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Sunday, March 30, 2008

In Memory of My Grandmother

Virginia Dingle, born January 25, 1917. Died March 30, 2008

My dear grandmother, generous in spirit, bountiful in grace and beloved by many, mother, grandmother, friend, died peacefully in her sleep at 12:10 pm today in Indiana.

She touched many lives, but none so much as mine. Were it not for her many sacrifices, yards of good advice and tender but firm guidance, I would not have been able to accomplish all that I have.

Hers is a spirit that has changed the lives of many people, and she will be sadly missed by all who knew her.

Rest in peace Granny, may light perpetual shine upon you.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Some Pleasant String Quartets

Ferdinand RIES (1784-1838)

String Quartet No. 2 in G, Op. 70, No. 2. (1812) [26:29]
String Quartet No. 20 in f minor, WoO 48 (ca. 1837) [33:39]

Schuppanzigh Quartett

Anton Steck (violin)
Christoph Mayer (violin)
Christian Goosses (viola)
Antje Geusen, (cello)

Recorded at the German Radio Chamber Music Hall, 13-16 April, 2005.

cpo 777227-2 [60:13]

Ferdinand Ries was a student of Beethoven and a prolific composer, respected during his lifetime if not lastingly famous. The string quartet was amongst his favorite genres, as he took up the form some twenty-five times in his career, although a significant number of these compositions remained unpublished. In this recording we have two fine examples, bookends of his compositional career.

The G major quartet is well crafted and makes for pleasant enough listening, rather a diluted Mendelssohn, without the latter composer’s gift for melody and rich harmonies. The Schuppanzigh deliver a well turned performance, with a warm rich tone, tight ensemble and spot on intonation.

The prize here is the latter work, of such a high quality that one wonders why the composer never had it published. It is on a par with the quartets of Schubert, and is in fact, somewhat better constructed given Schubert’s tendency to go overboard with longer forms. The substantial opening movement shifts deftly between darkness and light, opening with a rather brooding minor subject and flowing into some rollicking major mode tunefulness. Its triple meter slow movement is an elegant three part form, starting with a lovely Mozartean melody, shifting into a somewhat turbulent b-section, and then rounding off nicely with a modified return of the first material. A brief but tasty minor key minuet follows, and concludes with a rollicking finale. This is a work of considerable depth, yet it never takes itself so seriously as to lose its sunny air, this in spite of the minor key center.

Production values are typical of CPO’s high standards, but I do wish they would tighten up their program notes. German scholarly writing has always tended toward the wordy and obtuse anyway, and reading these lengthy, blow-by-blow descriptions of the music in English becomes deadly dull. I often find this label’s program booklets a dreaded chore to wade through.

The Schuppanzigh-Quartett have produced other fine recordings for CPO and this one is certainly no exception. They play with a fine sense of lyricism and panache. If you love string quartets as much as I do, you will want to add this disc to your collection, and since this is labeled as Volume two, it will most likely be worthwhile to investigate the first disc in the series as well.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ten Things You Can Do To Make Your Life Better Today

Here are ten things that you can do, today or any day for that matter, and your life will be better. I guarantee it or your money back.

1. Turn off your cell phone for two hours, and don't return the voice messages until tomorrow.

2. Read ten poems.

3. Go to a park or a church or a museum, anywhere that you will find a high concentration of beauty. While you're there, sit and watch and listen, but be completely silent for one hour. Actively listen to every sound that you hear and ponder its source.

4. Buy a pair of roller skates.

5. Enjoy a glass of really fine wine. Just one glass. Savor it for a long time.

6. Eat gelato.

7. Listen to Max van Egmond sing songs by Gabriel Faure.

8. Find a garden, and examine the flowers at close range. Note their detail, their fragrance and their unique colors.

9. Call a friend that you haven't heard from in a long time. Reconnect.

10. Calculate the amount of money that you spent this week on Starbucks, beer, junk food and if you smoke, cigarettes. Give that same amount of money to your favorite charity.

That's it. Try a couple of these things. Your world will be better tomorrow! I promise.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Music and the Internet

As many of you know, I am a big media junkie, and subscribe to a million or so internet web sites that serve up music. Here are some things that I enjoy messing with, and I think you will find them of interest as well.

1. Rhapsody ( is a streaming audio server that has well over a million music tracks and adds more every day. At present, you can subscribe to the stream for about $10 per month, and play unlimited music from your computer. For an extra fiver, you can get a "to go" subscription which allows you to drag and drop tracks to compatible MP3 players and use them as long as your subscription is current. They also offer tracks in both WAVE (which you burn to a compact disc) and MP3 formats for purchase. It's a good alternative to ITUNES. I have been a fan for some time now.

2. Speaking of ITUNES, rumors are out that Apple will develop a subscription service similar to Rhapsody's model. We shall see what happens.

3. This just in: MonteVerdi TV ( A free service that is from my initial examination, a pretty cool thing. They combine a number of classical music services to form a virtual community of sorts. There are live streaming video broadcasts, links to more than 100 classical music stations, links to hundreds of articles on classical music, streaming video clips and a shop to purchase dvds, cds, and digital downloads. I just discovered it, but it looks cool. I plan to install it this evening and give it a go. There are no subscription fees.

4. Pandora. ( This is an internet radio service where you can create "stations" to fit your tastes. It is powered by the Music Genome Project. In short, you log on, type in an artist or composer and it creates a playlist for you of similar music. It is not "on demand" but you can guide the system as to your personal tastes.

5. Slacker.( Similar to Pandora with slightly sexier graphics. You can also get a portable device that although pricey, is a pretty cool toy.

6. Live 365. Yours truly has his own broadcast on this fantastic service which connects you to thousands of internet radio broadcasts. You can check out my station at or you can search in the engine there for Radio Helios.

7. Acid Planet. ( A product of the Sony corporation, you can find lots of cool music there for free, many tracks are downloadable. This is a perfect site for those of you into electronic, trance and sundry forms of club dance music.

8. Music Submit. ( is a splendid site for musicians to get their tracks distributed all over the place. If you are a broadcaster you can download music for your station. If you are a musician, you can submit music to be sent to broadcasters all over the planet.

That ought to give you some fun things to explore. Hope you enjoy them.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Curse of the Last Eight Years

Those of us who voted for Al Gore and John Kerry knew this would happen, and yet enough of us sat at home on election day that we allowed Dubbya and his minions to get selected (choice of words intentional) not once but twice.

It hit home to me big time this week, when I went to the grocery store. Yes, I have been following the news of the war, and of the housing sector debacle, and of the Fed's bailing out of an investment bank for the first time in history, and of the kajillion dollar deficit in the federal budget, and of the absurd price of gasoline in spite of no oil shortages, no refinery slowdowns and oh, yes, Exxon Mobil's kajillion dollar profits. And yes, I have noticed that the America dollar isn't worth the paper upon which it's printed.

But the fallout of all these splendid disasters has now started to hit at the real heart of the American people, that is, in the price of food. Walk through the aisles of you grocery store and you will notice that every price on the shelf tags is way out of line. Paper goods are obscenely overpriced, the price of basic food staples have also increased dramatically. I was shocked that the single bag of groceries that I brought home yesterday cost over $40. This after having just spent $50 to fill up my car.

The Europeans have paid high fuel prices for years, and they tell us we should too. The difference is in the fact that most Europeans are taxed to the hilt, and gas taxes are just one more way for European governments to raise revenue. We don't operate on that system here, and the reason for our high gas prices is, well, greed.

History proves that a nation's people will tolerate just about anything but hunger. Most major revolutions have occurred when the general population was at or near starvation. Pay attention America, we're up! If gas and food prices continue to soar, and middle to low income families continue to be turned out of their homes due solely to the greedy lending practices of avaricious lenders, there will be open revolt.

It is time that we went to the polls and elected a government that was again of and for the people, and not hell bent on power as the present administration is. Let's learn from our mistakes people. We've less than a year to go of the Bush disaster. Let's not make the same mistake in 2008.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fine Symphonies by Stanford

Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)

Symphony No. 2 in D minor, “Elegiac” (1880) [34:46]
Symphony No. 5 in D major, “L’Allegro ed il Penseroso” Op. 56. (1894) [39:47]

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
David Lloyd-Jones

Recorded in The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset, UK on 29-30 June and 25-26 July 2006.

NAXOS 8.570289 [74:33]

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford was born to a family of Dublin lawyers in 1852. He, along with Hubert Parry, was one of the two most significant British composers prior to Elgar and he did much to advance the cause of British music. After study at Queen’s College, Cambridge, he was appointed organist at Trinity College. After study in Germany, he returned to Cambridge where he instigated many reforms in the musical establishment. He would later be appointed to the newly formed Royal College of Music, where he would teach such luminaries as Bridge, Butterworth, Moeran and Vaughan Williams. He is often credited with beginning the revival of British composition that would produce great composers from the above-mentioned all the way to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

His seven symphonies are the cornerstone of his output. Carefully crafted and vigorous in nature, they never really wander outside of the model set forth by Mendelssohn, Brahms and Schumann. Although the second symphony is titled “Elegiac” there is nothing particularly mournful about the work, which begins with an energetic and tuneful opening movement, followed by a warm and perhaps somewhat melancholy slow movement, a brisk minor key scherzo and a structured and climactic finale.

David Lloyd-Jones leads his Bournemouth charges in a taut, well paced performance. The romantic nature of the music is taken seriously, yet Lloyd-Jones never indulges in overt sentimentality, always keeping up a steady, even, forward line. The orchestra sounds warm and rich, particularly in movements two and four, and there is some superior playing from the orchestra’s winds. Of particular merit is the second movement lento, in which Lloyd-Jones sets a most lovely tone, bathing us in sound akin to the perfect swim; in waters that are the perfect temperature. There is plenty of energy in the resounding last movement, all delivered with the appropriate English restraint.

The Symphony No. 5 is a horse of a different color. Based on two contrasting poems of John Milton, Stanford is far more overtly dramatic in this score, going so far as quote rather lengthy sections of the poetry in the score. Reflective of the poetry which describes horrors, shrieks and other such nastiness, the symphony opens with raucous brass and tympani followed by busy strings and woodwinds. It never loses its energy from start to finish. The second movement is a remarkable contrast to the first. Tuneful and jolly, this is gracious and endearing music.
The cream here is the stunningly beautiful third movement based on verses from Il Penseroso. This is perhaps what Elgar should sound like: nostalgic, sweeping melodies, warm brass laden orchestration yet never bottom heavy. The Bournemouth pull this music out of their instruments at the perfect degree of tension, sending the listener up one mountain summit after another, wrapped in an exquisitely woven blanket of sound. The work ends with a confident final movement marked by an underpinning of pulsating string figures capped by soaring and hopeful melodies.

For those of you who enjoy the work of the German romantics, you will most likely find this music most enjoyable. While it is quite a bit less ponderous than its German cousins, it still contains enough gravitas to satisfy the musical soul searcher, yet veers often enough into a light-hearted realm that seekers of beautiful melodies will leave just as happy.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

An Hour of Elegance

Silvius Leopold WEISS (1687-1750)

Sonata No. 15 in B flat Major [24:45]
Sonata No. 48 in F sharp minor [35:20]

Robert Barto, (baroque lute)

Recorded in the Green Room, Offord Hall, Aurora, Ontario, Canada from 1-4 February 2005.

NAXOS 557806 [60:05]

The German lutenist Silvius Leopold Weiss, who was an almost exact contemporary of Sebastian Bach, was regarded as the greatest composer-performer of lute music in Europe during his day. His reputation was equal to that of John Dowland of England who lived more than a century earlier. In 1760, the poet and musician Luise Gottsched wrote that “his compositions stand out above all that are known today. To be sure they are difficult, but only those who are too careless or too old, or otherwise prefer another instrument.” His vast output was difficult to obtain in his own lifetime as he carefully guarded the manuscripts to prevent others from stealing his work, a common practice in an age before universal copyrights.

This fine performance by Robert Barto, the seventh volume in an ongoing series of recordings released by the completist minded Naxos label, presents two sizeable works called sonatas, although they more closely resemble the suites of dances that Bach would call partitas. Opening with a rather melancholy Allemande, the B-flat major sonata effectively moves back and forth from serenity to jaunty frivolity as it runs its course. Barto plays with a warm and generous tone, direct and free of affectation. He has an excellent sense of tempo and it is obvious that he understands that at some basic level, all of this music could be danced to.

The f-sharp minor sonata begins with a gravitas similar to the earlier work. Considerably later in the composer’s output, it seems a bit more reflective and weightier, but still is possessed with a certain joyous spirit that makes the music immediately attractive. Again Mr. Barto is in complete control here, carefully bringing out inner voices and displaying a fine sense of arching line and rhythmic integrity.

In short, this is peaceful and contemplative music, even when it is expressing joy. It is the perfect compliment to an evening by the fireside with a good book and a glass of wine. It will carry you back to a time when refinement and elegance were still valued as a character trait, a time when self-expression through art and music were trademarks of the well educated. Robert Barto’s unhurried virtuosity is just the thing to set a perfect mood. Set aside an hour without interruptions and revel in this bouquet of musical delights.