October 2009

Die Schöpfung: Karajan

Die Schöpfung, Conducted by von Karajan ★★★★★
This review is in conjunction with the review of the same piece conducted by Bernstein. While Bernstein offers a rather operatic approach to this Oratorio, Karajan offers a gentler, more pastoral rendering. The performance and recording are impeccable, the sound coming across with clarity and vibrancy in both pieces. Karajan manages to arrive at the soul of this piece in a better manner than Bernstein. This is a strange comment since Karajan is usually accused of performing too much to the camera. Yet, I see Bernstein as the more flamboyant conductor, when viewed on video. This flamboyancy comes through in the sound of the performance. This is my preferred performance of Die Schöpfung, even though I would give both pieces 5 stars. This piece is a perfect example as to why it is important to listen to the same piece by differing conductors, as the performance is distinctly different in each case.

Die Schöpfung: Bernstein

Die Schöpfung, by Franz Haydn, performed by Leonard Bernstein and Bayerischen Rundfunks ★★★★★
I review this recording in conjunction with Herbert von Karajan,s version of the same oratorio. Both are excellent, though both are completely different. Both command the best of the best soloists, this version uses Judith Blegen, Thomas Moser, Kurt Moll, Lucia Pop, etc. In both, the sound is superb. Bernstein’s performance has a more aggressive, forward feel to it. It is conducted as though he were conducting an opera. It is always lively, with a sense of sprint to the pieces including the various soloist’s pieces. This is a performance of Haydn’s oratorio that is much worth having. See critic above…


Luther, starring Joseph Fiennes ★★★★★
This is the third or fourth time that I have seen this film, but have not yet reviewed it. There are several video histories of Martin Luther that have been made, but I feel this to be the best. I have only seen the film in German. J. Fiennes makes a perfect Luther, and the script seems to not deviate too wildly from the history that we have of Luther in order to sensationalize matters. Luther does not need “Hollywood-ization”, yet they still did a moderate amount of this, such as with the mother of a crippled child, and the adulating crowds. Also, they tended to make Luther appear like a dolt in the Augustiner Kloster, yet most history reports him to be quite brilliant even at that time. So, the historical data was reasonable, but not perfect. This is a good film to watch, but hopefully, you also take the time to read books about the Reformation to find out what really happened, and the real theological underpinnings of the Reformation.

Die Geschichte der Deutschen

Die Geschichte der Deutschen, by Guido Knopp ★★★★★
This book, written in German, utilized many illustrations and simpler language for the school level, which made it quite understandable to me. Knopp is a historian, who also works for the ZDF (I believe). Giving a history of Germany from the eyes of a German native, made the story most fascinating, especially as he approached the modern epoch of the fall of the wall and the reunification of Germany. The story begins with Karl der Grosse, and ends with reunifications, emphasizing both the triumphs and low points in the history of a nation. One gets the idea that, unlike France, there is a history of progression with the German people, that they have had to “re-invent” themselves many times out of necessity for survival, rather than cling to a past hypothetical ideal. If one could read German, this is a delightful read worth tackling.

Les Miserables

Les Miserables, Starring Liam Neeson ★★★★
I’ve never read the book before. The other versions of Les Miserables that I have seen include the version starring Gerard Depardieu, and the take-off of John-Paul Belmondo, as well as the play by the name, which I saw in London. The London play would receive only one star. Gerard Depardieu was a better lead man Jean Valjean, though this production had superb filmography, and acting that truly could not be criticized. The John-Paul Belmondo is a 5-star worthy film, though is a take-off of the story set in WWII Paris. This version has some problems. 1. It reportedly does not follow the Victor Hugo text closely at all. 2. It turns Cosette into a spoiled brat. 3. The boy revolutionary leader is a girly-man– why does Hollywood love girly-men so much nowadays? 4. There is an abnormal sense of a love affair with Cosettes’ mother, which I doubt the book really portrays. 6. The movie never explores the rationale behind the Inspector finally turning Jean Valjean free and committing suicide. The version here is a version worth watching, if you are a Les Miserables fan, with the criticisms noted, it’s still worth 4 stars.

Life Trilogy of Paul Helm

The Beginnings, the Callings, The Last Things, by Paul Helm★★★★★
This is actually three books being reviewed, and the cover of only the first book is shown. It is a series that was written by Paul Helm for Banner of Truth Publishers, each book written in sequence and published separately, though they should all be read together. Paul Helm is like many authors, who read better than they speak. Some authors, like Martyn Lloyd-Jones, speak better than he writes; Helm is just the opposite. This is a delightful series that is essentially a systematic theological look at conversion, the living of the Christian life, and the finality of all things. Helm remains solidly reformed, but discusses the nature of conversion, our callings and work in life, and the final judgment in late 20th century terms. Being primarily a philosopher, he tends to think through theological problems on a systematic level, discussing alternative views, philosophical offshoots, and encounters with the doctrine in question, and then settles matters with a conservative summary of doctrinal positions. These are a valuable set of books to read, which should be considered by anybody thinking deeply about the faith.

Shostakovich: String Quartets

Shostakovich String Quartets, Borodin String Quartets ★★★★★
I have four versions of the Shostakovich String Quartets, including those by the Borodin, Fitzwilliam, Shostakovich, and Emerson Quartets. The Borodin was my first purchase, and still my favorite, though I would be reluctant to give any of the renditions anything less than 5 stars, as they are all well done. This recording is slightly more recessive than the others, as though it was recorded in a large hall, giving it a sense of the mysterious depth that seems to be written into this music. The performers seem to have a feel for the great angst and depression that Shostakovich was experiencing as he wrote his most intimate and private works, many of these quartets not being performed or published until after his death. They are creative, soulful, brilliant in their composition, and reflective of the greatest composer of the 20th century. Included in this set is the most delightful piano quintet. I will offer a special mention to the 15th string quartet, Shostakovich’s last. It begins with an elegy, immediately followed by the screech quartet, a funeral march, and finally a very active ending. It is the composer at his greatest, and in this quartet, Shostakovich says more than most 20th century composers in their lifetime of compositional output. This is truly a set of string quartets worth owning.

The Marketing of Evil

The Marketing of Evil, by David Kupelian ★★★★★
I’ve been rare on 5-star reviews, but this book is well-written, reads well, and is well researched. The author is Armenian and appears as a rather homely person on the back flap of the book. He is everything but that. Rather, he is an articulate tiger, writing a book that was nearly impossible to put down. He serially attacks the homosexual agenda, the governmental confusion of separation of church and state, the wholesale sale of pornography, toleration and the false effort at multiculturalism, the destruction of marriage, the sex revolution, the sabotage of the school system, the extreme bias of the news media, the problem of abortion, and the problem of accommodation within the Christian church itself. He ends with quotes from two of my heroes, Francis Schaeffer and David Wells, both men acutely seeing Western culture far better than the rest of us. Altogether, the book is precise in identifying the problem of what went wrong with America. The solution presented is for Christians to speak out, but even more than that, for Christians to truly live lives consistent with their Biblical calling. I’d highly recommend this book to all Americans to read as the best description was “what’s going on”. Brother Dennis wrote a book entitled “What’s going On”, detailing the conspiracies and secret societies that control America. Yet, though Dennis is correct, Kupelian does a better job of identifying the precise problems that have led to America’s downfall, which is the loss of faith of its citizens. To that we weep.

Calvin: A Guide For the Perplexed

Calvin-A Guide for the Perplexed, by Paul Helm ★★★★
This book is written by one of the upcoming stars in the world of Christian philosophy, being both reformed in his thinking and a philosopher by trade. He currently teaches at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. This book is rather short for the task that Paul Helm attempts, in that he tries to show who the “real” Calvin really is. No attempts at historical revisionism are made. Most of the time, Helm discusses Calvin’s thoughts regarding God, the trinity, the person, and the nature of Christ, delving only shortly into those items most commonly associated with Calvin, i.e, predestination and particular redemption. All in all, Helm points out that Calvin tends to not be as harsh around the edges as many in Reformed thinking make him out to be. It is amazing how many sects of Reformed thought readily quote Calvin, without trying to understand the nature and character of Calvin. It is true that Calvin’s theology underwent further development following his death, as would be expected. The question of whether the typical caricature of Calvin described by TULIP would hold. It is Helm’s thinking that such theology does follow from Calvin, though Calvin never fully developed the theology named after him. Interesting discussion about Covenant theology was also engaged, again without absolute certainty that Calvin’s approval would be forthcoming. A final conclusion of the most important characteristic of Calvin’s thought, that of the majesty and sovereignty of God, was emphasized. Although the book was ready in a somewhat thick and stodgy fashion, it reflected the excellent thought of the writer and helped me see Calvin in a moderately “mellower” light.

First Days in Cameroon

Betsy and I left home on 26SEPT. Dr. King took us to the airport, and we flew out on Air France to Paris, with an eight-hour stopover, and then on to N’Djamena, Chad. Adama picked us up at the airport and drove us to the guest house, that had not quite prepared for our arrival. We made do and were able to leave by road to Meskine the next day, driven by Adama. The roads had multiple large potholes, yet Adama still drove at roughly 60-80 mph, the exact speed not known since the speedometer constantly read “0”.  One of our four boxes had not arrived, though we were assured that it would be in several days, and promptly delivered to us. On 30SEPT, I started working in the OR. It is much different than in Bangladesh, in that the surgeon does very little ward care, but spends most of his time in the OR suite, or seeing consults. It will take me a few days to get used to things. The workers all speak a little English, and I spent much of my time speaking German with the other Surgeon, Carsten, who is from Leipzig.
02OCT, our final box arrived, missing only a few items, such as Clorox wipes, which we can survive without. Surgery has been busy, with a few very odd cases. One was a 12 yo boy, gored by a bull, coming in several days later (how many, we don’t know), and his only injury was a complete division of his common bile duct. We did a Roux-en-Y reconstruction, but he died later that night. There are too many other cases to talk about, and I’m sure you’re not interested, so, we’ll let it slide.
10OCT, we had a fairly busy week at the hospital but were able to relax on the weekend. All is going well. I haven’t taken too many photographs, and I am not getting out of the compound too often. The US State Dept. informed us of a cholera epidemic in town, though we will still go in to eat tonight. It is a bit harder than Bangladesh to acclimatize to the heat, and I’m not sure exactly why. Otherwise, save for a bout of travelers’ diarrhea which resolved quickly in both Betsy and me, all is going well.  A few days later, we spent with Carsten and Annette on the river flowing through Moroua. This river is now just a stream but will fill its banks at some times of the year, and in a month, will be completely dry.

The main church in Meskine has about 100 adult members, and though the church starts at 8 o’clock and lasts until 10:30 AM, most people arrive between 8 and 9 am, filtering in slowly, and sitting with their own people group. The various groups are then invited sequentially to sing a song for the remainder of the folk, including a time for us white people, who usually sing in French some hymn.

Notice, the Christmas decorations remain, like in Bangladesh. Our house is quite nice, and here are some photos.

Yes. The bed has mosquito netting. No mosquito bites at night. The main crop in this area is Millet, which looks a bit like corn.

Firewood also is in huge demand, as they prefer firewood over natural gas, even though firewood is more expensive than gas!  Getting photos in the community has been a serious problem, because, unlike Bangladesh where everybody fought to have you take their photo, the natives will turn and run if you get out your camera. Both situations below witnessed this happen…

Here is the whole missionary group at Annette’s birthday party, with real ice cream made from powdered milk!!!! …

We’re having a good time, and feeling like we are contributing a bit to the entire effort. More to follow…
P.S. Aren’t you glad I didn’t include any political discussion. Though we’ve stayed in touch with American and World news, and watched the Stalk Market (sic!) and price of gold fluctuate, it seems a touch removed from us, where our patients simply are wondering if they will have food for the next day. We have much to be thankful for, in spite of our national distresses. The next few years are going to be time to re-think the real battles that face us, and hopefully, they are not simply battles for peace, security, and prosperity, as the end result will probably be the opposite of what we seek. Fortunately, Betsy and I have had time to read and think and talk, and it has helped in keeping us on track together about our goals for the coming few years, as I return to work.