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The Devil Wears Scrubs
The Devil Wears Scrubs
by Freida McFadden
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.87
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5.0 out of 5 stars A real page-turner, September 15, 2013
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This review is from: The Devil Wears Scrubs (Paperback)
For those of us who have followed A Cartoon Guide to Becoming a Doctor for a while, we already knew some of the characters and stories from the blog, but to have it all in print like this is just wonderful. The narrative is quick-paced, the medicine is there and real but we are spared too much gore, and I think I read the whole thing in about three hours the other night, having planned to just start it and pick it up in the morning!

Dr. McFadden needs to write more. Even if it's just a short story called "The Untimely Demise of Alyssa" for Halloween...

Verdi: Great Operas
Verdi: Great Operas
Price: $71.85
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bargain Verdi, not bargain performances, March 15, 2013
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This review is from: Verdi: Great Operas (Audio CD)
This box is certainly a bargain, and many libretti are available online with translations, even it would be more convenient to have a CD-ROM or a site for downloads. There are at least four absolutely top-tier recordings in here, for my taste, the Giulini Don Carlo and Karajan Otello have always been first choices; the Karajan Falstaff is quite good, and the Levine Giovanna d'Arco is pretty much one of two good recordings out there. My only serious quibble is a minor one, and that is that much emphasis is put on Muti (half of the operas presented) and while a fine conductor, especially for Verdi, often he is in his "come scritto" phase. This is more a matter of knowing before you go in so that you don't expect a high C at the end of "O mio rimorso" from Alfredo Kraus, even though he was definitely capable of it; Verdi didn't write it and you won't hear it here. I am probably least fond of the Alagna Trovatore (the voices of the leads just feel a size or two too small for the roles) but it acquits itself fairly well. For the price you absolutely can't go wrong with this, or the Decca set. Only one overlap between the two as well, which is the I vespri Siciliani, since the only other good recording is on RCA and therefore not available for either company to put in a boxed set. Maybe we could get an RCA/Sony Verdi set for some of those wonderful recordings from the 50s, 60s, and 70s?
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 21, 2013 9:54 AM PDT

Blah blah blah & other trifles
Blah blah blah & other trifles
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Hour of Happiness, February 16, 2012
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The Penguin Guide is quoted on the back of this recording as "One of the happiest records you could wish to find" and indeed it is a hoot in many ways. The comic numbers are many and are done with style and sophisticated wit, from the moral "Tale of the Oyster" to the thoroughly ridiculous "Place Settings" and "Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise" and the purely beautiful "Who am I?" It is very clear from Sarah Walker's delivery that she enjoyed every minute of music-making and Roger Vignoles is a superb partner, far more than just an accompanist.

I have heard many people attempt Flanders & Swann's "A word on my ear," to varying degrees of success. Not only does does Miss Walker give us the best version I've heard, but she sings the "turgid muck" (Flanders & Swann's note on it!) at the beginning with total commitment.

This is a live recording, which gives it a special energy. The only drawback is that sometimes the words are obscured by laughter. Fortunately there are texts included for all but one of the songs.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 15, 2012 11:03 AM PDT

Price: $39.51
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A project long in the making comes to fruition, December 27, 2010
This review is from: Ivanhoe (Audio CD)
Ivanhoe is a curiosity of an opera. It was written after the best of the Gilbert & Sullivan collaborations but before Utopia Ltd. and Grand Duke. The librettist is Julian Sturgis, not a particularly well-known nor highly-regarded poet, though he based his text on Sir Walter Scott. Since this opera was written for a new venue (Richard D'Oyly Carte built the Royal English Opera House expressly for Ivanhoe) it is also freed from some of the limitations imposed on Sullivan by the size of the Savoy and its small orchestra pit. Most notably, the orchestration is larger and more lush, and includes instruments that never find their way into the Savoy operas such as harp, English horn, bass clarinet, and a full quartet of horns.

Initially, Ivanhoe was extremely successful, enjoying an opening run of 155 performances, after which it fell into near-oblivion. Certainly part of the blame lies with the libretto, which is uninspired and inconsistent to say the least. Like the later Gilbert & Sullivan operas, it seems to lack the tightness of Sullivan's best work, and some of this may be blamed on the original production and lack of editing, as well as on the form. The opera is divided into three acts with three scenes each, which are throughcomposed (this is a Germanic style more typical of Wagner and Weber), where in his comic operas (which follow the French style like Offenbach) there are more clean-cut divisions between arias, ensembles, choruses, and dialogue (or in the case of grand opera, recitative). This imposes a larger scale form than Sullivan was used to, and because of this, some sections feel like they go on a bit too long or lack direction. Nevertheless, there are some magnificent moments in the score, and many of these recall the best writing in the distinctly English Princess Ida and Yeomen of the Guard.

Before the present recording, there were only two full recordings available, neither particularly good. In the 1970s, a commercial issue of a live performance of the Beaufort Opera's production was released. It is essentially a pirated recording that sounds "like someone had a Walkman in his pocket while watching a performance." Then in 1989, the Prince Consort attempted a full recording but at best the reviews are mixed. Finally, a legitimate professional cast and orchestra has been assembled and recorded by a top company. The entire group seems to be very well cast and of top quality, but the score simply isn't the masterpiece for which Sullivan might have hoped.

I know several of the principal singers by name, mostly from oratorio recordings. Neal Davies has recorded two excellent Messiahs, Stephen Gadd is on a couple of Mozart Masses with the English Consort, Catherine Wyn-Rogers is a favorite mezzo of Harry Christophers and has recorded Messiah, Samson, Bach and Vivaldi with him and The Sixteen. Toby Spence appears on an excellent St. Matthew Passion and Janice Watson, though considerably younger at the time, appears on the first full recording of Britten's opera Gloriana.

The recording is dedicated to Richard Hickox, who for many years was going to conduct Ivanhoe but died shortly before this recording was due to start. David Lloyd-Jones was selected to take over the project, and he is extremely capable and well-known in the English opera world. (I was unable to find if he is at all related to Beti Lloyd-Jones, who recorded a couple of roles with the D'Oyly Carte). The BBC National Orchestra of Wales plays with excellent ensemble under David-Lloyd's direction, and moments of drama are given appropriate treatment.

As Richard Coeur-de-Lion, Neal Davies is regal and resonant. His tone changes to blend with those around him but is always pleasing and well-placed. His scene with Matthew Brook as Friar Tuck that opens the second act is slow in pace, but the two exchange very pleasant songs almost in the style of a competition in Die Meistersinger.

Toby Spence is cast in the title role and he has a majestic British sound. His top isn't as clear as a Gilbert & Sullivan tenor like Philip Potter, but he's also more noble and stentorian, especially when he throws in a high B-flat as he announces himself in the last scene. He is at his considerable best in his third act aria, which has a similar character to "Free from his fetters grim." In fact, the opening of the third act recalls Yeomen of the Guard in character, and the orchestral introduction is very similar to "Night has spread her pall once more." Spence blends excellently with Janice Watson, the soprano cast as Rowena, and though she sounds a little older and occasionally has a bit of fatigue in her top notes, she is very expressive.

The younger soprano character of Rebecca is sung by Geraldine McGreevy, and she has the silvery, spinning tone that would be spot on in the title role of Princess Ida. Her duet at the end of the second act with James Rutherford is one of the vocal highlights of this recording. Rutherford succeeds in producing a full sound without being obnoxious and he floats a high F# towards the end that is positively succulent. Catherine Wyn-Rogers makes one wish that the mezzo part of Ulrica were longer. Though it is a minor role, she sings it like she were given Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera.

Sullivan's best orchestral writing is probably the battle scene in the last act, and the chorus of knights "Fremuere principes" is the obligatory Sullivan hymn-chorus. It is a unison chorus not unlike parts of "For he is an Englishman" but the orchestra that accompanies it makes it sound as full as a "Hail Poetry!" or "Eagle high."

In short, the cast, chorus, and orchestra are all of highest quality and if one is looking to hear Ivanhoe presented as well as it can be done, this is without a doubt the recording to buy. There are numerous points of beauty and majesty, but there are also moments of flagging energy that even an excellent cast cannot entirely save. Some of these sound like middling parts of the Gilbert & Sullivan operas that aren't particularly inspired musically but are saved by humor. As this is a serious opera, there are no jokes here to take up the slack, and I feel that this one more level at which Gilbert & Sullivan's work is stronger together than either of their best work alone. Anybody who wants to get to know Sullivan's sole foray into grand opera, though, will be well-served by this recording.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In the twilight, a few stars., July 7, 2010
This review is from: Enrani (Audio CD)
Reposted from Verdi: Ernani / Pavarotti, Sutherland, Nucci, Burchuladze; Bonynge

I bought this recording as a curiosity more than anything. A big fan of the Sutherland/Pavarotti recordings, I wanted to see what the former could do so near the end of her career. (I have recordings of Pavarotti up to 1991 that I still consider quite satisfactory, if not the smooth, easy high-noted tenor he once was.)

Sutherland recorded the major aria for the first time in April of 1959, shortly after her breakthrough as Lucia (the CD, which is available as one of the Decca "Classic Recitals" series, includes the two arias from Lucia, the Bolero from I vespri siciliani, and an aria from Linda di Chamounix). Slightly over 28 years later, she records the entire role. Is her voice the same as it was nearly three decades earlier? Of course not, and it would be absurd to think that any singer could remain the same for so long.

There are weaknesses to her singing that are the result of her age. Some things are not as clean or effortless as they used to be, but then listen to the staccato scales! Every note crisp and separate, something Leontyne Price never dared in her prime. Before anyone jumps on me, I have long been a fan of the Price/Bergonzi recording, but like anything that Price and Sutherland recorded, there are major differences in the voices. Quite frankly, I wouldn't be without either of them in this role or in Il Trovatore.

Something nobody ever notices is that Sutherland's low notes, which could be quite laughable in her youth (who listens to a soprano below the staff anyway?) are very coherent and resonant. I will concede to some wobble, but it is also important to remember that Joan Sutherland at even 50% is still better than many, many people at 100%. And she's probably still around 85% here, and there are still flashes of absolute brilliance. (As a side note, another controversial recording, the DVD of her 1982 Lucia from the MET, which has been rereleased on DG, has some sincerely effortless singing in it. Yes, the entire cavatina of the mad scene is transposed down a step, but this is a wise decision for stamina, especially towards the end of the opera).

Pavarotti is really quite good here too, and while Nucci has never been my favorite baritone, he's a good Don Carlo. Paata Burchuladze, however, is the reason for the star being taken off the overall rating. I don't mind the Slavic diction or the interpretation (a bit more snarly than my preference, but still okay), but he is uniformly just a hair flat, especially in the cabaletta "Infin che un brando vindice" and sounds strained in the mid-high range. Compare to Ezio Flagello (on the Price/Bergonzi recording), and there is no contest.

As to Bonynge, nobody knew Sutherland better than he, and he was probably second in line for the same with Pavarotti (James Levine taking first), and he does his very best to support his wife and one of her longest-term collaborators in their final recording together.

Nord C2 61-Key Dual Manual Combo Organ with Tonewheel, Vox, Farfisa Models and Baroque Pipe Organ (AMS-NC2)
Nord C2 61-Key Dual Manual Combo Organ with Tonewheel, Vox, Farfisa Models and Baroque Pipe Organ (AMS-NC2)
Offered by Proaudiostar
Price: $3,699.00
2 used & new from $3,699.00

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Real organ for less, January 10, 2010
The first thing I must say is that in general I am a purist, and I don't like most electronic instruments. When the church I work for started construction and had to move out of the sanctuary, I had them purchase this organ for me since it's the only one on the market that has classical stops as well as the Hammond and other electronic emulations. I was prepared to not love it but it was the best that could be done without spending from three to ten times more. Then it arrived, I hooked it up to good speakers, and I was absolutely blown away.

The Nord Hammond B3 emulation has been lauded by just about everybody, like all of their vintage sounds. With an adjustable speed rotary speaker as well, I feel like I'm playing in a vintage gospel band. I'm less familiar with how the Vox and Farfisa originals sounded, but they're very good sounds to add to your performance palette.

What surprised me the most, though, was that this instrument has a 21 stop pipe organ. Not just some pipe organ sounds, but individual stops like a real organ or the very expensive Rodgers electronic organs. The sounds are uniformly very high quality, blend very well, and for a Christmas Eve service with good amplification, it sounded like Westminster Abbey. The only thing missing is a pedalboard; Nord has made a prototype of what they call PedalKeys to go with this organ and may be selling it in Europe, and I will be lining up to buy them when they're available in the USA.

At 34 pounds, I can carry this from the back of my car under my arm. Definitely different from most organs that are made from fiberboard and bricks, and the distinctive red color gets comments from my congregation every week. So does the sound! I'm not a total convert to electronic instruments, but I've been so impressed working with this organ that I just bought one of the other Nord keyboards for myself.

Verdi: Rigoletto
Verdi: Rigoletto
Price: $30.75
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent choice, September 15, 2009
This review is from: Verdi: Rigoletto (Audio CD)
Rigoletto is a problematic opera in recordings, and almost all of the ones that I've seen have some issue whether major or minor. The sheer fact that my only problem with this one is that Sutherland is a bit older than might be ideal makes it the best choice for me.

Sutherland's earlier Gilda is just that: earlier. She sounds younger because she IS younger, Cornell MacNeil is a very good Rigoletto, Sanzogno conducts a better show in some ways, but Renato Cioni is forgettable as the Duke at best. The classic La Scala recording with Scotto and Bergonzi, conducted by Kubelik is excellent and I'm more than willing to forgive the casting choice of Fischer-Dieskau but it's definitely a consideration in that however magnificent he may be, he doesn't sound Italianate. If Sutherland sounds too old in this recording, Beverly Sills sounds heavier and more wobbly in hers.

In the smaller roles, you have Sparafucile sung by Talvela here, other places by Siepi, Vinco, or Ramey. I have a hard time choosing. If you're looking for the great quartet, Fiorenza Cossotto on the Kubelik recording is undoubtedly more satisfying than Tourangeau, but she works here, somehow avoiding her mile-wide break for the most part.

As has been said many times before, the sheer vocalism here is unmatched. The absolute greatest exponents of bel canto and much other opera at the high points of their careers. If it disturbs you too much, patch in the Caro Nome from the Art of the Prima Donna instead of this one, but otherwise, enough nitpicking. Just sit back or open your score and enjoy it already!

Bride of Lammermoor
Bride of Lammermoor
by Sir Walter Scott
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.95
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Illegible edition, May 15, 2009
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This review is from: Bride of Lammermoor (Paperback)
The story is magnificent, but this edition is extremely flawed. The font is a fairly large and somewhat choppy sans-serif that is not easy on the eyes, (the I and l characters seem darker than the rest, almost a strobe effect). In the first chapter alone there are nearly a dozen inversions of letters and other typographical errors. Absolutely read The Bride of Lammermoor, but buy a different printing.

The Oxford edition is very clear and legible, a much better choice!
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 6, 2013 12:04 PM PDT

Olivier Messiaen: Turangalîla Symphony
Olivier Messiaen: Turangalîla Symphony
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Second Strongest Turangalîla, January 26, 2009
This was my first recording of the Turangalîla-Symphonie and remains one that I put on frequently when I'm in the mood for the piece. I have come to prefer the Chung recording since French orchestras playing French music always have a somewhat different sound, especially in the woodwinds and brass, and I feel this probably represents Messiaen's wishes a bit more, plus having Yvonne Loriod at the piano (and her sister at the ondes Martenot) gives it another degree of connection to him. But Chailly's precision along with the excellent Congertgebouw is a cleaner account. The balance is also engineered differently and you can hear the soloists a bit more "in front" than other recordings.

As usual with Chailly, my only reservation is that perhaps it is TOO clean and sterile, lacking a little bit of the driving passion at moments that require it. I am one of the few people that I know who has seen this piece performed live (with Takashi Harada, actually) and the huge climaxes should be more earth-shattering on a recording.

Ozawa's recording has the necessary feeling, but the orchestra sounds overtaxed by what we must remember is extraordinarily difficult music for every player involved. Nagano's is overall very good but doesn't feel as idiomatic, though he is frequently excellent with Messiaen. Especially if you're looking to hear the eerie wailing of the ondes Martenot, go for this recording.

Schubert:  Winterreise
Schubert: Winterreise
DVD ~ Peter Pears
Price: $29.98
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars And you thought the 1963 recording was dark..., September 12, 2008
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This review is from: Schubert: Winterreise (DVD)
Britten and Pears recorded Winterreise for Decca in 1963, a landmark recording and an excellent one that I have reviewed myself and consider a "desert island disc" if you will. When I saw that this 1970 performance had been released on DVD, I had a few doubts. An aging Pears negotiating a very long cycle, and it's... staged? Cast these doubts aside, Pears was still four years away from Gustav von Aschenbach and is more than capable of delivering a performance that is not only colder and more bitter than the audio account seven years earlier, but the staging is simply putting Pears in a traveling cloak and placing him on a stage with some rather interesting backdrops and lighting. Britten is at the piano but not visible.

The humanism of the earlier recording is exceeded here. Pears does not come across quite as easily as a jilted young lover, but his experience with alienation has increased with the intervening years. His face is expressive, not distracting, and the visuals, while untraditional, add a special dimension to the experience. The only thing that I could definitely do without is the interruption of narration in English between songs as it tends to break up the flow of the piece, but this is a minor complaint. It would be nice if it were able to be turned off like subtitles.

The included bonus of a folk song recital is absolutely charming, with some excellent performances as well as a casual approach to this repertoire. A few dozen colleagues and friends are gathered in a BBC studio and being filmed for posterity. Little moments like Pears' flubbing of a word and a raised eyebrow from Britten are captured in a way they haven't been before.

That both these treasures are available to the public now is a great addition to the Britten/Pears heritage, as well as the general music world.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 2, 2011 2:23 PM PST

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