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JJM Peters (Nijmegen, The Netherlands)

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Le Violoncelle Virtuose
Le Violoncelle Virtuose
4 used & new from CDN$ 11.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Virtuosity at its best!, Dec 30 2003
This review is from: Le Violoncelle Virtuose (Audio CD)
Apparently, Franchomme was one of the most famous and celebrated cellists if his time, but nowadays he is only known by the more enduring cello-students by his caprices which are obligatory virtuoso pieces in their repertoire. And that's a shame.
As this disc neatly proves, Franchomme wrote some very nice pieces for his instrument, apart from the caprices. I deliberately use the word nice, for Franchomme's style is light and quintessentially French. These pieces do not explore the depths of human emotions, they don't show us the darker side of ourselves, don't lament lost loves or exploit the melancholy sound of the cello. As the title suggests they are mainly concerned with virtuosity. But don't let this title confuse you! This is not a showcase of all the tricks and technical feats that cellists are capable of (as so many other discs with resembling titles are). In every piece, music making comes first, virtuosity second (or third sometimes). Every piece is imaginative and fresh if not always truly original.
The execution of this music couldn't be more perfect than on this disc. Roel Dieltiens (who the heck is he and why haven't we heard from him before?!?!) is simply superb. Every piece is, in its own way, virtuosic yet Dietiens never gives the impression that anything he plays is of any difficulty at all. His style (as his technique) is relaxed, easygoing and never ever virtuosic. The danger with these kinds of pieces is that you get a soloist whith a "look at me, I can play all these notes at a murderous tempo! Ain't I something?!" approach. Not Dieltiens. He knows how to bring this music to life not by stressing the virtuosity, but by playing them with a beautiful tone and real musicality.
The accompaniment by the Ensemble Exploration is great. By the sound of it, it is not a large ensemble, which sometimes gives a surprisingly baroque-like sound to these romantic pieces. Overall, as virtuoso discs go, this one is (for a change) really worthwhile AND a nice introduction to some little-known French music.

Petite Messe Solennelle
Petite Messe Solennelle
Price: CDN$ 57.99
6 used & new from CDN$ 13.73

3.0 out of 5 stars Little mess of the soloists, Sept. 20 2003
This review is from: Petite Messe Solennelle (Audio CD)
Rossini wrote this piece with a very small ensemble in mind. Two pianos, one harmonium and 12 singers, including (!) 4 soloists. For a full blown mass, this is as small as you can get. Consequently, the music is mostly very intimate and tailored to performances in small chapels (which it indeed was intended for). Now Corboz has gathered a remarkably fine ensemble. The pianists play EXACTLY what is written in the score (which is pretty amazing because pianists are only too often completely oblivious of the most simple dynamics). The harmonium, which with its modest tone is often next to inaudible on a recording, can be heard most of the time (it takes a bit of concentrated listening of course). The chorus is great, with a wide dynamic range and an appropriately modest tone (probably due to a modest size).
So, the opening of the Kyrie is superb (though indeed a bit too fast) and the singing of the choir breathtaking. The problems start at the Laudamus te. The soloists are apparently all trained opera voices. Nothing wrong with that of course, but I doubt if this is the right music for these singers. At first the seem to restrain themselves and the a capella singing sounds fine, but when the parts become more and more demanding, the voices seem to get larger and larger. The contralto and tenor are especially dominating. And it only gets worse in the Gratia, in which the tenor unfolds his operatic tendencies fully after which he ruins the Domine Deus single-handed (or should I say single-voiced). He doesn't seem to notice at all that this is intimate, sacred music and not one of Rossini's gayer opera's! The Qui Tollis is much of a relief and mostly beautifully sung, with only slightly too much melodrama (compared to the Domine Deus, this is sober). The bass sings rather like a basso buffo in the Quoniam, heavily (g)rumbling his way through the piece. The Cum Sancto Spiritu is fine though the fuga seems a bit on the fast side (Corboz apparently likes his tempi faster than the ones written in the score).
The Credo (with the appropriate tempo designation "Allegro Cristiano") again features some splendid tutti passages and some less splendid solo singing (again that contralto and tenor!). In the Crucifixus the soprano shows herself to be the best soloist on this recording. She has an almost complete check on her own voice, but even she can't resist the temptation of making those ugly glissando-leaps all the while inventing her own dynamics, completely separate from the beautiful accompaniment she gets from harmonium and pianos. The massive Preludio Religioso is nicely done, with enough dynamic range to keep you interested during this (possibly) least interesting part of the Petit Messe. The second Preludio Religioso is exceptionally good and shows us that Rossini did know his classics. I would have liked to hear this piece on harmonium once (Rossini gives the conductor the choice), but as it is, the pianist plays very well! The opening of the Sanctus is very well controlled (you can really hear the differences between pp, mf and f ). Unfortunately, the soloists have to sing their deal also! The "O Salutaris" bulges under the soprano, as does the Agnus Dei (marvellous piano and harmonium!) under the contralto.
So, apart from the soloist (and possibly the tempi), this is as good a performance as one might wish to find! Shame on opera-trained voices though...

Slavonic Dances Opp. 46 & 72
Slavonic Dances Opp. 46 & 72
Price: CDN$ 10.62
12 used & new from CDN$ 1.22

2.0 out of 5 stars Slow, slower, slowest, Aug. 13 2002
Dvorak's slavonic dances are possibly (apart from his ninth symphony) his most popular works. This is not surprising, since they are uplifting, humorous, melodramatic, well-composed but not academic pieces. These pieces have been recorded many times, with variable success. Since I already had three copies of the Slavonic dances I was not inclined to buy this CD until I found it in a second hand shop for (luckily) about a dollar. Since both the orchestra and the cunductor are Slavonic, I thought it was a pretty good bargain. But I was rather disappointed when I listened to the disc. It was like listening to a slow-motion rendering of the dances. Even while Kosler leaves out practically any repetition prescribed in the score, he somehow manages to finish the pieces in about the same time as his faster colleagues. Now I'm aware that the tempi in classical music are always subject to discussion, but Kosler pushes the limit. The exuberance normally associated with these pieces is all but gone. Where the drive and rythmical play that characterize other recordings (like the one from DG) make up a lot of the charm, these dances are dull at best. Even the more lyrical parts do not really come across, because the contrasts are gone.
I gave two stars because this disc can be used as a play-along CD for amateur orchestra members that have the audacity to put these works on their programme. For the rest I find this a rather shameful disc in the (generally) very good Naxos catalogue.

Sym 1 Inspired By The Lord
Sym 1 Inspired By The Lord
Offered by Rainy Day Games
Price: CDN$ 19.99
7 used & new from CDN$ 14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Better than the original? Maybe not, but it is pretty close, April 2 2002
This symphony, composed by the Dutch composer/arranger Johan deMeij, was initially written for symphonic wind band (which is kind of like a large marching band, but without the marching). Ever since it has attracted a lot of attention as one of the most popular compositions for this medium. And rightly so. The music (though clearly based on a lot of classical models) is great. It avoids all the pitfalls so commonly encountered in both music for this specific kind of orchestra (like a too heavy reliance on the brass to do all the work) and programmatic music in general (often, composers can't help indulging in clichés when writing programmatic music, which is certainly a danger with this kind of fantasy based music about a story that is immensely popular and very well-known). DeMeij did a really great job and his music is fresh and new and somehow knows to add something to the overall experience. So, it just had to happen that someone came along and made an arrangement for symphony orchestra. Now the question one may ask is what are the differences we can expect?
The symphony orchestra has (of course) quite a different composition compared to a symphonic wind band. The large clarinet section of the latter is dispensed with (its parts mainly taken over by the two remaining clarinets in the symphony orchestra and of course the string sections, mainly the violins). The rest of the woodwind section is essentially the same. The saxophones are entirely absent, with again mainly the strings taking over their parts (although the solo soprano saxophone featuring in the "Gollum" movement is of course retained). The brass section is smaller (I guess it comprises 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones and maybe 1 tuba). So, the other, lower brass instruments common to the symphonic wind band like the euphoniums and baritones are absent Their parts are filled in by the lower strings, that is violoncelli and string basses. The percussion section is untouched and also the piano remains. The only extra addition in the symphony orchestra is the harp.
Now this difference in composition leads to differences in sound and timbre. The full, brassy sound that can be heard in the wind band recordings will never be so full when played by the symphony orchestra. Yet, you get a lot in return. The dynamic range of the symphony orchestra is larger than that of the wind band (because brass can only go that soft and still make a nice sound). The string sections can be very expressive, maybe more so sometimes than the winds. For example, the opening melody of Gandalf (the bit after the fanfare opening) is now played by the celli, which is really, heartfelt. Also, pay attention to the use of tremolo strings that give extra effect in "Gollum", not to speak of the very effective use of solo-violin and viola in this movement.
Because the symphony orchestra consists of smaller sections, the contrasts between the sections are much clearer. The rhythmical intricacies are better appreciated than in any of the recordings or performances I have heard and a lot of things are articulated just that much sharper. Also other details, like the soft or high percussion instruments or the use of the piano are better audible. Yet, the music is essentially the same (although at some times you may have the impression you are listening to another piece altogether because other things are highlighted than usual). With the original score in hand, I found that the music is never really altered and where it has to be focused on the winds, it still is. The differences are thus not world shattering but mostly subtle and very tasteful. I must compliment the arranger (in my edition of the CD, which was low budget, the arranger is left anonymous, but to my knowledge it is Henk de Vlieger) for doing and excellent job. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but the music has in some way really benefited from this transition. The recording itself is rather dry, but that's just a minor draw-back.

The Science of Discworld
The Science of Discworld
by Stewart&cohen Pratchett
Edition: Hardcover
16 used & new from CDN$ 1.90

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compulsory textbook for undergraduate science students!!, March 19 2002
Apart from being a Pratchett fan, I'm an almost post graduate biology student interested in education en popularising science. Therefore, this book stands high on my list of best books ever. Apart from a very entertaining story featuring the ever-blundering wizards of U.U. (and Rincewind in the role of Professor of Unusual and Cruel Geography), this is really a very, very good science textbook.
The strength of the science book part (reviews on the story can be found aplenty on this page) is that it is for one thing very clearly structured, starting with the "birth" of the universe as we now perceive it and ending with a (maybe) over-the-top look into the future. But apart from this comprehensive structure, the science writing is also very clever. Many science books just state what is known, so only the dry facts. The authors of this book also give a framework, for example some history of how knowledge is obtained, a process that is mostly unknown to those who have not followed an academic science education.
But that's not all. Many times the authors start out by stating something that is known to everybody, giving the explanations we all learn in high school. And then they go about by showing us how exactly these high school explanation (or "lies-to-children" as they call them) are wrong, or at least a small part of the truth, giving a much more complicated image of how things work and even leaving things unexplained (because that's how it is in science, not all things can be explained satisfactorily). And that is, in my opinion, the strength of the book, a glimpse is given on how science is practised, how knowledge is gained and how things are always more complicated than you think they are.
I gave this book to a friend of mine who has had a long career in teaching (not only high-school teaching, but also teaching teachers-to-be how to teach) and he was also very enthusiastic about the book, because it really lets you wrestle with the various ideas and theories presented.
I myself have learned greatly from this book, not only from certain subjects that, being a biologist, are not part of your education (for example the physics involved in the biginning of the universe), but also about the more philosophical side of science (the chapter called "Things that aren't", which deals with how strange human thinking and perception sometimes work, is my all time favorite). This is why I very strongly recommend this book to all undergraduate science students (and really anyone involved in science or even remotely interested in it); they can profit greatly from reading this book. My only fear is that this book will, completely unjustified, disappear on the "Sci-fi and Fantasy" shelves in bookstores, and will not be found on the "Popular science" shelves where is really belongs!

Yoyoma Plays Williams
Yoyoma Plays Williams
Price: CDN$ 16.63
12 used & new from CDN$ 10.79

4.0 out of 5 stars great music, but it take some concentrated listening, March 13 2002
This review is from: Yoyoma Plays Williams (Audio CD)
I'm not one for attacking people on their personal opinions, but I have to react on the review of kenwuest, certainly since this review is so poorly argumented. I've looked at kenwuest's profile and what struck me was the amount of film scores reviewed by this person. I myself got to know Williams through his film scores, in fact, my interest in classical music was kindled by his music. Apparently though, Kenwuest has never gotten beyond the film scores and seems to think that, since he has listened to a lot of film music, he can give a well-considered review on this complex, modern classical music. As ozoneghost says in his review: "If you're not familiar with or don't intellectually and emotionally appreciate modern composition, this CD is NOT for you. You're JUST NOT gonna get it." And indeed, Kenwuest did not get it. But please, don't slash something if you don't understand it. And certainly not in words like "Listening to this is about as much fun as drilling teeth.", at least have the decency to say "I find listening to this...", it's a purely subjective statement, not a fact.
So, what is my opinion on this music. I have listened to this record several times now and I must confess that I do not understand all of it, but what I do understand, I like very much. The pieces for cello solo are thrilling and sometimes really swing, Ma's performance being excellent. I hope these pieces will find their way in the standard cellist repertoire, like the suites by Britten and Kodaly. The elegy is of course the dream of every cellist, ranking with the elegy by faure en the kol nidrei by Bruch. The cello concerto and Heartwood are still a bit unclear to me, being I guess the less accessible pieces on the record, though they are both exhilirating works, I'll need a little bit more time to really get their meaning (so, this review will certainly be updated).

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Price: CDN$ 16.75
80 used & new from CDN$ 0.39

2.0 out of 5 stars This could have been sooooooooooooo much more, March 5 2002
When I heard they would make a film based on LOTR, I was aware that there would be a lot of speculation and discussion going on about who would be the best composer to write the music to the film. Admittedly, I'm biased, because I'm a huge fan of the work of John Williams and I was convinced that someone who could write appropriate music for the Star Wars saga would be best suited to write the music to Tolkien's epic. So, when I heard it wasn't going to be Williams, but Howard Shore (of whom I've never heard a soundtrack), I was somewhat disappointed. But, as soon as it was available in stores (so even before the film was out), I bought a copy of the soundtrack (marvelling at the ... marketing ploy of different front covers). So, I listened to the soundtrack and tried to do so with an open mind (I really tried, you have to believe me on this!). I must say that there are some nice moments in it. I liked the Hobbit theme on first hearing, but to be honest, after a while it gets rather trite not to speak of the too obvious Irish influence. And then there are some nice, darker moments with real tension, but quite often the music does not surpass the background score of your average Hercules or Xena episode (and no, I don't mean that in a nice way). What I miss the most is a unifying idea about how the music should sound or what kind of music fits in what situation or to which character (how nice it would have been if Shore would have used the leitmotiv idea used frequently by Williams). And then there is this strange addition of Enya to the soundtrack. I don't care much for Enya's kind of music (though undoubtedly it's quite good in its own right) because I have the feeling that it's already done far too often by others and really, I can't think of a reason it is used in this soundtrack other than the "famous" name it adds to the soundtrack (thus, another marketing ploy). So, I still believe that a big mistake has been made not to hire John Williams, and anyone who disagrees should spend some time listening to scores like Star Wars, Hook, Shindler's List and Jurassic Park in some detail.

Eye Of The Hunter
Eye Of The Hunter
by Dennis Mckeirnan
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
34 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1.0 out of 5 stars Only enjoyable if it was the only book on earth, March 4 2002
I totally agree with "a reader" from Washington DC. As fantasy books go, this one is pretty boring. But, unlike the anonymous reader (and, in fact, the enthusiastic critics cited on this page), I would like to state the reason for my dislike.
The first thing I read of McKiernan was a paperback volume of short fantasy stories called "Tales of Mithgar". And, truth be told, I quite liked it, although the Warrows that feature in almost every story are too obvious Hobbit-clones to my taste. Anyhow, in the short story department McKiernan certainly has some talent. The book contains a series of three stories that form the tale preceding Eye of the Hunter. They are enjoyable and my curiosity made me buy the continuation of the story. And that's were the disappointment began.
McKiernan, clearly at home in the short story form, is not capable to hold the interest of the reader over a longer time. The book has all the ingredients a good fantasy has to have: exotic places, strange creatures, fights, magic, a dark, ominous and cruel enemy and a PROPHECY. But, alas, the story itself is too fragmentary. Short spans of interesting action described in detail are too often alternated with long (very, very long and very, very boring) accounts of the travels made by the main characters to get from one place of action to another. This would not be such a problem if the places of action were of any real interest, but unfortunately, they aren't. All the places visited by our heroes seem arbitrarily chosen, just because there had to be some decor, there is absolutely no convincing back-ground or connection between the different places, something that we do find in the books of, for example, Tolkien, Jordan and Modessitt.
And then there are the characters. Apart from the Hobbit-like Warrows there are of course Tolkien like Elves and there is even a shapeshifter modelled after Beorn (again Tolkien). In other words, how derivative and stereotypical. To make things worse, McKiernan lets his non-human characters criticise the way humans destroy the environment (even is his medieval setting!). I don't mind a bit of moral when brought with some style and delicacy (read Pratchett for some very fine fantasy novels with a moral that never ever gets oppressive), but this is almost blatant Greenpeace propagation, with Mister McKiernan pointing out that when we go on like this, things will be really bad. "Will humankind ever learn" one of his Elves sighs. YUK!
So, what are we left with after reading this book? A fragmentary story with stereotypical characters with no character development at all and a plot that is so thin it would make a nice evening dress for Madonna. And the prophecy around which the action revolves isn't even properly explained!! And to be honest, I don't give a ...

No Title Available

3.0 out of 5 stars A fine, but not too gentle performance, March 1 2002
First, let me start with the confession that in general, piano concertos are not really my kind of music. In general I'm quickly bored with this typical kind of music. The only reason I bought this CD is that I obtained the pocket scores from the two concertos at a less than bargain price... So, I was surprised in a good way when I listened to this recording. In general I like Mendelssohn's music, although I can understand the general objections to it (it's too tame and polite and the classical form is retained in too rigid a manner). As for the overall style, these concertos are no deviation from what is to be expected of Mendelssohn. It's gentle pleasant music that nowhere gets really emotionally involved. On the other hand, it's not to be seen as light, unsubstantial music.
The first concerto begins with a very short introduction by the orchestra in an upward movement, resulting in the ff entering of the soloist. Right from the start the rapid pace for the rest of the piece is set. And right from the start the main objection I have to this recording is apparent. Since Mendelssohn is historically known to be a superb pianist with a very clear, clean style, refraining as much as possible from the heavy use of the pedal, promoted by contemporaries like Liszt, I'm always surprised by the extremely heavy way in which Frith opens the concerto. Although I'm not one to criticise piano playing technique I'm somewhat bothered by the way Frith can ramble in the forte and fortissimo passages, sometimes the balance is completely lost and minor details in the orchestra (like a subtle accompaniment in the woodwinds) become all but inaudible. In the slow movement of the concerto, Frith adopts a wonderful technique and combines it with great tenderness and musicality. The accompaniment by the viola's and celli of the orchestra is breathtaking. After the tenderness of the second movement, brass introduces the fast and very humorous third movement, in which the balance between piano and orchestra is much better than in the first movement, although here also the playing of Frith gets too heavy once in a while as if he is trying to push the keys of the piano through the keyboard!
Where the opening of the first concerto is enthusiastic, the tone of the beginning of the second movement is much darker en indeed this movement is characterised by a more ponderous main theme. Frith is clearly at home in the virtuosi writing of Mendelssohn but again I can't suppress the feeling that sometimes his virtuosity overtakes the musical sense of the work. The rendition of the slow movement is again of a very high standard. The fast last movement (reminiscent of the last movement of Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony) is a very tight interplay between orchestra and piano, but it clearly misses the humour and light-heartedness that is the charm of the first concerto's last movement.
The two other pieces are nice fills, but are not really much more than virtuosic show pieces.

24 used & new from CDN$ 0.43

5.0 out of 5 stars A darkly, beautiful story with an important message!, June 8 2001
This review is from: Hogfather (Mass Market Paperback)
Who would've thought, after reading the first few books of Terry Pratchett that this writer would one day produce a book with such depth as this one? Okay, as always it's all wrapped up in a high speed, intricate story with several sub-plots, but that makes the ultimate message Pratchett delivers only more convincing.
So, what's the story all about? As always, the Discworld is in perilous danger, or at least civilization on it is. The "Auditors" (of reality, not money) want to eliminate mankind. Since these beings like everything to be orderly, precise and regular, it's not hard to imagine mankind is a thorn in the eye to them. The way they plan to wipe mankind of the disc is by murdering the Hogfather (Discworlds equivalent of Santaclaus), a job assigned to the less than sane assassin Teatime. DEATH, the only one who understands the danger mankind is in, can't help himself and interferes by impersonating the Hogfather. Meanwhile his granddaughter Susan sets out to stop Teatime (with a little dubious help from the Oh-God of Hangovers). Of course, in the end all's well, but not before Pratchett makes a very keen observation of what defines humanity. Believing in certain 'lies' (like the existence of a Hogfather) is, according to Death (the only truly impartial observer) what makes us human.
I've read the book three times now and I'm still surprised how well Pratchett builds his story and every time I marvel at the insights he shows in what humans are like. It's a very special book, with something for everybody and I really recommend it not only to Pratchett fans.

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