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Sorensen & Ockeghem: Requiem
Sorensen & Ockeghem: Requiem
Price: $8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A gem, November 27, 2014
This is another innovative project by the great Paul Hillier. I haven't always liked his more adventurous exploits, but this one is quite brilliant, I think. He has interspersed the wonderful Requiem setting by Ockeghem with pieces (Fragments of Requiem) by the contemporary Danish composer Bent Sorensen, which could easily have turned out to be a horrible mess, but it works extremely well. Sorensen's work is distinctively 21st Century in some of its harmonic structures, but captures a similar spare and beautiful sense to Ockeghem's great work and the two composers complement each other really well. I think the result is quite spellbinding.

Hillier and Ars Nova Copenhagen perform it all brilliantly. They have a lovely, haunting sound which is exactly right for this music and the technical excellence to make it glow with beauty. Hillier uses his decades of experience to bring out just the right feel in both composers' works so that they blend very well together while retaining their individual identities. It is exemplary work, I think, and beautifully recorded so that the overall sound is quite breathtaking in places.

I would warmly recommend this even to those who, like me, are a bit sceptical about mixing contemporary music with great polyphonic works. I love Ockeghem's Requiem and was very concerned that this would simply spoil it, but tried it because Paul Hillier can produce something truly special sometimes. This is one of those times, in my view and I would urge people to try it. I think it's a real gem.

Rore: Missa Doulce Memoire
Rore: Missa Doulce Memoire
Price: $20.01
26 used & new from $10.69

4.0 out of 5 stars Not the best de Rore recording, November 26, 2014
I have been a great admirer of The Brabant Ensemble for years now and some of their recordings, notably of Phinot Missa Si bona suscepimus and Moulu Moulu: Missa Alma Redemptoris (Missa Missus Est Gabriel Angelus/ Missa Alma Redemptoris Mater) are among my very favourites. Although I like this disc, I don't think it is really in the same league as their best.

The music itself is good but perhaps not as rewarding as some of the finest polyphony of the period. Nonetheless, it is well worth hearing and a really great performance could give it real depth and beauty; I don't think the Brabants quite manage that here. As other reviewers have noted, the balance of voices is very top-heavy which robs the music of a good deal of its texture, and this is exacerbated by the recording. It is echoey and distant so the rich, intimate sound of the choir is much diminished and they sound rather disembodied and detached. Also – and this may just be my ears – the normally impeccable intonation of the Brabants sounds slightly off in a couple of places to me. All of these things combine to mar the disc rather and they do diminish my enjoyment.

I don't want to be too harsh – there are moments of real clarity and beauty here, and I applaud the Steven Rice's continuing efforts to bring to light some of the more obscure but beautiful Renaissance repertoire. However, for me this isn't one of the Brabant Ensemble's best discs by any means and I can only give it a rather qualified recommendation.

(For a great recording of de Rore I would suggest The Tallis Scholars' fabulous disc of motets and the mass Praeter rerum seriem Rore - Missa Praeter rerum seriem; Motets, or their fine compilation Flemish Masters Flemish Masters which includes the mass.)

Smiley's People
Smiley's People
by John le Carré
Edition: Paperback
36 used & new from $6.28

5.0 out of 5 stars Still brilliant after all these years, November 24, 2014
This review is from: Smiley's People (Paperback)
I have just re-read this after about 35 years, and it is still very good indeed. There's not much in the way of violent action, although its aftermath does feature, but le Carré's brilliant storytelling keeps the tension high and kept me reading well after I should have gone to sleep.

I think what makes this so good is le Carré's mastery of character and dialogue. He knows the world of Intelligence intimately, of course, and he peoples it with plausible, beautifully drawn characters. There are also moments of description which encapsulate and idea or experience quite brilliantly, like "the unclearable litter of old age" or "a clarifying loneliness." These lift the book above just being a very good spy novel and make it a very fine novel in itself, I think.

This is the third in the Karla Trilogy, and it's best to read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy and The Honourable Schoolboy first, but this can be read on its own with great pleasure, too. I would recommend it very warmly - it is the work of a true master at the height of his powers.

Lute Works
Lute Works
Price: $14.40
26 used & new from $7.48

5.0 out of 5 stars A terrific reissue, November 22, 2014
This review is from: Lute Works (Audio CD)
This is another brilliant re-issue in Harmonia Mundi's Gold series. The original recording is from 1990, and it remains an absolute gem.

Kapsberger was a lute virtuoso and, as O'Dette says, a "Baroque composer in the true sense of the word," active between about 1600 and 1650. He wrote delightful, original music which deserves to be much better known. Echoes of Dowland are audible in some pieces, while others wouldn't be out of place on a modern pop album. It's wonderful stuff, and Paul O'Dette plays it magnificently.

O'Dette is recognised as one of the world's greatest lutenists, if not the greatest, and this disc shows why. He has such a great empathy with the music and plays with such skill and grace that I was instantly seduced the first time I heard the previous release of this CD. He plays some pieces on a 10-course lute and some on a chitarrone (or theorbo), both of which sound simply wonderful - particularly the chittarone, whose deep bass comes across beautifully in the excellent sound recording.

I simply don't know how to convey how good I think this disc is. I have listened to mine very regularly for a long time, it still gives me huge pleasure and I still find new things in it. Now it's at budget price it is an unmissable bargain. Recommended in the warmest possible terms.

Labirinto damore
Labirinto damore
Price: $19.18
26 used & new from $10.84

5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely disc, November 22, 2014
This review is from: Labirinto damore (Audio CD)
This is a lovely disc by two very fine musicians. Kapsberger was a great Italian lutenist who was composing and performing at the transition from the more modal Renaissance style to the sort of music we now recognise as Baroque, and elements of both are evident here in his solo lute pieces. These are interspersed on the disc with lute songs by Strozzi, Caccini, Monteverdi, and Merula.

The music is excellent, and really brought to life by the performances here. Thomas Dunford is a terrific lutenist with a superb technique which allows him really to express the emotion and depth of these pieces. It is fascinating to compare his approach to that of Paul O'Dette Kapsberger - Lute Works: Dunford takes a fairly rhythmically free approach, giving the pieces a more improvisatory, Renaissance feel to me, while O'Dette has more of a solid Baroque pulse to his playing. Both work extremely well – I have loved the O'Dette disc for years and this is a terrific new take which I am coming to love equally.

The songs are also lovely; Anna Reinhold's beautiful mezzo suits them perfectly and she sings with great style and engagement with the texts. As a programme it works very well indeed.

Alpha make their usual beautiful job of both recording and presentation and this is a very fine disc all round, I think. If you have any interest at all in the music of this period, don't hesitate – this is a real cracker.

August EP636 Bluetooth Wireless Stereo NFC Headphones - Comfortable On-ear Headset with built-in Microphone and Rechargeable Battery - Compatible with Mobile Phones, iPhone, iPad, Laptops, Tablets, Smartphones (Black)
August EP636 Bluetooth Wireless Stereo NFC Headphones - Comfortable On-ear Headset with built-in Microphone and Rechargeable Battery - Compatible with Mobile Phones, iPhone, iPad, Laptops, Tablets, Smartphones (Black)
Offered by Daffodil US
Price: $49.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent budget headphones, November 18, 2014
The manufacturer sent me these Bluetooth headphones for review, and I am very impressed. For their size and price they deliver extremely good sound, look great and work very well.

For such light and compact headphones, the sound quality is excellent. They have an exceptionally firm bass, with decent middles and clear, hiss-free treble. They go plenty loud enough for my listening with no audible distortion. Among other things, I have put them through my Test Playlist, starting with some Tudor polyphony from about 1520 and ending up with London Grammar and taking in most things in between. They are particularly good on rock and pop but do pretty well on everything, I think. That deep, rolling sub-bass on London Grammar's Hey Now sounds great, and guitar and vocals come out well too. Bass instruments like viola da gamba and cello sound good although orchestral instruments don't have the really distinct articulation you get in high-end 'phones, and they aren't real hi-fi, but for compact 'phones at this price they perform excellently.

They look very nice indeed and are also good and comfortable. They are on-ear, with soft padding and I've worn them for a couple of hours with no problem. They grip firmly enough to stand up to reasonable levels of movement (they'd be fine for running, for example) but not hard enough to cause any discomfort. Sound leakage is pretty minimal, although when played loud they are audible to others. The earcups swivel enough to allow you to position the headband where it is most comfortable, which is a welcome feature.

Functionally, they work very well. They are Bluetooth only, so there's no jack socket, but I found pairing simple and solid with a good range – 6 or 7 metres easily. The controls are easy and effective, with volume, skip and call controls all on the right earcup, and battery life seems very good. They are decently packaged and come with a standard micro-USB lead for charging and a good clear manual.

So, overall these are excellent headphones in this price and size range. If you want a light, smart set of Bluetooth phones with very good quality sound, these will do you very nicely.

Price: $10.00
21 used & new from $8.75

45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great stuff from the old smoothie, November 17, 2014
This review is from: Avonmore (Audio CD)
I am rather surprised to find that I really like this album. I wasn't expecting all that much, but I thought it was good on first hearing and it has grown even better with a lot of listens since. Ferry is still great singer and this is a star-studded album, with a well-publicised array of terrific guest musicians and singers and a fine producer (along with Ferry himself) in Rhett Davies. The result is a bit of class, I think.

The style and feel remind me rather of the Roxy Music albums Flesh And Blood and Avalon. 35 years on, the sound is richer and the production more modern, but there are still the beautiful vocals from Ferry and great harmonies, a fine selection of singable songs, enough harmonic originality to keep you interested, a compellingly danceable beat even in the slower numbers, and that familiar, distinctive air of yearning, melancholy and occasional real beauty pervades the whole album.

The material is very good. The eight songs written by Ferry are well up to standard musically, and they are lyrically pretty good, too. There are weaknesses: starting a song with the line "Midnight train rolling down the track" is bordering on criminally lazy, even though it's a good song musically, and I'll bet you can guess what the rhyme is, too. However, most of it is much better than that; Driving Me Wild, for example, contains lines like
"I'm dealing with a feeling
That nobody knows
With the kindness of ravens,
The murder of crows"
which I find very arresting even if it might well be pretty meaningless.

The album closes with two covers, both of which I was dreading for different reasons: Sondheim's Send In The Clowns just because it's Send In The <expletive deleted> Clowns again, and Robert Palmer's Johnny And Mary because I think it is one of the very greatest songs of the 80s and I didn't want to see it messed with. In fact, both are excellent. Ferry takes a few more liberties with the melodies than I'd like, but overall they are fine, sincere and meaningful new takes on both songs - exactly what makes a good cover version, I think.

Sorry to go on, but I was genuinely expecting this just to be OK at best. In fact, I think it's really good and I thought it was worth trying to explain why. In a nutshell, it's good material, excellently performed, arranged and produced. If in doubt, I'd suggest you listen to a few samples. If you like the sound of them, don't hesitate - this is a fine album which I recommend very warmly.

August DTA410 Digital TV Antenna - Portable Indoor/Outdoor Aerial for USB TV Tuner / Digital Television / DAB Radio - With Screw Fix Wall Mount
August DTA410 Digital TV Antenna - Portable Indoor/Outdoor Aerial for USB TV Tuner / Digital Television / DAB Radio - With Screw Fix Wall Mount
Offered by Daffodil US
Price: $11.95

4.0 out of 5 stars A good antenna, November 14, 2014
This antenna was sent to me for review by the manufacturers and I think it's good. It improves reception for my DAB tuner especially, and also works very well for digital TV where the signal is already reasonably strong. It is not a powered antenna, so if you have very poor reception this may not do the job, but where there is a reasonable signal it is very good.

The antenna is easy to set up and has a good long lead (2m) which gives flexibility with positioning. You can use the supplied sucker to stick it to a smooth surface like a window, or use the adhesive pad on the back to stick it to a wall or to attach a discreet transparent sheet and hook which enables you to hang it from a nail or similar. It is reasonably neat and unobtrusive, although I'd prefer it in white so it fades into the background more. It seems well made and robust, so I expect it to last well.

Reception is good. It will work very well if you have a decent signal and it does improve reception in weaker areas but it won't really cope with a very weak signal where you'll probably need a powered aerial. For what it is, though, it is very good and if you need a simple antenna for digital reception, this should do you very nicely.

Foxnovo F-4S 4-Slots Li-ion Ni-MH Ni-CD Sound Prompt Battery Capacity Testing LCD Intelligent Battery Charger with US-plug Adapter 12V Car Adapter for 26650, 22650, 18650, 18500, 18490, 17670, 17650, 17500, 16340, 14500, 10440 Ni-MH and Ni-CD A, AA, AAA, C, SC Rechargeable Batteries (Black)
Foxnovo F-4S 4-Slots Li-ion Ni-MH Ni-CD Sound Prompt Battery Capacity Testing LCD Intelligent Battery Charger with US-plug Adapter 12V Car Adapter for 26650, 22650, 18650, 18500, 18490, 17670, 17650, 17500, 16340, 14500, 10440 Ni-MH and Ni-CD A, AA, AAA, C, SC Rechargeable Batteries (Black)
Offered by Foxnovo Store
Price: $79.99
2 used & new from $39.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent battery charger, November 10, 2014
Length:: 4:35 Mins

This excellent little battery charger was sent to me by the manufacturers for review, and I am very impressed. It is neat, quick and works very well.

The unit is roughly 10cm x 13 cm x 3.5cm high, so it's pretty compact. It is light but seems well made and robust. It has a detachable mains lead and also comes with a car lead, so you can use it from the lighter socket in your car if you need to recharge on the move. It is a good, practical charger.

What I like most about this unit is its versatility. It will take any combination of batteries of all sizes. I use a lot of rechargeables, and if necessary I can charge an AAA, AA, C and 18650 (for an LED torch) at the same time, which makes it really handy. It seems pretty quick (a 2200mAh battery takes about 3 hours, I think) and will charge batteries individually so you can slot one into a vacant slot at any time without affecting any others. Once charged, the unit holds the batteries at full capacity with a trickle charge.

The unit also has a couple of other handy features. The display shows the exact state of charge of each battery, which is very useful. The unit beeps when any battery reaches full charge, which is something I could do without, frankly, but it's not a real problem. You can also get it to test the true capacity of a battery which I find very useful when I know one of a set has failed but don't know which.

This is quite a sophisticated unit, so it's more expensive than some and you may want to consider whether it is right for you or if it is more than you need. If you just need to charge pairs of AA or AAA batteries, say, a more basic unit may be enough, but if you use a variety of batteries, or you value some of the other functions this unit offers I can recommend this very warmly. It's great for my use and I'm very happy with it.

The Endless River
The Endless River
Price: $13.98
33 used & new from $8.99

199 of 224 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely album, November 10, 2014
This review is from: The Endless River (Audio CD)
I think this is a lovely album. It's not a ground-breaking classic like Dark Side Of The Moon, Meddle or The Wall, say, (although there are musical references to all of them) nor does it have individual songs of the brilliance and beauty of Wish You Were Here or Shine On You Crazy Diamond, but in total it is a fine album with some genuinely beautiful music on it.

Put together from off-cuts from The Division Bell and then heavily re-worked and edited, this has been billed as a tribute to the late Rick Wright - and it's s fine tribute. There is plenty of his trademark keyboard sound, along with a lot of truly fabulous guitar work from David Gilmour. He's a great guitarist and there are very few people who can bring that degree of beauty and aching melancholy from the instrument. He's on fine form here, as is Nick Mason whose drumming perhaps doesn't get the recognition it deserves in creating the Floyd sound.

This is almost an ambient album in many ways, although there's more to it than that. There is an unbroken sequence of fairly brief tracks which are varied but hold together well as a unit. There are almost no vocals, just Steven Hawking speaking on Talkin' Hawkin' and a genuine song in the last track, Louder Than Words. Both are about the importance of settling disputes through talking and, appropriately, it is here that the absence of Roger Waters as a songwriter shows most clearly, because for me neither the melody nor lyrics are up to Waters' standard. It's a tiny blemish - not even a blemish at all, really, just a reminder - and the album as a whole is really good, I think.

This won't convert you if you don't like Pink Floyd, but if you do I think you'll really like this album. It's lovely music, beautifully played and produced, and I recommend it warmly.
Comment Comments (27) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 19, 2014 7:45 PM PST

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