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Mark Dirksen RSS Feed (Beverly Mass. United States)

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The Story
The Story
by Angela F.M. Pancella
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.95
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5.0 out of 5 stars Visible dragons and unseen unicorns, January 9, 2012
This review is from: The Story (Paperback)
Angela Pancella gives us a taste of what it feels like to give birth to a story and the many surprises that can lead to. If your own path ever takes you far into the wilderness, you'll want to have read this first. A blessing, and a promise of more? We can hope - the world needs more storytellers like her.

Meet the Orchestra
Meet the Orchestra
by Ann Hayes
Edition: Hardcover
35 used & new from $0.97

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A slightly diminished orchestra, October 10, 2005
This review is from: Meet the Orchestra (Hardcover)
Nice warm drawings (though a little stilted, as another reviewer has noted.) The "descriptions" of the instruments - how they sound and what they evoke - are OK, I guess. But I have to point out a significant omission: the trombones! Not only are they one of the funnier-looking instruments, but indispensible in the brass section as well. It would be very embarassing to have to explain their absence to an alert child - I'd avoid the book on that account.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 8, 2014 7:36 AM PDT

The Complete New Yorker: Eighty Years of the Nation's Greatest Magazine (Book & 8 DVD-ROMs)
The Complete New Yorker: Eighty Years of the Nation's Greatest Magazine (Book & 8 DVD-ROMs)
by New Yorker
Edition: Hardcover
184 used & new from $0.01

44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Harold Ross rises from his grave in fury, September 30, 2005
The content of this compendium is unimpeachable and self-recommending. Anyone who loves humor, criticism or high-style writing will indeed have hours, days, weeks of pleasure. But there are some real problems, as my two-star rating indicates.

Other reviewers have touched on the technical issues. I would add that the viewer is not only horribly buggy but a real memory hog and meddlesome with other applications as well. Once you have entered a particular issue there is no way to "pick up the next magazine" and keep on reading: this grazer's paradise needs that function added, pronto. Adobe solved all these problems years ago - why are they present here?

The archive search engine is over-complicated and counter-intuitive, and once it starts you can't stop it - a significant nuisance in a database this large and complex.

The worst evils, however, come in the guts of that database. The article abstracts and keywords are nothing less than a disaster, rife with gross misspellings, typographic and grammatical howlers, huge inconsistencies, and wildly misleading summaries.

One explicit example: On Nov. 17, 1951, Herbert Warren Wind published a profile of Robert Russell Bennett, then at the height of his career as a composer and Broadway orchestrator. It's everything a New Yorker profile should be, full of lively anecdotes, contemporary references and trenchant quotes, with a detailed biography folded into the middle.

But the abstract for this article is shocking. It reads, in full: "PROFILE of Rubert Russell Bennet, composer and orchestrator. Mrs. Merrill, the first woman to receivea Ph.D. from Columbia and the head of Oaksmere, a finishing school for girls near Mamaronick, was interested in mathematical astronomy, and in exploring it she had developed the theory that all the arts are related through mathematics & had devised a method for turning handwriting into music, "musical autograms," as she called them. A person would write his name along a five-line staff, and the linear pattern of his signature would be translated, by means of a series of mathematical steps, into musical compositions. The possibility of melodic graphology fascinated Bennet and he worked to refining the technique."

Pardon the vulgarity, but WTF?! It starts by misspelling the subject's name, and then highlights a minor episode of his life which is lifted almost verbatim from the middle of the article, only with three(!) typos added in.

Other abstracts are as bad or worse. Here is a "sentence" on a Dorothy Parker story of Oct. 8, 1927: "Then she is introduced She is very condescending in her remarks, but tells him How well he does, she's enjoyed his singing so much, where does he get his songs, etc [sic]" Janet Flanner's famous 1936 Profile of Hitler is summarized with irrelevant verbiage on one of Hitler's early financiers, and references the "Munich Beer Putch." (The second and third parts of Flanner's profile don't receive any abstracts at all.) An Aug. 21, 1937, Geoffrey Hellman article on the Cooper Union is abstracted twice with vastly different keywords and content indicated. Even E.B. White is befouled: "We change Mr. [H.G.] Wells with trying to play doom both ways." (Comment, Nov. 17, 1945)

In short, this editorial work is illiterate. And it's published under the name that is the gold standard for American literacy.

There is much delight to be found in these volumes, and the package itself is handsome and seductive. But this sloppiness is intolerable - it reeks of opportunistic contempt for the masters of American prose that live herein. Random House, and the current editors of the magazine, should be ashamed.

P.S. I can't access the February 20, 1989 issue either.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 5, 2013 8:26 PM PST

Wide Awake In America
Wide Awake In America
Price: $4.99
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitely worth it, January 18, 2004
This review is from: Wide Awake In America (Audio CD)
The other reviews are right: a little light for the price, but Bad alone is worth it, and the other three songs are tasty also. I especially like Three Sunrises, a cheery number that sounds like a tribute to the Mamas and the Papas <g>.
One thing no one's noted, though: Bad ends with a rarity, an actual solo by Adam! and very nice it is, too.

Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship
Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship
by Jon Meacham
Edition: Hardcover
265 used & new from $0.01

133 of 139 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinarily satisfying, November 6, 2003
This is a expert blend of biography and history, striking an admirable balance between the two genres. You really do get much of the best of both worlds here: the intimate views of carefully researched biography, and fresh perspectives on well-known world events (especially the decisions on the timing of D-Day and the meetings of the Big Three.)
It is particularly remarkable in that the personalities and accomplishments of either man, and the overwhelming events they faced, could have swamped the tale in any direction. Indeed, one has to admit that Churchill tends to dominate. But his written and oral volubility naturally had that effect, and since Roosevelt ultimately carried the military trumps, and was the more elusive and interesting character, he more than holds his own.
I especially appreciate Meacham's light-handed, even deployment of his research material. One never feels that he is relying exclusively on one or two sources, or just transcribing his whole notebook. Instead, the depth and shading in the portrayal of each man extends to their primary family and professional relationships as well: Harry Hopkins, Eleanor Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and both Randolph Churchills, are people I now want to know better.
Meacham is going for something deeper and more tender than portraiture, however - a study of friendship, perhaps the least understood human relationship. I had no idea how much time they spent together, and each of their meetings is chronicled day by day for details of their actual interactions, and their real feelings about each other. I think he gets pretty close to truth - a relationship full of humanity, respect, affection, and genuine love, consummated in truly extraordinary circumstances.
All this, and it's a sensible length. Definitive, deeply satisfying, and highly recommended.
Comment Comments (13) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 27, 2014 6:34 PM PDT

Favorite Organ Works
Favorite Organ Works
Price: $4.61
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Way way WAY too fast, January 3, 2003
This review is from: Favorite Organ Works (Audio CD)
Do these performances have anything at all to recommend them? Yes: it is interesting to hear non-autograph manual changes on a modern recording of Bach's organ works. Younger organists who know only the monochromatic everything-pleno performance practices of contemporary players may profit from studying Newman's approach to concertato interpretation.
But ye gods! the playing is out of control. Another review praises the lack of "adagio boring stuff", but there is no virtue in speed alone - in a piece such as the C major trio (BWV 529) it verges on blasphemy. It would be laughable, if it wasn't disturbing. This is music written with a higher purpose than mere virtuoso display, so the shockingly fast tempi are all about Newman, not about Bach.
I will admit that the Passacaglia comes off best (even at this pace) and I do appreciate his over-the-top cadenza with the following grand rallentando: too many performances never really "bring it all home." But please don't look to this as your only recording of these masterpieces. There is far more depth and delight in this music than Newman's flashy approach can ever reveal.

Big Deal: A Year As a Professional Poker Player
Big Deal: A Year As a Professional Poker Player
by Anthony Holden
Edition: Hardcover
85 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Oddly unsatisfactory, May 4, 2002
In his (very helpful) bibliography, Holden acknowledges that few poker books can be recommended on stylistic or literary grounds. If he hoped that his effort would join Alvarez or Mamet's writings on the king of card games, I'm afraid he's disappointed.
Though it is a straight chronological account of his activities at the fringes of the high-stakes world over a one-year span, it uneasily mixes in personal biography, some half-formed self-awareness work, and an obsessive reckoning of his immediate financial position. It may concern him, but it never grabbed me.
We read books about gambling to vicariously experience the tightening tension and climax of a big hand. This requires skillful character sketching, and a certain amount of pacing. Holden rushes in and out of so many games, large and small, that we are never sure if this game is The Big One - nor, eventually, do we care. Since he doesn't write grippingly about the players of the inevitable showdown hands, and his personal narrative is not very interesting or clear, the revelation of what he was feeling at any given point during the year is pretty dull.
One thing is obvious: he was very very nervous a lot of the time, discovering his limitations at the gaming tables and worrying about his bank roll. I admire his frankness in this regard, but it isn't easy reading. The final effect is probably pretty accurate, though: he deliberately decided to live "out of his league" for a year, and learned a lot from the experience. A clearer narrative, a better editor, and a few years of perspective might have made a better book. How about a second edition, Tony, with more tales from the infamous Tuesday Night Game?
Three stars, just for existing, though - would that Tom Wolfe or Norman Mailer would tackle this most fascinating of worlds!

Bach - Matthäus-Passion / Prégardien, Goerne, C. Schäfer, Röschmann, Fink, von Magnus, Schade, M. Schäfer, Henschel, Widmer, Harnoncourt [with Enhanced CD-ROM]
Bach - Matthäus-Passion / Prégardien, Goerne, C. Schäfer, Röschmann, Fink, von Magnus, Schade, M. Schäfer, Henschel, Widmer, Harnoncourt [with Enhanced CD-ROM]
13 used & new from $53.03

21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Missing the mark, and rushing to do so, March 24, 2002
The "enhanced CD" part of this recording ironically underscores the problem with the performance. Look at the score, by all means! There, in red ink, is Bach's gripping engagement with this story of stories: this is not only music, it is a total intellectual, emotional and spiritual response to the meaning of the text that is set. To mis-interpret the obvious musical gestures that Bach uses to reinforce that meaning does both him and the listener a profound disservice. No one wants Mengelberg back - but can we at least go with what's on the page?
For example: when Bach sets the legato, tortuous threnody of "So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen" into motion, then shatters it with "Lasst ihn, haltet, bindet nicht!" how can the choir sound so languid and unconnected? Nor do the crowd's brutal shouts of "Barrabam" and "Lass ihn kreuzigen" have any real conviction. Again and again, the choir seems to be "just singing" - and their lack of connection with Bach's obvious dramatic intentions leaves the work half performed.
All of this is by way of contrast to the magnificent and convicted solo singing, especially that of Matthias Goerne, whose Jesus rings with vivid, masculine life. Simon Heighes' review hits the high (and lesser) points on the other soloists as well - many of these arias are extraordinarily well sung.
... However, it is in the area of tempo that I find Harnoncourt really adrift. The tempos are absurdly fast in places where the music cries for breath and breadth. This reaches unfortunate levels at the cross itself, with the sublime alto aria, "Sehet Jesus hat die Hand," moving so quickly that neither oboes nor choir can possibly sound their parts adequately. And the tempo of the fabulous bass aria, "Mache dich mein Herze rein" turns it into a jolly, oversung ditty - totally missing the mixture of resignation, joy and bitter pain conveyed by the major key, compound meter and rich scoring.
All these criticisms come together at what ought to the emotional climax of the piece, the penultimate "Nun ist der Herr zur Ruh gebracht", in which each soloist offers Jesus their personal farewell. The solos are fabulous - tender and resolute - but the choir flips it off: "Yeah, yeah, good night already." I don't know what Harnoncourt was thinking, but it's quite clear that Bach had something much more profound in mind.
All this begs the old question: to what extent can strictly historical understandings of performance practice dictate interpretation? The answer all to often these days is "totally" - and Bach's masterpiece suffers for it. Three stars for the soloists (especially Goerne) and the enhanced CD, but look elsewhere for the depths this work demands.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 21, 2007 9:50 PM PDT

Handel - Dixit Dominus · Salve Regina · Laudate pueri · Saeviat tellus / Massis · Kozená · Fulgoni · Henckens · McLean-Mair · Pujol · Les Musiciens du Louvre · Minkowski
Handel - Dixit Dominus · Salve Regina · Laudate pueri · Saeviat tellus / Massis · Kozená · Fulgoni · Henckens · McLean-Mair · Pujol · Les Musiciens du Louvre · Minkowski
Offered by Fulfillment Express US
Price: $26.48
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vivid and enthralling, December 28, 2001
Having just panned John Eliot Gardiner's recent recording of Dixit Dominus (Philips, Nov. 2001), I will only say here that this disc is eminently satisfactory for all the reasons cited in the other reviews. I'm especially taken with the solo work, and with Ms. Massis in particular - her account of Saeviat Tellus is a marvel. Minkowski gives the Dixit all of its startling, vivid color and the live performance seems to add to the lustre. Don't hesitate to invest in this recording - it will repay you with hours of listening pleasure. Stanley Sadie is right!

Vivaldi - Gloria · Handel - Gloria · Dixit Dominus / English Baroque Soloists · Monteverdi Choir · Gardiner
Vivaldi - Gloria · Handel - Gloria · Dixit Dominus / English Baroque Soloists · Monteverdi Choir · Gardiner
Price: $14.59
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6 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Two stars, and lucky to get that, December 28, 2001
I always approach a Gardiner recording hoping for the same thrill that his Monteverdi Vespers unfailingly give me, and I am disappointed again and again. Too often tempos are wrong-headed, balances are bizarre, soloists erratic, and the leadership deliberately willful. It seems that his flamboyance found perfect expression in Venice's San Marco one week in the late 80s. Since then.....sigh.
I'm giving this disc two stars only because of the Handel Gloria, which is indeed an attractive and inventive little piece, well sung and played. The Vivaldi is unexceptionable. The real outrage is the Dixit Dominus, one of the most vivid and exciting works in the choral repertoire. It's performed here in a languid, disdainful fashion, at tempos that jog peacefully along without urgency and with signers (both choral and solo) who sound barely interested in the force of the text or the drama of its setting. "We sing this sort of thing all the time" is the attitude, and it's deadly to this piece, which notorious for its vocal demands. Making it sound easy makes it sound dull.
Try, instead, Marc Minkowski's recent Deutsche Grammaphon version: it's recorded triumphantly live with soloists who will rock your world, and includes most of the rest of Handel's Italian music. This was a young man seeking to make an impression, and boy does he! Gardiner's Handel sounds like a bored Brill Building hack, pumping out another cantata to pay the rent.

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