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Dr. Christopher Coleman (HONG KONG)

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Bells for Stokowski
Bells for Stokowski
Price: CDN$ 24.34
16 used & new from CDN$ 12.46

5.0 out of 5 stars A real pleasure, July 6 2004
This review is from: Bells for Stokowski (Audio CD)
Hong Kong audiences know Jerry Junkin as the director of our very own Wind Philharmonia. But Junkin's regular gig, back in the states, is as conductor of both the University of Texas Wind Ensemble and the Dallas Wind Symphony. It's the former group performing on this CD and these college students play like real professionals. The standard of wind, brass, and percussion performance across the US is extremely high, and the University of Texas Wind Ensemble, thanks in no small part to Junkin's leadership, is one of the very best. It's clear watching Junkin conduct that he's not only a real showman, but also a fine musician whom the performers trust completely, and that relationship can be heard throughout this CD.
The recording features two older works and two new pieces. In the former category is Ralph Vaughn Williams' English Folk Song Suite, a real standard for wind band, in a terrific rendition. Also in that category is an arrangement of 9 movements from Tielman Susato's The Danserye. The superb orchestration is a very colourful one by Patrick Dunnigan. Susato was a Renaissance composer, and a mixed consort of string and wind instruments would likely have played the pieces here, published in 1551. Dunnigan has adopted the idea of mixed timbres and added even more color with an imaginative use of percussion. It's not historically accurate, but it's very fun to hear.
Two recent works from American composers round out the recording. David Del Tredici takes his inspiration from the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the US and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan. His piece, In Wartime, consists of two movements-Hymn and Battlemarch. Del Tredici has made a reputation as a bane of more progressive composers, keeping fairly strictly to a conservative tonal style and rarely coloring it with anything more dissonant. In Wartime tackles such emotionally charged material with such a relatively bland palate that it seems to me little more than pleasant, and the ending, with its fading siren, positively trivial. It does have some terrific moments, especially the beginning of the Battlemarch, but overall it fails to deliver on its promises. The final composition on the disc is quite the opposite. Michael Daugherty is another relatively conservative American composer. He first found notoriety with his Metropolis Symphony, inspired by the Superman comic. This embrace of popular culture by a so-called serious artist was reminiscent of Andy Warhol's position in the visual arts, and brought Daugherty immediate international attention. The piece on this disc, Bells for Stokowski, is a band transcription of one movement from Daugherty's orchestral suite Philadelphia Stories. It's an emotionally substantial piece, and Daugherty moves from one expressive moment to another with skill. At one point, a playful quotation from J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier appears as an accompaniment and grows wildly in rather unexpected directions in homage to Stokowski's penchant for rather free transcriptions. Throughout, Daugherty embraces techniques like polyrhythm and bitonality, but its all to an emotional point--he never moves so far into the avante guard that the music becomes fails to engage the listener. The finale of the piece is especially thrilling.
Mention must be made of the superb recording quality. It's truly stunning--better even than live, and the stereo spacing, especially of the percussion in some of the works, really comes across. This disc is a real pleasure, pure and simple.

Symphony No.3
Symphony No.3
Price: CDN$ 20.33
10 used & new from CDN$ 15.83

4.0 out of 5 stars Landmark Symphony, June 5 2004
This review is from: Symphony No.3 (Audio CD)
From the first note of the tumultuous opening, Mahler breaks new artistic ground in his Third Symphony. The piece is an absolute landmark in the symphonic literature, completely reconceptualizing the rhetoric and structure of that genre. Not only the length and the number of movements are dramatically expanded, but more importantly the discourse is expanded as well.
Nothing like the first movement had existed before. Of it, Mahler himself said "It has almost ceased to be music. It is hardly anything but sounds of Nature." The other movements also move in wildly new directions; the second, third and fifth movements make wild juxtapositions between light and dark, far beyond what any other composer had imagined. Listen to what is nominally the scherzo--but it is so much more than any previously existing scherzo. Mahler alternates fast music which itself moves between darkness and light, with a heavenly moment of stillness played offstage by the posthorn, a type of bugle.
In the fourth movement, a setting of a poem by the German philosopher Nietzsche, Mahler uses an innovative approach that emphasizes tone color over melody. This movement, too, has almost ceased to be music; at least, music as it had been known up to that time. There's almost no movement at all, either harmonically or melodically. The whole is cast in an eerie and mournful immobility, reflective of the desire for joy in a sorrowful world expressed in the poem. I've heard many recordings of this symphony, and contralto Petra Lang does the nicest rendition I've heard. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra performs on this disc, lead by Riccardo Chailly. The work places extreme demands on the orchestra (Mahler actually travelled with his own trombone soloist when he conducted this around Europe!) and this performance, while not my very favorite, is quite impressive. (I'm bowled over by the hyperbole of the first reviewer--my experience was not as ecstatic as his, alas.) It seems that Chailly restrains the brass a bit and so the climaxes are not quite as glorious as some other recordings, such as those attained in the recording by Jasha Horenstein with the London Symphony Orchestra. Nonetheless, Chailly's tempi and phrasing are excellent, and his ability to control and shape these huge, elemental movements commands respect. Especially thrilling is the primordial trombone solo from the first movement, played by Ivan Meylemans.
There's an odd bonus on this CD. It contains a suite of Bach's music arranged by Mahler for the New York Philharmonic. It's a curiosity, nothing more; Mahler's arrangement mostly consists of combining two movements each from Bach's Second and Third Orchestral Suites, and thickening up the orchestration of the originals somewhat. There's none of Mahler's quirkiness, no stopped horns or moaning cor anglais or thundering trombones; and there's no real reason to listen to this instead of Bach's original. I was somewhat interested in how the Air on a G string seemed to have influenced the finale of the Third Symphony. Imagine it stretched to infinity, and you have the beginning of that movement.
One final note: the programme notes on the disc, by Donald Mitchell, disappoint me. Mitchell is of course a pre-eminent Mahler scholar, but here he reads his own interpretation into the music far too much. There's something about how the piece first presents the evolution of life (not so far off from what Mahler himself originally wrote about Pan awakening, but not right on the button, either), then the evolution of music. This one's a real stretch--Mitchell's trying to make something of the Minuet and the Scherzo, but the minuet is no Baroque or Classical minuet and this is just Mitchell's own fantasy. It's clear, if you need a program, what Mahler was thinking of; he originally provided titles for each movement. It's also clear that Mahler preferred his audience to interpret the piece for themselves--he withdrew that same program. If you need Mitchell to tell you what the music is "about", you haven't understood it, and these notes are better ignored.

Jay's Journal of Anomalies
Jay's Journal of Anomalies
by Ricky Jay
Edition: Hardcover
17 used & new from CDN$ 24.17

4.0 out of 5 stars 'An Anomaly of Anomalies', May 26 2004
What wasn't quite clear to me when I got this book is that it is exactly what it says it is: a compellation of a quarterly 'newsletter' or journal written by magician Ricky Jay over a period of six years. The newsletter combines Jay's interest in entertainers of the outrageous kind with high quality publication; as he says,"a magazine printed letterpress on mold-made paper, with tipped-in color plates to present the illustrations I cherished with dignity and clarity." Although I have not seen either the original newsletters or the paperback version of the book, I can testify that the hardback retains these fine qualities.
As one might expect given the nature of the project, the quality of individual chapters evolves with time. Each chapter of the book is one volume of the newletter, preserved with the original masthead; the first few chapters show Jay warming to his subject. Chapter one, on trained dogs, is only 6 pages long; Chapter two, on Edward Bright and other early "Fattest Man/Woman/Child" is eight pages. Honestly, these opening chapters did not particularly interest me. But then the topics became more interesting to me and Jay seemed to 'hit his stride'--the final chapter, on the Amazing Chess Automaton, is twice the length of the first. Nonetheless, I still found the book a bit uneven--the chapter on bowling begins superbly, with a short description of Matthew Buchinger, born in 1674 who became a bowling wizard in spite of having neither arms nor legs. But after a single paragraph and picture, this singular character is not mentioned again. Instead, Jay concentrates the remaining pages on a general discussion of cheating at bowling--substitute "pool" for 'bowling' and the situation is pretty much unchanged today; and the association of bowling with amorality in the Victorian mind. Moderately interesting, but give me a ceiling walker, chess automaton, or Bonassus any day. It would be churlish of me to make more of this--it is, after all, Jay's Journal of Anomalies, not Coleman's Journal.
Among the more fascinating chapters are those on fasters, where Jay brings in the modern example of the Breatharians, who supposedly live on air alone; the Aztec Lilliputians; and a quirky chapter on "nose amputations". The common but unspoken thread among all the chapters is that odd but universal human quality--an eagerness to be deceived. The Amazing Chess Automaton, a device which has been treated at great lengths elsewhere, is a real testament to this quality; having been purchased by not one, but two members of royalty!
Each chapter is thoroughly footnoted, so that the book stands not only as an entertaining collection of quirks, but also as a scholarly source of information. One of the highlights is the Afterward, in which Jay publishes, presumably for the first time, additional material and pictures supplied by his readers in response to the original newsletter. All in all, Jay has succeeded admirably in creating (in his own words) 'an anomaly of anomalies."

The Bone Collector (Widescreen)
The Bone Collector (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Denzel Washington
Price: CDN$ 9.98
57 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unwilling Suspension of Disbelief, May 9 2004
The Bone Collector is two movies in one; the good movie has some nice acting from Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie, some creepy special effects, and a couple of really terrifying and suspenseful moments for the killer's victims. That's the movie you'll want to suspend your disbelief for--and that suspension would consist solely of accepting that this serial killer would leave clues to engage the police in a game of Cat and Mouse rather than just go directly for his real target. That fictional convention would have been enough, and had the premise that forensics will triumph been followed though, the film could have been truly excellent.
The other movie just asks too much; that a patrol cop who's never worked a crime scene would be the only policeperson allowed on a scene; that the scene of a crime would reveal only those clues intentionally left behind by the killer (isn't that the whole point of forensics, that you find out things the killer didn't intend you to discover?); and on and on. This second movie apparently takes place on that alternate Earth on the opposite side of the sun from ours, where the writing is all backwards and the superhero the Flash looks like the FTD florist's logo. When audience members find themselves thinking (or saying aloud) "That wouldn't happen!" over and over, there's something drastically wrong with the plot and the screenplay. It's certainly not a problem unique to the Bone Collector; in fact I'd venture to guess that plot implausibility is one of the leading cause of death for Hollywood's hit status, only capable of being overcome by the infusion of massive star power. Washington and Jolie, as attractive as they are, don't quite make it here. All in all, The Bone Collector is probably worth renting, probably not worth owning. I certainly wouldn't bother to see it again.

L Orfeo Comp
L Orfeo Comp
2 used & new from CDN$ 57.71

4.0 out of 5 stars The First Great Opera, May 8 2004
This review is from: L Orfeo Comp (Audio CD)
Claudio Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, composed in 1606, is widely considered the first great opera. As an art form, opera was created not quite 20 years earlier, in an attempt to recapture the musical and dramatic ideas of ancient Greece. Jacopo Peri had apparently initiated that great experiment with his work Euridice. Monteverdi used the same story, one that naturally lent itself to depiction with lots of singing, and created a masterpiece that has endured for four hundred years. The story is from Classical mythology; Orpheus, a gifted singer, is to marry Euridice, but before the nuptials she is killed by a snake. Orpheus descends to Hades to plead with Pluto, God of the Underworld, for her return. Moved by Orpheus's song, his love, and the entries of his own wife, Pluto agrees to allow Euridice to return on one condition. Euridice is to follow Orpheus back to the surface, but he must not look back at her, he must trust Pluto's word. Of course, doubt clouds Orpheus's intentions and when he ultimately turns, Euridice is lost to him forever. The final act provides the obligatory happy ending, in which Apollo appears and takes Orpheus with him to the Heavens.
The whole is extremely mannered, there's no attempt at naturalism in this opera. Each act primarily portrays a single emotion--joyous love in the first, despair in the second and fourth, hope in the third and again joy in the final act. Most of the action takes place offstage--in fact, there's very little action at all. The story essentially exists so that Orpheus can sing, and sing he does.
There's a fine moment in the first act, in which Orpheus sings about how sad he was before he met Euridice, who has filled his life with joy. Considering the fate soon to befall him, this is an especially ironic bit of text. In the second act, the highlight is the moment when Orpheus is told of Euridice's death, and his haunting lament, Tu se morta; Thou art perished. Monteverdi's makes fine use of word painting that is definitely worth noticing. As Orpheus sings "morte" (death) or that he will go down to Hades "N'andro sicuro a piu profondi abissi" the melodic line descends; as he sings farewell to the skies and sun, ("a dio Cielo, e sole a dio") the line rises. In the third act, I'm amused by Orpheus's song to Charon, the ferryman across the river Styx. Unable to move Charon with the depth of his entreaty, Orpheus eventually suffers the fate that far too many musicians have done--he unexpectedly sings Charon to sleep! But for Orpheus, this unanticipated lullaby is a blessing in disguise, as he takes advantage of Charon's somnolence to ferry himself across the river of the dead. I can't help suspecting that Monteverdi and his librettist shared some amusement at this plot twist.
Ian Bostridge, who overall is quite convincing, sings the role of Orpheus. Tu se morta is one of my favorite pieces of music of all time, and I have to admit that Bostridge's interpretation of that particular aria doesn't chill me. Another highlight of the third act is Euridice's lament, when Orpheus has just turned around, resulting in her eternal banishment from the world above. Originally all the women's roles would have been sung by castrati; men who had intentionally had their testicles removed before their voices changed to preserve their high range. Fortunately this practice has been abandoned and the role of Euridice is beautifully sung by Patrizia Ciofi.
For a host of reasons, and surely not primarily the lack of castrati, purists will argue about the authenticity of the entire performance; it is an admittedly emotionally expressive one, a touch Romantic in nature at times, with occasional rubatos that seem musically plausible if not historically accurate. It's a matter of some musicological debate, but for most listeners, purely academic. What really counts for most of us is whether the music captivates us. Personally I'm particularly taken not only by the melodic lines and the modal harmonies, but also by the fascinating sounds of the Renaissance instruments. L'Orfeo is the first known work in which instrumentation is specified; and it's a hugely rich variety of sounds, with violins, celli, viols, recorders, lutes, harpsichord, organ, and a very strange looking strummed instrument called a theorbo. There's more-for the act in the underworld Monteverdi employs cornetti (early trumpets, more or less) and sackbuts, precursors to the trombones. The instrumentalists do a fine rendition, although in a few odd moments the bass is uncharacteristically boomy and I'm not entirely convinced by some of the instrumental timbral choices in a few spots. Soloists and choir sing beautifully and although I've commented on the Romantic flexibility of tempo, this should not be misconstrued to mean the vocal approach is Romantic. It is not, there are no wild Verdian vibrati; pleasantly, Bostridge and his colleagues do not consider themselves Pavarotti pretenders.
The opera concludes with a dramatically unconvincing Deus ex machina; that convention of early drama in which one or more of the pantheon of Gods would descend from the heavens, lifting the tragic hero out of his despair and raising him skyward. In L'Orfeo's final chorus we are told that obedience to God rewards sorrow with grace. It's not a very compelling message from the modern perspective, but remember this harks from a time where royalty was believed divinely granted, and the composer surely needed to court his patron.

Heaven's Prisoners
Heaven's Prisoners
by James Lee Burke
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.71
23 used & new from CDN$ 5.43

5.0 out of 5 stars Worth Reading Twice, April 27 2004
This review is from: Heaven's Prisoners (Paperback)
I've read most of Burke's Dave Robicheaux series, and enjoyed them quite a bit. Heaven's Prisoners is one of the two best, the other being In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead. Mist is Burke at his most exotic--Dave's on an acid trip for a substantial part of the book; Heaven's Prisoners is Burke at his darkest. I'm unwilling to go into the plot; in fact I strongly urge you not to read further reviews as there are substantial spoilers in many of them that will ruin the experience for you. Suffice it to say there's plenty of action, plenty of suspense. Of course, most any thriller or action novel today promises that; where Burke is unusual is in his ability to handle language. He writes like he's in love with language, and it's a pleasure to read him. Mickey Spillane once said about himself that he didn't write novels, he wrote books; Burke definitely writes novels, and extremely literate ones at that. He's one of a generation of novelists, along with Michael Connelly, James Hall, and Dennis Lehane, who have inherited the mantle of Raymond Chandler and wear it with pride; in Burke's case, he seems also to draw inspiration from William Faulkner. Robicheaux's a complex man, tortured by his own inadequacies and yet immensely strong simultaneously, and he's a prisoner of the dark, decaying Southern environment he was raised in. If you prefer simple action, plots, and characters like Mike Hammer or Robert Parker's Spenser, you'll surely think Burke is overwritten. But for a real literate treat, with an electric story, fantastic dialogue and descriptions, and characters you'll want to revisit, read Heaven's Prisoners. I almost never reread a fiction book, except by accident--there's just too much new stuff out there; but I deliberately read this one again, and enjoyed it just as much the second time.

Necronomicon: Book of the Dead [Import]
Necronomicon: Book of the Dead [Import]
VHS
4 used & new from CDN$ 19.95

3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining B Movie, April 22 2004
I got this on the cheap, and if you're a fan of cheesy, B movie horror with lots of gooey special effects and can find it cheap, do so. Don't expect a legitimate Lovecraft tie-in: Lovecraft appears as a character in a "wraparound" uniting three unrelated stories, but it's not Lovecraft the historical character--there's a disclaimer at the end of the film admitting as much--nor do the stories themselves reflect Lovecraft's ethos. Lovecraft was about understatement and suggestion; this film takes the opposite track with dripping gore and monsters in full view. To me, that's no bad thing, but as you can tell from the reviews here, plenty of hard-core Lovecraft fans disagree. What the movie does offer is plenty of slime covered latex masks and monsters, and you get good views of them; one pretty good story, one mediocre story, and one gross-out fairly stupid story; lots of mediocre to bad acting, and a quick, totally gratuitous and titillating (so to speak) shot of one of the actresses naked in the shower. If that's what you want to pay your money for, go for it. I admit to my own amusement and entertainment.

In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made
In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made
by Norman F. Cantor
Edition: Hardcover
32 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Avoid this like the Plague, April 16 2004
Cantor strikes a populist direction with this book. He affects a breezy writing style (one can easily imagine much of his writing as a spoken, off-the-cuff lecture punctuated by more-or-less amusing asides, some of which totally derail his train of thought), the book is short (only 220 pages of text) and there is not a single footnote. The obvious comparison in terms of subject matter is to Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. Tuchman made a best seller from her remarkable approach in spite of her scholarly writing-style. Cantor's book lacks that sophistication of approach, and is further marred, as other reviewers have already noted, by too much repetition, too many asides, too much unsupported speculation, too many inconsistencies, and too many factual errors. There is some merit to the book, but its flaws far outweigh its worth.
Cantor at his best cites an interesting theory: that the Black Death was not a single disease, but two or more--not bubonic plague alone, but also some cattle-borne disease such as a particularly virulent form of anthrax. Supporting this theory are the Black Death's infestation of Iceland, an isolated island not known to have rats until the 17th Century, the often extremely rapid course of the disease--faster than that of bubonic plague; the lack of typical bubonic plague symptoms in many victims; the evidence that cattle were ravished by the Black Death; and the continued virulence of the plague in winter months when flea hosts would not normally live. The theory is not Cantor's own, but he has researched and supported it in seemingly convincing fashion, but he ignores the actual nature of the disease in its "pneumatic" form. Less adequate is Cantor's chapter "Heritage of the African Rifts", which discusses the three pandemics of smallpox, gonorrhea, and plague and places their origin in "the great mortality chute from East Africa. Certainly that is where the bubonic plague came from after A.D. 500." But in his bibliography Cantor cites William H. McNeill's Plagues and Peoples and says, contradicting his own earlier statement written with such certainty, "McNeill thought the Mongols, their migrations and conquests, were a key to plague history; there may be something in that."
Also of interest, but clearly quirky, was Cantor's chapter on various speculations on the true cause of the Black Death. "Serpents and Cosmic Dust" covers alternative explanations for the "biomedical catastrophe" from the medieval to the present, focusing on two suggestions: the first, that snakes were the carriers; the second, that plague came from outer space. Cantor is kind, although not entirely enthusiastic, about these speculations: at one point he says "It is just possible that medieval writers who placed the origins of the Black Death in serpents dispensing plague as they swam up rivers were on to something." Unfortunately, the only "evidence" he offers is that another historian on an unrelated issue once took medieval writers at their word in the face of academic thought and has since been vindicated. The argument in favor of the cosmic dust theory is basically that it was proposed by eminent astrophysicist Fred Hoyle--what is not mentioned is Hoyle's second career as a well-known science fiction writer. Hoyle's is a fascinating speculation, which only the most flimsy of circumstantial evidence can currently support.
Cantor mentions one fascinating fact in this chapter that needed to be explored much further: plague was not widespread in Poland and Bohemia. This has been explained "by the rats' avoidance of these areas due to the unavailability of food the rodents found palatable." This seems unlikely --elsewhere Cantor points out the relative agricultural wealth of Poland and the Ukraine. Could Polish grain really be considerably different than Western European grain--and what of the anthrax theory, which would have the disease unaffected by the rodent's diet?
Socio-cultural differences between Poland and Bohemia and the rest of Europe would make an ideal testing ground for those theories concerning the effect the Black Death had on society, the arts, and religion. But rather than do any original research comparing plague-ridden and plague-free areas, Cantor merely launches into various criticisms of his colleagues' work in his final chapter, "Aftermath". Cantor examines these theories and subjects them to a much less forgiving critique than the far wilder speculations mentioned previously. Some of these attacks are odd indeed, such as critiquing a book published in 1919! This is the most poorly written and argued part of the entire book, and honestly I cannot tell to what conclusion Cantor comes-whether the Black Death did or did not have any profound effect beyond killing off certain talented individuals.
Finally, the outright errors. Rather than repeat those caught by other reviewers, I'll discuss the extraordinary apparent claim of time-travel. Cantor recounts the story of the le Strange/Talbot family. Richard Talbot inherited the la Strange estate from the dowager Mary upon her "dying in 1396." (Whether this was a plague-related death Cantor apparently deems unimportant.) Later in the chapter we are told "Richard Talbot, newly enriched by the le Strange fortune, got his father out of debtor's prison and the old soldier died of the plague in 1387 in Spain..." How could Richard have paid his father's debts with money he wouldn't receive for nine more years? I cannot account for the chronology of events without either contemplating a typographical error, a rift in the space-time continuum, or a mis-informed or deeply confused author. Hopefully it is the former, and Mary died ten years earlier than Cantor reports; but I am left with the discomforting concern that the dates are correct and Cantor simply speculated on Talbot's source of funds. Unfortunately this is not an isolated error.
While Cantor's book is more up-to-date than Barbara Tuchman's is, I can't recommend it, even as a supplement. It is too deeply flawed on too many levels. I'm left to wonder if some horrible computer virus didn't work its way through the manuscript, decimating the writing and killing at least 40% of the ultimate value of the book. As Cantor says, "It is just possible."

Museum Of Hoaxes
Museum Of Hoaxes
by Alex Boese
Edition: Hardcover
29 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Cursory Curiosities, April 15 2004
This review is from: Museum Of Hoaxes (Hardcover)
I have to admit to being simultaneously disappointed and entertained by Alex Boese's The Museum of Hoaxes. While Boese certainly has researched many pranks, stunts and deceptions and writes in a breezy style, I kept wishing for more information about the hoaxes he reports (not more hoaxes, of which there are plenty). Had I come across this book in a brick-and-mortar store, I probably would not have bought it; and I have to admit that the Amazon reviewer does comment about the lack of detail. For example, the section on The Great Chess Automaton is only two rather small pages long, with no pictures. Look on James Randi's (the Amazing Randi) website for the James Randi Educational Fountation, dedicated to debunking hoaxes, physics, and the like, and you'll find two commentaries dedicated to the same topic, with several drawings which make the hoax perfectly clear. Randi's account is much more engaging, as its detail brings the story to life. Boese discusses the Loch Ness Monster and the "surgeon's photo"--but doesn't include the photo itself. The book makes good light reading, and perhaps it's greatest good is as a testiment to the fact that the media is less in the news and education business than in the entertainment business, a case which Randi also makes repeatedly. You'll probably encounter a few stories you've heard before and not realised were hoaxes or outright frauds, such as the sightings of sea monsters by the passenger ship Mauretania--a report first published in the New York Times and repeated ad infinitum in books on Cryptozoology and Fortean Phenomena, but which has entirely no basis in fact. You'll surely discover things of which you've not heard--my favorite is "The Great Monkey Hoax" hailing from my home state of Georgia, wherein a dead Capuchin monkey was doused in depiliatory cream and left in the road by two boys who claimed they'd struck it while two other "aliens" escaped in a glowing UFO. Boese has a gullibilty test in his book, which I, a confirmed skeptic, didn't do well on. And a number of famous or otherwise interesting hoaxes didn't make it into his book--including Mother Shipton, the psychic more accurate than Nostradamus but who unfortunately didn't exist, or the mermaid story which took place here in Hong Kong less than 10 years ago--a report was widely circulated in the media that a fisherman had caught a mermaid and his boat was bringing her into port. People flocked to the docks, but the boat was delayed and wouldn't be in until the next day. Still people came, but of course, no mermaid ever showed up--I don't remember what the excuse was--I think perhaps he freed the mermaid because she'd threatened him with a curse. Or the monkey man that was running around rooftops in India, supposedly assulting people, also within the last decade. Boese maintains a website where at least some of these hoaxes are written up; but like the book that site lacks detail and seems somewhat flat.

Vaughan Williams: Symphonies 1 - 9
Vaughan Williams: Symphonies 1 - 9

5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and Impressive Collection, April 7 2004
Listen to the bold beginning of Ralph Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony, and you've captured the essence of VW at his best. This is the first of 9 symphonies by a composer who is surely England's greatest Symphonist. His essays in the form span the first half of the twentieth century, but include few of its radical elements. Vaughan Williams was a traditionalist throughout, and surely it was that conservative outlook that drew him to the symphonic form in the first place.
Listening to his second symphony, A London Symphony, one hears typical Vaughan Williams-almost entirely melodic in its conception, with lots of diatonic, modal or pentatonic writing, and a touch of chromatic harmony to flavour the melody. It's beautiful, and the music spans a wide emotional gamut from intense introspection to joyous celebration. Only in the 4th Symphony does VW really open himself to a more contrapuntal and dissonant style, and the consequence is that the composition becomes quite reminiscent of Prokofiev or Schostakovich, the two other great Symphonists of the time. Following the 5th Symphony, however, I feel that VW's artistic output suffers. The later pieces, with the exception of the 7th Symphony, Sinfonia Antarctica-based on music he'd composed for the film Scott of the Antarctic--lack the vigor and excitement of the earlier works. They're more introspective, perhaps as befits an older composer, but they don't speak to me as strongly as, say, the later symphonies of Mahler or Schostakovich. Perhaps it is that VW was resistant to change in his basic musical outlook, but by the 1950's, the diatonic/pentatonic ideas he frequented had become increasingly irrelevant. That VW was brilliant and a master craftsman is unquestionable, but he seemed to need new fuel for his compositional fires and was unwilling to consider the atonality of Schoenberg and his followers, the rhythmic vitality of Stravinsky and Bartok, or even the orchestral colours and dramatic juxtapositions of Gustav Mahler. There are still many moments of brilliance, but as a whole the later works move me less.
All of the performances by Andre Previn and the London symphony Orchestra are superb-no one plays this music better. With 9 Symphonies and four other orchestral works-the Concerto Accademico, the Tuba Concerto, the Wasps Overture, and Three Portraits from The England of Elisabeth-this collection is packed with value, and I can scarcely do it justice in the limited room I have. While the Concerto Accademico seems aptly titled and not terribly engaging, the Three Portraits are a gem of VW's work for television. Its worth the price for the first two symphonies and the Sinfonia Antarctica alone, everything else is just gravy--or perhaps I should say, baked beans on toast! All in all, a terrific deal.

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