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Serghiou Const (Nicosia, Cyprus)
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Francis Poulenc:Mass In G [Coro: COR16149]
Francis Poulenc:Mass In G [Coro: COR16149]
Price: £14.69

5.0 out of 5 stars Twentieth century religious chorals of beauty and clarity, 24 May 2017
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We listen to the expressive medium of the human voice in religious chorals of beauty and clarity.

Poulenc's sacred music reveals a more serious side of the composer and an expression of his re-awakening Catholic faith following the early death of his close friend Pierre-Octave Ferroud.

The Sixteen's recording revolves around themes of conflict and atonement, reflecting both Poulenc's intense internal struggles and the turbulence of life in France during the mid-twentieth century.

Poulenc's sacred music draws inspiration from Romanesque architecture and art and Mediterranean clarity. The music is sincere, direct, melodic and endowed with a harmonic language.

The disc commences with the 'Salve Regina' composed in 1956 which sets the prayer as the cataclysmic conclusion of the opera 'Dialogue des Carmelites', where it is sung by a group of nuns condemned to death in the French revolution as they are sent one by one to the guillotine.

The 'Quatre motets pour un temps de penitence' were composed on the eve of World War II. Their unsettling atmospheres, with frequent changes of meter and harmonics destabilized by vertiginous shifts, reflect the turbulence of the atmosphere leading to the war.

The 'Litanies a la Vierge Noir' was completed within a week. The invocation is simple but the organ brings an anguished complexity. The music reaches a peak of spiritual desperation around half way through. The quiet concluding section is consolatory yet filled with foreboding.

The 'Quatre motets pour le temps de Noel' date from 1952. They offer four varied images of the Nativity story full of fervor and generosity and incorporating unusual techniques such as humming.

The 'Un soir de neige' is a set of four winter-themed pieces written mostly on Christmas day 1944. It has been aptly described as reflecting both the inner feeling of peace generated by Christmas and the bleak solitude of another winter of German occupation in France. Though secular, it blends effortlessly with Poulenc's religious works for it is conceived with the same inner fervor and sincerity of expression.

The 'Ave verum corpus' for women's voices is a short piece of great clarity and pristine beauty.

The 'Mass in G' has a simple, solid feel but a beautifully proportioned architecture. The 'Kyrie' is savage with strong rhythmic gestures and startling, acerbic harmonies. The 'Gloria' involves dramatic exchanges between groups of voices, often ironic and almost pictorial. The 'Sanctus' evokes a gentle ringing of bells closing with a chromatic homo phony. The 'Agnus Dei' opens with a magical soprano solo which emanates a sense of timelessness, followed by an extended passage in unison. This almost mystical movement is Poulenc at its purest and most touching.


Bach: 6 Cello Suites BWV 1007, 1008, 1009, 1010, 1011 & 1012
Bach: 6 Cello Suites BWV 1007, 1008, 1009, 1010, 1011 & 1012
Price: £10.67

5.0 out of 5 stars A patrician rendition, 22 May 2017
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The rendition possesses nobility and is intellectually rigorous and expressively controlled.

Prior to listening to Fourier's rendition, of the renditions I have in my collection, I rated Paul Tortelier's, Janos Starker's and Pablo Casals's as exceptional; to this rarefied sphere of excellence, Fourier's rendition must justifiably be added.

While I liked Fourier's rendition from beginning to end still there were movements that really touched my heart. I refer particularly to all six Sarabandes whose elegiac character was magnificently expressed in the rendition while I loved Suite No. 6 from beginning to end.


Age of Anger: A History of the Present
Age of Anger: A History of the Present
by Pankaj Mishra
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The underlying causes of the present and enormous global upheaval, 21 May 2017
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With the collapse of Soviet Communism, the universal triumph of liberal capitalism and democracy seemed assured. Free markets and human rights appeared to be the right formula for the billions trying to overcome degrading poverty and political oppression: the words globalization and internet inspired in the age of innocence, more hope than anxiety as they entered common speech. Even former socialist countries came to uphold an ideal of cosmopolitan liberalism: the universal commercial society of self-interested rational individual that was originally advocated in the eighteenth century by such Enlightenment thinkers as Montesquieu, Adam Smith, Voltaire and Kant.

But the promised universal civilization - one harmonized by a combination of universal suffrage, broad educational opportunities, steady economic growth, private initiative and personal advancement - has not materialized.

Instead we have billions of individuals with very different pasts finding themselves herded by capitalism into a common present where grossly unequal distribution of wealth and power have created humiliating new hierarchies. Most of these shocks of modernity were once absorbed by inherited social structures of family and community, and the state.

All those billions left behind by modernity share an existential resentment of other people's being, caused by an intense mix of envy and a sense of humiliation, and powerlessness, resentment which as it lingers and deepens poisons civil society and undermines political liberty and is making presently for a global turn to authoritarianism, toxic forms of chauvinism, xenophobia and terrorism such as Al Gaeda and ISIS.

The book is rich in antecedents starting from the eighteenth through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But the author does not make suggestions for remedial measures.

Personally I feel that nothing has the finality of inevitability and that humanity's future is a question of choices that we can still make. I look forward to a future for the whole humanity that is more inclusive and equitable and for collective action for the evils that modernity inherited to us such as global warming.


Bach: 6 Cello Suites Bwv 1007-1012 - Sony Classical Masters
Bach: 6 Cello Suites Bwv 1007-1012 - Sony Classical Masters
Price: £6.78

5.0 out of 5 stars A consummate rendition, 7 May 2017
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A liner note is conspicuously absent from the 2 CD compilation but I shall not penalize it for that, an otherwise serious flaw, due to the exceptional quality of the rendition.

Bach created incomparable masterpieces in his six suites for unaccompanied Cello. He performed his Cello suites within the standard baroque suite: four basic dances - Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gique - and Galanterien an optional group of newer, shorter and more homo phonic dances usually in pairs - in the Cello suites pairs of Minuets, Bourrees or Gavottes - which Bach inserted between the last two older dances. The only non dance movement is the Prelude. The six Preludes are fascinating because each exploits a different mood of the Cello.

The delight of the Cello suites rests in the perfection of design, the beauty of their melodies and counterpoints and the marvelous exploitation of the instrument.

The rendition possesses depth, warmth, melodious counterpoints, excellent variation and color, a dance character and is both humane and spiritual in complete harmony with the intent of the composer.

It occupies the rarefied sphere inhabited by such exceptional renditions as Paul Tortelier's and for that matter Pablo Casals'.


Classic FM Hall Of Fame The Silver Edition
Classic FM Hall Of Fame The Silver Edition
Price: £11.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem studded Anthology of Classical Music, 6 May 2017
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The five - disc compilation released by Classic fM 'Hall of Fame: The Silver Edition' to celebrate 25 years of Classic fM comprises an uninterrupted string of gems. I could not conceive a finer compilation to celebrate the event.

There is little doubt that the compilation was assembled with eclectic taste and meticulous care.

In the compilation parade great or eminent composers with well known and beloved pieces; the renditions are exquisite with fine conductors, orchestras and soloists. The music presented concerns individual works or single movements of concertos, symphonies or sonatas while we listen to both instrumental and choral music. But whatever we listen to, represents the best, finest and beloved in classical music.

I strongly recommend the compilation to both aficionados and neophytes in classical music; the former will listen to their favorite composers and pieces in their best renditions while the latter will receive a fascinating introduction to classical music in a wide spectrum of composers and music covering the entire period from the baroque to the 21st century.


Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto In D Major, Op. 35 / Sibelius: Violin Concerto In D Minor, Op. 47
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto In D Major, Op. 35 / Sibelius: Violin Concerto In D Minor, Op. 47
Price: £14.89

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A peerless performance, 12 April 2017
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In a faultless performance as certainly this one was, all components should work perfectly by themselves but also in blend and combination and this was gratifyingly the case. The brilliant Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili was a revelation for me in all her majesty along with the venerable Berlin Staatskappelle under the able baton of Daniel Barenboim.

The Tchaikovsky violin concerto is a masterpiece of unique penetrating beauty. Batiashvili in her compelling rendition went to the core of the concerto purging sentimentality but sublimely expressing the emotional richness, architecture, musicianship and unity of the composition as a whole. She performed impeccably the rich variety, climaxes and anguish of the music. The composer completed the concerto in few short weeks endowing among other with a unity of vision which Batiashvili marvelously retained. For the whole concerto I remained totally concentrated, completely fascinated by the beauty of the music and the magic of the rendition.

The Sibelius is beautiful on its own merit and Batiashvili's rendition was impeccable but pales by comparison even though individual parts present their beauty and attraction. It is telling that my attention lapsed at times.

I shall certainly revisit the disc but primarily for the Tchaikovsky.


Bach: Goldberg Variations
Bach: Goldberg Variations
Price: £12.80

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An elegant and fluid rendition but not exceptional, 12 April 2017
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The young pianist possesses dexterity, lightness of touch, independent finger- work and pleasing musicianship. Her playing is varied, colorful, and the pieces are emotionally differentiated. But the passion and drama in Bach's music is not readily tangible in her rendition.

By contrast, in truly exceptional renditions such as Glenn Gould's legendary rendition of 1955 and of renditions from 2000 onward such as Murray Perahia's rendition of 2000 which incidentally was Gramophone's Recording of the Month, these features that is passion and drama, among other, are readily palpable.


James MacMillan: Stabat Mater [Harry Christophers; The Sixteen; Britten Sinfonia ] [Coro: COR16150]
James MacMillan: Stabat Mater [Harry Christophers; The Sixteen; Britten Sinfonia ] [Coro: COR16150]
Price: £13.48

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A choral masterpiece, 12 April 2017
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We listen to a choral masterpiece with string orchestral accompaniment of lasting value destined to become a classic.

The text is a 13th century Marian hymn, meditating on Mary's suffering as she stands at the foot of the cross beholding her dying son. The poem goes beyond mere description and invites the reader and the listener to partake in the mother's grief as a path to grace, and as a part of a believer's spiritual journey.

Sponsored by the 'Genesis Foundation', the music written by Sir James McMillan, the choir 'The Sixteen' under the direction of Harris Christopher and the string orchestra 'Britten Sinfonia'.

James MacMillan goes to the core of the 13th century hymn creating music of a painful world of loss, spiritual desolation, with a score packed to the full with those intense feelings. The composer communicates with the listener with emotional directness and beauty while his intensely personal music encapsulates the timelessness of Mary's grief for her dying son.

Harry Christopher's 'The Sixteen' is one of the great choirs of the world and their standards of vocal brilliance and blend were unsurpassed in the rendition as were their emotionally charged voices. But special praise should also be given to the female and male soloists for their virtuoso singing and ravishingly evocative solos.

As for the 'Britten Sinfonia' suffice it to cite Harry Christopher's comments: 'our collaboration with 'Britten Sinfonia' has been a marriage made in heaven', who could possibly disagree?


Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932
Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932
by Natalia Murray
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £26.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An explosion of creativity in Russian Art 1917 - 1932, 6 April 2017
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The book is the catalog accompanying the exhibition 'REVOLUTION: Russian Art 1917 - 1932' hosted at the Royal Academy of Arts. It possesses the hallmark features of excellence that characterize the Royal Academy of Arts publications: exemplary organization, meticulous attention to detail, authoritative essays assessing the extraordinary diversity of artistic expression during a period of explosive creativity unleashed by the October Revolution of 1917 and magnificent illustrations on excellent quality paper.

The book draws inspiration from the great exhibition of 1932 held at the State Russian Museum of Leningrad which brought together the most avant-garde art forms along with more traditional which flourished during the fifteen year period (1917-1932). The Leningrad exhibition was destined to be the swansong of progressive art with Stalin's suppression of the avant-garde in 1934. Thereafter the only form of art allowed was that of Socialist Realism.

In the book we have the opportunity to view exquisite specimens of artistic expression in all its varied forms comprising painting, sculpture, graphic design, film, textiles, ceramics, architectural design and construction.

Two essays in the book are justifiably devoted to two exemplary artists respectively Kazimir Malevich representing the avant-garde and Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin the figurative and traditional art.

Kazimir Malevich is the exponent of Suprematist art, the creations of which seem to fly in cosmic space. In the book we are presented with exquisite specimens of Suprematist ceramics. We also view his architectural prototypes which were not designs for specific building and they were not functional architectural projects but like his paintings and ceramics they occupy another realm. Finally we are exposed to his late figurative paintings whose recurrent theme is isolation and anonymity, the facelesssness of many of these figures suggests a loss of identity and a robotic existence as if collective work might induce new states of mind. These faceless people in the paintings occupy a timeless place without name and undermine the spectators security with blank and silent faces. The effect is unnerving and moving.

Kuzma Petrov-Votkin's art is a reflection of the spirit, of a metaphysical harmony and of the natural cycle of life. His paintings elicit an intimate mood and a mystical dimension. Both form and color were of equal importance to him. He analysed the techniques and compositions of Novgorod icons and identified their color trinity of blue, yellow and red and elliptical space with its 'cosmic, religious feeling'.

One of his most compelling paintings is 'Our Lady of Tenderness for Angered Hearts' which combines divine beauty and infinite kindness, possibly the most beautiful rendition of the Madonna I have ever encountered.


John Craxton
John Craxton
by Ian Collins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £32.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasure to read the text and a joy to view the pictures, 23 Mar. 2017
This review is from: John Craxton (Hardcover)
I read the book after I had visited a joint exhibition on John Craxton, the Greek painter Nicos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, and writer Patrick Leigh-Fermor while subsequently I attended a lecture by the author on the artist; both events were hosted at the Leventis gallery in Nicosia. Lecture and book mirrored each other while the author was as engaging in his oral presentation as he is in his written text.

I wish to clarify that when I write in the review's title that it was' a joy to view the pictures', this relates to the work of the artist after he settled in Greece in 1946 at the age of 23. Because his very early work in England comprising meditative shepherds, dead hares, estuaries, mills, tree roots and willows is shrouded with mystery, is haunting, and not simply melancholic but outright gloomy.

After his stay in Greece - initially to Poros then to Hydra and eventually to Crete - his paintings experienced a radical and immediate transformation, from emanating melancholy to emanating the joy of life. Obviously the Greek light, the blue sky and sea, the landscape, the vibrant people and animals had done their miracle.

His themes were the landscape, pastoral themes, shepherds, sailors, dancers, and from the animal kingdom, cats and goats. He was a slow painter and he reworked his paintings sometimes for years. He worked on a ravine theme year after year until he obtained the result he wanted. His later landscapes were informed both by Byzantine mosaics and the Cretan civilization.

While staying in Greece, he maintained a residence in England where he both worked on his paintings and undertaking new projects such as the design of sets for the Covent Garden ballet, Debussy's Dafnis and Chloe with Margot Fonteyn, the protagonist. John Craxton and Margot Fonteyn were once lovers and in the book there is a lovely photo of both in their golden youth in 1951 on holiday on Bourtzi island off Nafplion, Greece.

The author's lean text relates directly to the paintings and Craxton's artistic evolution while he spices the text with vivid anecdotes from the life of the artist. One such reads: 'Early in 1946 John Craxton went to Paris, cash and permit provided by Peter Watson (his benefactor). In the Catalan restaurant where he knew Picasso ate, he ordered a bottle of wine and watched and waited. Across the room he saw a beautiful woman smoking a cigarette and knew at once it was Dora Maar: for all their distortion, her portraits were recognizable likenesses. The sculptor Alberto Giacometti came in, then Picasso himself, affable acting 'like a king and a child mingled'. He drew on the tablecloth and when he left, the patron carefully tore off the picture and bore it away.'

John Craxton was gregarious and he was equally at home at a Hania tavern in company with Cretan sailors as at an embassy dinner. He liked to tell jokes, anecdotes and puns with which he also enlivened his Cards.

John Craxton's last Christmas Card (2008) - he died in 2009 - depicts st Mary holding a smartphone proximal to her ear and saying 'I Am With Child.'


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