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being why I think things suck and/or rock


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Sat, 15 Jan 2011

CD review: Peter and the Wolf

There are eleventy million recordings of Peter and the Wolf, some of which are listed on Wikipedia. This one is from a disc called "Menuhin conducts Prokofiev", with the English String Orchestra, and narrated by Christopher Lee. I bought the disk solely for Peter and the Wolf, and already have other recordings of the rest of the stuff on it.

Christopher Lee can do no wrong. He is perfect. Everything he does is divine. I wish I could buy a tiny jar of his sweat, so that I could add just a drop of it to everything I cook, thereby making my cooking even more awesome. If he sweats, of course. I wouldn't be surprised if he is beyond such weak fleshy exudations.

He has a wonderful voice for narration - he speaks clearly but still with passion, conveying the excitement of the wolf chasing the duck, or snapping at the bird. This is the best recording I've heard of this work. Musically, others are better, but the narration is so important that I can easily forgive those decisions of the conductor with which I disagree.

So why only four stars? Simple. It should be paired with Britten's "A Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra", which should also be narrated by Lee, but instead shares the disk with a symphony and a violin concerto of Prokofiev.

Posted at 21:20 by David Cantrell
keywords: music
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Thu, 4 Nov 2010

BREMF: Victoria Requiem

The Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) runs for two weeks in October and November. Most of the programme is at least interesting, if not a must-see worth travelling from Civilisation to the south coast for. The one stand-out event for me in the programme was a performance of Tomás Luis de Victoria's Requiem Mass, written for the empress Maria of Spain, who died in 1603.

This is a beautiful work, to have been performed along with other works by Victoria and Cristóbal Morales.

And it was a let-down.

The choir appeared to be rather under-rehearsed. This manifested in at least three ways: first, the basses seemed rather hesitant on a few occasions when they were supposed to come in and start; second, they weren't quite singing in time with each other - many times when a syllable started or ended with a hard consonant you would hear t-t-t-t-t-t-t as people started at different times; and third the conductor stopped them twice in the "other works" section of the concert to start again. The first of those was particularly problematic - it was because they started far too fast, so they're not following the conductor's directions.

And that's their second problem. The conductor was very energetic, bouncing up and down from her knees, and lots of biiiiig movements. However, from where I was sitting it all looked rather vague and even a bit inconsistent - she had at least six different ways of making the choir shut up at the right time at the end of a piece! Now, of course, I didn't have the same view as the singers did, but it certainly appeared as if the conductor wasn't really directing them as well as she could have done, and bearing in mind that the Brighton Consort are an amateur choir who rehearse just once a week (neither of which is a bad thing in itself, of course), they need direction.

Finally, there was very little dynamic range. You could tell in several places where there was supposed to be a sudden change in volume, both from the music and from the conductor's weird gestures. But at best they went from f to ff when it should have been p to ff.

Nice venue though. St Barts may be an ugly great barn, with a hopelessly muddled interior, but the acoustic was perfect for this sort of music, and it's nice and easy to get to, being just five minutes walk from Brighton station. The church also has a very good programme of music at services, some of which make it actually worthwhile going along on a Sunday, and a programme of secular concerts.

Posted at 00:14 by David Cantrell
keywords: music
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Tue, 30 Mar 2010

Music review: Robin Grey: Strangers With Shoes

OK, so this has turned into more a review of the record label than of the music. Deal with it :-)

I recently re-discovered Magnatune, the "we are not evil" record company. All their tracks are available online, and you can even download them for free, with a slightly annoying little speech at the end of each track saying where it came from - although Magnatune themselves say on their website that you can strip that off if you want. But for a trivial sum you can become a "download member", and so download as much music as you like, without the annoying speeches, and that's what I recommend.

But before you sign up, you should listen to this album by Robin Grey, as a sample of the sort of quality on offer. This is what Bob Dylan should have sounded like, if only Dylan could sing.

And while you're at Magnatune's website, also check out Beat Beat Beat, by Burning Babylon.

Posted at 23:22 by David Cantrell
keywords: music
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Sun, 12 Jul 2009

iPhone review part 1: iPod

Fed up with waiting for Palm to release their shiny new phone which has been promised for ages but doesn't actually exist yet, and being impressed by some of the apps available, I decided to get myself an iPhone 3GS. Over the next few days and weeks I'll post several short reviews of various bits of its functionality.

First up, the "iPod" functionality. Apple claim that the iPhone is also an iPod - "it's a phone, an iPod and an internet device in one". I suppose this is the first and most obvious lie I've found in all their blurb about it. It quite clearly can not be used as an iPod, because it doesn't have the capacity to store all my music (unlike an iPod) and has no "shuffle albums" feature. So I'll need to carry an iPod as well. Not that that's a problem, I knew I'd have to do that because of the very small storage capacity, but having no album shuffle is a serious design flaw. I'm sure that the sort of achingly hip people who work at Apple don't realise this, because they only listen to "hip-hop", and so 99% of their songs sound exactly the same. But it's kinda important for those of us who listen to actual music. It is important to listen to a symphony from start to finish before automatically moving on to the next work.

But good news on the ipod front, having an ipod-like device with a big screen has made me realise what podcasts are all about. My journeys to work for the next few days are going to be enlivened by Mr. Deity.

Posted at 10:55 by David Cantrell
keywords: electronics | music
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Tue, 9 Dec 2008

Karl Jenkins' Stabat Mater

My parents recently went to a performance of Karl Jenkins' Stabat Mater and bought me a CD. I have mixed emotions about it. On the one hand the music really is good, but ... and it's two really big buts ...

Jenkins mixes "ethnic" music into his compositions so often that it's beginning to get a bit hackneyed and cheap. These sections don't fit well with the rest, and give the impression of only being there to be "right on".

A far bigger "but" concerns his treatment of the text. For a meditation on the desolation of a mother at the brutal torture and execution of her son, the music is, at least in places, far too light and catchy. What is more, although the CD liner notes provide a translation, the setting doesn't seem to pay much attention to the actual meaning. For example, the verse:

Cuius animam gementem / contristatam et dolentem / pertransivit gladius.

ends with the last line repeated (fair enough, this is common and doesn't detract from the meaning) - but then the last word is repeated, and even worse is repeated in a major key in a way that makes it seem heroic and triumphant! So what's actually being sung is:

Through her weeping soul, / compassionate and grieving, / a sword passed.

a sword passed.

a sword! Hurrah!

The treatment of the very first verse ain't great either. It's as if he came up with a fantastic tune and only later tried to set the words to it instead of writing the music for the words. Because he runs out of syllables a bit early, the opening verse:

Stabat mater dolorosa / iuxta Crucem lacrimosa, / dum pendebat Filius

comes out as:

Stabat mater dolorosa / iuxta Crucem lacrimosa, / dum pendebat Filiuuu-uuuuu-uuu-uuu-uuuu-uuuus

Oh dear. 7 out of 10 for the music, but as my Latin masters used to say, "3 out of 10, must try harder". Overall, a mere 4 out of 10. The seeming ignorance of the text spoilt it terribly for me.

Posted at 23:08 by David Cantrell
keywords: music
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Sun, 26 Oct 2008

Burial At Thebes

[originally posted on 25 Oct 2008]

How terribly remiss of me! A couple of weeks ago I went with three other Daves (Dave Hodgkinson, Dave Dorward and Dave Mannsåkker) to see Burial at Thebes - a new opera, libretto by Seamus Heaney, music by Dominique Le Gendre, a Carribean composer - at the Globe. It sets to music Heaney's well-regarded translation of Sophocles's Antigone. It's splendidly tragic.

I enjoyed it. The professional reviewers didn't. They didn't like the music. Probably because it didn't use a vast orchestra and a hundred wailing sopranos all wobbling frantically in a doomed effort to find the right note.

If you're an actual musician, with a broad mind and catholic tastes (hell, there's even a litle bit of rapping in here, when King Creon talks about the duties of the individual and the state - so it's the good kind of rapping, as opposed to illiterate shouty shit) then you should go and see this if you get the chance. It was planned to also play in Liverpool and Oxfnord after the two London shows, but because I've been so goddamned slack, those shows have probably already been and gone. Ah well, it's bound to surface again at some point. Perhaps in twenty or so years when the fuddy-duddies currently getting paid for writing reviews have had the good manners to Fuck Off And Die.

update: It seems that the Independent's reviewer hated it a bit less than the others. He still gets it wrong though - for example, he praises the singing of the Minister of the Admiralty (who was good) but doesn't praise the singing of Creon (who was better). But particularly of note is that he says "the orchestral score was deft and atmospheric", so at least we have one reviewer with a musical Clue. This guy's main criticism is of Derek Walcott's direction. I didn't think it was too shabby myself, but I can see why he would think like he does. So, maybe just another 15 years to wait for a re-run instead of 20.

Posted at 13:28 by David Cantrell
keywords: music | opera | review-of-reviews | theatre
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