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Made in U.S.A. (The Criterion Collection)
Made in U.S.A. (The Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ Anna Karina
Price: $21.28
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4.0 out of 5 stars Lesser Godard, but still worthwhile for the gorgeous use of colour and the very best of 1960s fashion and design, September 17, 2015
In 1966 Jean-Luc Godard was approached by producer Georges de Beauregard, who said that he had some money he needed to spend and asked if Godard could make a film on very short notice. Godard said sure, and proposed adapting a pulp crime novel (Donald E. Westlake's "The Jugger"). But when Godard made the film, which would get the title MADE IN U.S.A., he did everything possible to break out of a straightforward adaptation, using the novel as a mere skeleton over which he could explore other themes that interested him.

Paula (Anna Karina), a journalist, goes to a small town where her estranged boyfriend Richard has died in mysterious circumstances, surely murder. Determined to get to the bottom of things, she takes on the air of a hardboiled detective, wielding a pistol and wearing a Bogartian trenchcoat. She meets the doctor who did the autopsy and has a run-in with the police, but mainly we see her tangled up with two gangsters, played by László Szabó and Jean-Pierre Léaud.

Godard maintains just enough conventional dialogue and action to let the viewer know where we are in the crime novel's plot, but most of what transpires before the camera must be understood as only abstract metaphors for what would have happened in the book. The interaction between his characters mainly has other purposes. They have absurdist conversations with a great deal of wordplay. They allude to French politics in a time when Godard was worried about the compromised values of the French Left and the spectres of fascism and consumer society. The Ben Barka affair, where a Moroccan dissident was murdered in France in 1965 with the apparent involvement of the French security services, looms very large over MADE IN U.S.A., almost elbowing Westlake's original story out entirely. As if aware that he had stripped the plot down to such a degree that he now had too much time to be filled, he gives little asides like Marianne Faithfull singing "Tears Go By" a cappella in a cameo and Kyôko Kosaka strumming a guitar and singing in Japanese.

This is not one of Godard's best films. For one, Godard reused many of the elements of his masterpiece Pierrot Le Fou from the year before. PIERROT LE FOU was itself assembled as a sort of a collage of shots from Godard's prior films, which worked well as a wonderful summing up of his early career. But when he does the same with MADE IN U.S.A., it is to greatly diminished effect. But even if this is weak by Godard standards, it is nonetheless a moving experience. Shot in colour and in Cinemascope, this is a feast for the eyes. The very best of what the 1960s had to offer in terms of fashion and product design is on hand here and it just jumps off the screen. The image feels electric. (It is a pity that Criterion's edition is only on DVD, as a Blu-Ray would have yielded even greater pleasures.) Godard's longtime cameraman Raoul Coutard gives us some elaborate long takes that impress. And of course it's Godard's last major celebration of Anna Karina's beauty and poise, which really was something for the ages, still stunning half a century later.

Criterion's edition comes with some useful extras. In MADE IN U.S.A. Godard included a number of literary quotations, and plus nearly all the names in the film are allusions to other films by other filmmakers, literary figures, etc. We get a a 17-minute featurette here that explains all the allusions. In another featurette, this one 25 minutes long, film scholars Richard Brody and Colin McCabe discuss where MADE AND U.S.A. and, another film he shot at the same time, Two or Three Things I Know About Her fit in his career. There's a 2002 interview with Anna Karina, but this is just her general reminisces about working with Godard (and her telling for the umpteenth time how they met) instead of anything about MADE IN U.S.A. specifically. More interesting for longtime Godard aficionados, I think, is an interview with László Szabó.


Three Piano Sonatas, Sonata for Cello and Piano
Three Piano Sonatas, Sonata for Cello and Piano
2 used & new from $67.59

4.0 out of 5 stars A good survey of Silvestrov's piano works, ranging from an early sonata to his post-avant-garde works of nostalghia, September 15, 2015
The pianist Alexei Lubimov has championed the music of those Soviet composers who explored an avant-garde style in the 1960s under the influence of the West, but then retreated from high modernism and sought a new style that could both offer a way forward and still allude to the sentimentality of the Classical and Romantic eras. The Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov is a famous example of such a career arc, and here Lubimov performs his first three sonatas for solo piano, followed by a sonata for cello and piano where Ivan Monighetti appears.

The first piece we get here in fact predates Silvestrov's modernist apogee to a degree, as the Piano Sonata No. 1 was written in 1960, though Silvestrov revised it a decade later. A mainly tranquil work, it shows Silvestrov's love of nostalghia, wistfulness, and restraint already fully formed. In terms of its harmonies, this is one of innumerable works of the period that take Shostakovich as the vanguard of musical expression, though perhaps Silvestrov was only just aware of Berg. This is not a major work, but it is well-crafted and holds my attention for its 16-minute span over two movements marked Moderato "con molto attenzione" and Andantino.

When it comes to Silvestrov's straight-up avant-garde pieces of the Sixties and early Seventies, which aren't reflected on this disc, and his softer late style, I figured that there must have some transitional works, though I hadn't yet found one. The Piano Sonata No. 2 (1975) acts as such a bridge. It begins in the pointillistic style of late Webern with its wide leaps, and the pianist even uses extended techniques like strumming the strings directly. As the work precedes, it takes on an increasingly traditional tonality, and what's more, an elegiac quality. Eventually one begins to hear what would become a key gesture for this composer: again and again, a heavy, ponderous chord is followed by a fleeting arpeggio. The Piano Sonata No. 3 (1979) is in much the same style with those same distinct Silvestrov gestures, but to my ears this is a considerable bleaker work.

Finally, with the Sonata for Cello and Piano (1983) we have come to a sort of maturity in Silvestrov's post-avant garde career. The opening of the work is like an opium dream, a haze of gentle melodies that follow one after the other, with triplet patterns especially asserting themselves. There is no sense of development; this is music that seems to exist without any before or after. Eight minutes in, the tempo quickens, the music rumbles in the bass range. Suddenly there is much of, if not conflict, at least a sense of urgency. We return to the Romantic fog of the first part of the work, but now the idyll feels broken and a poignant quality reigns. Finally, the work goes out with a return to the strife-torn second section, but this is fractured as the cellist begins to play the material as harmonics, and thus the works doesn't as much evaporate as end.

The Sonata for Cello and Piano has also been recorded on an ECM disc by Anja Lechner and Silke Avenhaus. All in all, I prefer the ECM recording: the performances are just as good as Lubimov and Monighetti, but the sound is superior. There are certain composers whose music fits ECM's cavernous production especially well, and Silvestrov is one of them (Silvestrov's contemporary Alexander Knaifel is another).

Late Silvestrov, especially piano works, tends to refer to two different styles. One consists of weighty "postludes" on the classical tradition, which seem to mourn the loss of a common classical language as the 20th-century split into myriad styles. This kind of music won't be to everyone's taste, but I've derived immense pleasure from some of these, especially orchestral works like Postludium and the Symphony No. 5. The other late Silvestrov consists of bagatelle-like works, which feel empty, utterly vacuous and frankly something of a ripoff for CD buyers. Luckily, the late pieces here all represent the former style and not the latter one; they all have some meat to them.


Silvestrov: Symphonies No. 4 and 5
Silvestrov: Symphonies No. 4 and 5
Offered by skyvo-direct-usa
Price: $18.06
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A new recording of Silvestrov's central piece, paired with a lesser-known but gripping symphony, September 14, 2015
The Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, like many composers of the Soviet era, first made a name for himself in the abstract 1960s avant-garde before turning to a more contemplative and distinctive style. Silvestrov's remarkable body of late works consists of "postludes" on the Romantic era, lush orchestral pieces that make reference to common-practice tonality, but lack a firm sense of development. On this BIS disc from 2009, Jukka-Pekka Saraste leads the Lahti Symphony Orchestra.

The Symphony No. 4 for brass and strings (1976) was Silvestrov's first large orchestral work after his turn away from the avant-garde. This is fragmented music where numerous poignant melodies arise, only to be subsumed into the orchestral fabric without further development. Yet these beautiful, delicate motifs (often clearly inspired by Mozart and Haydn) are threatened by recurring ostinatos on the low instruments. The climax of the piece comes with an crescendo of fast, shrill strings that are finally defeated not by a return to those lovely melodies, but rather by a total extinction of melody: the musical line continues, but has become completely hollow. In a commentary on a later piece by the composer, Paul Griffiths wrote "Time in Silvestrov's music is a black lake." There has perhaps been no more terrifying expression of this than the fading bars of the Fourth.

By the time of the Symphony No. 5 (1980-82), any sense of urgency and allusions to the Classical era was lost, replaced instead by endless proliferations of melodies in indistinct rhythms. For three-quarters of an hour the listener is caught up in this musical equivalent of an opium dream, though there is a sense of closure not too far from the end with horn calls that seem like light coming through the clouds. Saraste takes a rather faster pace (41 minutes) than the classic recording on Sony by DSO Berlin cond. Robertson (47 minutes). In that regard the piece appeals to that side of me that feels the Fifth is overlong. I must say, however, that I prefer Sony's sound over BIS, as the former has a sense of the orchestral dimensions and has quite a punch, while on BIS the orchestra seems demure and distant.

Silvestrov's late music can be awfully repetitive from one work to another -- he ranks up there with Rautavaara and Takemitsu in writing the same piece over and over again -- but his style is a very individual one, no small achievement in late 20th century music. The Symphony No. 5 is a widely talked-about piece worth getting acquainted with, and even if the Fourth is of lesser fame, it's impressive and provides an interesting document of his development towards his mature style.


Rihm: Tutuguri
Rihm: Tutuguri
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4.0 out of 5 stars This "presentation of a dark fierce cult" is a fine achievement of Rihm's early expressionist style, September 14, 2015
This review is from: Rihm: Tutuguri (Audio CD)
As a young composer, Wolfgang Rihm was writing in an expressionist style, full of tortured emotions, surges of passion, a volatile soundscape veering between extremes. He was also interested in 20th-century theatre trends. It seems entirely natural that the French playwright (and madman) Antonin Artaud would strike his fancy: Artaud advocated a "theater of cruelty", stage action as a return to the primeval magic and ritual that people of his time associated with non-Western tribes and a presumably Dionysian culture that ruled Europe before Christianity.

Rihm's "Tutuguri" for speaker, choir and large orchestra (1980-82) is an epic work based on "Tutuguri: The Rite of the Black Sun", a poem that Artaud had presented within a radio play in 1947. The poem describes a baffling rite, whose inexplicability is best compared to that of hallucinogen-induced visions (Artaud had experimented with peyote in Mexico) or the poet's own mental illness: "...the circling finished, they uproot the earth-crosses, and the naked man on the horse lifts up a huge horseshoe which he had dipped in his own fresh blood."

Rihm saw in this poem a sort of evocation of the life force inside of us all bursting free, and he sought to depict this emotionally explosive quality in a "poeme dansé" lasting just under two hours. The music of this "presentation of a dark, fierce cult", as Rihm calls it, is rooted in drums, low winds, and low strings. The listener is transported through one soundscape after another of rumbles and savage symphonic dances. Voice is employed only at a few points, with grunts, shouts, ululations, or chanted nonsense syllables. But it's never a meaningless, noisy racket. Rihm's early music (roughly early 1970s to early 1980s) works at a fever pitch of emotion which never lets up, and which remains consistently engaging.

While I am impressed by this work, I nonetheless regret that a home listener misses out on the whole experience. Rihm didn't intend to present "Tutuguri" with specially designed sets or staged action, but he did want the performers dispersed in space around the audience and the feeling that a public was sharing the ritual together. While the disc is worthwhile, I think it should be left to Rihm fans who have already become attuned to his style of this time and can, as it were, fill in the gaps in their minds between the experience on disc and what Rihm envisioned.

This Hanssler Classic presents a November 2002 recording where Fabrice Bollon conducts the SWR Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart. The choir is the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart with chorus master Rupert Huber. The liner notes consist of Artaud's poem in the original French along with German and English translations, as well as Rihm's own programme notes for the piece. Forced to express the same ineffable things as Artaud in words, Rihm's comments on his work are similarly poetic and fanciful, but still clear enough to help the listener come to grips with the form of the work.


The Lost World of Byzantium
The Lost World of Byzantium
Price: $19.99

12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars By-the-numbers listing of who succeeded who and which armies fought when, adds little new to earlier popular introductions, September 13, 2015
Jonathan Harris is professor of the History of Byzantium at Royal Holloway, University of London. In THE LOST WORLD OF BYZANTIUM, he promises to describe what gave the eastern heir to Ancient Rome its remarkable longevity: even if it shrunk from an empire to hardly more than the city of Constantinople over that time, Byzantium managed to survive as an institution from the 4th century to the 15th -- and that's in the face of hostile foreign powers on every side, and economic and social upheavals over the centuries.

But really, what this book mainly is, is an overview of Byzantine political and military history from AD 325 to 1453: who succeeded who as emperor, and which powers Byzantium fought on the battlefield when. Having read John Julius Norwich's classic three-volume history of Byzantium for a layman readership, I was disappointed to find Harris's book very much a retread. Harris gives us only the same view of the political elite and battles that Norwich did, even as people have been complaining for years since Norwich's work that such an approach ignores the ordinary people in society and the daily life of the population.

A thought-provoking way in which this book differs from its predecessors is that it evinces modern social trends in academia. Earlier English-speaking scholars, even if some of them had a distaste for features of late Byzantine politics or the Orthodox Church, were nonetheless writing within the context of a (Nicaean) Christian society that could ultimately be traced back together with Byzantium to Constantine and the early Church. Harris, on the other hand, voices very early on his distaste for Byzantium's prohibition of homosexual acts and its sanctions against Arianism and other heretical movements (and he reiterates his feelings later). For Harris, a symphonia of secular and spiritual authority isn't a beautiful ideal, or even just how things were back then, but something that an author must expressly denounce for the reader. We'll probably be seeing a lot more books with this negative tone, but it is a big turnoff for a distinct demographic of consumers of books about Byzantium, namely Orthodox Christians.

All in all, I would recommend a combination of books published earlier. If you want the kind of concise introduction to Byzantine politics that Harris's book ended up being, and you don't want to read three bulky volumes that Norwich originally published, then get Norwich's single-volume abridgement. For a look at how the Byzantines spent most of their time -- it wasn't wars and intrigues all the time -- Marcus Rautman's Daily Life in the Byzantine Empire is a fun book. Finally, when it comes to the theme of how Byzantium managed to hold out against the Slavs through "soft power" cultural exports (taming your enemies by making them want to live like you do), the work of Sir Dimitri Obolensky (e.g. Byzantium and the Slavs) is more insightful than Harris's book.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 28, 2016 6:52 PM PDT


Discovering Masterpieces: Bartok, Concerto for Orchestra [DVD Video]
Discovering Masterpieces: Bartok, Concerto for Orchestra [DVD Video]
DVD ~ Bartok
Price: $17.99
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable video performance of this masterpiece of universal appeal, along with a documentary that shows what makes it tick, September 13, 2015
This Euroarts DVD contains a concert performance of Béla Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra followed by a 30-minute documentary using footage from that concert for illustrations. The performance is that given in Portugal in 2003 by Pierre Boulez and the Berlin Philharmonic, which was previously released on a DVD with other pieces performed that evening.

Bartók's Concert for Orchestra is, of course, one of the greatest works of the 20th century. It is a perfect blend of Bartók's interest in Eastern European folk music, his own lightly avant-garde explorations, and his inheritance of the classical tradition. Since its premiere in 1945, it has been seen as quite the crowd-pleaser, wowing ordinary people as much as classical music anoraks. People who fall in love with the piece will probably find a particular CD recording that is right for them to do most of their listening to it -- mine is the Sony disc with the L.A. Philharmonic cond. Salonen. However, a video like this is a great way to discover the piece or begin to penetrate its secrets. Bartók called this piece a Concerto for Orchestra since almost every person in the mighty ensemble up on stage has to act as a soloist, and it is thrilling to watch this virtuosity. The players of the Berlin Philharmonic had been familiar with this piece for years, and you can still see them straining to give Bartók's tunes the performances they deserve.

While some DVDs can look primitive in our era of Blu-ray, this has held up pretty well. The video is 720x480, 16:9 aspect ratio, which is the best second-generation DVDs had to offer. The sound is good, too, with DTS 5.1 audio selectable alongside the inferior Dolby Digital 5.1 or PCM Stereo options. As this was recorded in a church, other reviewers note that the sound has a lot of reverb, but I can't say that that bothered me any. Another reviewer complains about the camera showing too much of that church, but the man doth protest too much: only at a few points does the camera show off the stunning late-Gothic interior of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, which is indeed visually stunning. In the main, however, the camera is on the performers, and the producers did a great job of highlighting the particular instrumentalists who are acting in a quasi-soloistic role throughout the concerto.

The documentary film is informative -- indeed, it should be seen as the main attraction of this DVD, as people who aren't interested in it can get the Berlin Phil/Boulez concert on another DVD. At only half an hour, the documentary cannot do more than quickly present the basic facts of the work's origin: Bartók's exile in America during World War II, his poverty and the lifeline that was this commission, but his declining health and death even before the piece was premiered. The documentary presents each of the major themes of the work, using footage from the concert video plus the relevant passage of the score put up on the screen. It is a helpful introduction to the workings of the piece, and I put it on for my wife, who found it just what she needed. That said, classical music fans of an academic bent might want to read David Cooper's immensely more detailed book on the Concerto for Orchestra.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 20, 2016 3:40 PM PDT


Schnittke: Symphony No. 7 / Cello Concerto No. 1
Schnittke: Symphony No. 7 / Cello Concerto No. 1
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic performance of one of the most epic and moving concertos of the 20th century, along with an enigmatic symphony, September 12, 2015
In the late 1990s and early millennium, the Chandos label sought to record all of Alfred Schnittke's major orchestral works with the Russian State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Valeri Polyansky (a project that sadly ended when the label came under new management). This disc gives us 1999 recordings of Schnittke's first cello concerto, where the soloist is Alexander Ivashkin, and a late symphony.

In the early 1980s, Alfred Schnittke composed with a distinctive approach called "polystylism" where references to the Classical and Romantic periods freely mingle with modern dissonance and the concerns of the present age. The Cello Concerto No. 1 (1985) is one of the great works of this era. The first three movements are closely connected with the Viola Concerto of the same period in that both involve "suicide by orchestra" for the soloist. The cellist weaves poignant melodies and seems involved in a search for truth, while the orchestra interrupts with rude tuttis or goes about its business with seemingly no concern for what the solitary individual has to say. The confrontation between the two leaves the soloist drained of all strength, climaxing in a grotesque dance in the third movement Allegro vivace where the harpsichord is prominent (a devilish instrument in Schnittke). At the end, only the orchestra survives. But then there is a remarkable resurrection, for the fourth movement Largo has the soloist rise through a passacaglia from death to victory. The cello is amplified so that it can be heard against the crowd, and the orchestra's music now seeks accord with the cello line. This is an incredible ending, one of the most moving cantabile lines in the history of classical music.

For a long time, my reference recording for the Cello Concerto was the Moscow Studio Archives disc where Gennady Rozhdestvensky leads the USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra. The soloist there, Natalia Gutman, was the dedicatee of the work and utterly in tune with Schnittke's music. I was sceptical that Ivashkin, Polyansky and company could live up to that, but they really do succeed: this is a fantastic performance, and the sound quality is excellent. While the Soviet-era recording with Gutman is still an essential purchase for any Schnittke fan, this Chandos disc is a great way to hear the piece.

Schnittke suffered the first of several strokes in 1985, and while his recovery led to the triumphant, life-celebrating conclusion of the Cello Concerto, in the main his declining health was accompanied by an increasingly austere style. The Symphony No. 7 (1994) has a bizarre form, two short opening movements and a third much longer than both of them combined (14.30). Though an appreciable orchestra is massed onstage, Schnittke never uses all of its forces together. The work starts with a 42-bar violin solo, and while more strings enter, polyphony is kept to a minimum of dissonant chords. At some point the strings seem to lose effort, collapsing only into a pedal point in the low strings as the torch is passed to the horns and other winds for what might be called Brucknerian writing if it didn't feel so aborted. The third movement can be called the most lively one, if only because its austerity is broken up several times by scherzo-like writing, but even these leave one uneasy. The ending is remarkable: after so many minutes of searching lines have passed, the orchestra seems to come together into a straightforward tune, but it is only a funereal waltz in the bass instruments that sounds like old Vienna channeled by a ghost. While not one of Schnittke's best symphonies, and initially baffling, the Seventh has grown on me over the years (unlike the even grimmer Sixth, which I still consider an outright disaster).


Fascinated by Languages
Fascinated by Languages
by Eugene Albert Nida
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $120.00
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting memoirs on a life spent grappling with translation difficulties (namely Biblical), but needed editing, September 9, 2015
Eugene A. Nida had a productive career as a consultant for missionary teams translating the Bible into the languages of the world. However, he also had a PhD in linguistics and considered himself mainly a linguist. Plus, the insights he gained about how to render Hebrew or Greek into vastly different languages of vastly different cultures and ecologies had some repercussions for general linguistic theory and translation studies. This gained him enormous respect among the general scholarly community (just look at the names in the table of contents of his Festschrift). Born in 1914, Nida lived to the good old age of 96, and his memoirs FASCINATED BY LANGUAGES were published by John Benjamins in 2003, a little under a decade before his death.

One notices right away the lack of any editing. Nida's thoughts are gathered haphazardly, there often isn't any connection between one paragraph and the next. It can be frustrating to read through a series of non-sequiturs, and the book does unfortunately feel like the rambling account of an elderly man. Also, sometimes Nida gets some facts wrong because he seems to be recalling languages that he hadn't used for decades (such as a mistake about how the Japanese writing system works), and there are a great deal of typos here. If only the publisher could have intervened and polished the manuscript a bit.

That said, there is a great deal of enjoyable trivia here. The book is essentially divided into two main parts: Nida's scattered anecdotes of his travels to lecture and help Bible translation teams (some 90 countries around the world), and various aspects of the New Testament that have proven challenging for translators over his career. Even though Nida is drawing his examples of translation difficulties from the Bible, they will interest linguists of any or no faith.

In fact, even when speaking about how to translate Christian doctrine, Nida stays very detached from the religion. He gives off no sense of personal religious zeal, which must have helped a lot in allowing him to interact with academia without offending. It is in fact difficult to get any concrete idea of what religious dogma Nida exactly held, though his relationship with Roman Catholic translators seems to have been a little rocky. (Online references tell me he was a Baptist.)

Nida ends the book with speaking a little bit of his personal life since retirement, including how he met his second wife, the Spanish translator María Elena Fernandez-Miranda, and moved around Europe in his old age more than he expected to. (His wife ultimately wrote her own book looking back at their relationship).


Blue Afternoon (180 Gram Vinyl)
Blue Afternoon (180 Gram Vinyl)
Price: $19.99
27 used & new from $2.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Buckley at a turning point, but while the songs are insightful, the sedate performances don't show them in the best light, September 9, 2015
In 1969 singer-songwriter Tim Buckley was increasingly moving away from the fairly straightforward folk rock of his earliest albums, experimenting with different moods. BLUE AFTERNOON is eight tracks in a spacious, sedate atmosphere. Buckley strums his 12-string guitar, Lee Underwood plays a second guitar or piano, David Friedman vibes, and John Miller acoustic and electric bass. Percussion, whether Jimmy Madison on drums or Carter C.C. Collins on congas, is pretty low in the mix.

Tim Buckley had enormous vocal range and power, but on BLUE AFTERNOON his singing is very restrained, and one finds few of the banshee wails and drastic leaps across the octaves that distinguish live recordings from this time or the avant-garde studio recordings to come (the big exception is the album closer, "The Train"). That may be because Buckley, bitter about the industry, didn't have his heart in these particular recording sessions as a performer (a theme directly expressed in the song "Happy Time"). However, the effect is that the lyrics are in the spotlight. Certainly this album contains some of his best tunes, and "Happy Time" and "I Must Have Been Blind" have been covered many times since. While Buckley was only 22 years old when he recorded these songs (and even younger when some of them were first drafted), they evince a mature outlook on life that makes for great lasting art. The overall sense of the album is sadness and loss, such as the cooling of passions between lovers on "Cafe" and "The River". However, Buckley also provides a counterweight with the exaggerated pathos of "So Lonely", as if to say it's good to muse, but keep some perspective.

Unfortunately, with the invariably slow and discontented performances, I find this a mediocre effort. Yes, I'm happy that it inspired later performers like This Mortal Coil and Brendan Perry to take up this material, and it's interesting to go back to the original versions. But as a Tim Buckley fan, BLUE AFTERNOON is not as moving as e.g. the early folk rock of Goodbye and Hello before or the out-of-this-world experimentation of Starsailor that would follow shortly.

Customers interested in getting BLUE AFTERNOON on CD as part of an entire early Tim Buckley collection might want to look to Sony's Original Album Series reissues, which has ugly cardboard sleeves and low-quality art, but at least gets you five albums in good sound for cheap.


Toru Takemitsu: Asterism/Requiem/Green/The Dorian Horizon - Seiji Ozawa and Toronto Symphony
Toru Takemitsu: Asterism/Requiem/Green/The Dorian Horizon - Seiji Ozawa and Toronto Symphony
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Recordings of mainly mid-period Takemitsu when these pieces were still quite new, September 9, 2015
When the Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa served as music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the late 1960s, he used the position to present the music of his compatriot Toru Takemitsu to Western audiences. These recordings went through a few vinyl editions, and were ultimately reissued on CD.

"Requiem" for strings (1957) was Takemitsu's international breakthrough, when it impressed Stravinsky during a visit to Japan. Slow, stepwise lines in the spirit of Messiaen and other French forebears convey a sense of loss and sadness. It is a well-made piece, but to my ears it generally lacks the composer's distinctive voice. I was really shocked by how quickly Ozawa goes through this piece at 7'50", a whole three minutes faster than the Pacific Symphony Orchestra cond. Carl St. Clair on Sony Classical, my reference recording. Ozawa's bizarre speed robs the music of the plaintive quality which its title suggests.

The remainder of the pieces present a rather different style. The 1960s was, as Peter Burt calls it in his study of the composer, Takemitsu's "modernist apogee". He adopted a number of techniques from the Western avant-garde of the mid-century. Thus in "Asterism" for piano and orchestra (1968), we find aleatoric writing where the pianist can cue the entry of various instrumental groups. "The Dorian Horizon" for 17 strings (1964) places the performers in a peculiar way in the performance space, where some players are meant to sound more distant than others. Sometimes the sound is roughly comparable to well-known mid-century works like Boulez's "Le Marteau sans maître". But even when Takemitsu's work was most comparable to international modernist trends, his style is completely individual. There is a wonderful vastness in this music, a gentleness, and sometimes it even feels as if the music expresses a sort of loving or adoration. And it's not all high modernist either: "Green" for orchestra (1967) is an impressionist wash of color that looks back at Debussy and ahead to Takemitsu's invariably pretty late works.

The most prominent work of this period, and probably of Takemitsu's entire career, is "November Steps" (1967), where Takemitsu combines Western orchestra with the Japanese instruments known as the biwa and shakuhachi. When the New York Philharmonic commissioned it, they probably expected a straightforward crossover effort. Instead, Takemitsu showed East and West as utterly irreconcilable, and Japanese tradition as far more than the oriental tropes that most Americans knew. The biwa is a zither-like instrument with a twangy, rubber-band like sound. The shakuhachi is a bamboo flute with a low range and a traditional playing technique permitting colourings that Westerners may find unbeautiful. In this work with a somewhat cloaked theme-and-variations form, no real dialogue can be established between the orchestra and the two soloists: the orchestra plays its music (explosive and freely atonal), then lapses into silence for a while so the biwa and shakuhachi can take up their parts, and this alternation repeats several times. In spite of the bleakness of its vision, it is an impressive and memorable work, and a window into a tradition that I may have never encountered otherwise.

The performers in this recording of "November Steps" are Kinshi Tsuruta (biwa) and Katsuya Yokoyama (shakuhachi), the dedicatees. However, I would greatly recommend that listeners first encounter the piece in a late 1980s recording, recently reissued on DG, where Ozawa conducts the Saito Kinen orchestra with these same two soloists. The sound quality is much superior, and the playing is smoother since the piece had been around for a couple of decades already and its unusual demands better understood by performers. "Green" has also been recorded by the London Sinfonietta conducted by Oliver Knussen on that ensemble's own label. The timings don't really differ (Knussen 5'53, Ozawa 5'44), but the interpretations are different enough to make both recordings worthwhile for Takemitsu fans, with Ozawa giving a more meditative, sometimes Romantic feel, and Knussen a harder edge.

In spite of the fact that a few pieces on this disc have competition, "Asterism" and "The Dorian Horizon" remain fairly obscure entries in Takemitsu's mighty catalog, and I'd recommend the CD reissue to fans of the composer.


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