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Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos 4 & 5 /Schoonderwoerd * Ensemble Cristofori
Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos 4 & 5 /Schoonderwoerd * Ensemble Cristofori
Price: $17.09
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Imagine yourself in a large room ..., April 3, 2014
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... the largest room in the largest house of your richest friend. How large? Let’s visualize it as ten meters wide by twenty meters long. Plenty big for a debutante’s ball. But now install a modern symphony orchestra with a concert grand piano: you’ll barely have room to stand and your ears won’t survive a performance of a Beethoven Piano Concerto. But let’s get historical and set ourselves in the salon of Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz, where Beethoven himself played fortepiano in his Fourth Concerto in 1807. The chamber orchestra, with a mere dozen strings and several winds, would still have been imposing in such a room. Or shall we hear the premiere of Beethoven’s Fifth Keyborad Concerto in the Leipziger Gewandhaus? Not the Gewandhaus of 2014, however! The first Gewandhaus was really the ordinary building of the Leipzig guild of textile merchants, where the meeting hall was a modest space smaller than the lobby of most modern concert auditoriums. Now honestly, wouldn’t you rather hear a chamber orchestra like Ensemble Cristofori in such a space? The modern symphony orchestra and the modern metal-framed grand piano evolved in response to the acoustics of mammoth concert halls beyond anything Beethoven could have foreseen. Do I need to say, “for better or worse?” Of course, a tiny period orchestra with a puny fortepiano would sound skimpy in today's major concert halls ...

But wait? What does this have to do with reality? THIS IS A RECORDING! A CD! If the modern orchestra is too loud, you turn it down, right? And if the period orchestra isn’t thunderous enough for you, you turn the volume up, especially if you’re listening on your car radio while driving from Brisbane to Wagga Wagga. If raw volume isn’t the issue, what is? In fact, Ensemble Cristofori’s performance of the Fifth Concerto is magnificently thunderous. The period instruments and chamber-scaled forces render a wider spectrum of dynamics, from pianissimo to crash-issimo, than you can hear on recordings of humongous modern orchestras. Trust your ears here, not your prejudices!

The “fortepiano” differs from the modern grand in more ways than simple volume. The narrower register of the instrument sounds distinctly “uneven” in timbre in its upper, middle and lower ranges. The upper notes are glassy, tinkly, bell-like; the lowest octave sounds more like a timpani than a lute. That difference in timbres from high to low has been treated as a defect in the instrument by later music critics, but in fact one could make a case that such contrasting timbres help make sense of otherwise homogenous counterpoint. The harpsichord of Beethoven’s apprenticeship had two keyboards, coupled and uncoupled, to achieve the “dialogue” of registers that 18th C composers relished. To my ears, it sounds as if Beethoven intended to exploit the contrasts of upper and lower ‘voices’ on the fortepiano in both of these concertos, exploiting not only harder/softer touch on the keys but also the rumbly/glassy timbres of his instrument to create tension and dialogue. In effect, I’m suggesting that the fortepiano has an interpretive edge over the modern grand, apart from any deficiencies of decibels.

The robust resonance of the modern orchestra’s string sections is necessary for modern public - democratic! popular! - concert hall performances, but that resonance is a timbre killer. Listen to this CD without prejudice, please, and hear the surprisingly distinct colors of the violas and cellos in dialogue with the violins! Notice the transparency of the strings throughout, allowing the timbres of the winds to be more poignant, pungent, colorful! Notice how effectively the fortepiano stitches its presence into the orchestral fabric even when the orchestra is in full cry! You may not hear grandiloquence in this performance but you’ll hear passage-work and piquancy that you’ve not heard on other CDs.

And let’s not fail to appreciate the precision of Arthur Schoonderwoerd’s keyboard technique. There isn’t a single measure of perfunctory tinkle or pounding in Schoonderwoerd’s Beethoven. Every phrase is alert to its own importance. Don’t try to listen to this CD while doing your taxes or trolling the internet! The tighter your concentration, the more you’ll be thrilled.

Isn’t it grand to live in 2014! Strawberries in our markets year-round! Hockey and soccer on TV to choose from, whatever the weather outside! Arthur Rubenstein / Arthur Schoonderwoerd ... AND rather than OR! To denigrate this performance with a one-star review, as has been done here on amazon, is no better than an ideological hissy fit. This is a beautiful CD. Don't deprive your ears of it!
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 5, 2014 9:09 AM PDT

O Seligkeit!: Franz Schubert Partsongs
O Seligkeit!: Franz Schubert Partsongs
Price: $17.54
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars O Fellowship! O Sociability!, March 31, 2014
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Why didn't I review this wonderful performance years ago, when I first heard it? Irresponsible neglect on my part! I've listened to it more often than many CDs of music of greater fame and (let's be honest) greater profundity. This is NOT profound Romanticism. The part songs were composed by jolly young Franz Schubert to be shared with his other jolly and mostly young friends. The "Heldenbabble" view of Schubert as a tormented introvert does not comport with this selection of bright-eyed and warm-hearted chamber music.
And the Egidius Kwartet is the farthest thing from grave Romanticism! They have fun singing, as you'll hear on this CD and as you can both hear and see on YouTube. Nearly all of their CDs are of the "Early Music" variety, especially of 15th-17th Century vocal polyphony, a repertoire for which they are among the "top five" in artistry. They have the infectious elation of the best barbershop quartet ever to sing motets.
Meanwhile I hadn't paid enough heed to the delicious fortepiano accompaniment by Arthur Schoonderwoerd. I suppose I took it for granted that Peter de Groot, the leader of Egidius, would hire the craftiest keyboardist in town. Schoonderwoerd is more than a mere accompanist. With his Ensemble Cristofori, he's produced several vibrant and gorgeous recordings of "piano" concertos by Mozart and Beethoven, using period fortepianos and period-scaled chamber orchestras.
Soprano Johannette Zomer enlivens the performances with the elegance and clarity of her vocal technique. I need to hear more of her Schubert Lieder.
But you don't need a hard sell from yours truly. There are MP3 samples on this product page. Listen and love!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 31, 2014 8:29 PM PDT

Chopin: Ballades & Nocturnes
Chopin: Ballades & Nocturnes
Price: $13.10
10 used & new from $5.47

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Schooderwoerd Takes Schlop out of Schopin!, March 30, 2014
Two things make this CD exceptionally enjoyable even to someone (like me) who seldom relishes Chopin. The first is Arthur Schoonderwoerd's tasteful restraint; of course it helps that his technique is impeccable. The second is the tonal clarity of the 1836 piano he plays for this recording; my ears tell me that he has tuned it to a Werckmeister or similar non-equal temperament, besides which the light uncrossed stringing releases each note from the overtone rumble of 20th C pianos.
Thanks to the obstreperous Australian reviewer who brought Schoonderwoerd to my attention.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 30, 2014 6:20 PM PDT

Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten
Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten
DVD ~ Valery Gergiev
Price: $32.38
33 used & new from $23.78

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't Bother!, March 20, 2014
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Just as I won't bother to say anything the production or the musical performance, and I'll let everyone maintain whatever opinions he/she might have about the music and libretto. You might suppose, of course, that if I bought this DVD, it was because I expected something good. The fact is that the sound recording of this production is so horrible that I gave up after only 10 or 15 minutes. My guess is that it was recorded -- and filmed -- on equipment salvaged from the siege of Leningrad. The voices have the distant, timbre-less quality of what you'd hear from the last balcony of a large opera house with spotty acoustics. The instruments sound as if somebody recorded them with a single mike from a seat in the 10th row of the orchestra ... but against the wall, under the shadow of the boxes. There's no inter-penetration of voices and instruments. It's an insult to DVD opera buyers to offer such a travesty, which doesn't even have the excuse of being old.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 23, 2014 8:11 AM PDT

Open Data Now: The Secret to Hot Startups, Smart Investing, Savvy Marketing, and Fast Innovation
Open Data Now: The Secret to Hot Startups, Smart Investing, Savvy Marketing, and Fast Innovation
by Joel Gurin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.22
60 used & new from $14.27

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chances Are That You've Already Used "Open Data" ..., February 18, 2014
... a weather service, GPS, genealogical records, etc. ... even though you may not have heard the term as it's explained in Joel Gurin's simple systematic "Open Data Now." This is a book intended to 'open' your computer, the very one you're looking at as you read this review, to a wealth of opportunities. Some of the chapters may not be addressed to your life style; some were not relevant to me. But the fact is that "information" is now a commodity most of us need more and more. Each of Gurin's chapters is a basic lesson in how to access and take advantage of data published freely on the internet by governments, businesses, and agencies of all sorts.

As they say at a sporting event, you can't know the players without a scorecard. This book will be your scorecard to learning, shopping, investing, and/or simply finding your way to Alice's Restaurant.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 21, 2014 6:15 PM PDT

Brahms: Symphonies
Brahms: Symphonies
DVD ~ Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Price: $31.84
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Big Muffle, February 6, 2014
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This review is from: Brahms: Symphonies (DVD)
Timbres by committee! No distinctiveness of inner voices! No revelations of Brahms's counterpoint! No felicitous "clipping of phrases," AKA articulations! A whole orchestra of Dead White Men ... literally so perhaps, since the recordings were done in 1981! No effective dynamics, a non-quality enhanced by the stuffiness of the sound recording! A curse on electronic equalizers! The only way to "hear" the oboes from the trombones is by imaginative attention to the camera work, though that can mislead you, showing the clarinetist's fingers while the flutes are prominent. And there's poor Leonard Bernstein, sweating a river while his gyrations plainly shadow rather than lead the music. A full concert to soothe the consciences and settle the digestions of well-heeled pious burghers.

Thank the Times that the Post-Romantik Heldenbellow orchestra has been supplanted by the HIPP-stimulated diverse "youth symphonies" of the new millennium, with women playing horns, with Chinese and Venezuelan violinists, with Gustavo Dudamel, beaming joy at his musicians, in place of the scowlers and grimacers of that blessedly past era!

But I love Brahms! Even a performance this stodgy thrills me. So... five stars for the music and grudgingly five more for the earnest professionalism of the orchestra. If that seems odd to you, please understand that I bought this DVD to play in my exercise room, to time my aerobics by the length of a symphony rather than by the clock. The absence of fortes and pianos is a plus for background to pumping iron. The Romantische Rumble is perfect for suppressing random thoughts while stretching my hamstrings! Any performance more sensitive would probably distract me.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 31, 2014 9:38 AM PDT

J.S. Bach: Six Brandenburg Concertos
J.S. Bach: Six Brandenburg Concertos
Price: $15.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I expected to love this performance ..., December 27, 2013
... but I don't. In fact, I don't even like it enough to listen carefully and review it in depth. It's ragged in ensemble. The tempi are sloggish. The "historic" instruments sound as if the performers really did resurrect and play museum relics of the early 18th C, patched perhaps with duct tape and super glue! And mind you, that objection comes from a fanatical advocate of 17th and 18th C instruments, winds especially. Near perfect tuning is NOT optional on any instruments for fully professional concertizing! Trust me, even if you have trouble hearing quarter- or sixth-comma mean tone temperaments, these instruments can be played with finesse. There are numerous younger musicians who prove it regularly.

What's odd is that I've adored the Dunedin Consort's recordings of the Bach Saint Matthew Passion, the Handel Messiah, and the Bach B-minor Mass, for both their vigorous interpretation and for their tight ensemble. What went wrong this time?
Comment Comments (12) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 25, 2014 6:59 PM PST

DVD ~ Bruce Dern
Price: $19.96
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5.0 out of 5 stars Black and White Technicolor!, December 23, 2013
This review is from: Nebraska (DVD)
I don't know how Hollywood found all my uncles and cousins to play the bit parts in this film! I thought most of 'em were dead. The women were probably easier to cast; just stand outside the only grocery store in my home town (Wells, Minnesota) and sign 'em up. "Hawthorne, Nebraska" ain't on the map but I'd recognize it in a wink; it's Lake Wobegon way further woe-begone and with sentiment washed off. Don't be fooled by the assertion that the film is in black-and-white! Gray-on-gray is the real color scheme of cultural stagnation and senility in the "back sixty" acreage of the high prairie states. Gray are all the heads, gray the faded siding on the farm houses, and gray the prospects for anyone under thirty still living there.
There were lots o' laughs from the urban audience in the the theater where I saw Nebraska, but they were "laughs at" rather than "laughs with." Since the real-life peers and look-alikes of these characters are, some of them, dear to me, I felt uneasy laughing but I couldn't help it. "Nebraska" doesn't glamorize its cast of petty, narrow-minded, selfish small towners as 'salt of the earth.' They're unredeemed and outlandish. Comparison with "Fargo" and other Coen Brothers films is inevitable, but "Nebraska" is grittier and - because it's so realistic - crueler than anything from the Coens. Only the younger son of the almost-demented old boozer is assigned any sort of human decency or generosity of spirit ... and he's a dead-end loser, a home theater system salesman living in a claptrap apartment in Billings and wondering whether he hasn't failed to get a grip on real life yet in his solitary thirties. The old man is acted by Bruce Dern, but if you remember Dern from older films I guarantee you won't recognize him. That's the mark of fine acting.
And the film is the best of the year, at least of those I've seen, in every category: screen play, direction, leading and supporting actors, cinematography, even the subtle almost subliminal sound track. Unless you're likely to be offended by such a forthright harsh portrayal of run-down rural America, you must see "Nebraska" before your next family reunion in Pothole, USA.

Schwinn No Pressure Bicycle Seat
Schwinn No Pressure Bicycle Seat
Price: $16.99
8 used & new from $14.63

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It Addresses The Problem. It Even Helps a Bit ..., September 24, 2013
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... but it could be soooo much better! Yes, it saves one's groin from numbness, at an ergonomic cost of stress on the arms and especially the elbows. I'd never realized the role the "horn" plays in distributing effort. That cost is NOT to much to pay for relief from "dead groin syndrome." However, the seat is contoured to fit the hinder of somebody with a 26-inch waist; if you have a hinder to fill size 32 pants or larger, you'll find the contours annoying. A more serious problem is that the seat is patently designed for a rider who keeps his seat very low, who sits ramrod upright, and who never even wants to extend his legs ... an Amsterdam cruiser, in short, or a Shanghai delivery boy. If that's not your style of riding, you'll be partially satisfied with this seat at best.

Still, I'll be using it until I find something better.
Comment Comments (10) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 9, 2014 6:31 AM PST

Bach: The Complete Cantatas
Bach: The Complete Cantatas
Price: $76.99
30 used & new from $72.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Please Tell Me ..., August 8, 2013
Why on Earth anybody would buy Rilling's performances of the complete cantatas, when there are several radically better recordings available these days??? One or two Rillings, carefully selected, I can understand, for purposes of thorough comparison. But! But! But! Rilling's conducting is turgid and unperceptive of Bach's larger concepts. The orchestra is murky and unstylish most of the time. The soloists are a mixed bag, some quite artful but some not quite tuneful. The chorus is an abomination. The recording technology is awful.

The Gardiner "pilgrimage" recordings are immeasurably better. The Suzuki and Koopman complete sets are better by miles. Many of the old Leonhardt and Harnoncourt recordings (no, not all of them) are far more exciting. The best idea would be to skip the notion of a complete box of Bachs and to shop around for distinctive and thrilling performances of "your favorite" cantatas by various artists.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 7, 2014 7:01 AM PDT

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