August 2008

Die Zauberflöte: Karajan 1950

Die Zauberflöte WA Mozart by H. von Karajan and Wiener Philharmoniker
The performance was made in 1950, soon after the war, and at the support of Walter Legge from EMI.
The recording was technically the best possible for 1950, and still has a warmth that is appropriate. This recording omits the dialogue, thus shortening the work, but certainly not diminuting the piece. It is a young Karajan, with a touch and warmth that few Magic Flutes since have experienced, including Karajan’s later production of the same piece. This is a valuable piece to all Zauberflöte collectors.

Berg: Lulu

Lulu, by Alban Berg, with Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Andrew Davis ★★★★
This opera, written by the Viennese composer Alban Berg, represents the life of a society hostess, in her rise and fall to eventual murder. A tragic tale, the music was most fitting to the piece, though often in a serial or atonal style. The opera was by Mozartian standards a bit strange, yet was completely fitting for expectations of 20th-century works. If you are not familiar with 20th-century opera and expect standard solos, duets, ensembles, etc., this piece will not fare well with you. Certainly, the lead role of Lulu, performed by Christine Schäfer, was impeccably done, with a very demanding and challenging part performed to perfection and with the greatest finesse. Christine herself gets 5 stars. The opera itself gets only 4 stars from me, not because of any performance problems, but only because 20th-century serialism is not exactly my favorite cup of tea, while the plot and storyline itself focused on the gutter elements in society, not exactly transcending the soul to greater thoughts and loftier ambitions.

Rubinstein: Chopin Collection

The Chopin Collection, by Artur Rubinstein ★★★
This is not a bad collection, and certainly worth the price. Some of the recordings have not been well cleaned up, and still have very prominent record scratches, serving as a major distraction. I suppose that those noises were left in the delight the ever persisting insistence of vinyl-philiacs that records indeed are a better media for storing musical sound than CDs. Bless their hearts. I have complete sets of Idel Biret (a female Turkish pianist), and Ashkenazy. Ashkenazy is definitely the best of all the sets, with Biret coming in second and Rubinstein third. I also have single CDs of Horowitz on Chopin, which are absolutely superb, and Perahia, also superlative. Rubinstein is mechanically a master of the art of Chopin keyboarding. Though Wikipedia introduces him as “widely considered as one of the greatest piano virtuosi of the 20th century”, I don’t think so, and it was a label affixed more out of his Hollywood popularity rather than his interpretative abilities, and others in the 20th century, such as Horowitz, Brendel, and Ashkenazy had a much greater sensitivity to interpretive qualities of a piece than I ever find in Artur R. For Chopin, I would recommend the Ashkenazy set, or better yet, pick up individual pieces, such as Horowitz’s “My Favorite Chopin”.

A Wet August

It’s been a busy but wet August, probably one of the wettest that I can remember. I did a moderate amount of training for the Portland Century but often had to fight the nasty rain. The Portland Century was dry, but it started raining quite heavily as soon as we completed the ride. You can read about the Portland Century in the “Bike Rides” section. I noted that after riding the Century, there were those that had done only 25-50 very flat miles, and were struggling to get up a very mild hill on Broadway in downtown Portland as it goes south. Oddly, that would have been me a year ago. Fortunately, except for minor leg cramping, I couldn’t have felt better on this ride. Other outdoor activities have been limited by the amount of rain that we’ve had.
The top photo shows progress in the construction of the hospital addition. Note the cloudy skies in late August. The construction goes on feverishly, rain or shine.
You might notice that I rearranged my website to make my other events more accessible. In particular, I added a number of movie reviews, music reviews, book reviews, a pitifully failed hike, besides my bicycle rides, to the respective pages.
After great reflection in the past month, I probably will NOT
a) hike the complete PCT at one time ever
b) ride my bicycle completely around America ever
c) sail all the seven seas ever
This doesn’t mean that I don’t want to do some serious hiking or cycling. I’d like to get a real touring bicycle (Cannondale Touring I), and possibly a real road bike someday-I’m currently looking at a bicycle that would be a Torelli frame with Campagnolo Chorus components and Campagnolo Eurus wheels. There is a shop in Tacoma that assembles the bicycle for you if you buy their components, and they are reasonably cheap.
My heart is becoming increasingly desirous of
a)  doing time in a foreign hospital, the current list being possibly China, Bangladesh, or Cameroon. Any would work for me, and hopefully, Betsy and I could try out several places.
b) spending more time in Europe, especially Germany, possibly taking language classes, and hopefully having a decent bicycle to ride around Europe with.
c) taking a break from American medicine. I’ve never felt more at peace about a decision than when I decided to check out of my practice for a while. I am absolutely decided not to continue practice with a call at Good Samaritan Hospital, or any other hospital in the US without adequate compensation and limited work hours (less than 12 hours/day) on call. I don’t think that will happen soon at GSH. So far, my group has agreed to allow me to drop to courtesy privileges at GSH as of 01NOV08, and then take a 1 year Sabbatical during the 2009 calendar year. This will give me opportunity to explore a) and b) above, and to also consider what to do with the rest of my life.

Portland Century

At last! My last scheduled ride for the year. And, in one of my favorite places, Portland, Oregon. The ride looped around the greater east Portland area, and in spots often quite familiar to me. Many of the bicycle trails were completely new to me, such as the Springwater Trail, and the trail along the Columbia River. The ride was offered in 25, 50, and 100-mile versions, with the 100-mile version offering the only real hills on the ride. Of course, Lucas Anderson and I did the full Century. This was probably my hardest century, the hills being tedious but never completely undoable. There were really three serious hills, all occurring before the halfway mark of 50 miles. Interestingly, one hill that used to kill me as a kid, the ride up out of the Sandy River basin right at the end of Stark St. really wasn’t too bad at all, and we kept a 8-10 mph pace on that hill, all the way up past Mt. Hood Comm. College. Fascinating areas from places as a kid was going through the Sellwood area, riding out Johnson Creek, riding around Dabney State Park on the Sandy River, going by Blue Lake park where we used to swim as kids, riding the Columbia past the airport, and riding around U of Portland. All of these areas brought back vivid memories but were not like I remembered them as a youngster. The total time was 7.5 hours of riding and rest. We did quite well, and my only problem was a little more severe cramping than ever. Here are photos of Lucas and myself at the halfway point, on the top of the last big hill. We really didn’t look terribly tired.

The ride was mostly downhill or flat from here, with other hills, such as the Stark St. Hill, that really were minor. All in all, Lucas and I had a great time with beautiful weather. Interestingly, coming back was terrible weather, and traffic along I-5 had slowed to <10 mph from before Chehalis to the Nisqually basin.

Introduction to the Old Testament

An Introduction to the Old Testament, by Tremper Longman III and Raymond Dillard ★★★★
Longman & Dillard, both from respectable conservative Reformed seminaries, provide a modern review of the OT, with insights on current academic thinking regarding the source and interpretation of each of the 39 books of the OT. It is an encyclopedic style text, though designed for a standard through-read by poor seminary students. I have mixed feelings about this text, with both good and bad feelings. I certainly would NOT advise this text as the sole OT textbook for seminary studies. The strength of the book is its organization, in that each chapter works through a successive book of the OT, systematically discussing a global overview of the book, references, a literary analysis, historical background, theological message, and finally orientation toward the NT. The text was strong in pointing out the current status of scholarly thinking, including higher form-criticism of the books, and discussion of possible authorship of each book of the OT. Compared to other conservative surveys of the Old Testament, I deeply appreciated the academic approach of L&D and enjoyed exploring the status of academic scholarship, liberal and conservative, on the study of the Old Testament. Too many textbooks of this sort offer a brief textual criticism, then plunge into a variable-depth survey of the contents of each book of scripture, leaving one with minimally more insight than one could get by simply just reading the text. The books’ weakness is in providing a very poor conservative response to the liberal critics. Oftentimes, idle liberal speculation is given play, without barely a response. This is true of the liberal approach to many of the OT books, which suggest that differing literary styles in the various portions of the book, including Song of Solomon, Isaiah, and Zechariah, as a few examples, imply fragmentary assemblage of the biblical text by various authors in various time periods. Such speculation has minimal grounding and a cold assumption that authors never write in differing styles throughout their life. L&D allows liberal assumptions to hold credibility, including a supposition that predictive prophecy could not occur, miracles could not happen, the Scriptures must be inherently inaccurate, and that propositional inspired truth is a fairy-tale. I also had serious problems with some of the theological conclusions of Longman and Dillard, such as their statement that Ecclesiastes was essentially uninspired and not useful for instruction in holy living. Sorry L&D, but you some help in better seeing the vast wisdom of scripture. In summary, this text was an enjoyable (though lengthy) read, with disappointments that the authors could have made this a much stronger text without much additional effort. I would hope that conservative scholarship identifies the vacuous nature of liberal scholarship as L&D has done, but does not take it quite as seriously as L&D do in this text. I would compare this OT scholarship to the new think of the Jesus Seminars, which really is too fanciful and speculative to even demand that serious scholarship provide detailed rebuttals to their ungrounded speculations.

Karl May Orient Box

Karl May series Orient Box (Der Schut, Durchs Wilde Kurdistan, Im Reiche Des Silbernen Löwen) ★★★★★
Karl May was a popular author of adventure stories for older children, very well known in Germany. Many of his stories were made into movies in the 1960s, with Lex Barker starring as the main character. This box is 3 films from stories in the mid-east. These were actually filmed in (Yugoslavia??) but very well done in the Spaghetti-Western style. The stories are great, the acting is good, and for an English speaker, the German is not hard to understand. I especially appreciate the insulting jabs that the filmmaker gives to the Brits, with two British characters, and British officer and his servant, constantly bumbling their way through the desert, requiring others to rescue them, but always behaving in “proper” style, never omitting tea-time. The movie accurately characterizes various British-isms. This series is highly recommended to the German language student.

Training Rides

15, 18, 20AUG2008 Training Rides; Eatonville-Comet Falls (Mt. Rainier) 72 miles, Enumclaw-White River Ranger Station turnoff 75 miles, Puyallup to South Prairie to Bonney Lake to Orting to Home 46 milesAll of these rides were moderately hilly, and the scenery was gorgeous. I can’t believe that I have the most beautiful park in the entire world in my backyard, yet I rarely ever get up to it. I’d thought about doing the RAMROD (Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day), held every year, but realized that these rides should be labeled RAMRWD (Ride At Mt. Rainier With Difficulty). On Saturday the 15th, we have a heatwave, with temperatures above 90°F, something unusual for the Northwest, and creating killer heat, which left me just wasted, even though I sucked in gallons of fluid. The next Monday, I did the north side of the road around Mt. Rainier and had the opposite problem. It started to rain, soon after I took off, and rained persistently for the whole ride. I was completely covered with road muck and soaked. My fingers were frozen and took 2 hours to thaw out. I ran into hail at higher elevations. Hey, this is mid-August, three days following a crippling heatwave!  Anyway, I felt good afterward, and ready to do the Portland Century this next Sunday! On Wednesday, I took a shorter ride with a few intentional hills up to Bonney Lake and then from Orting up to Graham. This ride started out sunny, but turned into a cold rain at the end of the ride, somewhat odd for even for the Northwest. Here’s a view of Mt. Rainier from the road from the 15AUG ride.

Complete Beethoven: Brilliant Classics

Beethoven Complete Works, published by Brilliant Classics ★★★★★
I now have four complete Beethoven series, including 1) The Deutsche Grammophone, 2) a series by the music publisher Amado, 3) a series put out by Sony, and now the 4) Brilliant classics series. The DG series was the most expensive and has the best recordings, by the best artists, such as von Karajan for the symphonies, Kempff for the piano sonatas, etc. This series by Brilliant was also able to maintain fairly notable performers and conductors, including Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Orchestra for the symphonies, the Guinari string quartet for the quartets, etc. All of that was with 87 CDs for the price of barely more than $1 / CD. Outside of the DG recordings, I would have to put this as the best, some of the performances even excelling that of the DG series. As an example, I ran through the piano sonata #25 by five performers, including a)Alfred Brendel, who is one of my preferred performers, but felt him to be a touch distant and adynamic on this piece, b) Kempff in the DG series, the recording sounded a bit tinny, c) Daniela Rusa on Amado sounded very mechanical and rushed, d) Yokoyama on Sony, was not bad, but also recorded slightly tinny, and slightly missing in dynamism, and finally e) Gulda in this series, which was completely forward, vivacious, with a brilliant sound, definitely the best performance of the five. One other thing to mention–when one listens to a complete series, the songs are usually put at the end. Beethoven made songs in many languages including Polish, Italian, etc., etc., but also made many English songs, including arrangements of existing tunes. These are easy to skip over, but also reflect the absolute genius of Beethoven, in having intricate and most thoughtful accompaniments, which bring luster to an otherwise ordinary piece. The fact that Beethoven could make even British music sound nice is a marked salute to his genius. All in all, there is very little to complain about with this series, and for one seeking a complete Beethoven at a bargain price, this is definitely a first choice.

The Essential Cycling Tourist

The Essential Touring Cyclist, by Richard Lovett ★★★★
I’ve considered the possibility of doing some bicycle touring, and so purchased this text to get the low and skinny, as it was fairly high-rated on It is a fairly basic but well-written book that is easy to read, always applicable, with many helpful hints as to how to survive out there on a bicycle. It covers most expected topics, such as how to choose a touring bicycle, what bags to get for the bike and what to put in them, how to survive the long road, and how to plan a trip, including possible European trips. The book is an excellent choice for anybody just starting out on cycle touring.