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Reviews Written by
William Burn "gingerburn" (Nottingham, UK)

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Schubert: Heliopolis - Matthias Goerne (Schubert Edition Vol.4) CD + Bonus DVD
Schubert: Heliopolis - Matthias Goerne (Schubert Edition Vol.4) CD + Bonus DVD
Price: £13.94

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine recital, 21 Oct. 2010
One might have thought, with the (relatively) recent release of the 40 CD boxed-set of all Schubert's songs, as performed by Graham Johnson and some sixty-odd singers (not all at once, I hasten to add, although that might make for quite an exciting experience), that there would be no need ever to record a Schubert Lied again. Thankfully, Matthias Goerne has overlooked good sense and put together a twelve-disc series of Schubert songs, of which this is the fourth instalment, and this disc really is a delight. The songs are based around the Heliopolis set, some more obviously 'classical' than others, but all sharing a sense of regret and longing for lost worlds, and all being very lovely.

I did feel moved to compare some of these performances with those on the Graham Johnson series, and it made for some really interesting listening. Goerne's tempi are often slower, and the recorded sound is much fuller and warmer; what his disc must perforce lack is the variety offered by being able to listen to a wide range of singers. In the end, though, it is the piano playing that really set this apart for me; too often I find Graham Johnson's accompaniments too clinical for my taste, and Ingo Metzmacher offers a more expressive approach which I find more satisfying to listen to.

To put it bluntly, I shall be looking out the other discs in this series as soon as I can, and you would do well to start with this one.

Guerrero: Missa Congratulamini (Missa Congratulamini Mihi/ Maria Magdalena Et Altera Maria)
Guerrero: Missa Congratulamini (Missa Congratulamini Mihi/ Maria Magdalena Et Altera Maria)
Price: £12.50

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very, very good, 26 Sept. 2010
I first sang this mass well over ten years ago, in an edition which the conductor (who, very sadly, never lived to perform the work) had done himself, and it immediately struck me as one of the finest mass settings I'd ever encountered. It seemed at the time to be everything one could wish of a Renaissance mass setting: expressive, lyrical, harmonically interesting and an absolute delight to sing. Since then I've searched around for recordings, yet the work seemed to have passed everyone by, until this morning, when I was looking for something else entirely, and stumbled on this new release from the Cardinall's Musick.

As well as the mass (which in itself is justification enough for the price of the disc), there are some lovely motets on offer here, some well-known, others a little less-so. In keeping with the Eastertide theme of the motet on which the mass is based, there is the lovely 'Maria Magdalena' and 'Post dies octo.' The last three slots on the disc are given over to Marian motets, and the 8-part 'Regina Caeli' is a fitting conclusion to the programme.

The performance is typical of the Cardinall's Musick: small forces, with many items performed with only a solo voice on each part, but the singing is exemplary throughout. It's worth noting that Stephen Rice's excellent Brabant Ensemble recorded Crequillon's own mass setting on the 'Congratulamini Mihi' on a fabulous disc about four years ago, and the two make a fascinating comparison in differing performance practices and approaches.

This has, as so many of my reviews, gone on long enough. This is a very, very good CD.

Rossini: Petite Messe solennelle
Rossini: Petite Messe solennelle
Price: £12.69

39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling, but by no means definitive, 1 Sept. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I'll keep this short. If you're in the market for a recording of the Petite Messe Solemnelle, you'll do very well with this one (although there are a few caveats, which I'll explain below). If you don't yet know the work, and are wondering if it's worth the listening, then I can't recommend it too highly. This is a gorgeous, exciting, funny and thoroughly enjoyable setting of the mass text, from the high drama of the tenor's aria to the passionate farewell of the alto's 'Agnus Dei'.

This recording aims to get back to the sound and spirit of the first performance, which was given in a Paris Salon, with only twelve singers - including the quartet of soloists, who joined the main choir when not singing on their own, two pianos and a harmonium. There are many other recordings available with larger forces, one piano, or even the orchestration which Rossini created, but here Robert King uses only twelve singers, and turns to 'original' instruments to get as close as possible to the sound Rossini imagined.

And in many ways he achieves a great success. The sound of the two pianos is thrilling, such as at the beginning of the Gloria, where the unevenness of timbre yields a full, orchestral sound. The choir is superb, immaculately tuned and full of excellent singers: I can listen to the 'Cum Sancto Spiritu' over and over again, such is their energy, verve and precision.

The quartet of soloists are all of very high calibre, and each delivers their arias and ensembles excellently. I cannot fault any of them as singers, but I do sometimes wonder if Robert King has chosen the right voices for this project. Rossini used operatic singers, but these are all relatively young voices, many of whom have, up till now, made their names in the performance of baroque or early music, and they are distinguished by relatively light, flexible tones. There are, then, a few moments, when a bit more weight and colour are needed. This is, though, a minor criticism, and shouldn't put you off a thoroughly enjoyable CD.

Platignum, Nos 4 Fountain Pen. Brushed Silver with Black Detail
Platignum, Nos 4 Fountain Pen. Brushed Silver with Black Detail

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comfortable, with a good nib, 9 Jun. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I use this pen at work, and find it perfectly comfortable for writing for long periods of time. It is quite heavy, but it sits well in my hand, and the nib is excellent. The pen is supplied with two cartridges, but you can use Waterman cartridges or reservoires as refills. In all, it's a nice, and distinctive pen to use, and for the price, a bit of a steal!

Handel - Cantatas for Cardinal Ottoboni (La Risonanza)
Handel - Cantatas for Cardinal Ottoboni (La Risonanza)
Price: £12.23

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous, 13 Jan. 2010
It's easy to forget that Handel spent quite some time in Italy, such is our perception of him as a very British composer. However, his four or so years there yielded some very fine music, not on the same scale as 'Messiah' or his mature operas, but very expressive nonetheless. This CD is part of a series by La Risonanza which presents all of his Italian cantatas, and, by golly, the whole lot are really, really good.

This disc includes four cantatas: the longish Ero e Leandro and three shorter works, including one fascinating work in Spanish (with guitar accompaniment) and a cantata for bass. It's probably fair to say that the music lacks the impressive construction of his oratorios, but the more intimate quality of the music lends it real charm.

The performers are excellent. Raffaella Milanesi, the soprano soloists on all the CDs, is superb, and the orchestral support is full of flair and style. I cannot recommend this, nor its companion discs, too highly.

Journey's End: York Notes for GCSE
Journey's End: York Notes for GCSE
by Najoud Ensaff
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.51

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five stars for serving its purpose very well, 30 Dec. 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
York Notes need no introduction, so I'll keep this very brief: this will serve you very well indeed if you're studying the text for GCSE, covering all the different aspects of the play (including characters, plot, structure and themes) clearly and accessibly. It's not the most inspiring book I've picked up this year, but it does exactly what it sets out to do, and it does it well. A very worthwhile buy.

Offered by uniqueplace-uk
Price: £8.67

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth a look, 30 Dec. 2009
This review is from: INFORMATION INSPIRATION (Audio CD)
I'll be blunt: I bought this on-spec from a record store whose range I always trust, not knowing anything about Mr Fiddler, but liking the look of the package. It was worth it. Well worth it, in fact. This is a relatively short CD (just over 50 mins of music in total), but it's a great selection of songs, performed by excellent musicians that makes for a great many rewarding listens. I found the disc in the reggae section of the store, but this was misleading: 'U' is a fine reggae track, but the rest are closer in mood and feel to somewhere between laid-back seventies funk, modern r&b, with the occasional flash of dub thrown in. It doesn't fit easily into my CD collection, but I've kept coming back to it over the past few weeks, and I'm sure you will do to.

Bleak House (Oxford World's Classics)
Bleak House (Oxford World's Classics)
by Charles Dickens
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.74

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the effort, and the edition is excellent, too., 30 Oct. 2009
As I find so often to be the case, this review will be in two parts. The first is intended for someone who is shopping for a good read, and is in two minds about this meaty chunk of Dickens, and the second is for those who know they want the book, but can't choose between this and other editions.

So, for Part 1: this is a pretty hefty book, even by Dickens' standards, weighing in at 900 pages of fairly small print. However, it's definitely worth the effort taken in reading it. The plot is, in many ways, relatively simple, following the well-worn path of the abandoned child growing up to discover their true identity. However, that is to ignore the wonderful richness of the book as a whole. At turns it is gloriously funny, and at others deeply moving. The descriptive writing (about London in particular) is remarkable, yet the plot is utterly compelling. There are, too, some memorable characters here, from the thoroughly unpleasant Mr Smallweed to the hopeless Rick, and the magnificent Sir Leicester Dedlock, but what struck me was how easy it was to sit down and read simply for pleasure. A hugely enjoyable read, and one of Dickens' best works.

Part 2 of this review is for those of you who already know they want to / have to read this novel. There are many good editions of this work available, and each has their strengths and weaknesses. The Penguin edition is utterly reliable, and the Norton presents a fabulous wealth of critical material, if perhaps at the cost of simple readability. Where the Oxford edition shines is firstly in its newness: the paperback was issued in 2008, so the text and the commentary are as up-to-date as it is possible to get. What's more, Stephen Gill has done a marvellous job of providing annotations to this dense, allusive text, treading a fine line between illuminating the tricky corners and not overburdening the reader with unnecessary details. It is fair to say that this edition presupposes a serious, well-informed reader, so beginners may be better served by the Wordsworth text. Lastly, these Oxford editions are simply a pleasure to use. They are printed on excellent paper in a clear typeface, they are well bound and will stand a good deal of fairly rough treatment. In short, this is well worth your purchase.

Kaufmann: Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Wagner
Kaufmann: Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Wagner
Price: £10.88

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Mixed Success, 2 Oct. 2009
There is a part of Germany just north of Nuremberg called the Franconian Switzerland, where rushing rivers plunge through steep, thickly wooded valleys, out of which rocky outcrops offer poets, lovers and suicides the ideal spot to brood in a melancholy fashion on the woes of the world. I love the place (not only for its landscape, I should add: in this part of the world there is the greatest concentration of breweries per head of population anywhere in Europe, and the beer is excellent), and have often felt my breast swelling with longing to dash off a few lines of anguished verse, or perhaps an opera aria or two as soon as I get home. I must admit never to have made good on this noble intention, but thankfully we're not short on deep-hearted Germans who have done the job before us, and for terribly handsome chaps with golden voices to express all that Sehnsucht in song.

One such is Jonas Kaufmann, and the cover image of this thoroughly enjoyable CD places him almost literally in the landscape of romantic Germany, in slightly odd remakes of paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, where Kaufmann is now the lonely fellow alone above the mist. I must admit to finding the effect very funny, although I'm sure that's not the effect the producers wished to achieve, but thankfully one needn't be distracted too long, as the music is the real star here.

In many ways, this is a very ambitious programme, beginning with Mozart, then, via Schubert and Beethoven, making its way to five meaty arias by Wagner which frame the earlier pieces. These are all real hits, especially the wonderful "In fernem Land" from Lohengrin. The Beethoven, too, is very good, and Kaufmann's passionate, full-throated delivery is absolutely ideal for Florestan. The Schubert arias I must confess not to knowing very well, but he does make a good case for them being heard more often, and they make for a fascinating bridge between Mozart and Beethoven. The two Mozart arias are the weak point on the disc, although simply because, to my ears, Kaufmann is just a bit too muscular to be a happy Tamino. He possesses a stunning technique, a fabuluously warm baritone range and thrilling high notes, but for "Dies Bildnis" from "The Magic Flute" he sounds like he's working too hard at points, and some of his mezza voce work isn't that happy.

Is this a five star disc? No: the Mozart arias prevent that accolade, but I will strongly recommend it to lovers of opera and country rambles alike.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 11, 2011 7:09 PM GMT

Purcell: Fantasias for the Viols
Purcell: Fantasias for the Viols
Price: £11.61

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful CD for all listeners, 14 July 2009
Again, I find I must write a review in two parts, one for the connoisseur of Baroque instrumental music, and one for the person who has come to this page not knowing very much about this sort of music at all. Part A is for the former, and part B, the latter.

A) Buy this disc without hesitation. Savall and his company of musicians are on first class form and you'd be hard pressed to find a better recording of this repertoire anywhere. The remastering is excellent, and the notes, while suffering slightly in translation, are illuminating. You will rate this as one of the best purchases you've made in a long time.

B) Buy this disc without hesitation. If you're not yet familiar with the sound of a viol consort (even in Purcell's day it was old-fashioned), you'll love this. It is much mellower than a string quartet, and even the fast, dance-like sections are not aggressive or strident, but beautiful and - with this ensemble especially - magically warm. What is remarkable, too, is the inventiveness of the music: the Fantasia upon one note, for example, has a single note held through the whole piece, yet it weaves and twists around it, creating an incredible effect. The Fantasias themselves are varied, at times plangent and sorrowful, at others dancing and joyful, and they reward listening to many times.

This really is a wonderful CD, and it will fit into almost any collection. If you're looking for music that is beautiful, reflective and inspiring, you can do no wrong with this.

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