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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 9, 2007
Reading a masterpiece like Anna Karenina is daunting -- requiring as it does a large investment of time and mental energy. But the audio format and Davina Porter's wonderful narration make it work. The narrator is critical in such a format. A good narrator seems like a companion for a long journey, and an expert one can provide some interpretation of a great work akin to the role of a conductor or an actress. Porter is able to do justice to the characters. Her interpretation of Anna's husband makes the man as unattractive as, I think, Tolstoy wanted him to be.

Classics, like youth, are wasted on the young. I read Anna Karenina at 19 and couldn't appreciate its richness until I've lived a life. What comes through on the second reading is the vanity of romantic love. Vronsky and Anna are the picture of perfect lovers. But love is also a social construct, and the relationship does not work without the supporting fabric of family, children, and friends -- however hypocritical that social milieu can be. Of course what's missing most from Anna and Vronsky's life is spirituality. Love needs a spiritual as well as a social context to survive and thrive.

I fell in love with Anna on the first reading and did not remember much about Levin's character. While Anna is still a wonderfully attractive and rich character on the second reading, Tolsoty's ultimate disapproval of her and his identification with Levin are far clearer on the second read.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2012
Anna Karenina is a classic of Russian literature, written by the celebrated author Leo Tolstoy in 1873. It tells the story of the titular character, Anna, a Moscow socialite married to the taciturn Alexei Karenin, a stoic Government official 20 years her senior. Anna's life is thrown into turmoil when she meets and falls for the dashing Count Vronsky, a handsome and wealthy cavalry officer who sweeps Anna off her feet, and shows her the true meaning of love. However, repressive societal norms, pressure from friends and family, and Anna's own insecurities about what she wants from life means that her difficult choice between a safe, but dull life with Karenin and a wild, but potentially ostracizing life with Vronsky becomes agonizing. The story has been told on film many times over the years; this lavish new version is directed by Joe Wright from a screenplay by Tom Stoppard, stars Keira Knightley as Anna, Jude Law as Alexei, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky, and has a stellar supporting cast that includes Kelly Macdonald, Olivia Williams, Emily Watson and Matthew Macfadyen.

The score for Anna Karenina is by the Anglo-Italian composer Dario Marianelli, who worked with director Wright on Pride and Prejudice in 2005 and won an Academy Award for his score for their film Atonement in 2007. As one might expect given the subject matter and the time period in which the film is set, Marianelli's score is very, very classical, and is generally built around a series of opulent waltzes. Marianelli's use of waltzes throughout the score is clearly intended to mirror the dance-like courtship and love triangle between Anna, Alexei and Vronsky, as the central figures move about between each other in an increasingly complicated web of deceit, passion and anger, fueled by Anna's continual oscillation between the two men in her life.

There is a central recurring theme heard throughout the score - a four-note motif very similar to James Horner's danger motif that first appears in "Clerks" and is subsequently restated throughout the score, most notably in "Anna's Last Train" - but strongly identifiable thematic content is not the crux of the score in terms of it being the most memorable element. Instead, the various instrumental textures and recurring compositional styles characterize Marianelli's work; in terms of orchestration, the score relies heavily on a string and woodwind-led orchestra, with only the merest hints of brass and percussion. Like Jane Eyre before it, Anna Karenina also acts as a showcase for the violin performances of the British wunderkind Jack Liebeck, whose sumptuous solos can be heard in several cues, notably the opening "Overture", "Unavoidable", and "I Don't Want You To Go". For me, a more solid thematic core would have made the score a little more approachable, but despite this small drawback Marianelli's lavish music remains interesting for its duration.

Cues such as "Anna Marches into a Waltz", "Kitty's Debut" and "Dance With Me" conjure up imagery of well-heeled gentlemen and beautiful women in fine gowns lavishly courting each other in glittering Romanov ballrooms. "Dance With Me", especially, is a very clever cue which becomes more frantic, dissonant and disjointed as it progresses as Anna is literally swept of her feet by Vronsky, causing her previously ordered and cautious world to be thrown into chaos.

Russian folk music plays a major part in the score too, and to capture its authenticity Marianelli often highlights traditional local instrumentation, including balalaikas and garmon accordions. There is also a great deal of regional dance pastiche in the form of mazurka-style pieces that give the score a distinctly classic Russian flavor. "She Is of the Heavens", for example, has a section for whistlers and a lyrical vocal performance over a bold, vibrant traditional melody for clarinets, while later tracks such as "The Girl and the Birch" use new performances of an old Russian folk song called `Beroza' to excellent effect. The "Can Can" is a wild gypsy dance piece that is wonderfully anarchic, while at the other end of the scale the opera cue "At the Opera" sets Tolstoy's own words from Anna Karenina Part 2 Chapter 9 to a classically inflected orchestral melody that is very effective.

As the score develops into its second half it becomes more serious, and more conventionally romantic, capturing both the passionate relationship between Anna and Vronsky, and the subsequent devastating fallout she suffers, both in her marriage to Karenin, and her standing in Muscovite social circles. Cues such as "I Don't Want You To Go", "Too Late" and "Leaving Home and Coming Home" give Liebeck the chance to convey assorted tortured emotions through his violin performances, while the lush and emotional "Lost in a Maze", the unexpectedly powerful "A Birthday Present", and truly sumptuous "I Know How To Make You Sleep" allows the full orchestra to rise to the fore in some of the score's few moments of overwhelming thematic beauty. It is these cues that will undoubtedly capture the attention of those who fell in love with Marianelli's earlier romance scores.

Anyone who came to Marianelli through scores like Pride & Prejudice and Jane Eyre will find a great deal of the latter half of Anna Karenina to their liking, but your tolerance for the classic waltzes and intentionally authentic Russian folk music that makes up most of the first half of the score will determine your level of appreciation for the CD as a whole. The lack of a truly memorable main theme may make Anna Karenina a little impenetrable for some, too. Personally I found the Anna Karenina to be a richly orchestrated and beautifully performed score which is perfect for the film, which is unfortunately missing that tantalizing, elusive `something' that would otherwise result in multiple returns to the soundtrack.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2005
This is a great audio version of Anna Karenina. Although the narrator's Russian pronunciation of the names leaves something to be desired, everything else is superb. She is able to effectively create the characters in your mind, and does it so well that you don't even notice the narration--you simply see the images in your mind.

Very, very enjoyable.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2008
Be warned. The sound quality on these CDs is very poor. They sound like highly compressed MP3s. Why they would do this is baffling, and if I was the narrator of the set I'd be furious with the finished product.
There's another unabridged Anna Karenina CD set by Blackstone books read by Nadia May that has better sound quality, though still not great.
On the other hand the 2 volume unabrigeded War and Peace set by Naxos AudioBooks, 2006 has a great narrator and crystal clear uncompressed sound. It's more expensive than this set, but a magical experience to listen to. In contrast, this set should have been great, but I soon gave up since it sounds like I'm listening to the narrator through a lousy modem instead of in my living room by a warm fire.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 25, 2013
"Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be."

Anna Karenina is the wife of Alexei Karenin (depending on the translation and how familiar you are with Russian naming conventions, be prepared for this and lots of other potentially confusing name swapping), a top-ranked bureaucrat. But their marriage is one of societal obligations more than love. When Anna goes to Moscow to help mend the family trouble her brother, Stepan Arkadyevich, caused by cheating on his wife, "Dolly", she meets an officer, Alexei Vronsky, with whom she begins an affair. Meanwhile, Dolly's youngest sister, "Kitty", is in love with Konstantin Levin but declines an offer of marriage in hopes of winning Vronsky's attention. Thus begins a truly epic saga, filled with love, loss, and lots of philosophical and political discussions.

Almost two full months of listening to this audiobook (narrated by the supreme, Davina Porter, who could make reading the the nutrition facts from a box of prunes sound amazing), and I have finally finished this book! I feel like I deserve a prize for this epic achievement! Firstly, because I'd never have thought I'd ever have the courage to read one of Tolstoy's hefty tomes, and secondly because I thought I'd never FINISH this hefty tome!

Now that I've actually finished this book, I have to say, I'm rather surprised. First off, Tolstoy has a reputation for being, shall we say, intimidating. I mean, isn't "War and Peace" used as the punchline of a joke about how stuffy a person is or how hard a class is? I was prepared for the most challenging read (listen) of my life; imagine how surprised I was at how readable this book turned out to be. The language was easy to understand; heck, the writing itself almost sounded like something written in the last 50 years, instead of 100+ years ago. So I think props should be given to the following: Tolstoy, for writing a book that can seem so timeless (and in many ways, it is), to the translator, for translating a book so well, and Davina Porter, for being the best damn narrator in the universe.

At this point, I almost feel like I'm reviewing two books. Because while one portion was really, really heart-breakingly good, the other part was so mind-numbingly boring that I had to nail the earbuds into my ears just to keep listening.

The story that focuses on Anna Karenina, her affair, and her interactions with her husband and her lover were superb. Anna Karenina was such a brilliant character. In the beginning, you think she is going to be the ultimate Mary Sue - she is intelligent, witty, charming, and gorgeous. Everyone loves her; she seems to do no wrong. But then she falls for Vronsky and her world crumbles. Her husband refuses a divorce and withholds their son - even going so far as to tell the boy his mother is dead! He also blames her for everything and says he has done no wrong - and while yes, Anna did commit adultery, I don't think she would have been driven to do that if Alexei had been the slightest bit loving and caring to her. Society refuses to acknowledge her; she cannot receive callers or come to call to other people, without destroying their social standing. She is a "fallen woman", who desperately clings to her only salvation, Vronsky. And when life is at its most tumultuous, no wonder she starts to fret that Vronsky may be tired of her and moving on to greener pastures.

Anna's story is nicely contrasted with that of her brother, Stepan. Stepan is an adulterer, though not in the same way as Anna. He fancies a girl - be it his children's governess or someone else - fools around a bit, and then wanders on to the next fancy. To him, his wife is getting "old" and not looking her best - not to mention, he really didn't love her anyway. (And to answer the obvious question: Stepan was probably my least favorite character, and I thought he ought to be made a eunuch for what he put his wife through.) I couldn't help but feel for Dolly, this longsuffering woman who puts up with Stepan's crap, gets pregnant with his children, and is basically stuck in her position, because if she ever fled to another man's arms, she'd be as ostracized as her sister-in-law, Anna.

As fascinating and gut-wrenching as Anna's story was, Levin's story was the height of boredom to me. Now, there were parts that I enjoyed - Levin and Kitty meeting after a long absence and there were a few really charming scenes between the two of them where they seemed genuinely concerned for the other's welfare. But other than a few scenes, most of Levin's sections were dry, dull, boring, and pointless. I tried really hard to be open-minded, but I don't care for endless prattle about the peasants' proper place in farm life, Levin mowing wheat, the proper way to farm, political and philosophical conversations, etc. They really came out of nowhere and had no bearing on the plot - honestly, it felt like Tolstoy had a few things he wanted to say about hot topics of his time and tossed them into the novel.

The characters that appeared primarily in Levin's section were pretty dull as well - Levin was our Gary Stu. His opinions were always right; he could fret over his wife, but if his wife fretted over him, she was being silly (in fact, in Levin's mind, Kitty was nearly always silly); and Levin was constantly jealous of nearly any man that looked at Kitty (Trust issues much?). Kitty was equally bland; a silly girl that had to be carried along in life because she was too air-headed to figure things out - though she did get moderately better at the end. And the rest of the characters left no marked impression on me - I couldn't remember one if you pressed me.

While all of the female characters made at least a little impression on me (yes, even Kitty), none of the male characters appealed to me at all. All of them felt arrogant, self-righteous, demanding a-holes. From emotionless Alexei (who was probably the least annoying - when he wasn't try to heap all the blame onto Anna, that is) to show-off Vronsky (who can horse-ride and paint AND run a farm - good grief!), from sleaze Stepan to jealous Levin, the men of "Anna Karenina" were so unlikable that I just couldn't root for any of them. I guess that makes them all the more realistic - if that was what Tolstoy was going for, he did a great job.

If I were just to rate the sections with Anna herself, this book would have been an easy 5 star. The writing is really good; the characters are pretty well-rounded (no one is painted as 100% evil or good). It's just, I couldn't stand Levin and his asides into How the World Should Be. That said, I still think this book is a must-read; do not be intimidated by the "Tolstoy" name. Crack it open (or better yet - pick up the unabridged audiobook narrated by Davina Porter!) and see if it is up your alley.

Brought to you by:
*C.S. Light*
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2008
a very enjoyable book to listen to, however, what translation is being used. Can anyone help me on this?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Even though she is one of the main characters and was given the title by the author, Leo Tolstoy, Anna is not the focus of this novel. The epic is really about Konstantin Levin, a character whose story is told interspersed with that of Anna's, and who represents the author during his trials of spiritual disbelief and eventual reconciliation.

It is no wonder why so many prefer to see the book as Anna's. She is much more interesting than Levin: She is rebellious, passionate, and has an affair, whereas Levin is generally straight-laced, ambivalent, and is willing to struggle through any troubles he has with his only love and wife, Kitty. Levin is a Victorian Russian; Anna seems Post-Modern American.

People love her story because it is so modern, because they can relate. But for folks like me, hearing all the Anna-saturated descriptions of the book presented it in a negative light. I don't want to read about a promiscuous, self-destructive person, and how the evil society looks down on the poor creature. I wouldn't have pity on her if I were in the Moscow society in the 1870s either. For this reason I was skeptical of reading the masterpiece.

As I began to delve into it, however, I realized that Anna was just used as a contrast to the real storyline of Levin's. He might be considered bland for his proper behavior, but he is principled (evidenced by his respect for Kitty and care of his farm), and despite some serious doubt and disbelief, he is a character that the reader can get behind and support, quite unlike Anna, who we all know is hopeless.

To reference a more modern explanation of Tolstoy's juxtaposition, Anna represents false justification as compared to Levin's true justification; Anna's love is a fleeting and dishonest, while Levin's is lasting and honest; and that is why one can cheer for Levin. His is true love; hers is artificial.

Everyone knows what happens at the end of the book. As such, it would seem that Anna Karenina is a tragedy. And I cannot deny that Anna's death is as cathartic as I imagined it could be. But the book does not end there. There is one more part to the epic, and it is as searching and finally rewarding as any literature in all of history. It truly is the greatest novel ever written, but it is Levin's not Anna's story that makes this work so amazing.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Dario Marianelli has composed one of the most sensitive, classically inspired movie scores that have been created in many years. His ability to orchestrate (with additional assistance form associates) is nearly matchless. In his own words, Marianelli states `There are several themes in the score of Anna Karenina:sometimes appearing alone, often intersecting, their paths running alongside for a while. Those paths are shared by the characters in the story as they walk towards or away from convention, pretence, happiness, guilt, love, fun, and even truth. In a very important sense, the musical motifs do not represent the characters themselves I prefer to think of them as spirits, perhaps demons, unseen, signposting the way, or simply bearing witness to the events.'

The handsome ItaloAmeriican Dario Marianelli received his first Academy Award for his work on director Joe Wright's `Atonement' and also was also honored with another Oscar nomination for Wright's `Pride & Prejudice.' After viewing the film, especially the wondrously choreographed waltzes for which Marianelli composed unforgettable music, the viewer realizes perhaps for the first time just how much the musical score embellishes a film. As Marianelli states, `I am quite familiar with a fair amount of Russian orchestral music from the 19th and 20th century. What I didn't know much of was Russian folk music, so I did some research into that. I listened to a lot of folk songs, and I recorded a few of them. A couple of very old tunes found their way into the score, and provided one of the elements of the musical world I was trying to create. I found it quite interesting to listen to the composers who started the whole idea of a Russian national school, Glinka and especially Balakirev, and to the folk songs they collected and used in some of their work. In the end I am not sure how much of that has gone into what I have done, but I am certain at least a little of that listening has colored part of the score.'

In all, this is a CD that stands solidly alone, even without the visual beauties of the film, as an example of the finest in musical scoring. Grady Harp, December 12
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2013
I fell in love with the music from this movie, which I think drives the action and emotion of the film beautifully. The disc has terrific fidelity, and though it must be admitted that how music strikes one is strictly subjective, there are places in this soundtrack that send shivers down my back, I find it so striking. I've played it over and over and bought a couple of extra copies for friends. And I've been to see the film three times, much due to the music.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2013
I love the music from this movie. The trailer Music (Nero- Two Steps From Hell) is the best tune in the movie. I am surprised to see that it did not make it to the soundtrack CD.
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