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Brett Dean: The Lost Art of Letter Writing
Brett Dean: The Lost Art of Letter Writing
Price: £15.77

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Art of Communication, 21 Jan. 2014
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The first draw of this excellent programme is the Grawemeyer Prize winning "The Lost Art of letter Writing" - a Violin Concerto in all but name. The four movements take as their starting point letters written during the nineteenth century but though the music is both poetic and descriptive it works equally well as absolute music too. The musical language is reminiscent of Berg's Violin Concerto and there are hints of quotes from Brahms in the first movement.

"Testament", the second work, is based on Beethoven's own testament following diagnosis of his deafness and the work quotes his Razumovsky Quartet. The music for the violas only includes the composer as one of the performers and recalls the musical language of Alfred Schnittke in one of his less capricious works. Short though the work is it carries plenty of expressive weight.

The final work in the programme, "Vexations and Devotions" carries on the theme of human communication, or rather the de-humanisation of it. It's a reflection of contemporary social media and communication systems, written for choir, tape, sampling and orchestra. The mood is dark almost throughout with the first movement setting a poem that reflects on the loneliness of living life through watching others on TV. The second has a chilling and increasingly surreal answer phone message as its centre piece with a seemingly more soulful poem sung by the choir in the background. However, both texts end in the same place. The finale sets the banal and chilling texts of company mission statements but ends with a ray of hope from a poem "A Path to your Door" that suggests we are all richer and more complex than the depressingly automated and commercially driven texts that precede it. To me this ray of hope seems like a slight cop out and might have worked better if it had framed the work at beginning and end to provide context to the dark material that dominates the work. For an old fart like me the message of the work pretty well panders to my own vexations making it the most stimulating work in the programme even if the Concerto is arguably the greater work.

It's worth noting that BIS provide us with 86 minutes of music. The concerto is played by the Sydney orchestra under Jonathan Nott; "Testament" is performed by the BBC viola players whilst "Vexations and Devotions" is superbly recorded from a live Proms performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under David Robertson. All in all each work is directly communicative without ever being comfortably listening. This is the second Brett Dean BIS recording I have purchased and they're proving to be a revelation. However many layers Brett Dean employs his orchestration always serves its function and his method serves the message: first class.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 3, 2014 8:00 PM GMT


Mahler: Symphony No.3 (2 CDs)
Mahler: Symphony No.3 (2 CDs)
Price: £10.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Mahler Concertgebouw Classic, 3 Jan. 2014
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Until recently, my favourite version of the Symphony was Haitink’s Philips recording with the Concertgebouw. It is an extremely well thought out, paced and superbly played by the orchestra that seemingly can always be relied on to produce the finest Mahler performances. This is, however, well over forty years old and so the once excellent sound engineering can’t quite compete with more recent recordings. The problem has been that none of the more recent versions were as good.

Thankfully Chailly’s version is like a well-polished refurbishment of the original Haitink / Philips recording. The sound could hardly be bettered in a work that craves good sound quality because of the colourful orchestration and the antiphonal effects throughout. Chailly matches Haitink and the Concertgebouw are at their best. I can’t say this is the best available – I haven’t heard them all but you really can’t go far wrong with this superb recording.


Mahler, G.: Symphony No. 7
Mahler, G.: Symphony No. 7
Price: £7.49

5.0 out of 5 stars It Gets My Vote, 26 Dec. 2013
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Mahler listeners are truly spoiled by the quality of reviews on Amazon. this recording is a case in point with excellent arguments for and against this particular recording. I feel that all I can do is simply say whether I like it or not. The answer is yes, very much even though I can see some of the points made against it make sense to me; in particular, the sound is excellent for the most part, if a little dry. The guitar, mandolin and cowbells ring out but the brass are flattened a bit by the acoustic and details are lost.

That said; I loved this. there is plenty of drama but Jansons seems to take the cue for this piece being centred around son - the clue's in the work's title. The is plenty of dance too in all the movements with the Ivesian collage in the finale making perfect sense and really feeling like a celebration covered from all angles. As for the argument about Kubelik's recordings of the Seventh; yes I like them though, sound wise, they're starting to show their age a bit.

There are shadows in this symphony but Mahler was more of a classicist than he is sometimes given credit for and he'll have realised that an hour and a quarter needed some shadows to make the joy more real. I would not claim this is th ebest recording available but I've thoroughly enjoyed it and can recommend wholeheartedly.


Mahler: Symphony No. 1
Mahler: Symphony No. 1
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stunning Playing But it Doesn't Quite Add Up., 23 Dec. 2013
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I've always enjoyed Ivan Fischer's thoughtful approach to Mahler, aided as ever by excellent sound and fine playing but this version of the First sounds a little too mannered for me with the symphonic line being lost, particularly in the first movement. In fairness, the First isn't the most well balanced of the set with the rousing finale at odds with the more modest dimensions of the previous movements. Even so, as interpretations go this is well behind the leaders, my favourite being Kubelik on Audite. Don't get me wrong, this still sounds wonderful but there's better to be had.


Britten: War Requiem (2 CDs)
Britten: War Requiem (2 CDs)

5.0 out of 5 stars An Iconic Recording, 23 Dec. 2013
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There is plenty for others to add in new recordings but the original is priceless. The addition of the recording of the rehearsals is quite revealing too: interesting to hear Britten's unqualified enthusiasm for Vishnevskaya's voice and his dry sense of humour. So much has been said about this recording that there's nothing for me to add. No serious collection should be without it.


Britten: Simple Symphony / Temporal Variations / Suite On English Folk Tunes
Britten: Simple Symphony / Temporal Variations / Suite On English Folk Tunes
Price: £5.89

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Outstanding Review, 23 Dec. 2013
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What a fine programme of works this is, covering Britten's entire career. Perhaps the Simple Symphony is quite well known but the rest include some very fine music indeed. Colin Matthews orchestration / arrangement of the Charm of Lullabies is masterly and adds to the original. The performances are all outstandingly good and well recorded. The other reviews describe these works very well so I won't repeat that but as a review of Britten's career this is a real triumph and illustrates his greatest with even his most little known works. Highlights for me are the weighty rendition of the Simple Symphony, the gorgeous Charm of Lullabies, a powerful Lachrymae and an earthy Suite on English Folk Tunes.

Steuart Bedford's career is closely tied to Britten's work but it isn't always the last word. this recording is pretty well unbeatable and an unqualified joy from start to finish.


No Title Available

5.0 out of 5 stars No Complaints, 19 Dec. 2013
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You cna never be sure whether printer cartidges will turn out to be compatible despite the advert. Well i can confirm that I have had no problems with these HP cartridges, which worked perfectly from the start. The quality is first class.


Britten: Peter Grimes
Britten: Peter Grimes

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What I Grew Up With, 18 Dec. 2013
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Take my opinion with a pinch of salt because this was the first version I really got to know and Jon Vickers has always seemed such a completely plausible Grimes with his strength, anger, desperation, isolation and paranoia - he sounds like he could kill with a single inadvertent strike. The story goes, of course, that Britten hated it, preferring Peter Pears' version. There's so much I admire about Pear's' roles for Britten but it's Vickers for me here.

Elsewhere Heather Harper is a wonderfully warm Ellen Orford and is supported by an excellent ensemble. Colin Davis can be expansive at times but the fire and rage of Act One leaves me breathless. No matter how many versions I hear I always come back to this one. After over thirty years it istill sounds thrilling.


Britten / Veale: Violin Concertos
Britten / Veale: Violin Concertos
Price: £7.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Quite A Revelation, 18 Dec. 2013
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John Veale will be a new name to many. His music all but disappeared for a couple of decades when tonal romantic music was all but ignored in Britain. His violin concerto emerged after his exile from music in later life and sounds sure to earn many admirers but there is a catch. Why couple the concerto with Britten's own wonderful concerto? Is it of a similar style? Not really; it is an expansive, large scale concerto at least for the orchestra though the soloist's part is more modest. This may reflect Lydia Mordkovich's unfamiliarity with the piece because she digs in and makes a big, romantic interpretation of Britten's work.

For a true reference point it might have made more sense to pair Veale's concerto with Walton's, but therein lies the work's problem: put the two together and it would sound like the same concerto played twice. Veale took much help and advice from Walton and was a pupil, for a time, of Roy Harris in America but this work has Walton's fingerprints all over it. If you'd never heard Walton you'd take to this work immediately but the references to Walton's earlier concerto are rather off putting.

The Britten concerto is one of the great violin concertos of the twentieth century but doesn't get the attention that it deserves because it dares to end quietly. Sat in the comfort of your home, without a big audience to show off to this comes across as a profound and superbly crafted work by a ridiculously young composer. Mordkovich tries to draw the maximum expression out of it though this labours a times in the scherzo and the finale coda. It still sounds like a masterpiece though I'd have preferred a lighter touch. Reservations aside, you'll want to get to know Veale's sadly neglected work and you'll get a still very well recorded and performed Britten so don't hesitate.


Julian Anderson: Fantasias, The Crazed Moon & The Discovery of Heaven
Julian Anderson: Fantasias, The Crazed Moon & The Discovery of Heaven
Price: £7.49

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Music Well Worth Getting to Know, 11 Dec. 2013
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You know that you have arrived as a composer when one of your works receives a second recording: "The Crazed Moon" receives another fine performance following its appearance on his debut, award winning; "Alhambra Fantasy" album. It is quite a dark and atmospheric piece, in part a memorial to a musical colleague.

The other two works presented receive their premiere recordings and continue to show the same orchestral virtuosity, colour, rhythmic vitality, clarity and harmonic richness. "Fantasias" is effectively a five movement concerto for orchestra and is possibly the most approachable of all the three works here. "The Discovery of Heaven" is the most recent work of the three displaying the same qualities. It seems to move from an ethereal, heavenly plane, in the first movement to become increasingly earthbound and urban over the following two. It's the richest and most substantial of the three works.

If you're new to his music then useful points of reference are early Stravinsky, spectral harmonies, Lutoslawski and even a touch of later Britten in his harmonies. It is contemporary music that is instantly approachable without ever pandering to commercial fashion. These live performances by the LPO are well recorded with little background noise and perhaps the bass instruments sound a little thin on this recording - but that's a very minor quibble. There are three albums, as I write, now dedicated to Anderson's music and I recommend all wholeheartedly. This latest is a very welcome addition.


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