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Recent reviews

Dream of an album

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 25 August 2009 12:28 (A review of Black Clouds & Silver Linings)

I pre-ordered Dream Theater’s new album Black Clouds & Silver Linings. Why did I do that? I’ve no idea. I have nothing previously by Dream Theater. I recall seeing the name, and I took a bit of a punt. Sometimes I act on impulse and generally it turns out good, as in this case. BC&SL is made up of six tracks, running for about 75 minutes, so that should give you some idea of what’s on offer. Basically we’re talking prog-metal, a genre I generally find difficult to get into, although I’m making progress with assistance from Porcupine Tree. The first listen of the album gave the impression of classical music delivered via the medium of heavy rock, in a good way. Without going into a track by track listing I can say that each track is distinctive yet comprises a mini-symphony with multiple time signature changes and solo arrangements featuring all the members of the band. The lyrics are meaningful, not too poetic, and delivered sometimes in a standard song structure, and sometimes as a spoken poem. James LaBrie usually handles the singing while atmospheric growls are provided by Mike Portnoy. The drumming runs the spectrum from non-existence to maniacal, while the guitar work is to die for. Superb doesn’t even come close. Whilst every track is brilliant, the highlight for me is The Shattered Fortress, apparently the last in a series of twelve musically and lyrically linked tracks spread over their last few albums that deals with Mike Portnoy’s recovery from alcoholism.

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Metropolis Part 2

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 25 August 2009 12:24 (A review of Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory)

Following my "discovery" of Dream Theater when I bought Black Clouds & Silver Linings, I started trawling through their back catalogue and bought Metropolis Part 2: Scenes From A Memory, a reference to the masterpiece track from their Images And Words album. Apparently DT were given full creative control for this, their fifth studio album. It is a concept album that deals with the story of a man named Nicholas and the discovery of his past life through hypnotic regression, involving love, murder, and infidelity as Victoria Page. As a story, it makes fascinating reading, a real tale with a savage twist to it that stretches from the present day back to 1928. Musically it is structured as two Acts comprising nine Scenes split over twelve tracks. The final tracks ends with static from a record player and marks the beginning of what people have called a meta-album where the last note or noise of one album is the same or similar to the beginning of the next. The Dream Theater meta-album spans four albums, from Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory to Octavarium. Octavarium ends the meta-album by having the same piano note at the beginning and end of the same album. Concept albums, by their nature, are more about the story than the music, but once I knew the story the music just me along in a very natural way. The music is, of course, stunningly superb, but it never overwhelms, and the whole thing is beautifully constructed and executed.

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Metropolis Part 1

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 25 August 2009 12:20 (A review of Images And Words)

I was so blown away by Black Clouds... that I started trawling Dream Theater’s back catalogue and came up with a couple of titles at very reasonable prices. First up was Images And Words which turned out to be the band’s second album, the first to feature (Kevin) James LeBrie, and widely hailed as their finest moment. Sounding like a car crash between Rush and Black Sabbath, many critics regard this album as one of the earliest examples of modern progressive metal. I don’t know enough about the genre, but I know what I like in my wardrobe and this is it. The opening track, Pull Me Under, pretty much epitomises much of their work; just over eight minutes of heavy riffs, catchy melodies, multi-layered virtuoso keyboard and guitar work, finished off with a healthy dollop of amazing lyrics. The next three tracks are diverse and yet similarly complex with their time and mood changes. Track 5 is the monumental Metropolis - Pt. I "The Miracle And The Sleeper" weighing in at over nine and a half minutes. Clearly classically inspired these is metal heaven with heavy riffs, complex drumming and emotive lyrics. The heavy bits are h-e-a-v-y, the quiet bits are the calmest metal can be yet still be holding onto your ears. Simply sublime. A lesser album might tail off at this point, not this one. Under A Glass Moon is a meld of beauty and aggression with an epic, and I mean epic guitar solo. Wait For Sleep gives us a haunting pause for breath before the gargantuan finale, Learning To Live, an almost space-prog-metal track. I’m making up my own genres here.

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Zen and the art of Happiness

Posted : 9 years, 6 months ago on 12 February 2009 01:09 (A review of Happiness Is The Road)

It's always a pleasant surprise when you pre-order something, forget about it, and then find it sitting on your door mat. A case in point being "Happiness Is The Road", Marillion's 15th studio album which arrived this week. I'm a terrible person. I only have one other Marillion album, and that is "Script For A Jester's Tear", their very first album from 1983. The problem is that I like a lot of music but there is only so much I can listen to and/or afford to buy, so I have to spread my net wide, not deep. So what possessed me to order HitR?

Part of it comes from the fairly unique model that Marillion use to make their material available. The recording was financed by a pre-ordering scheme whereby fans ordered about a year in advance and in return received a special edition box-set with book-style special artwork containing both volumes. They used the same approach with previous albums "Anoraknophobia" and "Marbles". On 19 September they made HitR available for free on peer-to-peer file sharing networks as 128 kbit/s WMA files. In return, Marillion asked down-loaders to provide their e-mail address so that they could be offered merchandise offers and also the option to download the tracks as 128 kbit/s MP3 files without DRM. For fans the album was also available as a 256 kbit/s high-quality download by purchasing "Front Row Club" credits from the band's website. From October 2008 HitR was available in a physical media format via mail order from the website, and on 2 February a retail version was released on CD throughout the EU. All of which, I think, is quite interesting. Now I know some Marillion fans and they reckon HitR is brilliant, and one who saw the recent tour was also blown away by the album material that they performed. Hence, I decided to dip my toes back into Oceania Marillion, but being an Ancient Mariner I waited for the CD version. Can't be doing with all that file downloading malarkey!

Conceptually, the album takes its cue from "The Power Of Now" by Eckhart Tolle, which basically expounds the philosophy that happiness can only be found in the now, rather than obsessing about the mistakes of the past or what might happen in the future. Hey, this is a prog-rock band, so why not?

So, to the album itself which is actually two album-length CDs respectively entitled "Essence" and "The Hard Shoulder", and having a total playing time of 110 minutes, a bit more if you count the not-very-well-hidden track of 6 minutes. On first listening I caught elements of Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, David Bowie, Runrig, Japan, and yes, a tiny bit of Genesis. Now the strange thing about Volume 1, "Essence", is that that it's not so much a collection of tracks as a soundscape, one track segueing almost seamlessly into the next, and as such it's actually quite dull, but if you listen to each track separately from its neighbours they are self-contained little gems. The album opener is "Dreamy Street", a piano-led piece, just a gentle intro that ends with an ultrasound of the heartbeat of Steve's son, Emil Handryziak Hogarth. After the briefest of pauses we are immersed in "This Train Is My Life" with its "Heathen"-era Bowie guitar work and hard rock edge. Next comes "Essence" itself, the first real prog-rock track with energy and variety between the sections, constantly building, yet ultimately going nowhere. "Wrapped Up In Time" starts with clock-like effects and chimes, there's a wind blowing in the background, then we're into dreamy keyboards before launching into a Runrig type of tune. Track five is "Liquidity", a sort of instrumental interlude, and then we're into "Nothing Fills The Hole" a woozy, soulful tune overlaid with Hogarth's broken-hearted vocals, excellent guitar and drumming. "Woke Up" features strong guitar work and literally causes the listener to sit up and notice. Hogarth's vocals attain a degree of theatre that has been missing so far. Reminds me of Peter Gabriel. There's a sort of Who riff but played on keys instead of guitar. Then an eastern styled outro leads straight into... "Trap The Spark" which starts with strong piano work before petering out into pleasantness. "A State Of Mind" which put me in mind of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" when it starts off, then it heads into "Then There Were Three" territory. Exceptional drumming and a great guitar solo. The penultimate track is the title track, "Happiness Is The Road", a gorgeous 10 minute epic. It starts with gentle keyboards then really kicks in after about three minutes with a jazzy section, then a menacing Floyd finale. Lastly, we get the 'hidden' track, "Half Full Jam", originally entitled "Half Empty Jam" on the download version, it reflects its own lyrics "I used to be half empty, but now I'm half full." A track that build into a Doors like climax.

Volume 2, "The Hard Shoulder" is the Yin to volume 1's Yang. A collections of stronger tracks with much greater variety that don't work as a soundscape. The whole work is akin to "Tubular Bells", with the conceit expounded in one long track which is then followed by a clutch of tracks that wouldn't sit easy within the greater work. Anyway, we kick off with "Thunder Fly" a throw back to the 60s vibe of The Beatle's "Paperback Writer" with some Peter Tork (The Monkees) style synthesizer sounds. Next we have a duo of very strong tracks. "The Man From The Planet Marzipan" starts with a nod to Japan (the band) before settling into a Bowie-esque mid-section, then resolving into rising keyboards a la "Nursery Cryme". "Asylum Satellite #1" is full on prog-rock starting with Porcupine Tree-like guitar work, before ending in an extended "Space Oddity" sequence. At this point I apologise for referencing other bands. I don't mean to disrespect Marillion's music or call it derivative, but I don't have other Marillion reference points apart from SFAJT, which doesn't quite seem to be in the same league anymore. Back to the album and we lay back a bit with the more genteel "Older Than Me" featuring a bit of Glockenspiel. Three minutes of tinkling, so a reflection perhaps of "Liquidity" before diving into the surprisingly poppy "Throw Me Out" with its ticking clock/metronomic beat and "Eleanor Rigby" strings. We're on a roll now, and next up is "Half The World", an Oasis-like series of chord progressions but overlaid with a structure that reminds me, somehow, of "Red Shoes"-era Kate Bush. Superb drumming from Mosley, and great vocals from Hogarth. "Whatever Is Wrong With You" was released as a single in 2008 and is a very strong track, a contemporary pop song, moody, and with a sing-along chorus. The music takes a step back for "Especially True" when the limelight falls on the lyrics and Hogarth's broken-hearted vocals. The last track on this volume is "Real Tears For Sale", a folksy, prog-rocker, and a down-beat ending to a fine album.

This is not an album for the faint-hearted. This is almost two hours of music that demands to be listened to very carefully. This is the M&S of music. I'm a new Marillion fan.

As a parting shot, I have to say that I'm not an advocate of Tolle's philosophy for the transformation of consciousness. It's all a bit vague and repetitive, simply a repackaging of existing spiritual values. Being an old hippy I found myself more moved by Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" on a day to day basis, and Bach's "Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah" for when I'm feeling more spiritual. But hey, the rest of you are only a product of my imagination so I don't care if you agree with me or not.

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I hear the sound of distant...

Posted : 9 years, 9 months ago on 12 November 2008 11:40 (A review of Bang!)

Recorded at Walton Castle in Somerset and both released on the same day, Thunder has finally delivered the goods with their part 3 of 3 EP, The Joy Of Six, and their ninth studio album, Bang! The album consists of 12 tracks:
1. On The Radio – opens the album with a typical heavy Thunder riff and lyrics digging at the two-faced nature of the music business, talk about biting the hand that feeds...
2. Stormwater – is a Zep style (think Celebration Day) musing on Hurricane Katrina ploughing through New Orleans.
3. Carol Ann – is the morning after the night before when a guy wakes up after a one-night stand to find a woman’s number on the back of his hand, and he can’t remember what happened. “are you a babe, or do you look like a man?”
4. Retribution – is a languid, jazzy lament of lost love.
5. Candy Man – a classic Thunder stomp in the style of The Rolling Stones. Plenty of na-na-na’s and a sing-along-a-chorus. Fantastic guitar work by the boy Morley.
6. Have Mercy – a bluesy, banjo-led, slide-guitar number with a sprinkling of voodoo harmonica. This could be the new single from The Answer or some other contemporary southern-fried rock outfit.
7. Watching Over You – is a power ballad, could be Aerosmith or Bon Jovi.
8. Miracle Man – is a powerful rocking song with lyrics akin to Genesis’s Jesus He Knows Me, but way heavier. I can just see the fans singing along to this one.
9. Turn Left At California – the band go acoustic for this traveller’s tale. More banjo and harmonica. Quite why he’s heading for the borderline we never find out. This is probably the most ‘country’ track on the album.
10. Love Sucks – The first notes are pure Guns ‘n’ Roses, epic wailing Slash-style guitar work. It also features great harmonising vocals, a funky bass line, fantastic guitar work, and great keyboards from Ben Matthews. A stand out track.
11. One Bullet – is an acoustic rebuke of society’s spiralling apathy to gun crime and the general loss of innocence among our children, “Now he’s wrapping his fist ‘round a gun/And somebody dies”.
12. Honey – Back to classic Thunder hard rock for the closing track which is about chucking his woman out of his life, “So take your Prada and your Jimmy Choo’s/That warpaint that covers your lines/Dumb magazines, you can stick them all/Right where the sun never shines”. So, not bitter then?
Yes, there are shades of 1990 here but Thunder continue to evolve their sound and songs and once more prove to be at the forefront of classic British rock. I highly recommend buying this album.

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x rated

Posted : 9 years, 10 months ago on 18 October 2008 03:58 (A review of X)

Take a large bowl of Brum, add a pinch of Red Hot Chili Peppers choppy guitars, a generous bunch of Stereophonics vocals, and a ladleful of singalong-a-QOTSA choruses. Mix well and serve with a side salad of Feeder. What have you got? X, the debut album from The Mexicolas.

It’s probably a bit early in the year to be talking about "debut album of 2008", but this could well be it. Thirteen fantastically constructed tracks, packed with swagger, big riffs and gravely vocals. Instantly outstanding tracks are; 'Big in Japan' and the hauntingly beautiful 'Times Infinity'. But, honest truly, every track is instantly memorable. I highly recommend this album.

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Oi, Lewis, listen up!

Posted : 9 years, 10 months ago on 18 October 2008 03:55 (A review of Best of Inspector Morse)

OK, don’t have a dickie fit, I like a bit of classical music and this 2 CD set seemed like a bit of a bargain at only four squid. The first track is, not surprisingly, the Inspector Morse Theme written and conducted by Barrington Pheloung who also gets billing a number of other tracks. So a bit of a showcase for the boy Barrington!

Track 2 is Isolde Tristan Geliebte from Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner, performed by Rudolf Kempe and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. I&S is seen by many as the beginning of the move away from conventional harmony and tonality towards the modern atonal movement. Indeed, the very first chord of the opera is known as the “Tristan chord”, comprising the notes F, B, D# and G# and considered very bold at the time (similar chords are used by Radiohead, particularly on their Kid A album). This excerpt comes from the beginning of the second scene, at the moment when Tristan and Isolde, having arrived at Cornwall, begin their love duet.

Track 3 is the Overture from Der Freischutz [The Freeshooter] by Carl Maria Von Weber, performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra and conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch. An opera in three acts based on obscure Germanic folk legends; it is probably the first important German Romantic opera and was undoubtedly an inspiration to a young Wagner. The Overture sets the scene close to the countryside where the young ranger Max has to engage in a test of marksmanship in order to get the job of head ranger and win the hand of the head ranger’s daughter, Agatha.

Track 4, also by Weber and performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra, is the Overture from Euryanthe. This opera is rarely performed due to the rather weak libretto, but the Overture itself is quite popular. The second thematic sequence in particular is familiar as Weber uses the British national anthem, God Save The Queen. As with most modern performances of the Overture it has been slowed from the original tempo, it should start very fast (minim = 92) and, for me, the result is a somewhat sluggish start although it does picks up towards the end.

Track 5 is the Symphonie Fantastique Opus 14 Allegro Agitato E Appassionato Assai by Hector Berlioz, here overseen by Mariss Jansons conducting, what sounds like, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, but don’t quote me on that. This symphony is a piece of programme music which tells the story of an artist who poisons himself with opium in the depths of despair because of hopeless love. This takes place over five parts (instead of the more conventional four) and this track comes from the first, Rêveries - Passions, and is the second movement following the Largo. The artist (before taking the poison) sees for the first time a woman who unites all the charms of the ideal person his imagination was dreaming of, and falls desperately in love with her. This woman takes the form of the melody which launches this first Allegro and constantly recurs in all the movements of the symphony. Over the course of about eight minutes, the artist (and we listeners) experiences a transition from a state of dreamy melancholy, interrupted by occasional upsurges of aimless joy, to delirious passion, with outbursts of fury and jealousy, before returning to tenderness and tears.

Track 6 is one of the more popular pieces of classical music; The Ride Of The Walkyries from Die Walküre by Richard Wagner played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) is the second of the four operas that comprise Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). The Ride comes as the prelude from Act III as the other Valkyries assemble on the summit of a mountain, each with a dead hero in her saddlebag. They are astonished when Brünnhilde arrives, with a living woman, begging them for help. With the opening bars you can almost hear the rush of air as the Valkyries swoop towards the mountain. Fantastic stuff and great for la-la-laing along to in the car.

Track 7 There Was A Mortal Who Is Now Above from The Dream Of Gerontius by Edward Elgar, conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. Popularly called just Gerontius, is an oratorio (Opus 38) in two parts composed by Edward Elgar in 1900, to text from the poem by Cardinal Newman. It relates the journey of a pious man's soul from his deathbed to his judgment before God and settling into Purgatory. There was a mortal... is a dialogue between the soul and an Angel that leads into a duet, the Angel reassuring the soul about his fate (they have just passed a company of demons), the soul singing of his new-found joy, but will he be able to see God? The Angel says he will, but warns that the flame of the Everlasting Love/Doth burn ere it transform. So they approach the gate to the House of Judgement. This passage is in triple time, providing a nice light and airy feel to the music. The vocals are in English although sometimes a little difficult to make out without a libretto.

Track 8 is the Andante movement from the Sonata In C Major (KV 545) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and played by the French pianist Jean-Bernard Pommier. Often nicknamed Sonata facile or Sonata semplice, whilst very well known today, it was not published in Mozart's lifetime, first appearing in print in 1805. The Andante movement is actually in the key of G major, the dominant key of C major. The music modulates in the middle of this movement to the parallel, G minor, and its relative Bb major. The movement then modulates to the tonic, and, after the main theme and development is heard again, the piece ends. Wolfie can do no wrong in my eyes, very distinctive, typical Mozart, and throughly enjoyable.

Track 9 is Vissi D'Arte from Tosca by Giacomo Puccini. Pretty much everyone will have heard of Tosca even if they haven’t heard the music itself, and this aria is probably the most popular piece from it. Tosca is a three act opera and Vissi D’Arte occurs in Act II where Tosca, following her attempted rape by Scarpia, finally collapses and asks the Lord the reason for all this cruelty against her; Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore, non feci mai male ad anima viva! – “I lived for art, I lived for love, I did no harm to any living soul!” The aria is delivered by the Italian soprano Mirella Freni who manages to impart an incredibly youthful quality to the character of Tosca (Mirella retired in 2005 at the age of 70!). A superb legato, excellent high notes and consistency in the middle range of the voice that marks Mirella out as one of the best.

Track 10 is an excerpt from the Adagio of Quintet In C by Franz Schubert. Written for a string quartet with an extra cello (hence quintet), taken from the ethereal second movement and communicating the sense of spiritual suspended animation that modern day minimalists strive for but usually fail to achieve. This is the second track to feature the talents of Mr Pheloung.

Finally, track 11 is the Presto movement from the String Quartet In C Major by Franz Joseph Haydn. Also known as Opus 76 number 3 and by the nickname Emperor, because in the second movement he uses the melody from Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser ("God Save Emperor Francis"), an anthem he wrote for Emperor Francis II. The same melody is known to modern listeners for its later use in the German national anthem, Deutschlandlied. The quartet consists of four movements and this piece is the Finale (part four, so not the actual anthem) presto in sonata form in C minor and C Major, here performed by the Alban Berg Quartet. The ABQ have their own distinctive style, notably in their interpretation of Beethoven’s work, but here too lifting the, what is normally fairly flat, outro to this particular composition.

And so, Desk Jockeys, we move onto Disc 2, thanks for staying with me...

We kick off with, not surprisingly, Track 1 Impromptu In A Flat Major, Opus 90 Number 4, D988 by Franz Schubert. The Impromptus are a series of eight pieces for solo piano composed in 1827. This Impromptu, nicknamed “the waterfall” is performed by the late pianist John Andrew Howard Ogdon. The piece actually begins in A-flat minor, though written as A-flat major with accidentals. The opening theme consists of cascading arpeggios (hence the “waterfall” connotation) followed by murmuring chordal responses. There is a subordinate theme, accompanied by the arpeggio figure, varied with triplets. In the central section, the arpeggios are replaced by a chordal accompaniment. This track is, frankly, a bit too twee for my taste.

Track 2 on the other hand is right up my street, Sonata In A Major (KV331) Alla Turca, Allegretto by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and performed by Jean-Bernard Pommier. KV331 is a sonata in three movements. The last movement, Alla Turca, popularly known as the Turkish Rondo, is one of Mozart's best-known piano pieces. It imitates the sound of Turkish Janissary bands, the music of which was much in vogue at that time. Top stuff.

Track 3 is Sempre Libera from La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi. This is a three act opera about a “fallen woman”, Violetta Valery, a famed courtesan, who throws a lavish party at her Paris salon to celebrate her recovery from an illness. Whilst ill she was visited daily by Alfredo Germont who has become infatuated with her. Whilst she wonders if he could be the one for her, she concludes that she needs freedom to live her life, hence Sempre libera – "Always free". The aria is performed by the famed Catalan soprano, Victoria De Los Angeles, who died in 2005. Here she really seems to capture the desperate spirit of Violetta.

Track 4 is the Prelude from Cello Suite No 1 In G BWV1007 by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by French cellist Paul Tortelier. Paul died in 1990, there seems to be a lot of dead people performing on this compilation! The Prelude consists mainly of arpeggiated chords and is probably the best known movement from Bach’s entire set of cello suites. An excellent track.

Track 5 and we are back to the operatics with the Aria Der Holle Rache Kocht In Meinem Herzen from The Magic Flute by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and sung by the Slovak coloratura soprano, Edita Gruberova. The Magic Flute is a two act opera which tells how Sarastro, the wise priest of Isis and Osiris, has taken Pamina to the temple for the purpose of releasing her from the influence of her mother, the Queen of the Night. The queen induces the young Prince Tamino to go in search of her daughter and free her from the power of Sarastro; Tamino accomplishes his end, but becomes the disciple of Sarastro, whose mildness and wisdom he has learned to admire. The prince and the princess are ultimately united. This extract comes from Act II Scene III when the Queen of the Night appears and gives Pamina a dagger with which to kill Sarastro, Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen – “The vengeance of Hell boils in my heart”. This is a particularly demanding aria which reaches a high F6, rare in opera, Edita pulls this off with ease in a fantastic performance.

Track 6 is Senza Mamma (Without your mother) from Suor Angelica by Giacomo Puccini. Suor Angelica is the second instalment in Puccini's triptych of one-act operas commonly known as Il trittico. The opera chronicles the fall, redemption, and final transfiguration of its central character, Sister Angelica, who has taken the veil in repentance for bearing a child out of wedlock. Angelica's aria Senza Mamma, one of the most poignant moments in any of Puccini's works, is a recital favourite and on this recording an opportunity to delight in the talents of soprano soloist Janis Kelly with the orchestra conducted by Barrington Pheloung. Top stuff.

Track 7 is the Laudate Dominum Part 5 from Vespers Solennes De Confesore K339 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted (I think by Barrington Pheloung) with Janis Kelly as the Soprano soloist. One of Mozart's most memorable and beautiful melodies is given to the soprano soloist, accompanied by strings and bassoon. The Laudate Dominum are actually the opening words of a Roman Catholic hymn. The first two sentences are taken from Psalm 117 (Hebrew numbering). The rest of the hymn is the Gloria Patri.

In the Gloria Patri the choir reiterates the same tune in four-part harmony. Their closing Amen becomes part of the accompanying texture for an elaborately decorated descant added by the Janis’ voice.

Track 8, also by Wolfie, is his Concerto For Piano Number 15 In B Flat Major K450. This was one of two concertos that Wolfgang managed to knock out in a single week. There are not many recordings of this particular one which has wonderful cadences and transitions all over the place, and some strange modulation in the first movement. There are also long and passionate segments and a delightful short development section. The piano is played, quite superbly, by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (died in 1995).

Track 9 is the Presto from String Quartet No .13 Grosse Fuge, Opus 130 by Ludwig Van Beethoven, here performed by the Alban Berg Quartett. This work is unusual among quartets in being written in six movements, and the Presto is the second. The Grosse Fuge itself is actually the sixth movement and comes in three parts: Overtura, Allegro, and Fuga. So this is the Presto, not the Grosse Fuge. That said this is amongst Beethoven finest works. The late quartets are considered his most transcendent pieces containing astonishing experiments in thematic development and musical form that laid the foundation for innovations in 20th Century string quartet writing, especially in the works of Bartok and Shostakovich. This is not easy listening. Although outstanding for its technical intricacies, it appears to be disharmonious and depressing, but take some time and after multiple listens the disharmonious chords start to "fill in the blanks", like the basic colours of a half-tone printer creating new colours, and the piece becomes a brilliant, intricate, and beautiful piece of art.

Track 10 is Hab' Mir's Gelobt from Der Rosenkavalier (The Cavalier of the Rose) a comic opera in three acts by Richard Strauss, the orchestra conducted by Mr Pheloung. The story centres on the shifting romantic attachments of four principal characters. It’s a bit like a Brian Rix farce, but after some rather convoluted plot twists, the two younger characters get it together. This except comes from Act III, about half way through, and three of the characters perform a Trio, i.e. big operatic singing by three people.

And finally, Track 11 which is Terzettino ‘Soave Sia Il Vento’ from Cosi Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and conducted by Pheloung again. Cosi is two act comedy opera that whilst acceptable in 18th century Vienna, was considered risqué throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. The plot concerns Ferrando and Guglielmo who have a bet with old cynic Don Alfonso that their fiancées, sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, are faithful. Alfonso makes them pretend to leave Naples and return disguised as Albanians (why?!?). Despina, the sister's maid, works to help Alfonso prove his point about women's fickleness, and everyone falls in love with the wrong person, until all is put right and there's some moralising about forgiveness. This Trio occurs in Act I, as a the boat with the men sails off to sea, Alfonso and the sisters wish them safe travel Soave sia il vento - "May the wind be gentle". This is a popular piece having been used in a Mercedes advertisement and also the film Sunday, Bloody Sunday.

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Don't you miss getting it

Posted : 9 years, 10 months ago on 18 October 2008 03:51 (A review of Don't You Fake It)

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus - 'Don't You Fake It', recommended by someone a lot more youthful than me, but what a cracking album. Really great lyrics sung by, obviously young Americans (RJA formed in 2003 in Jacksonville, Florida). Musically similar to Linkin Park, but without the rapping and wicha wicha scratching. Add a garnish of The Ataris and a dollop of Jimmy Eat World. Quite how Ronnie Winter (lead vocalist) manages to scream that much without doing his throat a mischief is beyond me. Well recommended.

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Splash... Ash (Jo Wiley)

Posted : 9 years, 10 months ago on 18 October 2008 03:48 (A review of 1977)

Ash – '1977'. I forget just how great this album was. I remember them playing in the Radio 1 Session tent at Leeds Festival (2002 I think). The tent was jammed full and we had to sit outside but they were so loud, it was like being inside the tent anyway, 'Angel Interceptor', 'Girl From Mars', 'Kung Fu', 'Shining Light', 'Oh Yeah...'. Come one, you've gotta love this album.

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Here comes Genghis

Posted : 9 years, 10 months ago on 18 October 2008 03:46 (A review of The Barbarians Move in)

Duels - 'The Barbarians Move In', their second album and one of my best buys of the year. This is quirky stuff, a bit like Elbow crossed with Athlete but a bit rockier. 'The Furies' has a thumping drumbeat, scratchy, jangly guitars and cries of Ay! Ay! with a howling middle eight. 'Regeneration' has child-like vocals in the chorus, then it fades to a whisper, before smashing you over the head. 'The Wild Hunt', is muffled vocals over an eerie soundscape. Is there such a genre as prog-lo-fi? I think Duels may have invented it with 'The First Time/The Last Time'. Buy this album.

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