Friday, February 18, 2005
Brain Food - 1.
Reading................. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami - the first novel I have read by this Japanese author, who apparentely has a cult following in Japan and elsewhere (I bought it incidentally for 99p in an Ottakars special promotional edition, an excellent initiative that has introduced me to a writerI otherwise probably wouldn't have found). A very readable 'rites of passage' type novel, if a little self indulgent. Surprisingly this is not an early Murami novel, as it does show some of the excesses (and appeal) of first novels such as The Magus. It does suffer from the flaw that death seems to be the preferred way of resolving the characters, three suicides and one from natural causes is I think a fair definition of excess. I thought it could have done with some tighter editing in places, but credit to the excellent translation by Jay Rubin. Nice scene setting detail with references to music from the 60's; not just Beatles as in the title but Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman etc. Very atmospheric. I've ordered up Kafka on the Shore on the strength of this, so it has led me down a new Overgrown Path. Saturday by Ian McEwan - what can I say about this except excellent? It really confirms McEwan as a really major writer. Relevant, wide ranging, gripping, thought provoking, brilliantly researched (especially the brain surgery passages). I have to say that when I read the previews I thought the setting (London on the day of the anti-Iraq war demonstration) was just too hip to work. But I was wrong, it is a brilliant novel, and deserves to win the Booker and everything else. The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martínez - this novel which has gone straight into a UK paperback from the Spanish original has attracted a lot of good reviews. It is written by Guillermo Marinez, an Argentinian Professor of Mathematics (see photo below), and is a good old fashioned murder story with a very strong mathematical thread running through it. The maths theory is advanced enough to raise the novel above the typical run of the mill 'who dun it', but doesn't need a maths doctorate to follow. Very enjoyable, definitely more substance than your average murder mystery, but not a masterpiece to my mind. Listening.............. Sacred Music by Peter Maxwell Davies (Hyperion) - an exceptional disc. The great discovery for me is the relatively austere Missa Parvula set for upper voices singing in unison with organ. Despite the gap in five hundred years there is a clear thread that links medieval polyphony to these works. Wonderful music, brilliant recording made in Westminster Cathedral. The organ sound on my newly acquired B and W Nautilus 803 speakers is something to die for. Wonderful singing from the Westminster Cathedral Choir under Martin Baker. Just for fun I played this CD 'blind' to a former colleague and great friend who has made a subtantial contribution to English choral music on record. He was a bit less impressed - here are his comments: Re. Mystery record - The Missa for boys couldn't have been written without Britten; very derivative. Thought perhaps Jonathan Harvey, but remembered you mentioned Maxwell Davies website etc, and it could well be him. Catholic sound. Westminster Cathedral, for whom Ben wrote his Missa Brevis? Definitely Neumann 684 mikes, switched sporadically, without asimuth. Cathedral Music by Christopher Tye (Hyperion Dyad budget) - This discovery came as a thread from the sleeve note of the Maxwell Davies' Masses above. Christopher Tye lived and composed in East Anglia where this blog is composed. Beautiful music with a distinctive voice that anticipates Byrd, and certainly stands with him in the pantheon of English polyphonists. Wonderful performances by the Choir of Winchester Cathedral under David Hill. As if all that wasn't enough to recommend it, the disc is on the Hyperion budget Dyad label, and cost me just £5.99. Can such great things really come so cheap? What it says by Marc Copland and Gary Peacock (Sketch) - this one is for all of you who think Pliable listens to nothing other than Gregorian Chant and medieval polyphony. I am a great fan of the jazz pianist Marc Copland and have got most of his albums on Sketch (including the difficult to find but worth searching out, duo with Ralph Towner which is only available in a Japanese pressing - I bought mine in Frankfurt last year). Here Copland works with bassist Gary Peacock. They are all original compositions which stay on my side of 'free' . Great sound (edited as are many of these great Sketch recordings in Pernes les Fontaines in Provence where Pliable will be heading to in June). I'm becoming more and more interested in the lower string sound, and am fascinated by the thread from Bach (and Gabrielli - see below) on the cello to the jazz bass players like Gary Peacock. Complete works for cello by Domenico Gabrielli (Tactus) - a real find. If you love the Bach Cello Suites (and who doesn't) or get excited over the visceral sound of Gary Peacock's bass in the disc above this one s for you. Until I came across these works the name Gabrielli meant St Mark's in Venice and lots of brass. The real gems on this disc are the Ricecars for unaccompanied cello. I simply don't understand why these aren't as well known as the Bach suites. Wonderful sound from period instruments of course. My first purchase from the Italian Tactus label , but definitely not the last (in fact this post has prompted me to order up their recrding of Battista's cello works). Palestrina Masses by Pro Cantione Antiqua (Brilliant Classics) - just so my reputation as a polyphonic obsessive remains intact I offer with this five disc set of Palestrina Masses. I have raved elsewhere (see my post on their box of masterpeices by the Flemish polyphonists, O Magnum Mysterium) . This box of Palestrina Masses comes for the ludicrously cheap price of £11.99 from the HMV web site. The performers are Pro Cantione Antiqua who were at the forefront of the revival of 'authentic' performances of choral works of this period, so the musicianship is impeccable, and the sound first-class. (Most of the recordings in this set are also available on the budget Regus label, but cost twice as much). If the price wasn't so ridiculously cheap I would quibble about the lack of any sleeve notes or documentation such as recording venues and dates (unlike O Magnum Mysterium which has excellent documentation). Also it is a shame that jewel cases rather than cardboard sleeves are used as storage space becomes a problem with so many fantastic releases on this super bargain label (The problem of shelf space for CD's and books is a real one for Pliable, an interesting lateral solution is offered by BookCrossing). But it is the music, and the price, that matters more than storage space. And one again this is a truly Brilliant bargain. Piano Sonatas by Haydn (Brilliant Classics) - At the risk of sounding like a PR representative for Brilliant Classics (who I have absolutely no connection with, other than being a very enthusiastic customer) I finish with their box of the complete piano sonatas by Haydn. This is one of those works where to buy the complete 10 CD set on full or mid-price is a serious investment by anyone's standards. But again Brilliant Classics have solved the problem by making a new recording of the complete sonatas using five different pianists using their own chosen fortepianos, but recorded in the same venue at around the same time to maintain consistency of sound. There is no need to worry about the quality as well as the price being super budget. With pianists of the quality of Bart van Oort and Yoshiko Kojima these performances stand comparison with any on full price. Yes, they do use all use a fortepiano, but there is a lot of body to the recording, and the sound is definitely acceptable to a wide church of listeners, as opposed to authentic performance fanatics. This Brilliant Classic release comes in their 'wallet' style packaging, not ten jewel cases, so it doesn't take up a complete bookshelf. Documentation is first class including details of the provenance of every sonata, in fact the information provided surpasses most full price release. These ten CDs which will give more than eleven hours of pleasure and exploration can be bought from the HMV web site for just £23.99 plus £1 carriage,need I say more? Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk