Bach Organ Works – Alain

Bach Works for Organ, performed by Marie-Claire Alain ★★★★
I have multiple recordings of the Bach organ works, including those found in the complete sets of Bach works by Brilliant and Hänssler, as well as the complete organ works by Walcha, Hurford, and Preston. Alain has recorded the Bach works for organ three times, this being her last complete recording. She is a formidable Bach interpreter, and her recordings of Bach’s organ works remain among the best-loved and most sought out. I would certainly agree with that, in that she delivers a depth of feeling in the works that is noticeable. The technical aspects of her performances are also quite superlative. Each of the Bach interpreters in my collection offers something different to the Bach organ works, which makes them complementary. Perhaps the performances that stand out the most are the Simon Preston recordings, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I could not say that any one series is best, and if a person were to seek out a single performance set for their collection, I would not suggest any recording as better or worse than any other; you won’t err with any set of Bach’s organ works. Bach has a style distinctly different from other contemporary composers, including a style that is more demanding, more use of the pedals, and a better cohesion of musical statements than others. If all we had from Bach were his organ works, he still would remain a most remarkable and exceptional composer.

Secret Thoughts

Secret Thoughts, by Howard Clark, MD ★★★★
H.S. (Howard) Clark is an anesthesiologist at the hospital where I work, and he had been in the process of writing novels for a lengthy period of time now. This novel is a suspense thriller with an anesthesiologist, Paul Powers, as the detective, trying to solve a mystery of cyanide poisoning, leading to the death of a number of people, including a colleague of Powers, Valdimire Zhazinsky, who was a radiologist. As the mystery plot thickens, Paul is soon branded as the main culprit.  Paul departs on an international whirlwind effort to clear his name and to identify the real killer. I will not give the entire plot away. The text is not lengthy even though the book is thick since it is printed in rather large type, and so can be read in 1-2 evenings. Howard does an excellent job of keeping the action moving and keeping the reader in suspense.
One side story relates to the experimental use of a hypothetical drug picafentanyl, which puts people to sleep (like the real drug, fentanyl, which is commonly used in surgery). The problem with picafentanyl is that is secreted by the breath, and thus, when used, puts everybody in the room asleep. Though this novel kept me well awake, the next time Dr. Clark starts to put me to sleep in surgery, I’ll suspect that he might have been popping a bit of picafentanyl.

The Secret Providence of God

The Secret Providence of God, by John Calvin, Edited by Paul Helm ★★★★★
Castellio met Calvin while Calvin was in Strasbourg and later followed him to Geneva, where he served as Rector in the College of Geneva for several years. He eventually parted ways with Calvin,  generating very strong anti-Calvinistic statements. This book is a response to Castellio, in the form of an open letter back to Castellio in response to a letter which Castellio sent to Calvin, and is also found in this volume. In Castellio’s letter, fourteen articles are presented of objections to Calvin. Calvin in return goes through each of these articles, all of which state in various ways that Calvin’s theism promotes God as the author of evil, and thus make evil and good ethically alike, since they both come from god. Calvin’s rebuttal is firm, and anchored in the notion of a secret providence of God, whereby He even uses evil to promote the ultimate good, but in a manner which does not make God the author for sin. This debate is not an idle historical quibble, but relates to much of which splits Christians today, but was the backbone of both the Lutheran and Reformed branches of the Reformation. Thus, it is worth a reading. Calvin presents his argument in a manner that would never be found today, calling Castellio a dog and a pig. His very last statement was “May God restrain you, Satan. Amen”. Sadly, there are a few among us that feel that since Calvin could use such literary technique, they are also justified in calling their opponents dogs or pigs. Paul Helm provides an insightful introduction to the book, and the translation is quite readable.

Lloyd M. Nyhus

Lloyd M. Nyhus, MD, FACS, Surgeon, Mentor, Visionary for 20th Century Surgery, by Michelle Rapaport with Donald Wood, MD, FACS ★★★★★
This was a delightful book to read because it was a part of my own personal history, as I had trained under Dr. Nyhus. Dr. Don Wood, of whom I had also gotten to know well, does a wonderful job of outlining Dr. Nyhus’s life from childhood to his death. Certainly, as one of the best known and great surgeons of the 20th century, this book was well due to Dr. Nyhus. My office still contains signed versions of the textbooks that he had published, and it was an honor to have trained under the man.
A book of this sort certainly could not contain many of the little things that made Dr. Nyhus a delight to work under. Every summer, we had a Department of Surgery picnic, for which I was in charge about 4 of the 8 years I was in Chicago. These were delightful events, for which I always made sure we ordered some Weisswurst for Dr. Nyhus. He would also have all of the surgery residents over to his house for a backyard picnic once a year, which was special. I always appreciated when he would randomly pick me to attend dinner at the University Club for a distinguished visiting professor. Nyhus had a delightful knack for making the residents feel like his boys.
This book is not a history so much as a tribute to Dr. Nyhus. It is written like an Egyptian pharaoh would write a history, in that it was not inclusive of the struggles and challenges of life at the U of Illinois. Nyhus, as the Delta/TWA professor of surgery was gone so much, that even though I was on his service a number of times, only operated with him 3-4 times in the total five years of my residency. Bombeck had several heart replacements, and in spite of that, was a chain smoker of such a serious degree that he rarely could tolerate more than 5 minutes scrubbed with me in the OR before he needed to step out for another smoke. Donahue was an attending than one never turned their back on.  Levitsky was blind as a bat, and very pompous. I shan’t be too negative. Olga Jonasson was technically the best surgeon of the group, and a delight to train under, even though she was as tough as nails. Dr. Abcarian was just an all-round wonderful surgeon to work with. Dr. Das Gupta was ultimately the best of the best of the whole bunch in my estimation, being a role model for me of excellence both in the operating room and in the laboratory. I usually end up calling myself a Das Gupta trained surgeon. Dr. Wood was in Das Gupta’s division of surgical oncology, and was one of most special attendings for me, in that he was not only a competent teacher and surgeon, but an example of the Christian faith in the world of academic medicine. There are many other surgeons under Nyhus that were not mentioned in this book that were true pillars in the residency, such as Drs. Nelson, Barrett, Sharifi, Briele, and Walter Barker, to name a few. Das Gupta, Wood, Abcarian and Jonasson deserve the highest honors in the grand scheme of things, though they would be too modest to admit that.
Regardless of any shortcomings, and they were minor, I consider it an honor to have trained under Dr. Nyhus. This book is a well written tribute to a man who could assemble a diverse bunch of surgeons to make without a doubt the best surgery residency in the world during the 1970’s and 1980’s. I feel blessed to have been a part of that experience.

A Disease of the Public Mind

A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War, by Thomas Fleming ★★★★★
I really didn’t wish to read another book about why the civil war was fought, but I loved the other books by Thomas Fleming that I had read, including The New Dealers’ War and The Illusion of Victory on the 2nd and 1st world war respectively. One grows weary of the discussions over the true reason for the civil war. Those with a southern sentiment argue with a religious conviction that it was not about slavery. Others will argue that it was about the state’s rights. The most recent study by a well-known tax historian made a very plausible account that it was about unfair taxation. Fleming addresses all of these issues, but mostly maintains a persistent thread through the historical accounts as to the issue of slavery. Interestingly, Fleming seems to take neither a Northern nor Southern stance but notes that both groups had lapsed into a spiteful sentiment towards the other, coupled with a religious fervor that disallowed compromise or discussion or resolution.  The preface paints the real dilemma of assigning a war clause since neither the North nor the South had a large population eager to go to war to either abolish or maintain slavery. But, the issue of slavery became a form of public insanity, a disease of the public mind.
Fleming notes that slavery was a contentious issue from well before the Revolutionary war.  Slavery had no geographical boundaries, and both North and South at one time had slaves. The founders of the constitution realized that slavery would become a contentious issue, and some of the fathers of the Republic set their slaves free voluntarily. Everybody in the few years following the grounding of the constitution felt that slavery was inconsistent with the constitution, and wished for its eventual demise. Yet, over time, “religious” fervor in the north maintained an uncontrolled vitriolic tongue, while southern politicians hardened their once pliable stance on the right of slavery. The Senate and House became hotbeds of contention, with extensive discussions about nullification and the extent of federal power (but, all related to the ultimate issue of slavery), with the New England states first expressing the idea of succession. Over time, the radical abolitionists became irrationally cruel towards the south, all in the name of the Christian god. Conversely, the south developed the irrational fear of a race war similar to that which was experienced in Haiti, even though the circumstances in that island were much different than in the south. Even headed thinkers predominated on both sides, who refused to accept that the war was over slavery—for the north, it was the preservation of the union, and for the south, the preservation of their homeland. Both sides retained a pompous arrogance in the correctness of their part of the struggle at the war’s end. The anguish of the war stood largely on a few people, Abraham Lincoln and Robert Lee being the two most spoken of in this book, both wishing a benevolent resolution of the conflict and of the anger that generated the war. The apotheosis of both men, Lincoln and Lee, by the north and south respectively, would probably have been greeted with disapproval by both men, who were greater than the prevailing thought of the time.
This book also adds some food for thought, that I’d like to add as a side note to the book review. It is interesting that the strict Libertarian camp (e.g. as found in the Lew Rockwell webpage) unrelentingly attacks Lincoln for diminishing the constitution and strengthening big government. The Libertarian blindness to unrestrained capitalism without a strong Christian moral base leaves for the naive thought that man is intrinsically good, and will always make consider for the betterment of his fellow man. Unfortunately, such is not the case, and the wealthy will tend to dominate the weak at the expense of the weak. Libertarians will also argue that the constitution never demands the preservation of the union, yet it has always been interpreted as such, starting with George Washington himself. The constitutionalists bewail the notion that all we need to do is to return to the first principles of the nation—yet, the founding fathers clearly understood the defects in the constitution, and how decisions contrary to the strict interpretation of the constitution were made very early in the nation’s history. Theonomists will acclaim that the rule of God as stated in Scripture give the only laws that should exist in a nation, and that no laws should be added and no laws should be subtracted. While it is true that the law of God is perfect, the universal application of the civil laws of the OT in a godless society is a grand fantasy. Much more could be said about what would make a perfect government in an imperfect world, but the answer would always be that there is no perfect government either prescribed in Scripture or experienced in the history of mankind.
In the Civil War, both sides were fighting in the name of the same Christian God. Both sides used Scripture to defend their actions. Both held contempt for the other side as being evil and moral deviants. Both sides refused to acknowledge the Christian standing of their “opponents”. Our generation is noting the destructiveness of “love” without orthodoxy. The civil war generation showed a seeming opposite, the desire for “orthodoxy” without love. Though the disease changes, the USA persists with diseases of the public mind that cloud our ability to be true Christians. The civil war is a war that should have never been fought but brought on by extremist zealots’ actions north and south in the nation. But, isn’t that true of every war that the US has fought? The war of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, WWI and WWII, the Korean War, the Viet Nam war, The Afghani and Iraqi wars; all of these represent the cry of very few people for armed conflict. “Let us do evil, that good may come of it” is the equivalent of “the War to end all wars” or “glory, glory, hallelujah, His truth is marching on” as soldiers slaughter their fellow Christian man for not thinking exactly the same way as they do.
Read the book. It is interesting history, and an interesting perspective on the Civil War, which is essentially not a “new understanding” but a well-articulated stance of the possibility that it was nothing than widespread (north and south) public insanity that led to the war.

Góreki: Symphony #3

Górecki Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) and Three Olden Style Pieces), performed by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Antoni Wit ★★★★★
I have several versions of Górecki’s third symphony, both of which are excellent. Naxos provides a beautiful rendition of Górecki’s 3rd, with excellent sound and balance in this recording. Górecki is not a well-known composer, without a large volume of works to his name. He passed away in the 1990s. While being very distinctly 20th-century pieces of music, they are also most accessible to even the most die-hard classicist. The symphony is a sad piece, with orchestra occasional accompanied by a solo soprano voice. The music is haunting, but not in the freakish sense, such as one would get with Ligeti.  Wit masterfully conducts the symphony with a great amount of emotion that touches the listener. As a bonus, Naxos also included the Three Olden Style Pieces, composed in a similar genre to the third symphony, though without a vocal part. This is a piece that I would highly recommend to any discriminating classical music lover.

Music In the Castle of Heaven

Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, by John Eliot Gardiner ★★★★★
Gardiner is not especially my favorite conductor, but he does a fantastic and compelling job of writing this book. The text is partially a biography of Bach, but also partially a critique of his music, and commentary on music in Bach’s time. Gardiner conducts well, but he writes even better, and this book was difficult to put down. The first half of the book is more narrative, and the last half is more exploration of the cantatas and major choral works of Bach. What are you left with? A kid born in a small town in rural Germany to musical parents, orphaned when he was 9, lives a few years with his oldest brother before being thrown out, hikes up to Lübeck with a buddy and attends an orphans school for a year or so, comes back to Thuringia, and gets measly employment. In his first job, the city mayor asks Bach to include a bassoon solo for the mayor’s son, which Bach does—the solo happens to be too difficult for sonny boy and so he attacks Bach in a back alley and daddy naturally sticks up for sonny. Obviously, Bach didn’t put up with that. He spends time in prison. He has serious employer problems. He survives a war. He has problems with wayward children. I could go on and on. Gardiner paints many personal facets of Bach’s life that turn him into a real person and erases the massive quantity of hagiography written about him. Bach also was an avid theology reader, and well-versed in the writings of Luther, as well as in Lutheran commentaries on the Scripture. As mentioned, the latter part of the book explores more the actual choral compositions of Bach, focusing especially on the Passions of John and Matthew, as well as the B minor mass. Fortunately, I was familiar with these pieces and could follow the text. I caution the reader not familiar with Bach’s music to spend some time working through his cantatas and major choral works while you read the book to get the full effect of the book. This book was a total delight to read, and so much so that I purchased additional copies for my musical friends. Hopefully, they develop as much appreciation for Bach as Gardiner has.

Joyeux Noël

Joyeux Noël ★★★
This movie is based on a well-known story in early WWI, where German soldiers started to sing “Silent Night” (auf Deutsch, naturlich… Stille Nacht), but were soon joined by their English and French enemies in a 24-hour truce and joint friendship. This followed with the soldiers in each camp being shipped off to other fronts, and sternly disciplined by superior officers. Much has been made of this event and it has been used to reflect on the insanity of WWI.  This depiction of the December 24, 1914 event has a very Hollywood flavor, including matters definitely not recorded in the original story, such as the Scots starting the singing (no sane German would ever sing to the bagpipe), the German singing being led by an opera tenor with his accompanying girlfriend also with him at the front, etc., etc. Since nobody is alive anymore from this event, we will probably not get the actual facts of how things transpired. The film has good flow and good acting, but an inappropriate sex scene that doesn’t fit with the movie, and a storyline that is rather contrived and reeks of Hollywood. It’s an attempt at an antiwar statement is shadowed by “The King of Hearts”, “All’s Quiet on the Western Front”, and “Slaughterhouse 9”.

Prodigal Press

Prodigal Press: Confronting the Anti-Christian Bias of the American News Media, by Marvin Olasky and updated by Warren Cole Smith ★★★★
I received this book in the mail for free from World Magazine. It is an update from a book Olasky wrote in the late 1980s and acting as the justification for him starting World Magazine. Betsy and I are subscribers to World Magazine, but will probably be allowing our subscription to lapse for reasons I’ll mention later. This is a good book and worth reading, though deficits make it not the great book it could have been. There has been a slew of books attacking the media empire, the best being written by a Jewish person, Neil Postman, titled “Amusing Ourselves to Death”. Many books on press bias have been published.
Olasky does a wonderful job of developing the history of the press in America, elaborating on how many newspapers used to be specifically Christian newspapers, until taken over by liberal editorial staff. He discusses how the shift in the court ruling of the libel laws has ultimately made it far more difficult to win charges of slander or libel, even when the press intentionally or unintentionally lies about the reporting of “facts” in a story. Olasky then looks at specific areas of reporting, such as the manner and style in which disasters and crises are reported. He explores how the press crusades for various public issues, the one most specifically mentioned was the issue of abortion.
Unfortunately, Olasky persistently considers being Republican and being Christian as being synonymous, and that attitude is very strong in this book as well as in his World Magazine. Such thinking could not be farther from the truth. In pro-life issues, Olasky rails against abortion but is completely silent against the many wars the US fights, and people we murder (usually overseas) all in the name of homeland security. He campaigns for compassionate conservatism but is completely silent about the corruption in government that creates money out of thin air (the Federal Reserve), and causes the economic instability that ultimately forces an increased need for redistribution of wealth in either a voluntary or involuntary fashion. Even in terms of reporting issues, Olasky has a horrid neo-Conservative Republican bias, seen in the last election as his total failure to offer democratic candidates a possible positive defense, and even worse, excluding candidates like Ron Paul from any discussion what-so-ever. For that reason, I found World Magazine to be a poor source for news, unless I wished to know about the actions of some altruistic group in Limbo, Arkansas. An honest discussion of issues from differing Christian perspectives is completely lacking, and the internet becomes the only place where I might find my sense of balance on serious issues of political and public concern.
The end of the book provides advice on how to deal with a nosey press reporter, wishing to dig mud on you. It is worth reading. Perhaps the best response to inquisitive reporters is to not exchange with them at all. The internet has provided a much better voice and information source for people than the press, including World Magazine. The press should be treated in the way they’ve deserved as an irrelevant information source.

Thirteen Words and Three Rights

Thirteen Words, and Three Rights, by Edwin Vieira, Jr. ★★★
These two books will be reviewed together since they probably should have been published as a single text. They follow on the heels of a book I recently reviewed by Vieira on judicial supremacy. These two volumes were written within the past several years, both pertaining to similar subjects. In Thirteen Words, Vieira discusses the subject of the right to bear arms, as stated quite clearly in the second amendment. He then develops the idea of the militia in terms of the definition intended by the founding fathers. State militias were intended to be managed by the states, conduct their business entirely independent of the army, and provide the ultimate “homeland security”. Vieira calls for the resurrection of a true state militia, where the citizens of the state are encouraged to be armed, and serve as the protection against the enemies of the state and to balance the power of the central government.
In Three Rights, Vieira expounds on the right to resistance to bad government, the right to restoration of good government, and the right for renewal of the nation. These rights are found explicitly in the declaration of independence, and not in the constitution itself. Essentially, it is the people’s right to revolution against bad government. Vieira develops the thought that this is not anti-government, and not to be confused with insurrection, which the constitution explicitly protects against. Vieira completely fails in drawing a strict definition of the difference between a revolution and an insurrection, both intended to overthrow what is perceived by some to be bad government or a misinterpretation of the government. Indeed, perhaps the reason that these three rights are NOT a part of the bill of rights, is that the declaration of independence was written with revolutionary fervor, an emotion that bodes poorly when actually trying to form a stable government.
Both books were written as single chapters, and manifest free-flowing thought, rather than a highly organized argument. This is contrary to his book on overthrowing judicial supremacy, where he actually thinks things through in a methodical, sensible, and more reasoned fashion. He often uses conventions in these two books that I am not familiar with, such as the frequent use of three asterisks (***) to suggest something, which I thought was perhaps trying to make an emphasis at that particular point. He frequently speaks of “the good people of the USA”, which I’m not sure what is meant by that—except to emphasize that he certainly is NOT a Calvinist, who believes that people are at their core intrinsically bad, with a government designed to control that badness. The predicament of today is that most people really don’t care that the government today is for the most part operating in an entirely unconstitutional fashion since their personal lives seem to have sufficient affluence and contentment to not warrant a revolution. Perhaps Vieira is writing for the future when people wake up to realize that they’ve sold themselves into slavery to the state. Until that happens, both books are nothing but wishful thinking.