Thursday, June 29, 2006

Herbert von Karajan - Ein Heldenleben


Above left - Herbert von Karajan aboard his yacht Helisara Vl. Above right - with his Falcon 10 jet at Salzburg Airport, photographer Emile Perauer.


Above left- Die Walkure Act lll Salzburg 1967. Above right - Karajan playing a walk-on part in his 1967 film of Carmen, photographer Siegfried Lauterwasser


Above left - Karajan receiving an honorary doctorate Waseda University, Tokyo, photographer Akira Kinoshita. Above right - untitled, photographer Jaywant Ullal

Photo collage by Pliable, photographers as credited. With apologies to those viewing via RSS feeds, click on this link to solve the puzzle. This collage layout is a one-off experiement, my advice to other Blogger users thinking of doing the same is - don't. 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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Downfall - and the mystery of Karajan's personal photographer

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

If you don't go to opera for pretty tunes ...

Michael Berkeley's name seems to recur On An Overgrown Path. He is the son of Lennox Berkeley, presents one of the best programmes on the radio, is Benjamin Britten's godson, and most importantly is a major composing talent in his own right. The Opera Theatre of St. Louis have just given the US premiere of his new opera Jane Eyre, and here is the review from STLtoday.

The story is compressed beyond mere telescoping. The score is musically and dramatically intense. But if you don't go to opera primarily for pretty tunes and costumes, Michael Berkeley's "Jane Eyre" might just prove to be your cup of tea. Seen at its U.S. premiere Sunday night at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, "Jane Eyre" doesn't pull any punches. At 80 minutes, it may be too tightly written for the drama it explores. David Malouf's libretto, from Charlotte Bronte's classic novel, jettisons all of Jane's early story and most details of her time at Thornfield. If it's been a few years since you read the book (or saw a movie treatment), be sure to read the synopsis before the lights go down.


Berkeley's score, however, effectively conveys Thornfield's menace, its hidden mistress' madness, Mr. Rochester's anguish and Jane's evolving emotions. It opens effectively with the low wind instruments and builds spikily to the climax. Berkeley quotes briefly from Britten's "The Turn of the Screw" and frequently from Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor." He and Malouf have drawn a not-altogether-convincing connection between criminally insane Bertha Rochester and unstable Lucy Ashton, who went mad when forced to marry the wrong tenor and murdered her groom on their wedding night. I'm not sure a close reading of Bronte supports that conclusion, but it makes Bertha a far more interesting and sympathetic character than the raging beast who's usually portrayed.

Opera Theatre artistic director Colin Graham has staged "Jane" for the maximum dramatic impact. He is ably assisted by Erhard Rom's simple sets and atmospheric projections in bringing out the story's claustrophobic nature and the house's Gothic gloom. The excellent cast is headed by soprano Kelly Kaduce in the title role. She captured both Jane's matter-of-factness and her anguish at the discovery of Rochester's proposed bigamy. Singing with a large, clear, well-produced voice, she brought the character to life.Production shots sow Kelly Kaduce (Jane Eyre), Scott Hendricks (Mr Rochester, and Elizabeth Batton (Mrs Rochester)

Baritone Scott Hendricks brooded nicely and sang strongly and with presence. Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Batton as Bertha Rochester made the role her own, with a rich, dark voice and edgy air of madness. As Mrs. Fairfax, mezzo-soprano Robynne Redmon made clear both the housekeeper's essential decency and her role in Rochester's deception. Soprano Adele Reiter sang sweetly as Adele and made a convincing child. Jane Greenwood's costumes were perfectly in period, and perfect for these characters. In the pit, conductor Andreas Mitisek and members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra handled the difficult, complicated score with aplomb.


* St Louis Symphony blog via this link.

Image credits: Michael Berkeley - BBC, St Louis production shots © 2006 Cory Weaver from theoperacritic.com. 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 other errors to - overgrownpath atdot co dot uk hotmail
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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Germany remains divided for the World Cup

Like most of what was once the former GDR, it is fair to say that Dresden, the capital of Saxony, has been shut out from the official World Cup party. If you exclude Berlin, whose Olympiastadion is in the old western part of the city, only five of 64 World Cup games are scheduled to be played in the east, all in Leipzig. Only one team, Ukraine, has its base in the east, in Rostock. And now following Saturday's match between Argentina and Mexico in Leipzig, the World Cup is leaving the east altogether. There will be no more games here.

One suspects that the east remains something of an embarrassment to the rest of Germany. It is too poor. The social problems are too deep, with unemployment as high as 20 per cent. Racism and suspicion of the outsider are entrenched, especially in smaller towns.
Parts of the east, notably Hoyerswerda in eastern Saxony and some of the Baltic towns, have indeed become, 'no go zones' for non-whites. There is a problem with young disadvantaged young men. In eastern Germany it's the women who are more mobile, who are more prepared to move to other parts of the country, such as affluent Bavaria, to live and work. The men tend to stay behind and, on the whole, their resentment grows.

Neues Deutschland was once the Pravda of the old GDR, with a circulation of more than a million. Today, still leftish, it sells only about 70,000 copies a day. Its diminished fortunes, like those of the old East German football clubs, is representative of the losses as well as the gains of reunification and there remains a lingering sense in the east of the past having a more powerful presence than the present itself.

'Nostalgia or what we call "Ostalgie" is a very powerful force in the eastern states,' says Paul Nolte, professor of contemporary history at the Free University in Berlin. 'What are people nostalgic for? They're nostalgic for the lost certainties of the old era. There's a feeling that things were better and more ordered in those days. This manifests itself in a fondness for old East German products and brand names such as the Trabant pictured above.'


I have left the football World Cup to others who know a lot more about it than me. But Jason Cowley's article in Sunday's Observer, from which the edited extract above is taken, is an excellent piece of journalism highlighting the enduring divide between the former East and West Germanies.


Image credits: Divided World Cup - BBC News, Trabant in the former East Germany by Pliable from my photo essay I am a camera - Robert Schumann's Zwickau. 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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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Dresden * Leipzig * Zwickau and Berlin.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

This Be The Verse


Last Sunday was Father's Day here in the UK, and the standard currency for presents for Pliable are Prelude Records vouchers. The delights these have brought in previous years include Mikhail Pletnev's wonderful CPE Bach Sonatas and Rondos. This year brought a real discovery, Hyperion's new release of Thomas Crecquillon's Missa Mort m'a privé. In 1539 Isabella — wife of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and undisputed king of much of Europe — died in childbirth. Charles’s grief was profound, and we can share it today through his commissions in memory of his beloved wife. Titian, the leading painter of the day, was commissioned to create a number of posthumous portraits, his Portrait of Empress Isabella of Portugal is used on the CD liner, and is reproduced below. Charles turned to his chapel master Thomas Crecquillon to create a musical tribute, and it is remarkable today that so little is known about this composer whose skills were rated alongside Titian.

The performers of Crecquillon's Missa Mort m'a privé are the Brabant Ensemble (who take their name from the area of what is now northern Belgium/southern Holland from which so many great sixteenth-century composers originated). The ensemble, who are shown in the header photo, was formed by performing musicologist Stephen Rice in 1998 to explore the neglected repertory of sacred music from 1520 to 1560. Comprising fifteen young professional singers, this is the group’s first recording for Hyperion.

This CD is a gem. Beautifully sung by fresh, young voices in the peerless acoustics of Merton College, Oxford, which is used for many of the Tallis Scholar's great recordings. There is very little music by Crequillon in the catalogue, He was a European contemporary of Thomas Tallis (who Stephen Rice is an authority on), and his moving, and very fine, sacred music deserves to reach a much wider audience. I am sorry I cannot bring you the usual audio file. Simon Perry of Hyperion explained to me that their website is maintained by a third party in the US, and there is a delay in uploading the audio samples of their new releases. But I strongly recommend Crecquillon's Missa Mort m'a privé to readers, well worth buying if you can't persuade one of the family to give it to you as a present.

Thomas Crequillon's Missa Mort m'a Privé was composed for Empress Isabella who died in childbirth. The jazz-loving Philip Larkin (right) also commented on the traumas of rearing children in This Be The Verse. Although I don't share Larkin's sentiments in the last verse it is one of my favourite poems, here it is:

This Be The Verse

They fvck you up, your mum and dad
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fvcked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.
Philip Larkin, 1971

With apologies for the two deliberate typos in the poem introduced to stop proxy web servers blocking the Path. 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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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Poetry to your ears and Peerless Portugese polyphony

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Norman Foster's Sainsbury Centre


Many outstanding buildings been created by Norman Foster and the partners in his architectural practice. They include Chek Lap Kok airport in Hong Kong, the Nimes C
arré d'Art gallery, Berlin's Reichstag, the Swiss Re "Gherkin" in London, the Sage arts centre in Gateshead, and the fabulous Millau viaduct in France (my personal favourite). These are both works of art and funtional structures, and we are lucky to have an early Foster building near to our home here in Norfolk.

Robert and Lisa Sainsbury were avid art collectors who had amassed a fortune from the eponymous supermarket chain. When they were looking for a university to donate their collection to they wanted their collection to be kept, and displayed, in one location. The new University of East Anglia campus at Norwich had space available, and was already a showcase for contemporary architecture with Denys Lasdun’s famous designs for the main buildings.
The Norman Foster designed Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts opened in 1978. Its radical and forward-thinking design is classic Foster. It uses advanced materials and construction techniques to combine open-plan galleries, offices for staff and faculty, teaching spaces, and café all under one roof. The Centre has followed MoMA in New York with a major refit, and reopened just two weeks ago.

All photographs by Pliable and (c) On An Overgrown Path. Some arcane technical stuff for other Blogger users. After endless problems uploading images using Internet Explorer as my browser I switched to Firefox for this article. All images uploaded first time without a problem. Firefox is a free download.


* Architecture Week runs from 16 to 25 June in the UK

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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Ma fin est mon commencement


Thursday, June 22, 2006

"The best damn record we've ever made"

The eclipse of live performance by CDs and MP3s means that a number of composers are familiar to us from recordings, but rarely receive live performances. One such is the late-16 century Dutch composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, and it was therefore a delight last Saturday to hear his variations on "Mein junges Leben hat ein End (My young life has an end)" played on the organ of St Michael's Church, Framlingham (above) in Suffolk. The occasion was the recital by Malcolm Russell given in memory of renown organ builder Noel Mander who lived nearby, and died in September 2005 aged 93.

I first came to know Sweelinck's music through Glenn Gould's (right) recording of Tudor consorte music which on the CD version (but not the LP) includes Gould's own piano transcription of the Fantasia in D. The placing of Sweelinck alongside William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons is totally appropriate as Sweelinck was a vital link, both geographically and musically, between the Tudor keyboard style and the Northern German composers, from which eventually flowered the music of Buxtehude and, of course, Gould's beloved Bach. William Russel's perceptive programme for the Framlingham recital also reflected this link with a sequence of Sweelinck, Buxtehude and Bach. (See below for the full programme).


Gould described the consorte music recording as "the best damn record we've ever made" and placed it alongside his Prokofiev and Scriabin album. I can only agree, this is one truly gorgeous disc, and well worth seeking out if you don't know it. His Byrd and Gibbons on the piano is quite wonderful. Yes, I know Tudor music on a piano is politically and academically incorrect. But I am sorry - for me this disc is an important, and visionary, document. And without it I may well not have started on an overgrown path to explore Sweelinck's complete canon.

Sweelink's most familiar organ work is the Echo Fantasia in A minor. There is a delightful recording on, appropriately, the Dutch Globe label played by Anneke Uittenbosch who mixes organ and harpsichord in a delightful recital. But for me the real delights are the Cantiones Sacrae. For recording of these look no further than the highly recommended Hyperion discs with Trinity College Chapel Choir, Cambridge, directed by Richard Marlow. The first CD includes the familiar Hodie Christus natus est. Please share my delight in Sweelinck's glorious choral music by listening to five minutes of his Magnificat anima mea Dominum (My soul doth magnify the Lord) -

The organ in St Michael's (photo at head of article) on which the Sweelinck was played is a remarkable historic instrument. The case dates from 1580 while the pipework was originally built by Thomas Tamar for Pembroke College in 1674. This means the organ case was built when Sweelinck was just 18 - you can't get a more original instrument performance than that! The case is one of only eight to have survived destruction by Purian leader Oliver Cromwell when England was declared a republic in 1649. (For those whose English history is rusty I should add the republic was shortlived. When Cromwell died in 1658, he was succeeded as Lord Protector by his son, Richard. The republic then collapsed into financial chaos and disputes between the military and administration increased, parliament was dissolved and Richard Cromwell was overthrown in 1660 - plus ça change!) Framlingham is rich in history, not least Framlingham castle which is just up the road from St Michael's Church. The castle was given, in 1553, by King Edward VI to his sister Mary Tudor (right). She stayed at Framlingham while waiting her sucession to the crown, which hung in the balance. Her colours flew over the gateway and thousands of her supporters camped around the castle. Finally the Earl of Arundel arrived to inform her she was Queen, and she proceeded to London.

The programme for Malcolm Russell's recital at St Michael's, Framlingham on 17th June 2006 to celebrate the life of Noel Mander was:
*Chorale Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier BWV 731
Chorale Prelude Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier - J S Bach 1695 - 1750
* Six variations on Mein junges Leben hat ein End - J P Sweelinck 1562 - 1621
* Ciacona in E minor Bux 160 - D Buxtehude 1637 - 1707
* Pièce d'orgue in G BWV 572 Vif - Grave - Lentement - J S Bach
* Concerto No V Op 4 in F Major Sicialana - Presto (Walsh solo edition) - G F Handel 1685 - 1759
*Voluntary in G major No lV Op 5 Adagio - Allegro - J Stanley 1713 - 1786
* Larghetto in f sharp (1868) - S S Wesley 1810 - 1876
*Sonata No lV Op 65 Allegro - Andante religioso - Allegretto - Allegro maestoso & vivace - F B Mendelssohn 1809 - 1847
* Chorale Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier - J S Bach(without applause)

Image credits: Framligham organ from KCOA: Glenn Gould from Classical-composers.org. Mary Tudor from Framlingham Castle. 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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to I am a camera - Leipzig

Your tiny hound is frozen

Tonight (22nd June) Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, in association with the European Chamber Opera, presents Madama Butterfly, with guest doggy appearances by two live canines. Taking place at the Royal Geographic Society in London, all proceeds from the opera will go towards caring for the unwanted animals in the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. This Home provides temporary shelter, veterinary and behavioural care to lost or abandoned dogs and cats, while finding them homes, or reuniting them with their owners.

Image credit (is it a Basset Profundo?) - One Big Honkin' Pile of Dog Pictures (yes, really). 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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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Bark's St Matthew Passion excites and Her Master's Grammy

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

This miraculous music ...

In fact, MacMillan's music was not the most moving on the programme: instead, the six-voice fugue from Bach's Musical Offering, played by solo strings, was a revelation of this miraculous music, and the way Bach creates a spiritual experience from the most rigorous of musical forms - from Tom Service's review of the Scottish Ensemble at the St Magnus Festival in today's Guardian.

Image credit - St Magnus and the dragon, not in Orkney but in Kempten from Bestarium.net 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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Farewell to Stromness - a page which interestingly has received more visitors than any other on this blog; something to do with the MP3 link I think, or is it the picture of Clark Gable?

Solicitor succeeds where Dissolution failed


My recent story Not quite so loudly please Maestro Ashkenazy about the attempt to limit sound levels in a historic concert venue which has hosted premieres of music by Benjamin Britten and many others prompted expressions of concern from many readers. Today brings the following deeply disturbing news from the Eastern Daily Press.

The owner of a bed and breakfast opposite St Andrew's Hall in Norwich has won an appeal to curb noise from music at the venue. Solicitor John Hardman and his wife Carol, who also live at the B&B on Prince's Street (above), won their battle at Norwich Magistrates' Court on Monday to get further restrictions on amplified music at the hall. The couple's success means a sound limiter will stay in place at the venue and a deadline of 10.30pm will be imposed on amplified music - an hour earlier than the curfew put in last year following complaints.

A spokesman for Norwich City Council said: "This is deeply disappointing and will threaten the use of the hall and have a far-reaching effect on the sorts of events we can have there," he said. "The halls [St Andrew's and neighbouring Blackfriars] have been a community and cultural venue for hundreds of years.It will threaten educational concerts where the sound of the orchestra trips the limiter. The council will now take advice as to what it does next." The Hardmans, who on their website (see below) promote the proximity of their B&B to the venue, insisted they were not trying to ruin the cultural vibrancy of the city.

* John Hardman's bed and breakfast website via this link. For readers wishing to enquire about accomodation for forthcoming noise-limited orchestral concerts and organ recitals at the nearby St Andrew's Hall his email address is hardman@3princes-norwich.co.uk. The image above is from his website, and is appropriately titled St.Andrews Hall reflections.

* St Andrew's Hall dates from the 15th century when it was built as part of the church of a Dominican Friary. At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530's the church was divided into two and the present hall was created, and has been in use as a civic building ever since. The first music festival in Norwich was held in 1788, and performances took place in St Andrew's Hall. Since then the Hall has been in use as a festival and music venue for more than 200 years without a break. See photo to left, and yes, that is an organ you see. The Hall has seen many historic premieres including Britten's Our Hunting Fathers, Opus 8 ( 25 September 1936, St Andrew's Hall, Norwich, Norfolk and Norwich Triennial Music Festival. Sophie Wyss sop, LPO, Benjamin Britten cond).

Any copyrighted material on these pages is used in "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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
Now take An Overgrown Path to New choral music's dream ticket

The delight of the classical music industry

Less than six months after it was unveiled as the Royal Opera's contribution to the Mozart anniversary celebrations, David McVicar's staging of Figaro is back at Covent Garden. The cast is almost entirely new and the show has been revived by Stéphane Marlot with a superb eye for the period detail that makes the production so satisfying. McVicar's shift of the action to a French chateau on the eve of the 1830 revolution, to a community that appears not to have absorbed the significance of the 1789 one, makes perfect dramatic sense.

What makes it really special this time around, though, is the conducting. It is more than 20 years since Colin Davis last tackled Figaro in this house, and his account of the score is a reminder of his qualities as a Mozart interpreter. If there are long stretches of this performance when his contribution goes unnoticed, it's because it is so seamlessly matched. When he does intervene - to steer the second-act finale, or to pull the dramatic strings at the end of the opera - it is done with perfect judgement.

Stylistically, Davis's approach is old-school, warmly expressive, and often quite nostalgically slow, but it is wonderfully effective and the cast prospers. The only disappointments come at its very centre, with Isabel Bayrakdarian's Susannah, who is winsome and lacking vocal allure, and with Kyle Ketelsen's rather anonymous Figaro, though he finds a real personality in the final act. The rest, though, is very high-class. Soile Isokoski sings both the Countess's arias ravishingly, while Michael Volle's Count is genuinely imposing and psychologically intriguing. Sophie Koch's Cherubino is refined and restrained, while Diana Montague (Marcellina), Robert Lloyd (Bartolo), John Graham Hall (Basilio), and Jeremy White (Antonio) provide wonderfully detailed support. It may not be the funniest Figaro you'll ever see, but it is one of the most thoughtful and musically rewarding.

4 stars, Royal Opera House, London. In rep until July 9. Box office: 020-7304 4000


Andrew Clement's reminds us in today's Guardian that musical greatness is possible without self-promotion, and also without Askonas Holt.


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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Marvellous Má Vlast - Czech it out

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The frustration of the classical music industry

Orchestra insiders giving a mole’s eye view of musical intrigues are currently the hot thing in the media. The Guardian’s contribution is Philippa Ibbotson, who is billed as ‘a freelance violinist’, and yesterday she gave us the inside track on Simon Rattle’s current problems with the Berlin critics. Ms Ibbotson takes many words (I suspect her favourite composer is Havergal Brian) to tell us that Rattle's problems in Berlin are because ‘in classical music … self-promotion has become an art in its own right. But Rattle does not play the game. He is a democrat, not an autocrat’. Now I am sure Philippa Ibbotson is a very fine violinist, but her take on the Rattle problem is rather off-key.

I have been a very great admirer of Simon since being able to make a very small contribution by arranging one of the first ever classical recording sponsorship deals for his Mahler 10 with the Bournemouth Symphony in the 1970’s. But we have to accept that he is a truly fine musician who has been very cleverly promoted by his agent who starred in my story No such thing as an unknown Venezuelan conductor. This was about agent and power-broker Askonas Holt's wunderkind conductor Gustavo Dudamel, whose advocates include Askonas Holt artist Simon Rattle. There has also, perfectly understandably, been vigorous promotion, with Simon's full participation, by his record company EMI, by his Berlin orchestra (also Askonas Holt artists), and by innovative, and deserving, projects such as the film Rhythm Is It!

The problem is that despite all this promotion Simon’s performances, and recordings, are more often very fine than truly great. If I want to listen to Mahler I will turn to other great conductors such as Klaus Tennstedt (right) and Jascha Horenstein who also had a distaste for self-promotion and autocracy. Regular readers will know my exposure to Herbert von Karajan and his court (circus?) when he was an EMI artist in the 1970s left me with a distaste for his autocracy. But Karajan's Mahler 9 is something I repeatedly return to when I want help putting life into perspective, while his readings of Bruckner 8, Don Carlos and Salome that I heard with the Berlin and Vienna orchestras live in Salzburg can only be described as transcendental. And the current totally justified esteem that Bernard Haitink (also an Askonas Holt artist) and Colin Davis (not an Askonas Holt artist) are held in thankfully proves that self-promotion, autocracy and mortality are not necessary to achieve true musical greatness.

The shouts from the Berlin critics are not an attack on Simon Rattle. They are the collective cries of frustration of the short-term fixated classical music industry which has found once again that there is no fast-track to musical greatness. Simon Rattle is just 51. Musical greatness will come. But whether the Berlin critics and orchestra, his record company, and Simon himself will have the patience to wait for it remains to be seen.

Photo credits: Simon Rattle - Doris Wild, Klaus Tennstedt - Klassika.com. Any copyrighted material on these pages is used in "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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Berlin Philharmonic plays inconsequentially and Berlin Philharmonic is in superlative shape

Monday, June 19, 2006

Roma - the forgotten Holocaust victims


The fate of the millions of Jews murdered in Hitler's death camps is well documented, but less is known about the 500,000 Gypsies who also died. There are not many written accounts of the Roma or Sinti travellers who died in the camps, because, their culture is traditionally oral, not literary. By contrast the majority of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust came from educated middle-classes, and left behing written records of their terrible fate. The photograph above shows Roma prisoners in the Belzec concentration camp.

The genocide of the Roma by the Nazis is the most shocking example, but the history of the persecution of Gypsies goes back to their first appearance in Europe in the 15th century, when they were often confused with the hated Muslim invaders from the east. Laws were enacted against them across the whole continent, and centuries of persecution, forced assimilation, enslavement and extermination followed.

In England the last executions for the crime of being a Gypsy took place in East Anglia, close to where I write, in the 17th century - just a year before the birth of the great English composer Henry Purcell, and only twenty-seven years before the birth of that central figure of the Enlightenment, Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1658 thirteen Gypsies were tried and hanged by the Bury St Edmunds Assizes under the Vagrancy Acts introduced under the Tudor and Elizabethan monarchs to combat the 'gypsy problem'. The East Anglian based Romany Theatre Company has created the drama Killimengro (which means 'dancer' in the English Romani language) based on the true story of the 1658 executions.

The Romany Theatre Company is rooted in the Romany people, their culture and their centuries-old struggle for equality, and the Company's work is committed to challenging the negative views of Romany people and the lives they lead. The Company also empowers young Romany people by allowing them to celebrate their identity and culture through theatre and performance. Author of Killimengro and the artistic director of the company, Dan Allum, is himself a Romany Gypsy who had no formal education. He taught himself to read and write at 16 and went on to become an award-wining author of plays, screenplays and short stories

The powerful performance of Killimengro we saw on Friday at The Cut performing arts centre in Halesworth featured players from Budapest, Seville and East Anglia. The drama uses a flameco guitarist and dancer as a Greek chorus to comment on the action. The guitarist at the performance we attended was the renown Flamenco exponent Steve Homes who learnt his technique from the gypsies around St Maries de la Mer in the Carmargue. Here is a short MP3 download from his album Secret Garden -

Killimengro is multi-lingual, using English, Romani, Hungarian and Slovakian. The Romani language is of Indian origin, and is the only Indo-Aryan Language than has been spoken exclusively in Europe since the Middle Ages. It is assumed that the ancestors of the Roma migrated from India to Europe and settled in Byzantine sometime before the 10th century. During this period the language absorbed many Greek influences in grammar and vocabulary, which are still recognisable today.

From the 14th century onwards, Romani-speaking populations migrated outwards from the Balkans, reaching northern and western Europe in the 15th century. Various groups migrated into Britain via France, Germany and Scandinavia from the early 16th century. Gypsy communities in countries such as England, Wales, Spain, Portugal and Sweden have given up their language to use the majority language of the surrounding population. However, these communities have often retained a Romani vocabulary, which they use as an in-group secret language. This uses words derived from Romani but adapted using the sound system and grammatical inflections of the native language. Here in England Anglorami is the linguistic term used to describe the para-Romani spoken by Gypsies.

Romani resources:
* Manchester University Romani project with audio files of Romani dialects
* Romani lexical database from University of Graz
* English Romani dictionary
* Future performances of Killimengro - this is an important piece of theatre, I urge you to see it. And I would encourage the many US arts organisations that read this blog to explore ways of bringing it to the audience it deserves across the Atlantic.

Now playing - Bela Bartók's Roumanian Dances with Antal Dorati conducting the Minneapolis Symphony on vinyl LP (SRI75105) in glorious Mercury sound in those wonderful days before the wonders of digital encoding, and before the benefits of multi-tracked and multi-miked recordings . The seven movement dance suite was originally written for piano, and uses tunes transcribed by Bartók from Gypsies in Máramaros in Northern Transylvania. The photo to the right shows Bartók (in black hat) travelling to research Gypsy folk music, complete with Edison phonograph. Like the Roma Antal Dorati was forced to migrate by political forces. Born in Budapest, he worked in Dresden before he moved first to Monte Carlo, and then to the US where he recorded this wonderful album with the Minneapolis Symphony, whose music director he was for eleven years.

Image credits - Belzec from Sinti and Roma teaching resources: Gypsy children from Amber Online: Gypsy women from University of North Texas: Bartók from Good-music-guide.com. 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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Suzi Quatro on Mozart

"Mozart - his music is wonderful, but where are the mistakes?" - from today's thought-provoking BBC Radio 3 Private Passions where Suzi Quatro was Michael Berkeley's guest. Her choice of music ranged from Beethoven to Dylan and Billie Holiday, and, yes, Mozart - the Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, K. 622. Worth listening to, catch via Listen Again until June 25.

Image credit: Suziquatro.com 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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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Andrew Lloyd Webber on Puccini

"When people ask me if musical theatre should be taught in music colleges, I reply that there is no need. All anyone needs to study is the second act of La Boheme because it is the most tightly constructed piece of musical theatre that there is. It is practically director-proof: you can't stage it badly because it just works too well. If you can write La Boheme, you can write anything. I would also recommend studying Britten's Peter Grimes."

And on Prokofiev ... "My father gave me a choice of two records: Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, which he was hoping I would go for, or Love For Three Oranges, which was rather more dissonant and not my father's favourite music at all. But my brother and I fell in love with it, and it led me to Prokofiev's Seventh Piano Sonata, the third movement, in 7/8 time, which is one of the greatest rock'n'roll pieces - it's got a pulse going though it and it's absolutely wonderful. Every single musical I have ever written has a piece in 7/8 time and that clearly has something to do with Prokofiev." From an interview with Andrew Lloyd Webber in today's Observer .

Image credit - Andrew Lloyd Webber from Royal Academy of Arts. 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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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Friday, June 16, 2006

Shostakovich on Puccini

Opera producer Colin Graham's account of an exchange between Dmitri Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten:

Shostakovich: 'What do you think of Puccini?'

Britten: 'I think his operas are dreadful.'

Shostakovich: 'No, Ben, you are wrong. He wrote marvellous operas but dreadful music!'

From The Tongs and the Bones, the Memoirs of Lord Harewood (Weidenfeld & Nicholson ISBN 0297779605)

Image credit - Shostakovich and Britten meeting after a concert of Britten's works in the Tchaikovsky Conservatoire in Moscow, December 1966 from the Guardian. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included in "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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

No organist? No musicians? No problem!

This week saw the passing of György Ligeti whose choral work Lux Aeterna touched millions. In the same week articles about the new technology of MP3 downloads featuring music by Mozart and historic performers generated the kind of readership figures On An Overgrown Path that most commercial websites would kill for. If a Google search for MP3, Ligeti or Mozart brought you here I urge you to read on, this article is important.

Comment posted to my recent tribute In Memoriam Kenneth Ryder - God rest your soul, sir.
I just learned of your passing via my parents. I was one of your original 'Norwich Boys' Choir' members back in the early 70's. For sure you helped shape my musical career. You touched the lives of so many.
Roger Hewett, Musical Director, Cirque du Soleil, Montreal, Canada.

The fact that the organist and director of music of a church in distant East Anglia could 'touch the lives of so many' on other continents started me down An Overgrown Path which the Guardian also explored in a recent article:

Not every member of the congregation will approve, but at least it solves the problem of who will play the organ. The Hymnal Plus, a karaoke-like machine with a repertoire of almost 3,000 hymns and psalms, is becoming a must-have item at churches around the country. As well as traditional songs of praise, the British-made machine can play a disco version of Amazing Grace and a jazzy adaptation of The Lord's My Shepherd. Church-goers who struggle to remember the words can look up at a big screen for help, just like real karaoke.

Traditional churches will, no doubt, favour the "pipe organ and piano" settings or perhaps even try the "big strings and harpsichord", but the more adventurous will be able to experiment with driving drum beats and horn sections. Built-in Midi and MP3 players mean that music directors can add their own songs - hymns or rock favourites - to the standard repertoire. And clergy beware, the Hymnal Plus can also lead parishioners in prayers and recite pre-recorded sermons.

Worried by the shortage and ageing population of organists, churches are beginning to snap up the machine, which costs £1,900 ($3500). The 15th century St Mary the Virgin church in Mudford, near Yeovil in Somerset (photo right), was one of the first customers. The parish does have an organist, Christine Whitby, but she is in her 80s and sometimes wants a week off.

Bill Watkins, a church warden and now "hymn DJ", will have his fingers on the remote control when it makes its debut next month. He said: "We don't want to replace Christine with this box of tricks but it will allow her to take a break or to stay away without her feeling guilty when she is feeling under the weather. There are no young organists on the horizon, which is a nationwide problem so one day it might be all we have."

Mr Watkins is impressed with the flexibility of the machine. If the congregation is struggling to hit a particular note, he can change the pitch at a touch of the button. If a rousing finale is required, he could alter the tone, volume or style. But he said: "We are quite a traditional church so I don't think we'll be going for any disco beats or jazzy sounds just yet." Alan Kempster, a director of the machine's makers,
Hymn Technology Limited (motto: No organist? No musicians? No problem!), said there had been growing interest in the product, not just from churches but also hospitals, prisons and military chaplins.

He said the response from organists had been positive. "It's not about putting organists out of business. It's about giving churches an alternative. I spoke to one church organist from Gloucestershire recently who had been playing the organ for 50 years and was sick to death of it. This takes the pressure off people like that," he added.


A thought-provoking piece from the Guardian, but not everyone agrees that churches should be given an alternative. The Campaign for the Defence of the Traditional Cathedral Choir has been established because: 'We must never forget how many of our leading musicians and music-lovers in this country today were cathedral or collegiate choristers when they were boys. They have certainly enriched the musical life of this country and made this country once again highly respected in the musical world. England must never again become 'the land without music'. We must encourage all that is best in the music of our Church at all times.' And a very interesting read is 'Thine Adversaries Roar .. ' by Michael Howard (Gracewing ISBN 9780852445303) who was Organist and Master of the Choristers at Ely Cathedral in the 1950s, and who also founded influential choral group the Renaissance Singers. And UK Cathedral Music Links is another useful resource for Anglican music.

Here On An Overgrown Path I have recently written about the wonderful organs in Oberlin College, Ohio, Norwich Cathedral, St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, St-Louis-en-l'Ile, Paris, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin, the recently restored Frauenkirche in Dresden (photo at head of article) and St Thomas', Leipzig, and it is vital that new technology is not allowed to destroy this great tradition of church music.

And if you need any convincing of how ghastly 'a karaoke-like machine with a repertoire of almost 3,000 hymns and psalms' actually sounds listen to this five minute sample linked from the Hymn Technology Ltd website -

Now playing - Herbert Howell's Office of Holy Communion (Collegium Regale) from Decca 470194-2. Howells (right) was a central figure in Anglican church music, and his compositions include a complete Service for King's College, Cambridge (the Collegium Regale) and settings of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis for the choirs of St John's College, Cambridge, New College, Oxford, Westminster Abbey, Worcester, St Paul's, and Gloucester cathedrals. The motet Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing, written shortly after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, is dedicated to Kennedy's memory, and is considered by many to be perhaps his finest a cappella anthem.

Image credit, Frauenkirche photographed by Pliable for I am a camera - Dresden, Lantern of Ely Cathedral from Wikipedia, St Mary Mudford from church website. Herbert Howells from Cantori. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included in "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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Treasure trove of historic MP3 downloads

The Finnish national broadcaster YLE Radio 1 has the most extraordinary treasure trove of historic MP3 downloads on their website. I can't even list the riches available, but the artists include Dinu Lipatti, Pablo Casals, Alfred Cortot, Kirsten Flagstad , Yehudi Menuhin, Arturo Toscanini, and many, many more. There are lots of downloads for each artist, and the technical quality is very good. The whole site is in Finnish, but navigation is intuitive. Just select the artist from the left hand side list, then select the Real Audio or MP3 hyperlink under the composition. Each download has a spoken introduction of around 20 seconds in Finnish, but don't let that put you off.

This is an extraordinary discovery. I am listening to Toscanini conducting the adagio molto e cantabile from Beethoven's 9th as I write - beautiful. Here is the link, and many thanks to reader Walt Santner for the heads-up.

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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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Discovered - the online Arnold Schoenberg jukebox

Mostly Mozart MP3 downloads

The UK's Mostly Mozart Festival runs at the Barbican from 6th June to 29th July. The organisers are supplementing the great concerts with fourteen free MP3 downloads. The artists and performances are top-notch, but the MP3s are a motley mix of Mozart - single movements from symphonies, concertos and the Requiem K626, and only one complete work, the String Quartet K156. But if mostly, but not completely, Mozart MP3s are your thing follow this link and start downloading. Or you can take An Overgrown Path to Mozart MP3 download fatigue cured

Image credit Poemitas.com Any copyrighted material on these pages is used in "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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, June 12, 2006

Neither avant-garde, nor traditional ...

"My compositions defy all attempts to categorise them: they're neither avant-garde, nor traditional, nor tonal, nor atonal. And certainly not post-modern, for dramatizing the past in ironic fashion is something that is completely foreign to me." - György Ligeti, born Tirnaveni 28 May 1923, died Vienna 12 June 2006

Now playing - György Ligeti Etudes with Toros Can piano. "My studies for piano are not jazz, not Chopin either, nor Debussy or Nancarrow, and even less mathematical constructions ... They are virtuoso pieces for piano, studies in the pianistic sense of the word and in the sense of the composition itself. "

György Ligeti certainly defies all attempts to categorise him. When he appeared on BBC Radio 3's Private Passions programme on 22nd November 1997 his personal choice of music was:

*Nancarrow, Study No. 3a, Conlon Nancarrow (player piano) Wergo WER 6168-2
* Trad., 'Gending: Dhenggung Turulare', Langen Praja Seven Seas KICC 5184 (Pliable - Javanese gamelan,
follow this link for audio files)
* Trad., 'Piere', Etienne Ngbozo (small sanza and voice) / Joseph Sasmba (large sanza) / Daniel Hgadike, Robert Tarapai, Raymond Doko (voice, rattle and percussion sticks) Ocorra c 580008(Pliable - African drumming)
* Trad., Whistle Ensemble, Banda-Linda Ensemble Auvidis/UNESCO 8020 (Pliable -
African ethnic music)
* Claude Vivier, Lonely Child, Susan Narucki (soprano) / Schonberg and Asko Ensembles / Reinbert de Leeuw Philips 454 231-2
* Beethoven, Sonata in C minor, Op. 111 (second movement), Alfred Brendel (piano) Philips 446 701-2

Image credit - Scena.org. 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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
Now take An Overgrown Path to Ligeti's Etudes fit the Bill and György Ligeti's Private Passions

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The latest spin on CD prices

Today I ordered Tchaikovsky's Liturgy of St John Chrysostom coupled with Gretchaninov's Vespers sung by the National Academic Choir of Ukraine - "Dumka". This newly recorded Brilliant Classics 2CD set cost me £3.10 ($5.50) plus £1.24 ($2.25) shipping from the very dependable Caiman USA.

Here in the UK a large Starbucks Frappuccino ice blended coffee costs £3.60 ($6.50). If I hadn't just written a piece about the demise of Warner Classics I would have said that Starbucks' prices are too high.

Image credit Cwa.com 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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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Is recorded classical music too cheap?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Cherie, I shrunk the record label

Prime minister Tony Blair’s choice of classical record label seems to be as unlucky as his choices of Home Secretary. Last Friday in Rome, as reported On An Overgrown Path, he gave worldwide publicity to Warner Classics by presenting Pope Benedict XVI with the label’s boxed set of the Mozart Piano Concertos played Daniel Barenboim who also directs the Berlin Philharmonic from the keyboard.

Meanwhile back in London on the same day, in a move that surprised both industry insiders and staff, the effective closure of the very same Warner Classics was announced. The label will make no more new recordings, and will be absorbed into Rhino, Warner's reissue division. Artists in the Warner catalogue include Barenboim, Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Sakari Oramo, and their sub-labels include Erato and Teldec. Outstanding releases from Warner featured On An Overgrown Path recently have included Scott Ross' complete Scarlatti Sonatas and Chanticleer's Sound in Spirit.


Warner Classic's demise reduces the so-called majors in the classical record market to just EMI, Universal and Sony-BMG. And in a continuing story of industry musical chairs head honcho of Warner Classics Matthew Cosgrove is tipped as the new Vice President of A&R at Deutsche Grammophon. As regular readers will know Deutsche Grammophon’s recent artistic achievements include an album of Dowland lute songs by that well-known early music specialist Sting ...

* Follow this link for a video of Pope Benedict XVI receiving that soon-to-be limited edition Warner Classics boxed set.

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

I am a camera - Robert Schumann's Zwickau


Few people have heard of the town of Zwickau in the former East Germany which we visited recently, and if they have it is probably in connection with the huge car factory there. Today's Volkswagen plant is a symbol of the post-unification free market. But the huge manufacturing facility was previously the home of another car that came to symbolise the economic failure of the GDR, the Trabant. Three million of the plastic bodied two-cylinder cars rolled off the Zwickau production line under communist rule.

Prior to 1989 Trabants were banned from West German roads due to their very high pollution levels - five times as much carbon monoxide and nine times as much hydrocarbon as the average Western car. But post-unification Trabants have the run of German roads, Trabi safaris are all the cool thing in Berlin, and their iconoclastic status is confirmed by the post-Wende image above painted on the remains of the Berlin Wall . The Trabants simple plastic construction coupled with a two stroke engine and few moving parts gave them an extraordinary longevity, and they are still in everyday use today as my photo to the left shows.

In 1989 problems in the GDR economy triggered the peaceful revolution that toppled the communist dictatorship, and opened the door to the elections that led to German re-unification in 1990. (For the full story see I am a camera - Leipzig.) Evidence of that economic hardship was still evident everywhere we travelled in the former GDR. Outside the city centres there are still boarded-up houses, derelict factories and warehouses, and disused industrial buildings - many still pock-marked by bullet scars from the Second World War. Saxony suffered a double-whammy in the conflict. First from the dreadful allied bombing attracted by nearby Dresden and Leipzig, then from the invasion by the advancing Russian forces as they bulldozed their way to Berlin. Miraculously the centre of Zwickau survived virtually intact, and the 15th century buildings (photo above) of the Aldstadt are one of its joys today.

Virtually all the service infrastructure has been installed since 1990, and this means the consumer facilities in the former-GDR are new and very impressive. That ultimate symbol of the free market, the shopping mall, has sprung up in every city, and the restaurants and cafés equal, or better, those in the old West Germany. My photo is taken in a coffee shop in Zwickau that not only bettered Starbucks with its brews, but also served hot Apfelstrudel and ice cream to die for. But our main objective in visiting Zwickau was not to sample the culinary delights or visit the tourist attraction of the Trabant museum, but rather to pay homage to the city's most famous son in this the 150th anniversary year of his death.


Above is the very room Robert Schumann was born in on June 8th 1810. His father was a book publisher in the city, and the young Robert grew up under the dual influences of music and literature that were later to so influence his compositions. Schumann attended the local Lyceum, and lived in the city until moving to nearby Leipzig in 1828 to study law. While in Leipzig he studied piano with Friedrich Wieck, whose daughter Clara he eventually married. Schumann never returned to live in Zwickau. His travels took him as far afield as Russia, Austria, Switzerland and Italy before he died in a mental hospital near Bonn on July 29th 1856. The photo at the head of the article is of the massive billboard opposite Schumann's birthplace, and it portrays Robert and Clara.

The birthplace has been extensively restored, and now houses a superb museum, and archive. There is a small concert hall which is the venue for chamber music recitals and seminars devoted to the composer. Despite being close to both Leipzig and Dresden Zwickau is not on the tourist trail, and only the faithful make the pilgrimage to the Robert-Schumann-Haus. This means it has an atmosphere of tranqulity and purpose that is missing from so many other composer 'shrines'. Our visit to Zwickau gave us a fascinating insight both into post-unification Germany, and into the early days of one of the most important composers of the 19th century.

CDs bought in Zwickau:
* Robert Schumann, Works for the pedal piano. A very interesting rarity, four works composed in the mid-1840s for the piano with pedal attachment to simulate an organ technique. The six fugues on the name of Bach (Op 60) are more commonly played on the organ. This CD is on the Ars Produktion label (ARS 38011) with Martin Schmeding playing the hybrid instrument.
* Two CDs of the Kreuzchor from nearby Dresden. This is the choir that I wrote about in Dresden Requiem for eleven young victims. These Berlin Classic releases feature choral music and folksongs conducted by the composer of the Dresden Requiem and legendary conductor Rudolf Mauersberger (0013142BC), and romantic choral music Reger, Bruckner and Mauersberger) conducted by Gothart Stier (0013512BC)


Image credits - all (c) On An Overgrown Path except interior of Robert-Schumann-Haus and bas relief which are courtesy of the Robert-Scumann-Haus, and Berlin Wall graphic which is from Wikipedia. Any copyrighted material on these pages is used in "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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
Other I am a camera features On An Overgrown Path include: * Berlin * Dresden * Leipzig * Britten's Aldeburgh and Rare Romantic Requiem's in Avignon features Schumann's sacred music.