Profile for Istvan Simon > Reviews

Browse

Istvan Simon's Profile

Customer Reviews: 4
Top Reviewer Ranking: 16,730,514
Helpful Votes: 69




Community Features
Review Discussion Boards
Top Reviewers

Guidelines: Learn more about the ins and outs of Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Istvan Simon RSS Feed (Pleasanton, CA USA)
(REAL NAME)   

Show:  
Page: 1
pixel
Mozart - Cosi Fan Tutte / Harnoncourt, Bartoli, Nikiteanu, Zurich Opera
Mozart - Cosi Fan Tutte / Harnoncourt, Bartoli, Nikiteanu, Zurich Opera
DVD ~ Cecilia Bartoli
Price: $31.96
52 used & new from $6.97

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thoroughly Enjoyable Performance, April 5, 2009
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the greatest composer of all time. Among his 626 extraordinary compositions his operas and piano concerti stand out as his best work, and are also the key to understand Mozart's musical language. Among his operas the three da Ponte operas stand out as the best ever written. All three are about Mozart's favorite subject, also the favorite subject of every great artist, and everyone with a heart: love. Among the three great Mozart - Da Ponte collaborations, Cosi Fan Tutte is the funniest, most extraordinary Opera. It is an ensemble Opera -- there are few solo arias. Instead we have a succession of duets, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets, and each is in itself an extraordinary masterpiece.

Mozart is unique among all great Opera composers in one particular Mozartian aspect: He is able to weave into a harmonious whole any combination of completely disparate emotions, each perfectly expressed in the music. One character may feel joy, while another may feel angry, another about to burst into laughter, another anguished, it does not matter -- Mozart will put all of them in the same piece of music, and all of them will be expressed in the music perfectly. This extraordinary ability to put into music every human emotion and combine it into one harmonious whole is unique to Mozart. No one ever came even close to be able to do the same.

Harnoncourt's reading with a cast of superb singer-actors of Cosi Fan Tutte is thoroughly enjoyable. There are other available versions of this magnificent Opera, some arguably even better. Yet if you love music and love Mozart, I think that you will not be disappointed in this particular reading. The acting and staging is excellent. The singing and playing first rate. The tempos -- well it is Harnoncourt! A little idiosynchratic, but it works. More on this later.

Whenever I rate a Cosi Fan Tutte I always go to the two most beautiful pieces of music in the whole Opera repertoire. The wonderful magical Quintet, "Mi Scriva Ogni Giorno" (Write to me every day) followed a few minutes later by the extraordinary Trio "Soave sia il vento" (Let the winds be gentle).

The quintet happens dramatically after the men bet with Don Alfonso on the outcome of a test of the women's constancy, promising to follow his directions for one day. Don Alfonso brings the terrible (fake) news, that the king ordered the men into battle and they must leave immediately to the women. The Quintet is the goodbye of the four lovers combined with interjections of Don Alfonso that he will burst into laughter if this goes on any longer. It is an example of what I wrote above of Mozart combining perfectly disparate emotions into a harmonious whole. Harnoncourt takes this a little bit too slow - I think that it would be even more beautiful, and would work dramatically better, if his tempo was a little faster. But Mozart's music works no matter what tempo, and in fact the acting is so good that it works dramatically as well.

This little piece of music is so extraordinary that it is worth taking it apart second by second. Fiordiligi starts while loving caresses are expressed in the violins with magical pizzicato accompaniment and chords. She sings: Write me every day ... twice if you can, but she sings it haltingly, syllable by syllable, because she is meant to be unable to sing it normally, she is supposed to be crying. Her lover answers the same way, Don't doubt it... Then she sings in a most extraordinary musical line: Be constant to me alone... to which Dorabella adds : Be faithful... to which the men sing in sequence Addio (Goodbye) Addio (Goodbye) to which the women respond in an inverted melody A... ddiio, signifying a stab in the heart, it's all just magical, breathtakingly beautiful music, expressing the loving sentiments of the departing lovers. It could be said that the men of course know that this is all fake, but Mozart tells us in the music that they are caught up in the moment, for their emotions are of genuine love, just like the women's. But Don Alfonso, on the other hand, observes all of this, and finds it irresistibly funny. He too knows that it is fake, so he sings "Io creppo si non rido" (I will burst if I don't laugh). Cresson's acting while he sings the line is superb.

A few minutes later the men have embarked and the three (Don Alfonso, Fiordiligi and Dorabella) wish them good journey in another extraordinarily beautiful pieca of music: Soave sia il vento. The words are almost banal: Let the winds be gentle, let the waves be tranquil, and let all elements cooperate for a safe journey, that is our desire. But what an extraordinary piece of music Mozart makes out of it! As always, the orchestra paints the big picture and sets the moood: The waves are expressed in the violins the singing starts magical, almost like a prayer. The lines succeed each other in heavenly music of infinite beauty, until we come to "desir..." (desire). When this word is reached, Mozart adds a marvelously beautiful dissonant chord, which expresses a tugging on the heart -- expressing perhaps the pain of separation, and perhaps simultaneously also sexual desire -- which is then resolved in release of tension.

Harnoncourt's tempo is now a bit too fast -- the waves in the violins seem rushed rather than tranquil -- but once again the music is so extraordinarily beautiful that it works at any tempo.

The rest of the opera follows more or less the same patterns. As I said, this may not be the very best available version of Cosi Fan Tutte, clearly that is also a matter of preference and taste, but it is thoroughly enjoyable, and therefore I recommend it.


Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems: Ptolemaic and Copernican
Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems: Ptolemaic and Copernican
by Galileo Galilei
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.65
88 used & new from $3.97

6 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece written by a superb scientist, November 3, 2006
This is the famous book that got Galileo in trouble with the Inquisition. Galileo Galilei was one of the greatest scientists of all time. In Galileo's time the all powerful Catholic Church had decreed that the Earth was at the center of the Universe and that all celestial bodies orbited the Earth. The reasons given for this were Theological in nature, not scientific. According to the Church the Earth was a special place in the Universe, because God had chosen the Earth to be Man's home. By the sixteenth century Science had progressed to the point where this view of the Universe became increasingly untenable as it did not agree with observations about planetary motion. To resolve the difficulties created by these observations Copernicus had published from his deathbed a new theory proposing that the planets moved around the Sun in nearly circular orbits. Copernicus theory seemed to agree much better with what was known at the time about planetary motion. Galileo being perhaps the greatest scientist of his time immediately saw that the Copernican theory must be right, and debated the matter with people holding the opposite view at the University where he was a renowned professor, Mathematician and Scientist. For a while debates, arguments and counterarguments followed, until in July 1609 Galileo found the definitive proof that the Copernican theory was right. The story has been recounted in the "Starry Messenger" by Galileo. He had seen a toy sold by a Flemish spectacle maker in Venice which made distant objects look like they were near. Galileo bought the toy and did not rest until he had figured out how it worked. He then turned the toy into a scientific instrument, and the first telescope was born. Galileo soon turned his invention towards the heavens, and he almost immediately made a number of groundbreaking discoveries. When he observed Jupiter he noticed that Jupiter had Moons just like the Earth had, and by observing the Moons of Jupiter and Jupiter on successive nights he soon discovered that the Moons of Jupiter clearly orbited Jupiter, not the Earth, as they were supposed to by the Ptolomaic theory taught by the Church. This was the definitive proof that the Ptolomaic theory was just plain wrong. He started to teach this but trouble soon ensued. Galileo had been ordered by the Church that he could not discuss the Copernican theory except as a Hypothesis. When Pope Urban VIII became the Pope Galileo was greatly encouraged, because as Cardinal Maffeo Barberini prior to being elected Pope Urban VIII, he had been a great admirer of Galileo. When the new Pope was elected, Galileo had an interview with him and was told that he could teach the Copernican theory, but only as a Hypothesis, and he was not allowed to teach it as the "objective truth". In 1632 Galileo published this great book in which he debated the two systems between three protagonists. One of them called Simplicio (roughly simple-minded) was defending the Ptolomaic Theory and two others called Salviati and Sagredo defended the Copernican view. All the various arguments that had been offered by Simplicio for the Ptolomaic theory were demolished skillfully one by one by the clever Salviati and Sagredo. Unfortunately Urban VIII got furious, because some of his own arguments ended up in the mouth of Simplicio. He felt that Galileo had made a fool of him, and so he ordered the Inquisition to summon Galileo and he was tried and convicted of Heresy. Galileo protested that he followed the injunction he had been given, and only taught the Theory as a Hypothesis, but the Inquisition's powerful judges did not accept his argument and convicted him. He was placed under house arrest at his own home, and was forced under the threat of being burned alive, to renounce his theories, which he did. His book was banned, but it was too late. It had already become a best seller, and it soon would be published in translation in foreign lands where the Pope had no power. Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems thus changed History. It has also great relevance to today's World. The religious fanatics of today behave much the same way as the Inquisition had in Galileo's time. They bring forth Theological arguments where science is called for. An example of this is the debate about Darwin's theory of Evolution and natural Selection, the basis for most of modern Biology. In spite of absolutely overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of Darwin, ignorant people today still try to discredit Darwin's Theory on essentially Theological not scientific grounds. Evidently, just like the people opposing Galileo who did not succedd, similarly the ignorant Inquisitors of today will not succed. Another example in the modern World are the attempts of the Islamic fascists, who like the Inquisitors in Galileo's time try to force their despicable religious agenda on others by imposition and violence. They will not succeed either, for in the end Reason and Science always prevail.


View from the Eye of the Storm: Terror and Reason in the Middle East
View from the Eye of the Storm: Terror and Reason in the Middle East
by Haim Harari
Edition: Hardcover
34 used & new from $1.43

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gem of a book, deep, compelling, intelligent, fascinating, October 4, 2006
Haim Harari is a great internationally known theoretical physicist. He was the director of the Weizmann Institute from 1988 to 2001 and received important honors as a leading scientist, including the prestigious Harnack Medal, awarded by the Senate of the Max Planck Society in an unanimous decision.

But this book is not about Physics, its about terror and reason in the Middle East. In my opinion, it is by far the best review of terrorism ever written.

Harari is a fifth generation Israeli. His grandmother was born in Jerusalem in 1872, and so was her grandmother. So where his children and grandchildren. He writes in Chapter 1:

"For seven generations we have lived here, in the eye of the storm. We have survived more wars and terror attacks than any other nation. But now we are informed by the former French ambassador to London that we are "a shitty little country" endangering the world; at the same time we learn that the rulers of Iran want to replace our "shitty little country" by yet another Shiite country.

So writes this gifted and deep observer of the reality of the Midle East today. Every page of this book has deep and extremely intelligent observations, whose truth is undeniable. Harari's reasoning is always compelling, like that of any great scientist. He starts each one of the 32 chapters of this extraordinary book with a short citation. These themselves are little gems. For example here is the gem that starts Chapter 30: "You cannot punish a suicide murderer by [the] death penalty; You cannot bomb into the Stone Age somebody who is already there."

Indeed, the war between radical Islam and the West is waged by people yearning to go back to the past. They reject modernity above all.

Or here is the gem starting Chapter 13: " The incredible economy of China creates an entirely new "South Korea" every three years. Why can't the rest of the poor rural areas of the world do the same?"

World War III already started though many people do not realize it yet. A relatively new totalitarian movement has grown and gained roots in the Middle East, financed by Saudi Arabia, Iran and other oil-rich states. Like the totalitarian regimes of the past, whether in Mao's China , Stalin's Soviet Union, Pol Pot's Cambodia, Hitler's Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, or Tojo's Japan, the adherents of this Islamic form of fascism are prepared to kill a large part of Humanity in order to bring forth the Islamic "paradise" that is supposed to triumph in the entire World. All fascists, it seems, are megalomaniacs, and the new Islamic fascists are no different.

This book is living proof that the pen is mightier than the sword, and a potent weapon against the Islamic totalitarians of today in World War III. Just like Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, Tojo's Japan, Pol Pot's Cambodia, or Stalin's Soviet Union were defeated, ultimately reason will win over this new form of religious fascism and barbarism. World War III already started, but the victors are going to be the same ones as the victors in World War II.

This book is highly recommended. It should be read and reread by every thinking person on Earth.


Schubert: Trout Quintet; Arpeggione Sonata; Die Forelle
Schubert: Trout Quintet; Arpeggione Sonata; Die Forelle
34 used & new from $0.01

50 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Trout, Sublime Arpeggione, January 18, 2001
The Trout piano quintet is one of Schubert's most beloved compositions and among the most popular chamber music pieces of all time. It abounds with wonderful melodies uniquely Schubertian, and being a youthful work has a unique exuberance and happinness throughout.
It was a commissioned work, by an amateur musician who apparently was a great admirer of Schubert's earlier simple little song entitled the "Trout" ( also included on the record). It is not known whether he asked Schubert to include in the commisioned work a reminder of the song or whether this was Schubert's idea of rewarding this early fan. Whatever the origins, the fourth movement is a set of amazing variations on this lovely song. Each variation highlights one of the players, and shows great mastery and imagination of the young composer.
There are many excellent recordings of the Trout, and this is one of them. The playing is excellent with each part lovingly performed. Though Yo Yo Ma is undoubtedly the superstar of this group, this is a group effort, no one's playing outshining any of the others. Overall, a wonderful and satisfying performance.
I doubt that I would have bought this recording if it only contained the Arpeggione Sonata, which follows the quintet on the CD. Yet as soon as it started, I realized that I was listening to an extraordinary performance. This is absolutely superb exquisite cello playing, ably supported by Emannuel Ax's piano. It has quickly become one of my favorite recordings. It's amazing the depth that Yo Yo Ma has brought to this little piece.
The Arpeggione sonata is so called because it was written for the now extinct Arpeggione instrument, which was a cross between a Guitar and a Cello. It's enthusiastic inventor asked Schubert to compose a piece for it, and so this is another comissioned piece by another minor patron of the arts. We should be grateful for these simple folks that loved Schubert's work enough to pay for his compositions, and thus kept the struggling genius from even worse abject poverty in which he lived most of his short life.
The Arpeggione is long dead, and nowadays the sonata is performed mostly on the cello, though there are transcriptions to guitar and other instruments as well.
As I said earlier, Yo Yo Ma and Ax's reading is an absolute delight. His tone is marvelous, the intonation perfect, the phrasing exquisite. It seems just absolutely right at every turn.
Played on the Cello this sonata is a very hard, demanding virtuosistic piece, since the Arpeggione had six strings, and it's highest string was tuned a full fifth higher than the Cello's. Thus the cellist is often faced with playing in the highest reaches of the instrument, and often very demanding passages at that. Yo Yo Ma's playing seems totally effortless in all of this. More importantly, this is no mere fireworks, but instead it is virtuosity always subordinated to the music itself. Ma and Ax find unsuspected depth in this unassuming piece. The slow movement is moving and intimate, beautiful beyond words. Highly recommended.


Page: 1