which form and legitimize the UK establishment and are its beneficiaries.

The merit of the book is its exemplar and incisive writing style which brings in stark relief the malaise pervading the British society due to the adoption of the neo-liberal agenda.

The book in particular explores what today's establishment is and how it works; how its ideas became so victorious and unchallenged; what it looks like; how it justifies its behavior; and why it poses a threat to democracy.

The main features of the neo-liberal order are the drastic reduction of taxes on the wealthy and big business; the privatization of public assets; rolling back the role of the state; the unleashing of much-worshiped market forces; the erosion of the welfare state and social security; the most anti-trade-union laws in the western world. The result is the concentration of massive wealth in a tiny minority, an enormous and increasing wealth inequality, increased unemployment, and the impoverishment of the population at large.

Recommended remedies include redistribution of wealth and increased taxes on the wealthy, re nationalization of the railways, energy, and the utilities, rent control, and the introduction of a living wage.

Shostakovich: Symphony No.11
Shostakovich: Symphony No.11
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A flashback, 14 Oct. 2014
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The recent release of a fascinating Thirteenth Symphony marked the conclusion of the Shostakovich Symphony cycle which is destined to become memorable.

I look back to the propitious beginning of the cycle with the release of the 11th Symphony 'The Year 1905'in 2009; my Amazon webpage for the disc reads that I had purchased it on 10th August 2010. Many - and this includes me - believe that the 11th is Shostakovich's best Symphony. It depicts a fraught 'Bloody Sunday' massacre of two hundred peaceful demonstrators by Czarist soldiers outside the Winter Palace in St Peters burg in 1905.

The characteristics of this rendition became the hallmark of the cycle as a whole; the charisma, prowess, and on this specific instance passion of the young Russian conductor, Vasily Petrenko, an inspired Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and a crystalline clear sound by the supposedly humble Naxos label.

The excerpt that follows from the note on the cover of the disc provides a superb description of the character and characteristics of orchestra and Symphony:

'Scored for a sizable orchestra of triple woodwind, four horns, three each of trumpets and trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, celesta, harps and strings, the Symphony makes extensive use of revolutionary songs as thematic elements, as it progresses, without pause, from the glacial opening movement, 'Palace Square', to the terrifying massacre and its aftermath, 'The Ninth of January', the funeral third movement, 'Eternal Memory', and the final movement, 'The Tocsin', which culminates with cataclysmic bell strokes.'

The Globalization Paradox: Why Global Markets, States, and Democracy Can't Coexist
The Globalization Paradox: Why Global Markets, States, and Democracy Can't Coexist
by Dani Rodrik
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.79

4.0 out of 5 stars Learned and reasoned, 11 Oct. 2014
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The arguments and recommended remedies by the author are clear, reasonable and well documented; they are persuasive to a good faith observer.

The author is correct in arguing that the mixed-economy model was the crowning achievement of the twentieth century. The new balance that it established between states and markets underpinned an unprecedented period of social cohesion, stability, and prosperity in the advanced economies that lasted until the mid-1970s. This capitalism went with a limited kind of globalization - the Bretton Woods compromise. The postwar model required keeping the international economy at bay because it was built for and operated at the level of nation states. Thus the Bretton Woods-GATT regime established a shallow form of international economic integration, with controls on international capital flows, partial trade liberalization, and plenty of exceptions for socially sensitive sectors as well as developing nations.

The author similarly observes that this model frayed during the 1970s and 1980s, and now it appears to have broken down irrevocably under the dual pressures of financial globalization and deep trade integration. The new vision of hyper-globalization suffered from two blind spots. One was that we could push for rapid and deep integration in the world economy and let institutional underpinnings catch up later. The second was that hyper-globalization would have no,or mostly benign effects on domestic international arrangements. The crises- of both finance and legitimacy- that globalization has produced, culminating in the financial meltdown of 2008s have laid bare the immense size of these blind spots.

To remedy the situation, the author visualizes an amended Bretton-Woods suited for the 21st century and articulates and elaborates his vision convincingly in the last two chapters of the book.

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