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Reviews Written by
David A. Wend (Chicago, IL USA)

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Colas Breugnon: Overture/ Pian
Colas Breugnon: Overture/ Pian
Price: CDN$ 21.69
25 used & new from CDN$ 11.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Rate Performances, June 22 2004
Dmitri Kabalevsky has been considered a Soviet composer whose music was written with one eye over his shoulder to stay in the good graces of the Communist party; hence his music was a compromise to the taste of party officials and devoid of the irony that is typical of Shostakovish's music. However, this assessment is not atypical of his music. The second movement of Kabelevsky's Second Piano Concerto, for example, is a finely wrought funeral march and his music exhibits the influence of Rachmaninov, Ravel and Prokofiev. Kabalevsky was also among the composers named in the 1948 decree that denounced Western influence in Soviet music.
This CD includes some of Kabalevsky's most popular music. It begins with the Overture to Colas Breugnon, an opera based on a novel by Romain Rolland. The story of the opera revolves around Breugnon, a Breton peasant, who thwarts a villainous Duke, thereby drawing parallels to the workers of the Soviet Union. Also on this disc is the Comedians suite, taken from the incidental music Kabalevsky wrote for a children's play called "The Inventor and the Comedians." The suite is an outstanding example of Kabalevsky's wonderful facility with melody and traditional music. The music of the Gallop is familiar from its use of the xylophone and its appearance as background music on television variety programs when someone is performing a feat of skill or coordination. The fame of the Gallop is certainly equal to Khataturian's Sabre Dance. The works of interest on this disc are the Second and Third Piano Concertos brilliantly played by Kathryn Stott. Seventeen years separate the concertos. The Second is a virtuoso work of about 24 minutes. The concerto beings with the piano stating the opening theme with the orchestra gradually joining in. The movement is strikingly like a Prokofiev concerto, witty and urbane in the dialogue between piano and orchestra. The demands on the performer are great, particularly in a difficult cadenza. The tragic tone of the center movement - a series of variations - is immediately clear in the muted tones of the orchestra and a plaintiff solo for oboe. The bleakness is somewhat relieved by a waltz-like variation but the tone of mourning is maintained throughout, a comment on the purges by Stalin that were going on in 1936. The movement is very like something Shostakovich would have written but Kabelevsky makes the movement his own. The final movement returns to the jaunty tone of the first movement. A passage with relentless percussion harkens back to the bleakness of the second movement briefly and the concerto ends on an upbeat note.

The Third Concerto was dedicated to Soviet youth and was first performed by a young Vladimir Ashkenazy. The concerto is written in a much simpler style, reflecting upon Shostakovish's Second Concerto and French music in its breezy style. The cheerfulness of the concerto is announced immediately by a short trumpet solo before the piano begins with a lyrical melody. One of the themes for the middle movement was drawn from a waltz theme written by one of Kabalevsky's children, and is presented as a charming second subject. The high spirits of this concerto make it immediately appealing and a work that will remain a pleasure to hear repeatedly.
This is a CD that I liked from the first hearing and highly recommend it.

Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 28.95
5 used & new from CDN$ 10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Unknown Granados, June 18 2004
This review is from: Granados (Audio CD)
Enrique Granados is famous for his Goyescas; a work deeply imbued with a Spanish idiom. However, as this disc proves, he wrote many pieces that were rooted in European Romanticism. The works recorded her sound closer to Schumann and Brahms than to music written by a Spanish composer. The Escenas romanticas (Romantic Scenes) is a suite made up of six short pieces for piano beginning with a uncharacteristic Mazurka that has little to do with its Slavic dance origins. It is followed by a Berceuse, then a slow Lento piece characterized by brilliant keyboard runs, a short beautiful melody marked Allegro, a Rhapsody-like movement and ends with an Epilogue that is reminiscent of Chopin. Overall, the suite is a lyrical reflection of earlier composers; the writing is contemplative and reflective.
Bocetos (Sketches) are a set of short intimate studies. They are titled: The Hunter's Call, The Fairy and the Child, Very Slow Waltz and The Afternoon Bell. The pieces are highly descriptive and vary in expression. The Hunter's Call is jocular, the Fairy and the Child reminded me of Debussy in the quicksilver writing, the Waltz is close enough to Chopin to be mistaken for one of his works. The Afternoon Bell has a bucolic feel, describing a lovely landscape.
The final suite is Cuentos de la juventud (Stories of Youth) and consists of ten short pieces, the longest lasting two and a half minutes. The pieces are named: Dedication, The Beggar Woman, May Song, Old Tale, Coming From the Fountain, Memories from Infancy, The Ghost, The Orphan Girl and March. I found the first piece, Dedication, sounding like an extension of The Afternoon Bell. The Beggar Woman has an interesting trio section that seems to describe the activities of the titled woman. The Ghost is fun to listen to and would probably accompany a comedy more than a scary scene with a ghost. The March is, as one might expect, the liveliest piece in the collection. It also has something of a Spanish feel to it and, for me, was more characteristic of Granados' more familiar works. Taken together the pieces are pleasant miniatures that are evocative of their titles.
Alicia de Larrocha plays with great beauty and phrasing. Clearly, this is music close to her heart. Unfortunately, the disc times out at 52:26, which in these days of CDs playing up to 80 minutes is woefully short. I am wondering if there could not have been something additional (even reissuing something) that could have been placed on the disc. This is an interesting disc that reminds us that Granados had another side to his music but, because they often sound like other composers, it seems that the composer was seeking to imitate rather than create something original.

Knoxville: Summer of 1915
Knoxville: Summer of 1915
Price: CDN$ 20.02
27 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Disc, June 17 2004
Once again, Naxos has come up with a superb disc in their Samuel Barber series. I have heard several recordings of Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and this new one succeeds perfectly in capturing the lyricism and mood of the music. The soprano, Karina Gauvin, sings with great feeling, capturing every nuance of James Agee's words. Her voice reminds me of Eleanor Steber, who commissioned this piece, and with the beautiful singing and orchestral playing, this recording of Knoxville is one of the best available. For me, however, the very best Knoxville remains the Leontyne Price recording with Thomas Schippers. There is a hard-to-define quality in Ms. Price's voice that conveys the feeling that she has lived what she is singing about.
This CD also holds the Second and Third Essay for Orchestra, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra beautifully plays both. The Second Essay was commissioned by Bruno Walter in 1942 and is, like his First Symphony, a compact work with enough musical ideas for a longer work. It is good to see the Third Essay, the least recorded of this form, coupled with the Second. The Third Essay, from 1976, is dominated by the opening theme imaginatively scored for percussion instruments. Like the earlier Essays, the third has an abundance of musical ides and moments of beautiful lyricism with an underlying melancholia. An even rarer work of Barber's in the Toccata Festiva for orchestra and organ, written when Mary Zimbalist, a wealthy patron of music, offered to buy a new pipe organ for the Philadelphia Orchestra. Barber was offered a commission by Eugene Ormandy for the Toccata. The work is a miniature concerto for organ with virtuoso playing required from the soloist. The orchestra has a magnificent accompanying role with music written not as a backdrop for the organ but with beautiful long passages that make it a partner in the performance.
This is a very rewarding disc wonderfully conducted by Marin Alsop, who has become the leading Barber proponent with this 5th disc of his music.

Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 32.95
7 used & new from CDN$ 26.88

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best Scores, June 16 2004
This review is from: Hellboy (Audio CD)
One might expect the music for Hellboy to be loaded down with throbbing percussion and blaring brass, but the opposite is true. Marco Beltrami has written a sensitive score that has more to do with the characters and their relationships than battle scenes. The tracks Liz Sherman, Rooftop Tango Father's Funeral and Investigating Liz come immediately to mind as music having well developed themes that are even more rewarding when heard again. There, of course, are great dramatic moments when Hellboy battles the villains, but Mr. Beltrami does not go for a cheap effect and is nicely descriptive; the track entitled Soul Sucker has a nice spooky quality.
In short, this is a thoughtfully composed score that is charming, thrilling and atmospheric. It is a film score than can be listened to again and again for the quality of the music and a CD you will not get tired of.

Offered by Fulfillment Express CA
Price: CDN$ 21.01
25 used & new from CDN$ 8.39

5.0 out of 5 stars A Tribute to Yehudi Menuhin, June 8 2004
This review is from: MENUHIN IN MEMORIAM (Audio CD)
This set of two CDs holds the only recording Yehudi Menuhin made of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Sir Yehudi had nothing against the concerto and counted it among the first that he learned and played. Another recording of the concerto had been made with Sir Adrian Boult in 1959 by was never issued as Sir Yehudi was not pleased with the performance. It is a matter of conjecture as to why Sir Yehudi did not play the concerto in concert but this recording of the work is superb. There is a complete understanding between the conductor Ferenc Fricsay and Sir Yehudi, together they have produced one of the most spirited and emotionally deep performances of the Tchaikovsky concerto. This recording was made in 1949 and is a remarkably clear and noise free performance.
Accompanying the Tchaikovsky concerto are three of the ten Sonatas for Violin and Piano by Beethoven recorded by Sir Yehudi and Wilhelm Kempff for Deutsche Gramophone. One of the sonatas on this set id the "Kreutzer" which I had on the original LP, and it is nicely transferred to CD. Also represented id the "Spring" sonata and Sonata No. 7, op. 30 no. 2, along with two shorter works for piano and violin. These performances have a legendary status, and Sir Yehudi and Wilhelm Kempff are among the best interpreters of these chamber works. This is a CD set that is a must for those of us who have admired Yehudi Menuhin over the years and miss him.

Battle That Stopped Rome: Emperor Augustus Arminius And Slaughter Of Legions In Teutoburg
Battle That Stopped Rome: Emperor Augustus Arminius And Slaughter Of Legions In Teutoburg
by Peter S Wells
Edition: Hardcover
20 used & new from CDN$ 0.75

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Battle That Changed the World, June 8 2004
The Battle That Stopped Rome is a highly informative book the famous battle of Teutoburg Forest and also has a wealth of information about how the two adversaries lived and fought. Peters Wells provides fascinating data about the development of the Germanic tribes from more peaceful pursuits to their increasing militarization in the wake of the Roman conquest of Gaul. Readers also learn much about the daily lives of the Roman soldiers, their battle tactics and how Arminius was able to stage his ambush to the best advantage of the weakness of the Romans.
We learn how the Romans underestimated the Germans, believing that they were inferior warriors, the many invasions from that of Julius Caesar to Nero Claudius Drusus and Tiberius and the idea that claiming the Germans had been conquered was propaganda when the Romans had never been able to engage them in a pitched battle. Mr. Wells provides an excellent background of the establishment of the Rhine frontier and its fortifications.
Mr. Wells has produced a well-written, sometimes riveting book about the massacre. The opening chapter, titled Ambushed, is an interesting piece of writing where the author places himself at the battle, vividly describing the action. The book goes on to describe the finding of the battle site, the topography and the importance of the German victory to the Germans of later times, like Martin Luther who gave Arminius the name Hermann when he began his own struggle against the Pope. Arminius and Varus are are the subjects of an in-depth portraits and Mr. Wells provides an admirable description of the development of German villages, their communications and the change in the tribes to producing more weapons and their importance to the men fighting the Romans.
The highlight of the book is the detailed description of the battle of the Teutoburg Forest: how the Romans came to be ambushed and how the battle was conducted. The details of the battle are broken down step by step from the Romans entering the trap, the springing of the attack, the inability of the Romans to fight to their advantage, the slaughter of the three legions and the aftermath of the battle when the Germans sanctified the site. Mr. Wells provides as complete a view of this turning point battle as is possible relating the archaeological findings to the events of the battle and how the Roman world changed due to the dramatic loss of the three legions.

This is a book aimed more for the general reader of history. There are chapters on life in Rome and a short biography of Augustus that provide thumbnail sketches. As someone whose reading is extensive in ancient history, I found this material a bit boring and skimmed through it. There are no footnotes but each chapter has a section of suggested further reading. My only complaint is that Mr. Wells quotes Tacitus and other authors but does not provide the citation in the works of those authors. I think if one is going to quote from Tacitus mention of where in the text the quote occurs is required.
My complaint aside, this is a fascinating look at a battle that changed history and the lives of the participants.

The Fall of Troy
The Fall of Troy
by Quintus Smyrnaeus
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 33.52
14 used & new from CDN$ 19.69

5.0 out of 5 stars Troy After the Iliad, May 28 2004
This review is from: The Fall of Troy (Hardcover)
I agree with the other reviewers that the language of this translation should be updated. It was made in 1913 and has a Biblical usage in words like "thy", "thou", "twixt', "twain" etc. The story Quintus tells has been told by other authors, such as the Aethiopis (which tells of Memnon's role in the war) but this book has put together these diverse stories in the 14 books of this volume. The author, known as Quintus of Smyrna, wrote his epic poem in the 3rd century. He speaks about himself in Book 13 lines 308-313 and that is all that is really known about Quintus.
Strangely, Quintus downplays some highly dramatic moments, such as the killing of Achilles by leaving Paris out of the shooting of the arrow. Apollo shoots what is obviously a poisonous arrow into the vulnerable spot if Achilles' heel but there is little in the way of dramatic description. However, Quintus makes up for this lack of drama in his telling of the madness of Aias and the fall of Troy in Book 13. The slaughtering of the inhabitants, caught off-guard by the trick of the wooden horse leaves a strong impression. Quintus has obviously been saturated in the spirit of Homer and it shows throughout the story, so despite some antiquated language, at times, this is an important epic poem filling in the story where the Iliad leaves off. The introduction is excellent in relating the influences of Quintus and how he differs in his telling of the fall of Troy. If you have an interest in the Trojan War than this book is a necessity.

Price: CDN$ 28.90
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Way Lizst Should Be Played, May 2 2004
This review is from: Son/Ballades/Polonaises (Audio CD)
With the exception of the Sonata, I was unfamiliar with the works on this CD but the pieces are striking in their selection so my interest was peaked. Another recommendation for this CD is Stephen Hough. Anyone who has encountered his playing knows the meticulous and restrained approach he has when performing. Anyone purchasing this CD will be amply rewarded.
The Polonaises were written following the death of Chopin but there is not much in common with the Polish composer in Liszt's two examples. The first Polonaise carries the title "melancolique" and is an introspective work while the second such work is more a dance, containing the brilliant keyboard techniques one associates with Liszt. The Berceuse is an interesting work (played here in the first version) since it is very closely modeled on Chopin's own work down to the key of D flat. The piece unfolds in a contemplative and quiet mood, containing none of the embellishments later added by Liszt. The two Ballades are also reminiscent of Chopin and were composed by Liszt before his friend's death. The neglected First Ballade is based on a Crusader song and the Second, and much longer, piece is a narrative drama with the scale and octave passages usually associated with Liszt.
Stephen Hough plays the Sonata with great restraint and balance. He does not play with the bombast of many pianists but is finely shaded and well balanced. The clarity and respect for the score that Mr. Hough seeks in his performance may not register well with everyone but this performance is a refreshing contrast to more passionate accounts. The booklet is very informative, as is usually the case with Hyperion recordings.

Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs
Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs
by Adrienne Mayor
Edition: Hardcover
19 used & new from CDN$ 12.41

5.0 out of 5 stars An Outstanding and Much Needed Book, April 23 2004
Greek Fire is an extraordinary book. To put the subject of the book plainly, it deals with biological and chemical warfare in the ancient world from myth to history. I had not given much thought to the use of chemical and biological agents in the ancient world, focussing instead on the more familiar weaponry and tactics. The majority of historians and certainly the people we know probably believe that chemical weapons were created in World War I, with the advent of mustard and other gasses. This is very far from the truth and Adrienne Mayor provides us with the missing link in the ancient world: the use of dangerous agents to cause mass destruction.
The book is well organized into subjects dealing first with the mythic origin of chemical weapons: Hercules and the Hydra. Ms. Mayor proceeds to discuss poisoned arrows, defeating enemies by poisoning water and diverting streams, winning a victory by poisoning the food your enemies will eat, the use of insects and animals against enemies and creating chemical weapons, such as flame throwers. We learn that the ancients understood that animals such as rats and mice were the cause of plagues, how shamans went out to gather dangerous plants and how they were handled in the preparation of weapons and how real Pandora's boxes existed filled with plague-generating material.
Ms. Mayor often includes modern parallels to the ancient stories, including recent events, to show that the use of chemical and biological weapons were (and still are) used to create fear of the weapon. I found it surprising to learn that Winston Churchill ordered poison gas used against the Kurds in the 1920s. This book is a wealth of information about the development and use of chemical and biological weapons in the ancient world, the feeling engendered about the weapons and the clever stratagems employed many times in the use of these weapons. As one reads this book, its importance becomes more evident with each chapter and you wonder why no one has come to realize the long history of terror weapons and how people felt centuries ago is still relevant to our time. Greek Fire is a well-written and its subjects are thoroughly discussed. It is a hard book to put down and will not disappoint.

Four Ballades/Four Scherzos
Four Ballades/Four Scherzos
Price: CDN$ 20.65
33 used & new from CDN$ 11.66

5.0 out of 5 stars Chopin:The Poet of the Piano, April 15 2004
The Ballades and Scherzos of Chopin are works of his maturity as a composer and were composed around the same time. This has led Stephan Hough to have these works recorded in an unusual sequence with a Ballade followed by a Scherzo, so the First Ballade is followed by the First Scherzo and the pattern repeats. This was done to present these works in a chronology that shows us their development. It also presents a welcome contrast rather than hearing each genre presented in order. The Ballades and Scherzos were created as individual works, not as a part of larger work like the Etudes or Preludes, so it is highly interesting to hear them in this order.
Stephan Hough plays Chopin with great feeling and restraint: he does not rush and does not bring off the more bravura passages with bombast. Even if you already have recordings of the Ballades and Scherzos, in entirety or part, this is a recording of great interest and will make you hear these works anew. The recording is excellent and the notes by Bryce Morrison are insightful and well written.

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