October 2010

Schumann: Secular Choral Works

Schumann: The Secular Choral Works performed by Studio Vocale Karlsruhe ★★★★★
At one time I never found much interest in Schumann. Now that I’m re-listening to a number of his works, they are gaining a fascination. This album is no exception. The performances are charming and impeccable, very masterfully done. Each piece has its own delights and provides for differing styles and types of works. This set is a budget set that consists of four CDs, and is a true bargain that will delight.

Vaughn Williams Sacred Choral Music

Vaughn Williams Sacred Choral Music, performed by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge ★★
This set of songs was adequately performed but lacked brilliance and charm. It is typical of Vaughn Williams to have very predictable music so that if one has heard one Vaughn Williams piece, you’ve heard them all. There is nothing about these choral pieces to excite the soul or transcend the realm of the ennui. I purchased this CD hoping to find in VW and British music some charm—but, British music, like British food, tends to be bland and uninteresting. The Brits have failed to produced good composers, outside of Purcell and the Beatles. The more I listen to VW, I realize that it is not a matter of missing something in the music that is subtle or complex, such as learning to appreciate the music of Wagner. The music of VW is just plain boring and uncreative.

Glass String Quartets

Glass String Quartets, performed by the Carducci Quartet ★★★★
I am not a big fan of Philip Glass, but these quartets were quite appealing to me. True, they possessed a minimalist aspect to them, with many repetitive structures. In opera, minimalism creates boredom. It does just the opposite in the string quartets, creating a relaxed, meditative atmosphere. Yet, Glass maintains enough character to the overall flow of the pieces to lend character and distinction to each movement and each quartet. This made listening a joy rather than a matter of endurance. These quartets are a “must hear” for anybody who enjoys the whole panoply of classic music.

Barber Piano Concerto

Samuel Barber Piano Concerto, Prutsman, Royal Scottish National Orchestra ★★★
This and the next review focus on contemporary American composers. Samuel Barber is best known for Barber’s Adagio, popularized by Bernstein. This disc contains not only the Piano Concerto but several other short works by Barber. The performance was technically adequate, but the pieces lacked an overall luster to them. Perhaps the performers didn’t have a chance? Barber seems to have a sense of non-direction to his music, being occasionally bombastic, occasionally quiet, but never leading anywhere. Fortunately, it was reasonably tonal and thus endured listening to. This is not exactly a disc that I’d encourage you to rush out and purchase.

La Fille du Regiment

La Fille du Regiment, by Donizetti, starring Natalie Dessay ★★★
Donizetti was an extremely productive early 19th-century Italian opera composer, though most of his works go unperformed at this time. His greatest works include this opera, as well as Lucia de Lammermoor, L’elixir d’Amore, Anna Bolena, and a few others. This is probably the poorest conceived of his better-known operas, and best known with Joan Sutherland as the star daughter of the regiment. In this opera, Natalie Dessay is the star. Her vocal qualities do not compete with the excellence of Dame Joan, though her acting and overall operatic skills make her one of the better daughters to ever have filled this role. Thus, it was a delight and joy to watch. The staging was a cross between traditional and minimalist and served as much as a distraction as a help to the overall flow of the opera. This is not one of my favorite operas. The music is not memorable, and the plot is contrived. A baby girl (Marie) is picked up and raised by a French army regiment but recovered by a rich Tyrolean couple who think that she is their long-lost daughter and arrange a marriage for her though she is in love with a Tyrolean Toni who she met in the regiment and who joined the French regiment in order to marry her. Eventually, Tonio and Marie resolve the issues that hold them apart. Yawn! Ho-hum.

Ormandy Collection

Ormandy Collection ★★★
This is the last of the budget series that I’ll be reviewing, with the conducting of Eugene Ormandy. Eugene Ormandy was born in Hungary as Jeno Blau, being a prodigy that received a master’s degree in music at age 14 before coming to the US. After a short stay as director of the Minnesota Symphony, he moved and stayed for 40 years at the Philadelphia Philharmonic. Though his major mentor was Toscanini, his style and form are much different from this conductor. Ormandy excelled at modern works, and his renditions of Shönberg’s works were notable. Many of his works in this set were straightforward, though the recordings left something to be desired. His performance of Mahler’s second symphony was quite poor and left something to be desired. At least Ormandy never felt the urge to speed through a piece like Toscanini. It is without a doubt that Ormandy is one of the great US conductors of the 20th century, though this set would tend to betray Ormandy at his best. My advice would be to seek out Ormandy recordings, but not this set of recordings. There are better out there.

Washington D.C. 02-07 OCTOBER 2010

Washington D.C. 02-07 OCTOBER 2010 — American College of Surgeons Meetings
I don’t especially enjoy going to Washington D.C. It is a large dirty town, expensive, mediocre food, bad beer, and little that interests me. When you have seen the Capitol once, you’ve seen it enough. The building attempts to portray strength. Yet, I continually am befuddled as to which idiot decided on that silly statue on top–probably it’s the same fools that cogitate and ruminate inside. The building sitting behind the Capitol building was even more despairing. To climb the steps of this edifice would best state old Dante’s words “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”.

Correct. It is the Supreme Court building. Dennis, for your interest (and yours alone, since only you have read Tupper Saucey), notice the “mark of Cain” in the railing just off of the sidewalk. Needless to say, I did have one remarkably wonderful experience in D.C.
I went to church on Sunday morning to hear Mark Dever preach. This Sunday, Mark broke off from a series in Mark to speak specifically on the nature and doctrine of the church. The sermon was good, though Mark seemed to have a problem (like all Baptists) in seeing the importance of the Old Testament in bringing light to the practices of the New Testament, especially in regard to the sacraments and the church. Oh well. It was a delight to hear solid preaching from a conservative scholar, only 3 blocks from the supreme court and capitol building.
Taking a walk to Barry’s house, I noticed that the Smithsonian Museum had a special on evolution. Those of you who know me realize that I contend that evolution is the greatest case of science in a state of dire confusion, just being wrong. I do take a slight exception to that rule. While I believe that most people were created by God in God’s image, there are a few rare exceptions to the rule. If you look carefully at the pictures on this sign, you will notice that the “ape” in the lower right-hand corner bears a striking resemblance to our current president. Perhaps BHO was a rare exception of the ape to man process?
Barry was a little stand-offish, and would not let me into his house. That’s okay since I have no interest in visiting him anyway. Little does he know that there is more power in that church down the road (Capitol Hill Baptist) than all the might and military that old B. Hussain O. could ever muster up.
I did not take photos of the American College of Surgeons meeting. It was mostly a dog and pony show, though I learned a bit in the process. Much discussion is related to the changing face of surgery. Sadly, most surgeons fail to see that we have brought much trouble on ourselves by letting medicine become a political process. We now are looking to people like BHO to solve our problems and he only makes them worse. Surprise, surprise.
There’s only one thing I really like about Washington, D.C. They have a great subway transportation system. It’s especially helpful when you wish to get out of Washington, D.C. The train takes you straight to the airport, without any hassle. Unfortunately, a moderate number of surgical meetings occur in D.C., meaning that in those years where the meetings take place in D.C., I will probably skip and look for meetings in Florida or Arizona, or Southern Cafilornia (no, that is NOT a mis-spelling!).


Wilhelm Furtwängler Collection ★★★★★
This is the second of three composer collections that I will be reviewing, the first being that of Arturo Toscanini. Furtwängler possesses far greater sensitivity in his conducting than Toscanini. Furtwängler was the director of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra during the second world war years and was eventually replaced by Herbert von Karajan. It is without hesitation that I could remark on the greatness of Furtwängler as a conductor, in spite of his associations with Hitler and the Nazis. These recordings are quite variable, many of them having much record noise, but many being quite clean. For $17 it is hard to beat as a sampling of Furtwängler. The collection includes mostly classical and romantic composers, with a few non-German composers included.

Systematic Theology: Berkhof

Systematic Theology, new Combined Edition, by Louis Berkhof ★★★★★
I had to read portions of Berkhof’s Systematic Theology with a class that I took from JI Packer. The other systematic theology text was Grudem’s Systematic Theology, which had been reviewed previously. Packer contended that Berkhof indeed was the best available systematic theology text, though he says “there is no God in Berkhof”. Since I’ve read Grudem cover to cover, I felt it was now time to do the same with Berkhof, using the combined edition that includes the discussion of the possibility and legitimacy of systematic theology, arguing in defense of the text of Scripture itself. Certainly, both Berkhof and Grudem have their strengths and weaknesses, but I preferred Berkhof over Grudem in most aspects. Yet, there are problems with Berkhof that I would briefly mention.

  1. Many topics are missing, including
    1. Development of the theology of the Holy Spirit. He has a very short section on the Holy Spirit in discussing the topic of soteriology.
    2. Discussion of pertinent aspects of the history of certain doctrines, such as the development of the theology of the trinity, and the Christology controversies
    3. Ethics is an aspect of systematic theology yet is completely missing.
  2. Berkhof spends much time in discussing certain aspects of science and theology, yet is completely outdated. As one example among many, he mentions his continued belief in the ether theory.
  3. Berkhof often belabors topics without reasonable scriptural clarity, leaving a bit of a muddle. One topic was a lengthy discussion of the covenants, which I believe he could have done much better at. His discussion of paedobaptism is ponderous at 10 pages, not well referenced scripturally, and doesn’t accomplish much. It would have been better for him to defer to scriptural silence and leave the practice to best interpretation of what one feels the scripture is saying.

In spite of the above complaints, Berkhof remains an extremely readable text, most conforming to how I see the scriptures. His text remains publicly as the best Reformed theology text available and is the standard that all subsequent systematic theology texts will have to rise to.
The Addition of the Introductory Volume to the text was a very appropriate addition and well worth reading. In it, Berkhof argues for the rationality for Scripture in opposition to the new liberalism. I had a very strong feeling as though I was reading Francis Schaeffer. I am quite sure that it was from Berkhof that Schaeffer (and VanTil) received their greatest arguments in their apologetic structure for Scripture. Without hesitation, I contend that it would be of value for any and every serious-minded Christian in today’s world to take time at some point in their life to work their way through Berkhof. It will be worth the time and most rewarding.

The Clay Bird

The Clay Bird, directed by Tarique Masud ★★
This film is a quasi-historic depiction of life in Bangladesh just before the 1971 independence. It selects out a family whose father turns hard-line Muslim, sending his child off to Madrasa (Muslim education school), and depending on Allah during a child’s illness, leading to the death of his daughter and alienation from his wife. There wasn’t much of a plot– this is more a depiction of daily life and the struggles for faith and country that a typical Muslim household might have experienced in the pre-war years. The movie attempts a gentle and supportive rendering of the Islam faith but instead shows it as a cruel uncaring religion before a merciless god. Sadly, most reviewers of this film on Amazon didn’t see it as such. The film has its strengths in showing regular life in Bangladesh, which is little changed since independence. Being a strict Muslim country, it still possesses much of the religious behavior that is shown in this film, though the intellectuals of the films were wiped out during the war with West Pakistan which I feel has led to an even more oppressive and depressive public ethos. The film ends in tragedy, which is exactly what a combination of hardline Muslim faith and war among Muslims will do. I enjoyed the film as being one of the first that was spoken mainly in Bengali, and I even was able to understand a few words.