May 2010

Vivaldi Edition Philips

Vivaldi Edition by Philips, featuring I Musici and Vittoria Negri ★★★★★
I’m a Vivaldi fan, but he is not in my top 5 composers of all time. Our friend J.S. Bach was far better endowed by our creator with the gift of music, and Bach remains the greatest musician that ever tread on terra firma. Ever. Yet, the fact that Bach listened to the music of Vivaldi, and often wrote modifications of Vivaldi, suggests that even Bach held Vivaldi’s music in the highest regard. This 29 CD set is no longer available, and that is a great shame since this is the best performance one will ever get of Vivaldi. Between such performers as I Musici and the artistic direction of Vittoria Negri, you will never hear Vivaldi in a better light. It is a pity that the only piece that is usually performed by Vivaldi is his Four Seasons, as so much of his instrumental pieces have deep charm and compositional brilliance. It is even a more serious pity that virtually none of his choral music is widely known, as Vivaldi’s choral (sacred) music excels in his instrumental pieces. How could one not be deeply moved by the brilliance of his Dixit Dominus, Nisi Dominus, his Glorias, etc? Vivaldi via Vittoria Negri is an absolute must for the discriminating listener. Make every effort possible to get copies of these performances and you will be greatly blessed through listening to them.

Bridge Over the River Kwai

The Bridge on the River Kwai, starring William Holden and Alec Guinness ★★★
The best part of this movie is watching a bridge get blown up. Any movie that has bridges should eventually have those bridges blown up. This movie orients very loosely around the actual story of the building of several bridges over the Kwai River in Thailand by forced British and American war captives. It is true that the Japanese were modestly kind to their captors. It is not true that they allowed the British to essentially run the show. It is true that the bridge(s) were destroyed, but not by secret agents sent up the river; instead, it was aerial bombing that destroyed the bridges. It is true that the main theme song (Colonel Bogey march) was a war song, but it was a war song about Hitler, not about the Japs. This movie, as well as the effort to make it a classic soon after it was released for viewing, represents the brutal arrogance of the British. Included in the arrogance was the notion of officers defiantly refusing to work, but then NOT offering resistance to their captors. It made for a wonderful piece of literature regarding the value of integrity but reflected on the dismal naiveté of a public who would actually swoon to that rhetoric. In actual fact, the leading colonel encouraged sabotage as much as was humanly possible, and for every attempt to escape as was possible. Most arrogant was the notion that the Japs were technical ignoramuses that required British leadership in order to do anything right, including, how to build a bridge. In actual fact, the Japanese were quite technologically capable of engineering feats without the help of British buffoons. All in all, the movie doesn’t deserve a 5-star rating, let alone the distinction of being a “classic”. The acting was good, the scenery (in Sri Lanka) was gorgeous, and the storyline flowed well, saving the movie from a 1-star rating.

Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny

Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, by Kurt Weill from text of Bertoldt Brecht, performed at Salzburg Festival 1998 ?
Known in English as “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny”, this opera by Kurt Weill rates among the worst of the Euro-trash operas. Though Weill has had occasional lapses of reasonable music that he has written, his ideologic drive for communism has clouded his thinking and produced a piece of trash that would not survive the kindest of the Soviet years. To be fair to this opera, I will critique separately 1) the musical performance, 2) the stage performance, and 3) the opera itself. First, the musical performance was not too badly performed. The only problem is that there was little that was overtly demanding, including no demands on the singer, save to sing weird, no lengthy segments, no music that could even be thought of as likable. The stage performance represented a complete lapse of ingenuity. Isn’t one tired of the suitcase on stage carried by a Zoot-suited individual, as is now seen in just about every European opera production? I could wax eloquent about how virtually every scene lacks in creative imagination. The minimalist staging suggested that the producer really didn’t care enough for the opera to put much into it. And, that is quite understandable, because it was not an opera to enjoy or appreciate as a work of art. Brecht (via Weill) at the end of the opera spewed out a vindictive against capitalism, the stage designers and Brecht not-so-subtly implying that the greatest sinners of their communistic ideology are the Americans. A leading character named Jimmy is sentenced to death for a lack of money. I presume that Weill was attempting to make some sort of profound statement against greed and monetary avarice, but he fails dismally. Any thinking person finds the philosophical statements of this opera to be poorly developed non-sequiturs with a forced conclusion, believed only by Brecht and Weill, and perhaps a few of the performers and audience. Such go the warm and fuzzy statements of the new art, promoting the warm and fuzzy sentiments of the new philosophy and the new politic. It’s one thing to have wasted one’s money on this opera, but even a worse crime to have wasted one’s time watching it.

Trois Colours

Les Trois Colours (Three Colors) Trilogy (Blue/White/Red) by Kiezlowski ★★★★
These three films receive a uniformly 5-star rating by Amazon reviewers, and there is much to commend for this series, superbly well performed and directed. They are separate tales but tied together by the French themes of liberty, equality, and fraternity, which are actually demonstrated very weakly in the series. The first film (Bleu) is about the wife of the famous composer, whose family, including her composer-husband and young daughter are killed in a tragic automobile accident. She goes on to try to free her life from her past but eventually discovers more to the life of her late husband than she expected. The second film (Blanc) is about a polish hairdresser involved in a messy divorce, with his wife mercilessly dumping him while living in Paris, he is unable to capably defend himself owing to language problems. The remainder of the film takes him from destitution to ultimate revenge on his ex-wife. The third film (Rouge) depicts a young model who chances across a retired judge who now spends his life eavesdropping on his neighbors. Ultimately, a deeper relationship is developed between the two, as they interact with the past of the judge and the future of the young model. Kieslowski nicely incorporates the thematic colors in his films in an interesting sort of way. In Bleu, there are blue rooms and blue chandeliers and many blue objects, in Blanc, emotional episodes show a screen white-out, and in Rouge, there is an equal profusion of red, such as a large red banner announcing a fashion show with the star character imaged. I reduced the rating by one star because of the overwhelming morose mood throughout the entire series. Only Blanc showed any humor at all. All were moderately dark, deeply-foreboding films, quasi-tragedies of ruined lives desperate for significance and meaning, and the films never offering a way out. Ultimate liberty, equality, or fraternity are never achieved, but a cheap imitation. These are not films to soar with but will put you in the gutter and leave you there. They would be nice films for conversations on philosophy, but not for conversations on a life of higher aspirations.

Camille Claudel

Camille Claudel, starring Adjani and Depardeau ★★★★★
I’ve always liked the acting talent of Gerard Depardeau and he is at his best in this film, playing the role of Auguste Rodin. With Adjani capably serving as the title role of Camille Claudel, this film follows the historical fate of Claudel from the late 1800s to her death in the mid-twentieth century. Camille was an aspiring artist, dropping out of school, and eventually working/studying in the workshop of Rodin. Becoming his lover, and then breaking up, she develops a paranoid delusion of Rodin constantly plotting to ruin her. In return, this paranoia leads to her institutionalization for most of her life. It is a sad but true tale, all too true because it actually happened, but also because it represents life’s drama in so many of us who look for false sources of significance. Acting in this movie was superb, the cine photography excellent, the French were not too difficult to follow, especially with the help of sous-titles, it was R-rated for some sexual depictions-but never in an obscene way, and the “fill-in” on the known historical facts of Camille C. to make a movie version seemed fairly reasonably as to what one would expect. Thus, a highly recommended film, though not for children.

The Twilight Zone

The Twilight Zone-The Complete Definitive Collection ★★★★★
This collection represents essentially five seasons. Each episode is 1/2 hour, except for the fourth season, where the episodes lasted an hour. Narrated by the familiar face of Rod Serling, and with over half of the episodes written by him, you cannot help but appreciate a distinct style throughout the collection. The seasons seem to evolve over time, with the productions being done a bit more professionally, with fancier props as time goes on. The first few seasons have a very distinct moral twist to each and every episode, something that is partially lost as time goes on. In comparison to today’s television shows, many of these episodes would be considered too moralistic “prejudiced” or “religious” to permit broadcast. Pity. Compared to the Outer Limits t.v. series, the Twilight Zone is not nearly as frightening, though some classic episodes exist that could be considered downright spooky.  Who cannot forget the episode where bandages are taken off the face of a young lady, only to be greeted with horror as she appears completely normal — until you finally see the faces of the physicians and nurses, who have completely disfigured, ugly faces. Even then, Serling presents it as a strong lesson that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The Twilight Zone should be considered a must-see if you haven’t seen the series before. If your only viewing was in the early ’60s when they were the first broadcast, it is quite worth another viewing to realize how trashy prime-time television has become.

Lehár; Die Lustige Witwe

Die Lustige Witwe, by Franz Lehár, and performed by the Zürich Opera ★★★★
This is probably the best of the Lehár works, but also the most expensive. The music is a bit more memorable, notably some of the late pieces in the operetta. Lehár uses a mix of speaking, singing, dancing, and ballet in this work. The plot is not so crazy as many of his other works, with a plain-jane Viennese lady returning from Paris, whose very wealthy husband died on her wedding night, leaving her a supremely wealthy person, and now suddenly attracting many Viennese suitors. Ultimately, the Graf (Count) wins out, but only after many false moves and deceptions. This performance is a stage performance, nicely done, and worth having in one’s collection. Lehár will never be in my top ten composers, though he successfully creates a minor work of art in this operetta.

Lehár: Das Land des Lächelns

Das Land des Lächelns, by Franz Lehár ???
Translated the Land of Smiles, this operetta represents late 19th-century Viennese “pop” art, similar to the Gilbert and Sullivan works in England. Like Gilbert and Sullivan, Lehár creates an operetta with a mix of song and spoken text, a profusion of catchy melodies, and a very lame storyline. This operetta is the epitome of truly lame storylines, with a Viennese lady of aristocratic descent falling in love with a Chinese prince, marrying, and then going back to China with him, only to discover that he intends to marry many women. The opera ends as a quasi-tragedy, though many tears are not generated. The singing is superb, so it’s hard to be too tough on the entire operetta. I wouldn’t keep it in my desert island collection, Lehár deserves a rightful audience, just as one needs to watch the Mikado at least once.

Brahms Complete Series

Brahms Complete Works, by Brilliant Classics ★★★★
Brahms Complete Edition, by Deutsche Grammophon ★★★★★
I realized that I did not have collections of the complete works of Brahms, and so when these two editions came out on sale, decided that they needed to be in my collection. Both are very worthy editions to have in one’s collection and are distinctly different. Brilliant Classics, though sold as a “budget” production, had a notable quality that would be worthy of the sole Brahms of a less ardent classic music collector. Yet, the Deutsche Grammophon recordings were generally better. The symphonies had a livelier sound and better production, partially attributable to the conducting of von Karajan. The DG edition also had far better vocal works, making the vocal pieces far less of drudgery, and actually enjoyable, to listen to over the Brilliant collection. The chamber works with the Brilliant Classics were quite nice, and quite on par with the DG productions. All in all, I’d vote for the DG edition but enjoyed hearing both sets of Brahms works.

Photoshop CS4 Channels and Masks One-on-one

Photoshop CS4 Channels and Masks One-on-one, by Deke McClelland ★★★★
This is just another Photoshop book that I’ve read in the last 6-12 months. I have one or two more to go. This text taught me a number of things, including functionality and routines in Photoshop that I had absolutely no clue about in the past, like the “calculations” instruction for merging several channels to make a better mask. There are movies that accompany each lesson, but they only somewhat approximate the actual lesson. Deke is very careful to be exact in his instructions but doesn’t always elaborate why you are doing a certain function in a manner that makes perfect clarity for when you need to do such functions independent of the instruction book. A number of things became quite clear in this reading. 1) Photoshop is far more complicated than I originally thought, and it will take years to master exactly what it could do for you. 2) Experience will eventually be the best teacher, and one needs to play with the program to glean all the possibilities of what you could do to alter or improve a photo. 3) There is always more than one way to accomplish a given task, and every book details a completely different style of accomplishing the same thing. Ultimately, one needs to develop their own style. 4) Many routines are discovered by chance and then shared. One should not imagine that any given photo alteration is intuitive. Rather, one needs to keep a number of “reference” books around when learning photoshop and use those books to walk through techniques. 5) Videos are nice, but the text ultimately teaches you how to do things. It would be nice to note an end product, attempt it first yourself, and then walk through how the teacher reaches the end-product. Unfortunately, most photoshop instruction books are not written that way. All in all, this is not the best photoshop book that I’ve read, but still is a book worth having on the shelves.