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Comp Syms
Comp Syms
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Price: CDN$ 16.81
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5.0 out of 5 stars An ideal Brahms cycle., July 1 2002
This review is from: Comp Syms (Audio CD)
How grateful I am to Philips for re-releasing Riccardo Muti's Brahms cycle with the Philadelphia Orchestra! The digital sound is superb: the Philips engineers in the 1980s avoided the harshness of many DG recordings and the soft blandness of many on EMI. The format is excellent too: Symphony No. 1 on Disc One with the "Haydn" Variations that preceded it, No. 2 on Disc Two with the two Overtures that are obvious companions (an "odd couple" of levitas and gravitas, you might say), and Nos. 3 and 4 on Disc Three, which go together according to the finely written and informative liner notes of Bernard Jacobson. Add a good photo of Brahms, of Muti, and a nice picture on the box and you get a wonderful little set. As for the music itself, No. 1 opens just the way I love it. The timpani are clear but big, the strings are warm without being heavy and everything moves with great purpose and detail. The Philadelphia Orchestra is too beautiful to describe: they play with the precision of Cleveland and the power of Chicago, with cultivation and personality that rival Berlin and Vienna. Muti delivers at every point. The explosive Finale to No. 2 is as clearly presented as any version with an exciting acceleration right at the end. The timpani at the end of the 1st movement of No. 4 are exhileratingly gigantic. He observes all repeats. Usually I dislike the repeat in the 1st movement of No. 2 because it seems to throw the work out of proportion, seeing that none of the first three movements can be called "fast" and Brahms does not have that Brucknerian sense of expansion. But with playing like this-- there's nothing to do but relish it! This is my favorite Brahms cycle, a classic that critics didn't seem to care for-- but one that has become the only complete set of his symphonies I own.

Where Angels Fear to Tread
Where Angels Fear to Tread
by E.M. Forster
Edition: Paperback
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "My heart above my head.", June 17 2002
"Fools rush in," apparently, to Monteriano in Italy, where beauty triumphs over cold calculation, and-- to paraphrase the end of Johnny Mercer's couplet, not the original of Pope!-- where the heart rules above the head. This novel may not be as subtly polished as _A Room With A View_ nor as deeply serious as _Howards End_ but it does show a great deal of polish and seriousness, and is also a more entertaining story. In fact, I will do my best not to give anything away. While the plot moves forward organically, Forster shapes it with an Austen-like classical symmetry, as well as the conversations, characters, and (above all) the settings: Italy versus England, Monteriano versus Sawston. There are plenty of "juicy" Johnsonian sentences (get out your notebook), but Forster impresses most with his plain, easy style. He is also very funny-- I trust you'll pick up on the many little jokes. But also don't forget that Forster is a satirist with plenty of bite. His attacks are just as effective as Thackeray's, only Forster cares more about people and is remarkably sympathetic to human suffering in all its forms. A few nasty words about Germans wouldn't please the Schlegel sisters very much, but other than that, Forster avoids black-and-white generalizations and veers toward "moral relativism," for lack of a better term. Forster does a good job creating female characters who are unique and complex, who do not come across as manipulated symbols but as living flesh with thinking heads and-- yes-- loving (and hating) hearts. Once in a while Forster falls into his habit of grand poetic statements all flowery and abstract, but somehow he is forgivable (more so here than in _Howards End_). Otherwise, this is a great little story, with a message that hits home and language that ranks among the best of all English novelists. I would say more, but the best part is discovering this for yourself. Still, don't let the crowded opening paragraph get you down! Practically every character is jammed into the first sentence and at first I wondered if I could ever keep them straight. But Forster has a point in doing this: They are seeds in his hands which, tossed randomly, will sprout up as the story goes on. The humor in those opening sentences is also very subtle-- you either find Lilia's own amusement funny or you don't. But some jokes are so clear, as in Irma saying "me three" after an adult says "me too," they are literally infantile. So, this is a fun book, but also very serious-- quite sad when we see how people mistreat each other, and either purposely or accidentally bring misery on family, friends and even strangers (as well as themselves), mainly on account of social conventions. It's also interesting to see Forster's own gay sensibility show through throughout the novel. While _A Room With A View_ remains my favorite book by E.M. Forster, _Where Angels Fear To Tread_ has left me stunned and warmed, thoroughly satisfied from start to finish.

Native Son Abridged Ed
Native Son Abridged Ed
by Richard Wright
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
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5.0 out of 5 stars How "Bigger Thomas" lives on., June 14 2002
This novel displays great sensitivity. The sensitivity to the rhythms and tones of language, to patterns in the colors and shapes of settings, to the way people speak and the way they act and think-- especially to the psychological motives behind those thoughts, words and actions-- is beyond praise. So, sociopolitical concerns aside, this is a bleak view of the world told in a most sensitive manner. Wright could have started _Native Son_ with the words "the alarm went off in the dark." Instead he literally makes it "brriiiiinng" out loud. And instantly we are there, in a Chicago that is black and white (again, literally), with Whites and Blacks, the white snow and black skies, the white walls and hard straight streets. This is no Romanticized view of life. Bigger Thomas is drawn in stark realistic lines, and the story moves forward like a black-and-white movie from the 1930s. Details overwhelm, but the plot flashes by. Motives are explored with precision but the prose remains clear. We are constantly aware, as if present, of a black and white nightmarish world. And dabbed on the black and white is the occasional red-- of blood, of fire (of the "Reds" themselves). Politically, some may find this novel difficult to accept, particularly in the post-O.J. era. I found it utterly convincing. "But we ought to take responsibility for our own actions," some may argue, and I agree, even though that does not sum up Bigger's situation. He knows he's guilty. But Bigger is the creation of a greedy, segregated country, and with supreme artistic sensitivity, Richard Wright simply tells it like it is. I love the message of this book, and though the violence of Bigger almost made me feel as if I was doing what he did and also living out his nightmare, above all I love the language of this novel and recommend that you read it mainly for that. I believe-- if there is one-- _Native Son_ is the great American novel.

September of My Years
September of My Years
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5.0 out of 5 stars A friend or family member turning fifty?, June 13 2002
This review is from: September of My Years (Audio CD)
"September Of My Years" was probably the last of Sinatra's truly great albums, the one that could hold its own with the great concept albums of the mid-1950s at Capitol. But will this Grammy winner of 1964 be enjoyable to everyone? After all, it was Sinatra's "celebration" of turning fifty, which he did in 1965, and its themes of growing old might seem either depressing or irrelevant. I say it makes a great gift for anyone you know who is turning fifty. They might wonder if you hate them when they see titles like "Don't Wait Too Long" or "It Gets Lonely Early." And Sinatra the saloon singer certainly gets every inch of melancholy out of the wistful lyrics of songs like "Hello Young Lovers" and "Last Night When We Were Young." However, just think how much Sinatra had going for him at fifty, of how much more he would accomplish when he recorded this album. And the album itself is a triumph over age, a way of looking back but not missing a beat. It's full of pride and reflection and has a universal theme that doesn't shy away from being old-fashioned. Sinatra's voice (in excellent shape here) is helped by the golden sounds of arranger Gordon Jenkins, with warm rich strings and a simplicity that is also profound. One might describe the lyrics of "It Was A Very Good Year" as being profoundly simple as well. There is a great section from an otherwise unfair documentary by CBS showing Sinatra recording this song-- a wonderful glimpse into "the process." I'm not sure where it went on the charts, but it's obviously one of his most popular songs. "This Is All I Ask"-- though a bit dated-- is another particularly famous number. The title song shows the genius of Sinatra's songwriter friends Van Heusen and Cahn. "September Song" was Sinatra's third version of that classic show tune-- he had already recorded one with Axel Stordahl at Columbia in 1946 or 1947 and another with Stordahl on his last Capitol album "Point Of No Return" from 1961. In the first version he didn't sing the opening verse at all, the second included some of it, but this-- the definitive version-- includes all of it. Each song is of the highest quality, especially the very poetic "When The Wind Was Green." If you're not turning fifty, this is also a good disc to spin every autumn "when the leaves turn to gold and brown." Or if you're just in the mood for Sinatra's masterful vocalizing and some timeless compositions, I suppose you can play this at any age or at any time of the year.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure warm clarity., June 13 2002
This review is from: PIANO SONATAS 28, 32 (Audio CD)
Maurizio Pollini has been called a cold pianist but there is a kind of yellow sunshine that one could label 'Italian' in his late Beethoven. I bought this set because I was not entirely satisfied with Barenboim's treatment of the "Hammerklavier" and some of the fast movements in the late sonatas on his complete EMI set. Pollini made quite an impression from the very first note. There is a wistfulness in his touch that is at the same time free from sentimentality. And the only other pianist I've heard play so powerfully and clearly all at once is Richter, and Pollini might be less hectic or eccentric than the Russian. The opening notes of the "Hammerklavier" are preceded by the sound of Pollini's own breathing, heard from time to time elsewhere as well. He then launches into those great chords almost effortlessly, but with enormous force and control. The second movement always reminds me of Siegfried running into the woods, away from Mime, in Act I of "Siegfried." I wonder if Wagner "borrowed" from Beethoven? At 9:39 of the second movement of Beethoven's last piano sonata I am reminded (believe it or not) of the Miles Davis sound on his album "Kind Of Blue." This slow movement, like the third movement of the "Hammerklavier," is never boring because Beethoven creates many smaller episodes within the long arc while building up to individual climaxes, all played by Pollini in a way that sounds perfect to me. I cannot imagine being without this set of Beethoven's late piano sonatas, captured in excellent "DG Originals" sound with fine liner notes by the British critic Richard Osborne.

Best Of The Capitol Years
Best Of The Capitol Years
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5.0 out of 5 stars The *true* "greatest hits" collection., June 7 2002
You'll see a lot of Sinatra CDs with "Greatest Hits" on the cover-- a few from Reprise, some from Columbia, even a couple from the RCA/BMG label of the Tommy Dorsey period. But this is the true collection of Sinatra's finest. This generous twenty song offering is taken from the 75 song 3 CD "The Capitol Years" box set. Like "The Very Good Years" that samples the 4 CD "Reprise Collection" the single disc format nearly surpasses the box set. The liner notes by Will Friedwald, the great photos (I especially love the one on the cover with the tie undone and the brim turned up, cigarette cocked in air) and the fine documentation add to the excellence of this collection. The songs are presented in chronological order and nearly all of them are arranged by the man who came to define the Sinatra sound and, therefore, "grown-up cool" in the 1950s: Nelson Riddle. The quintessential Sinatra-Riddle collaboration is "I've Got The World On A String" from 1953. The apex of their partnership comes half way through with the Cole Porter classic they simply call "Skin" (from 1956). And the 1960 hit "Nice 'N' Easy" is something of a culmination of the Sinatra-Riddle magic. "In The Wee Small Hours" and another Porter classic "What Is This Thing Called Love" show the darker more melancholic hues they painted on the Capitol concept albums. The big hits are here: "Young At Heart" that revived Sinatra's recording career, his one #1 at Capitol "Learnin' The Blues," "How Little We Know," "The Lady Is A Tramp," "Witchcraft," and the song that won an Oscar, "All The Way." The other song that won an Oscar, "Three Coins In The Fountain," was the one Steve Martin tried to sing on the bus in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles"-- but it was John Candy singing "Meet The Flintstones" that got the passengers excited! And each night if you flip through your channels I'm sure you'll come across "Love And Marriage" on that classy sit-com "Married With Children." Riddle actually wrote a great arrangement for this Van Heusen and Cahn number for the TV musical version of "Our Town." The only non-Riddle song here is "Come Fly With Me" with Billy May. But Webster's Dictionary has no words to tell how wonderful all these songs are-- I know that I fell in love with Sinatra's music listening to this collection. These are songs that can be heard a million times and still be fresh. They are the pinnacle of American popular song. So if I weren't so adamant about starting out with the original albums, like "A Swingin' Affair" or "Where Are You?," I would recommend this disc above any other to the first time listener. Your review will be even more glowing.

Greatest Hits Vol. 2
Greatest Hits Vol. 2
Offered by FastMedia "Ships From USA"
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4.0 out of 5 stars One great photo; a few great songs., June 7 2002
This review is from: Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (Audio CD)
It's nice to see Francis in the mandatory tux and bowtie instead of the vests and beads and gigantic neckties he tried on for size in the late 1960s. When this second volume of greatest hits came out Sinatra was heading into an early and-- luckily-- premature retirement: "They aren't writing songs for me anymore." Well, they had tried. Rod McKuen wrote the solid saloon-type ballad "A Man Alone"-- and almost gave Frank another standard except lines like "drinkin' up sundaes [or Sundays] and spendin' them alone" are a bit corny. McKuen also wrote the rather catchy "Love's Been Good To Me" that is just too darn enjoyable to dismiss. Don Costa wrote the arrangements for both, but it was his immortal arrangement for "My Way" that helped to make that Sinatra's anthem, a song too famous for further comment. I forget who wrote "What's Now Is Now" but it comes from the strangest-- though certainly not the worst-- album Frank ever recorded: "Watertown" was supposed to be a TV special as well, so maybe that's why the songs don't make sense on their own. Actually this is the one song that does and it's not half bad. Joe Raposo's "Bein' Green" foreshadows the other fine songs he wrote for Sinatra later on-- the songs on "Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back" that helped get him off the golf course and out of retirement. It's a cute little number Frank does surprisingly well. As a huge fan of Nelson Riddle I'm about to say a blasphemous thing when I now say that I prefer Sinatra's earlier version of what he once called "the greatest love song ever written." He also used to say Paul McCartney wrote "Something" when he introduced the song in concert. (Maybe Frank should have gone to Bangladesh with George instead of going to South Africa). This version has a bit more rock 'n' roll in it than the later Riddle arrangement. I happen to love the song "Cycles." It's well-written, with another Don Costa arrangement big on folksy guitars but Sinatra sounding like he's looking into an empty whiskey glass. It's very memorable, though Dino was better at covering the other songs on the album "Cycles," songs like "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" and "Gentle On My Mind." "Star!" and "September Of My Years," the last two tracks, come from an earlier period when Sinatra's music was more consistently excellent. Both are written by the genius team of Van Heusen and Cahn, the first arranged by Riddle (one of his finger-snapping delights) and the second by Gordon Jenkins. "Going Out Of My Head" is another song I love in Sinatra's hands, even if it's not his usual thing-- he recorded it at the same time he recorded a song that was definitely his thing, the devestating "Forget To Remember" (not included here). And he performed both and many of the other songs from this album on his 1969 TV special, which you ought to check out. That leaves "I'm Not Afraid" but I'm afraid I dislike the song so much, with its bad rhymes and heavy-handed arrangement, I have nothing to say about it! So, eleven songs-- not very many, but this was the original album and does include some songs that are hard to find elsewhere. I wouldn't buy it just for "My Way" but if you want to catch Sinatra in late Sixties mode this is actually a more enjoyable ride than the first greatest hits collection.

Sinfonia Concertante K364
Sinfonia Concertante K364
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love at first listen., June 6 2002
Some musical performances are more than music. This rarely happens on recordings because they usually come from the studio. However this version of Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante was recorded live, and it is more like a conversation, at times almost a conversion. The beauty shared between Itzhak Perlman on violin, his friend Pinchas Zukerman on viola, and their mutual friend Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic ought to convert anyone to the "religion of Mozart." It is simply moving and breath-taking beyond-- anything. The K. number of the work reveals it is a later and more mature work than the five violin concertos. Mehta takes the first movement at a very spacious tempo, allowing Perlman and Zukerman to carry on a dialogue that explores the complexity of Mozart's melodic genius. Yet the Finale has all the humorous "zip and zing" the new listener could want. The second work, for two violins, is actually earlier than the violin concertos and may seem slight in comparison to the main course. But the young Mozart's simple profundity has its own moving delights. Actually I wouldn't listen to it after the Sinfonia Concertante, which will leave you in such a state of spiritual refreshment, it's a pity anything must come after. (I apologize for writing in such florid terms, but talking about music never does it justice and maybe from my excess of emotion you'll have a good idea of how you'll feel after hearing this disc).

2 Pno Ctos/Tragic Ovt/Haydn Va
2 Pno Ctos/Tragic Ovt/Haydn Va
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5.0 out of 5 stars Pollini, Bohm and Abbado-- and the VPO., June 6 2002
Karl Bohm nearly steals the show on this two disc set. Obviously the star is supposed to be Maurizio Pollini in the two piano concertos, but Bohm's direction of the Vienna Philharmonic seems to grab my attention the most. His Variations on a Theme by Haydn is the best ever-- I'm not sure I can go back to any other version. Bohm always had the right balance of pressure and patience, not pushing the music too hard but not allowing it to drift either. His finesse is especially apparent in the first piano concerto, where the gruff, stern opening bars before the soloist enters are fiery, yes, but restrained enough to match Pollini's powerful yet elegant approach. And, appropriately, Claudio Abbado gives Pollini a very graceful cushion of sound in the second concerto. The horns warmly wrap around Pollini's piano and there is a cathartic almost "Parsifal"-like feel to this stunning version. I usually associate Abbado with boredom yet he easily surpasses Haitink with the VPO on the otherwise great Ashkenazy version (Haitink himself I don't associate with excitement). Pollini's precision and bell-like tone, as well as his tremendous power and intellectual insight, are all too famous to comment on here. I do miss something that is in the playing of Richter and Gilels, but Pollini is great in his own way. Karl Bohm concludes things with a Tragic Overture that not only captures the Beethovenian intensity at the start and finish but explores all the nooks and crannies of beauty in between. So, for Karl Bohm's direction alone, this is an irresistible double set.

Septet Quintet K.407
Septet Quintet K.407
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5.0 out of 5 stars "Ludwig's most popular and Mozart's best.", June 6 2002
This review is from: Septet Quintet K.407 (Audio CD)
Teldec Classics has come out with a new budget line (to compete with EMI's "Red Line" and Sony's "Essential Classics") and judging from this disc it should be a good one. Before I bought this excellent coupling I looked up both works in the Penguin Guide and sure enough they were highly recommended. Although the only name I recognized on the cover was Karl Leister on clarinet, the Berlin Soloists are a wonderfully polished group. They play with cohesion and energy and each has a gorgeous tone. Radovan Vlatkovic's horn has a big "East German" sound that is simply delicious. And these are essential works: much to his annoyance, the Septet Op. 20 (introduced to the world at the same concert as Symphony No. 1) was Beethoven's most popular composition during his lifetime. The third movement is particularly famous to this day. In six movements, this unique combination of winds and strings has countless melodies, fast and slow, with Ludwig's usual humorous and sometimes bizarre twist on sounds associated with Mozart and Haydn. Mozart's Horn Quintet might surpass his four Horn Concertos as his greatest work for that instrument. At the time he composed it he said it was one of his best compositions. The only reason I hadn't owned it before is that the version I wanted-- with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields-- overlapped with exact recordings of two other chamber works for winds in "The Best of the Complete Mozart Edition" box set. You probably don't have the same problem, but at a price like this, with two such works, in digital sound, with such an ensemble performing-- how can you resist?

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