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R. Burgess (London UK)

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A Long Way from Galilee
A Long Way from Galilee
by Kevin Clarke
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A long long way indeed!, 28 April 2016
Kevin Clarke quotes Bishop Geoffrey Robinson as saying that if you take the personal relationship out of religion all you have left is an empty formalism. This sadly is what seems to be happening today in the Catholic Church. External authority, formalism, rituals, doctrines to which unquestioning assent is required are now re-emphasised as if they constitute the whole of what it is to be Catholic. Any personal relationship with Christ - the whole point of religion - is left to look after itself. Kevin Clarke remains committed to the project of Vatican II to bring the Church back to its true and essential roots, a project which, as he rightly says, has scarcely begun to be carried through and in some ways now is being undermined, a good example of that being the current "English" version of the Mass which over and over reimposes a distance between the worshipper and God. In his reflections on the current state of the Church, its history, its structural forms, its ministry and liturgy Kevin offers a fund of sound common-sense on every page. He addresses his book as a letter to Pope Francis, but I hope the English bishops will read it too to see what a well-informed, insightful and loyal Catholic of today makes of the Church over which they preside.

Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes Novel Book 2)
Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes Novel Book 2)
Price: £3.99

19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A gruelling trip through the Victorian underworld, 29 Oct. 2014
Like his previous 'House of Silk' Anthony Horowitz's 'Moriarty' is quite a clever recreation of the Holmesian ambience, but I found it ultimately a bit too clever and contrived and not that convincing in its storyline or in many of its details. It also leaves a very unpleasant taste, being replete with blood-letting, torture, gruesome ingredients, casual murders - all seemingly for the sake of being sensationalist. A climactic scene, for instance, is set in the cellars of Smithfield market for no other reason than to surround the captured heroes with carcasses of chopped up animals, saws and knives dripping with blood etc.
Being a SH devotee I have read many pastiches. The best ones score most on characterisation and ingenuity of plotting, like the original Conan Doyle stories, and may not even involve deaths at all. One can read the original stores over and over, but I doubt if I would want to read this 'Moriarty' again.

Gluck: La Clemenza Di Tito
Gluck: La Clemenza Di Tito
Price: £14.99

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Homage to royalty, 26 Jun. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Metastasio's 'La clemenza di Tito' was one of the most popular opera libretti of the 18th century, no doubt because in the figure of the compassionate Roman emperor Titus one could pay a large compliment to the royal patrons of opera. Gluck's setting was made in 1752 for Naples and intended for the name-day of the king Carlo III. There are few foretastes of what Mozart made of this text nearly 40 years later, but plenty of premonitions of Gluck's own later reformed style, especially in the dramatic orchestrally accompanied recitatives, the one for Sesto that opens Act 2 and the one for Tito in Act 3, where the characters enlarge on the dreadful dilemmas, the tests of friendship, in which they are embroiled. There are plenty of well varied and attractive arias, occasionally departing from the ubiquitous and leisurely 3-part da capo form for something more succinct.

This sort of music must be very taxing for the singers, but here they are mostly well up to the task. Laura Aikin is an effective Vitellia, the scheming heroine, and Raffaella Milanesi makes considerable appeal as her put-upon lover, Sesto, a role written for the celebrated castrato Caffarelli. It is Sesto who sings the best known number in the whole work, the Act 2 aria, 'Se mai senti spirarti sul volto,' which Gluck used again for one of the finest, most archetypal moments in his mature operas, 'O malheureuse Iphigenie,' Iphigenia's despairing lament at the extinction of her family and all her hopes in 'Iphigenie en Tauride' of 1779. It is truly remarkable that the music already exists in its developed form in the context of the unreformed opera seria 'La clemenza di Tito' 27 years before. (The middle section was made into the chorus that follows in the later work). This piece and two of Vitellia's fiery arias are included in Cecilia Bartoli's outstanding disc of Gluck arias: she is of course inimitably characterful in this music, though I find her tempo for 'Se mai senti' on the slow side. Milanesi is almost as slow, while Magdalena Kozena in a valuable recital of Gluck, Mozart and Myslivecek arias sets an ideal flowing tempo.

The part of the emperor himself, Tito, is a tenor role, ably sung by Rainer Trost. I do not care much for the two counter-tenors who sing subsidiary roles: Publio's music in particular lies too high for comfort for the singer concerned, but this is a minor quibble. All in all this is a most welcome addition to the Gluck discography and anyone interested in this composer need not hesitate to acquire it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 20, 2015 8:22 PM GMT

Addison Ross Unisex Quartz Watch with White Dial Analogue Display and Purple Silicone Strap WA0091
Addison Ross Unisex Quartz Watch with White Dial Analogue Display and Purple Silicone Strap WA0091
Offered by Clubit tv Retail
Price: £8.97

Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The watch is cheap but classy and very glam. The only problem I found is because the strap is made of silicone, it is difficult to pull the strap between the 2 silicone loops to enable it lie flat.

Gluck: Armide
Gluck: Armide
Price: £12.47

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A unique memento, 16 Aug. 2011
This review is from: Gluck: Armide (Audio CD)
I am delighted that EMI Classics have made this performance available again, having enjoyed it for many years on LP. 'Armide' holds a special place in the mature operas of Gluck's final period in Paris. He appeared in the French capital, controversially, as a master of the Italian style in music, but such was the quality of the operas he presented there from 1774 onwards, the new French 'Iphigénie en Aulide' and the revised Italian operas 'Orphée' and 'Alceste' that he easily won over his audience - aided also by the patronage of the new queen, Marie Antoinette, a former pupil of his at the Austrian court. Now in 'Armide' he challenged the French tradition on its own ground, choosing to set a nearly century-old libretto written by Philippe Quinault for Lully, the father of French opera (ironically Italian by birth). In doing so he breathed new life into the moribund genre of 'tragédie lyrique' just as much as he had done for the Italian 'opera seria,' and thereby came to be acclaimed as the great saviour of French opera, causing the pro-Italian faction in Paris to bring in their own rival champion, Niccolò Piccinni, a distinguished but hardly comparable composer of the day. The contest between the two turned out to be a damp squib, Gluck easily carrying the day. In 'Armide' he produced an opera of searing dramatic force, especially in its portrayal of the eponymous heroine, the sorceress whose love for the crusader knight Renaud is cruelly betrayed. The danced episodes, including songs, so prominent in French opera, are often exceptionally beautiful, coveying a remarkable feeling of drowsy sensuality, while the cataclysmic final scene in which Armide brings down destruction on her magic palace, the scene of her amour, is most unusual in 18th century opera, where so often the drama peters out in the obligatory happy ending. It presages the startling conclusion of Cherubini's 'Medea' and even looks forward to the Immolation scene at the end of 'The Ring.' Janet Baker once recorded this scene in a performance of almost unbearable emotional intensity.

Felicity Palmer sings the whole long and demanding role with equal conviction and with her attractively distinctive tone quality. At the time of the recording she was moving from soprano roles into the mezzo repertory. It was clearly a difficult period for her, but the full-blooded commitment she brought to the role of Armide shows exactly the desire for truthfulness in dramatic expression on which Gluck's music thrives. Miss Palmer really carries the opera, but she is ably supported by fine English artists - among them the late Anthony Rolfe Johnson as a lyrical Renaud and Linda Finnie making a sterling impact in the important role of the fury Hate, whom Armide summons up, unavailingly, to exorcise her doomed love, with chorus and orchestra well directed by the lamented and much missed Richard Hickox. I would judge this performance to be superior to the only other modern version under Marc Minkowski. Unlike the latter, who cuts some dance movements, it is complete.

It also serves as a memento of a unique occasion, being a studio recording by the artists who gave four performances of the opera at the 1982 festival of Christ Church Spitalfields. The magnificent church by Nicholas Hawksmoor, one of the finest Baroque buildings in London or anywhere, was then partly derelict: its resplendent restoration was to take many years' work and research. The festival did much to make the church better known and awaken concern for its fate. Opera had figured in the previous year's programme when Janet Baker sang in a concert performance of 'Dido and Aeneas,' but in 1982 the little known 'Armide' was - most improbably - staged in the church in an enjoyable if bizarre production by Wolf-Siegfried Wagner, great-grandson of the composer. I recall Armide got up like a Palestinian freedom fighter, Hate looking like an escapee from a psychiatric ward with great white sheets billowing around and threatening to engulf her- don't ask me why - and with the knights in padded Michelin Man suits. Gluck's operas seem to attract this kind of highly "symbolic" stylisation. On disc one can simply enjoy the music, but those who were there in 1982 will be reminded by this new release of the various factors that combined to make a most memorable operatic experience.

The accompanying booklet gives only a synopsis, but the set includes a CD-Rom of the libretto in French (no translation). No doubt this recording will not be around for long, so if you are at all interested do snap it up at once.

A Gluck Retrospective (Blessed Spirit: A Gluck Retrospective)
A Gluck Retrospective (Blessed Spirit: A Gluck Retrospective)
Price: £9.75

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A mixed bag, 8 Sept. 2010
Ian Page and his Classical Opera Company gave a not quite complete performance (there were cuts both in arias and recitative) of Gluck's early opera seria 'La clemenza di Tito' at St. John's, Smith Square in 2005. In January 2010 they returned to this composer at the Wigmore Hall with a selection of arias and scenes spanning most of his career. A recording of that concert is presented on this new disc. Ian Page called the programme 'an overview of Gluck's work ... demonstrating his dramatic flair and the visceral energy and haunting beauty of his music. I hope that it might stimulate further interest and enthusiasm for this important composer.'
Not much, however, of the qualities mentioned emerges here. There is in any case something inherently unsatisfactory about a concert made up of isolated excerpts from many different operas where it must be hard to bring out anything of the various characters and their dramatic situations, especially in the unfamiliar works. Apart from which the three young female artists performing here are accomplished and tasteful, but not really distinctive enough in tone or style to compare with others who have sung some of these pieces (whatever else may think of her Cecilia Bartoli in her disc of Gluck arias dealt a knock-out blow in each one). Nor does the orchestra make much impact in the recording, sounding as it does recessed and under-powered.
Lovers of Gluck will be grateful to hear the excerpt from 'La Semiramide riconosciuta,' the sweet pastoral duet from 'Il re pastore' and the highly dramatic scena from 'Telemaco' (music which reappeared in the later 'Armide' for the fury, Hate): these three operas are otherwise unrepresented on disc.
Judging from the applause included the audience enjoyed the evening in the hall, but all in all the disc gives only a rather muted impression listened to at home.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 28, 2015 9:54 AM GMT

"The Tempest"
"The Tempest"
by William Shakespeare
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £11.22

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Earthbound magic, 4 July 2010
This review is from: "The Tempest" (Audio CD)
'The Tempest' is a play that lends itself well to listening where the imagination can supply the magic and mystery that are not always convincing on stage, but the performance needs to use the aural medium well if this is to happen for the listener. Simply recording actors reading the parts and adding some music and sound effects is not enough. The Naxos version is the latest of several recordings that present the play serviceably, but remain rather flat and uninspiring despite generally good performances from the actors. Much depends of course on the role of Prospero. Ian McKellen has apparently not played the part in the theatre, and this lack of experience shows. He sounds uninvolved most of the time, a genial uncle figure lacking the darker undertones of the character.
For some years the BBC has been sitting on a recording from 1974 which shows exactly how to do it, a brilliantly realised audio production making full use of the medium to create an engrossing sound-world into which the listener is drawn and in which the actors can truly play their parts. It has, furthermore, the advantage of casting the incomparable Paul Scofield, one of the finest Prosperos of recent times. It is a puzzling mystery in itself that this gem of a recording has never been commercially issued, but a good transcription onto CD can be obtained through the Open University.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 4, 2016 4:43 PM BST

The Rivals [DVD]
The Rivals [DVD]
Dvd ~ Selina Cadell
Price: £18.99

2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Best on stage, 15 May 2010
This review is from: The Rivals [DVD] (DVD)
People buy DVDs for repeated viewing, but I cannot imagine anyone being able to bear seeing this more than once. What might have worked well in the theatre comes across as crude and strident on the small screen at home with actors almost shouting much of the time. There are few successful films of classic plays, but just recording a stage production is clearly not the way to do it. A pity, because the sets and costumes here are very attractive and the theatre itself a gem: good material for an extra item, but all we get is an interview with the director.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 28, 2013 4:17 PM GMT

Markus Passion BWV 247
Markus Passion BWV 247
Price: £15.60

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lost Bach lovingly restored, 23 April 2010
This review is from: Markus Passion BWV 247 (Audio CD)
Bach-lovers who wish to get some idea of the lost St. Mark Passion can be heartily recommended to this new recording above all the other versions. Unlike editions which draw on music of Bach's contemporary Reinhard Keiser or Ton Koopman's admittedly fascinating personal version, including his own pastiche of Bach in the Evangelist's part, the present CD presents only the music of Bach that can plausibly be assigned to the St. Mark Passion of 1731, with virtual certainty in the case of the five excerpts from the Funeral Ode of 1727. These pieces do much to give the work its special quality of gentle intimacy - music of deep and moving consolation. a very personal response by Bach to the Passion story which makes the St. Mark setting somewhat different from his other two surviving Passions.
To provide a context for the musical items they are set here within a spoken narration in German of the relevant parts of St. Mark's Gospel, chapters 14 and 15. Andor Gomme, whose edition used music by Keiser, calls this 'a counsel of despair,' but to me it is a good practical solution to the problem of giving some idea of the original work, since one can at least hear in sequence the events and stages of the Passion story to which the various musical items are responding. (Gomme has to depart from the sequence and displaces arias in unsatisfactory ways). Furthermore the music is very well performed here, especially so in the instrumental parts. For my taste tempi are not always well chosen - the two sublime alto arias are surely too fast, but how good to hear them sung by a real contralto instead of the now ubiquitous counter-tenor.
We shall probably never know the St. Mark Passion as Bach wrote it, but this may be as good an approximation as we can get - and in view of the superb quality of the work that is something for which to be enormously grateful.

Bach: St Mark Passion
Bach: St Mark Passion
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £21.95

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Koopman's sketch of a lost Bach masterpiece, 11 April 2010
This review is from: Bach: St Mark Passion (Audio CD)
Ton Koopman is rightly renowned as one of the finest of today's interpreters of the music of J. S. Bach. Here one cannot but admire his masterly work in recreating the lost St. Mark Passion of Bach, but may still be left wondering why he did it.
Bach almost certainly performed the Passion at St. Thomas's Church, Leipzig on Good Friday 1731, two years after his St. Matthew setting. The music is lost, but the text survives in the printed works of Bach's librettist Picander. This also records the scoring of the music for flutes, oboes doubling oboes d'amore (a favourite of Bach's), strings with violas da gamba and lute on the continuo line. Since this is the scoring also of Bach's Funeral Ode BWV-198 for the Electress of Saxony, the much loved Christiane Eberhardine, and the verse forms of the texts for the opening and closing choruses and three of the five arias of the Passion correspond exactly to texts of the ode, scholars have hitherto argued that Bach drew on that work for the Passion, indeed probably instructed Picander to wrote his verses in such a way that they could be set to the existing music of the ode. This is the consensus of views among scholars, including such eminent Bach specialists as Alfred Duerr and Diethard Hellmann, and it does seem incontrovertible.
Ton Koopman, perversely, does not exactly disagree with this view, but suggests that other surviving Bach scores could equally well provide material for the Passion. So he has made his own choices, certainly apt ones, and himself composed music in the style of Bach for the recitatives and turba-choruses that would have been unique to the Passion of 1731. It all sounds convincing and is very well performed by singers and instrumentalists in this recording, but one cannot help asking, what is the point of it?
The St. Mark Passion must have been rather different from the other two complete surviving Passions of Bach, with more chorale verses and fewer lyrical items. Since the bulk of these came from the Funeral Ode (so everyone but Koopman thinks) they give the St. Mark Passion its own special quality of softly lilting, gentle consolation. There can be no telling how Bach treated the narrative parts of the work. No doubt he would, as in the other Passions, have reflected the dramatic character of the story where appropriate, but perhaps in some way matched the narration to the lyrical pieces. Koopman's guesswork here is intriguing and plausible, but guesswork it remains.
He has given us a fascinating oddity and maybe deepened the regret of Bach lovers that what may have been one of his finest works has been lost, but lost it is and, short of the score implausibly turning up one day, it does not seem that anything anyone else, even Ton Koopman, can do will ever bring it back to life.

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