Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Home

More magic by my highly appreciated Flickr friend aftab. This scene from Namibia is a beautiful piece of documenting art - and as so often, the words he includes with the shot enhance the total effect:

Home is home.

Even if it is small.
Even if it is clay-built.
Even a child knows it.


A beautiful combination, thought provoking in its simplicity.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Natural colours

Another wonderful abstract shot by my Flickr friend sannesu. The type of shot that exemplifies "abstract" for me - in the sense that I could see this hanging in a modern art museum.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

The vineyards of equality

They have a pretentious name, their first album has a pretentious title and their music is pretentious as well.... here is the debut album of Bradford's The Truth. Their music starts where Radiohead at their most complicated moments leaves off, with a strong dose of electronics and complex rhythms, and almost whining singing which has become so en vogue over the past decade. Not a record that will make much impact on the radio waves or in the shops - but they are undoubtedly highly accomplished musicians and deserve more attention than they will get.

The idea of this little game is to create an album cover for an imaginary artist/group, as well as an imaginary review, following these instructions:

[1] The artist/group: go to the wiki random page generator. The first random Wikipedia article obtained this way is the name of the band or performer. In this case, I ended up with The Truth.
[2] The title: go to the random quotations site. The last four words of the very last quote of the page is the title of the album. The random quote that came up was by Adam Clayton Powell Jr.: Unless man is committed to the belief that all mankind are his brothers, then he labors in vain and hypocritically in the vineyards of equality.
[3] The illustration: pick a suitable one from my Flickr collection. My picture, Abstraction in balloons, can be found here on Flickr. The on-line editing was done with the programme On-line image editor, the font settings selected were Arabolical 85 yellow and Judas Priest 85 VioletRed, respectively.

Note: this is a variation on the "Debut album game" that has been making its rounds around bulletin boards and blogs for some time now - the original version called for a random Flickr Explore photograph to be used as the cover. I have been trying to find out who had the original idea, but so far no success.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Brahms' chamber music [1]

Between 1986 and 1999 I built up a considerable collection of classical music CD's (exceeding 2000 CD's in total). For various reasons I have played them a lot less in the past decade, but I am embarking on a rediscovery tour that I intend to share in this blog. In the third and fourth instalments, I re-examine the chamber music of German composer Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), after Bach my favourite composer of all time. This first of the two deals with his works in the period 1854-1880.

My version: Katchen/Suk/Starker (Decca, 1968, 36 min)
Brahms' first chamber music, and he immediately tackled a difficult combination with the piano trio (piano, violin, cello). The Allegro has some great melodies with the piano not too dominant (a clear risk in this set-up), and goes through a range of emotions. The quirky scherzo fits very well to relieve the tension, with some more excellent tunes, somewhat reminiscent of his Hungarian dances. The adagio is good, but just a little less inspired than the first two movements. With an Allegro movement, the composition ends in style, tuneful and rhythmic. The version we usually here is his own revision of 1891.

My version: Raphael Ensemble (Hyperion, 1988, 34 min)
Right from the first notes, this luscious sextet (two each of violin, viola and cello) unfolds as a highly melodious work, with sadness lurking behind the textures. The andante is an intriguing set of variations, at times forceful, at times wistful, at all times delightful. A fun short scherzo lightens the mood for a moment, and a Schubertian rondo (the weakest movement) brings the composition to a close.

My version: Domus (Virgin, 1988, 42 min)
There is a symphony waiting to break out of this piano quartet - no wonder Schoenberg orchestrated it. This is accessible music, but not light by any means. After the beefy Allegro, the lovely Intermezzo inspired by Clara Schumann, and the restrained Andante, the final Rondo pulls out all the stops as Brahms channels both quirky and sentimental Hungarian themes in his inimatible way, one of his best creations. All in all, a strong and confident work that cemented his reputation as the logical successor of Beethoven.

My version: Domus (Virgin, 1988, 49 min)
One of the most beautiful intro's in his repertoire quickly gives way to perfect interplay between strings and piano, ranging from tender to passionate and back. The slow second movement initially has a nocturnal feeling to it, giving way to more dramatic developments in-between. The scherzo is not bad but not outstanding either. The quirky finale is full of rhythm and even foreshadows the likes of Stravinsky and Bartok. Overall, a beautiful work but it falls just short of the amazing first and third.

My version: Jando/Kodaly Quartet (Naxos, 1990, 37 min)
Brahms' only composition for this combination, and he arrived there starting writing for string quintet, then switching to a sonata for two pianos, before settling on the work as we know it. The opening Allegro already demonstrates the perfect balance in this piece between piano and string quartet. The Andante is suitably restrained, serene even, and the Scherzo lively but somewhat nervous. The Finale is by far the best movement, right from the slow introduction to its furious interplay. In the end, a very accomplished composition, but lacking the memorable tunes to rate it amongst the best.

My version: Raphael Ensemble (Hyperion, 1988, 40 min)
An almost subdued, at times hauntingly beautiful, at times beautifully haunting, first movement sets the scene for one of Brahms' greatest creations. The Scherzo is sometimes playful, sometimes melancholic, the Adagio presents a set of variations, reminding us of his first sextet. The final movement, a relative weak point of the first sextet, lets the sun break through and brings this remarkable work to a melodic close.

Cello Sonata 1 in E minor (op.38, 1862–65)
My version: Harrell/Askenazy (Decca, 1980, 25 min)
The piano and cello work well together here, none dominating. The opening Allegro non troppo has a melancholic feeling to it, which of course suits the cello does fine. Brahms foregoes a slow movement, and chooses a quirky Adagietto instead, which works very well. The fugue-rich final Allegro is not the strongest part of the work, but overall, one of the best cello sonatas in the romantic repertoire.

My version: Hoegner/Binder/Dolezal (Decca, 1982, 29 min)
The combination horn, violin and piano is sufficiently rare to warrant interest in this work even if it had not been by Brahms. The opening Andante is accomplished, though nothing special, but the Scherzo is playful and melodic, with the horn having a field day. The pensive Adagio seems a bit out of place after this frolicking, as beautiful as the elegiac horn lines are (the movement was inspired by the recent death of his mother). The final has a jolly hunt-like atmosphere, occasionally reminiscent in some ways (if not in style) of Mozart concertos for this instrument. All in all, not his very best, but pretty good.

My version: Melos Quartett (DG, 1988, 32 min)
In my memory the two string quartets of op.51 were not very impressive - listening to the first again more or less confirmed this. Accomplished works but lacking the brilliance of so many of his other compositions. The opening Allegro lacks memorable themes, the Romance fares somewhat better but still meanders too much. The melancholic Allegretto is easily the best movement, and the closing Allegro is close behind. These two movements save the composition.
My version: Melos Quartett (DG, 1988, 35 min)
Compared to the first, the second is a pleasant surprise, better than I remembered. The first movement is a very melodious Allegro, with typical Brahmsian lines. The andante and minuetto continue in the same vein, and the final Allegro brings the work to a satisfactory conclusion. Far from the quality of his best chamber music (and inferior to the quartets of say Dvorak), but clearly better than the first.

My version: Domus (Virgin, 1988, 34 min)
It took Brahms over 20 years to finish this very personal work, in which his impossible love for Clara Schumann shines through. The opening Allegro and the following Scherzo are as sad as uptempo movements can be, and the wonderfully melodic Andante predictably emphasizes that mood. The final Allegro does not offer much relieve either. This a resigned masterpiece, and one of the highlights of this re-discovery tour for me.

String Quartet 3 in B flat major (Op.67, 1875)
This is the only work in Brahms' chamber music that I have never heard.

My version: Perlman/Ashkenazy (EMI, 1985, 27 min)
Brahms embarked fairly late on this combination, but with great success. A beautiful melodious first movement, a meandering sad adagio, and a final movement that introduces tragic elements to reflect the death of Robert Schumann and Brahms' impossible love for Clara Schumann. An exquisite composition.

Summarizing recommendation, based on my own taste:

Hors concours: None
Essential: Piano Quartet 1, Piano Quartet 3, String Sextet 2
Important: Cello Sonata 1, Horn trio, Piano Quartet 2, String sextet 1, Violin Sonata 1
Good to have: Piano Quintet, Piano Trio 1, String Quartet 2
Not required: String Quartet 1
Unrated: String Quartet 3

Sunday, June 27, 2010

This is how it feels to be lonely

My Flickr friend macaz1977 is one of the pioneers of the "minimalism on white" movement, and he keeps on turning out the most beautiful shots in this style. Even better when seen on a white background, as on Flickr, when the borders between photograph and background completely disappear to a stunning effect.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Your perspective floored me rather unexpectedly

My Flickr friend kate mellersh turns out the most amazing abstracts, but her shadow play shots are fantastic as well. The beautiful curves of the bench take on another dimension by the shadowed echoes.

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Flickr

Que sera sera

My Flickr friend aftab keeps turning out beauties that I just have to fave. The killer dof puts all emphasis on the little lizard, hiding in an amazing setting.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Beautiful music

More Souveche magic, thanks to my esteemed Flickr friend andy_57. The model is of course an absolute stunner, but the setting and lighting are expertly chosen as well. Wonderful use of the piano prop. Love how her hair flows on to the keys.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Faceted

Look, Flickr favourites Sunday is back. This is another great shot by my Flickr friend jenny downing. A crystal stopper is turned into a beautiful piece of art, thanks to her vision and photographic skills. Simply love this.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hustle

Part of a whole series of shots of Paris street life, taken from the third floor of the Lafayette or Printemps department store in Paris (Boulevard Hausmann area), whilst my wife was shopping there. The rain had just stopped, making for a wonderful atmosphere. Since many of these images are rather similar, I am using some of them to experiment with post-processing techniques. This one I gave an aftertreatment (focal zoom) with the on-line editing programme Picnik. I quite like the outcome. To quote a comment I received (from aftab no less): "This picture would have been superb without the effect, but the processing makes it more dynamic and interesting!"

Camera: Canon EOS 400D Digital 10 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.003 sec (1/320)
Aperture: f/8.0
Focal Length: 200 mm
ISO speed 400
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0, Picnik

Flickr

Metropolis

One of cinema's classic moments, but also one of the best movie posters of all time. Wonderful art deco design for Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

More on this movie in the IMDB article linked to below.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Yesterday once more

Another great shot by my Flickr friend aftab. A timeless moment of love captured here, enhanced by the post-treatment. Beautiful. And I love the Carpenters reference of the title.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Traeume

The first time I heard this song was 37 years after its issue. One morning during our 2007 holiday, I was waiting for my wife to be ready, and watched a French movie on TV. In one of the more dramatic scenes they used a German song as background, and it really blew me away. Fortunately, the name and singer were mentioned in the dialogue as well, which allowed me to find the song upon our return. The song is called Traeume (Dreams), and the singer is the French lady Francoise Hardy, one of the most successful chansonieres in the history of French light music. The gorgeous melody is courtecy of the German composer Martin Boettcher, who is best remembered in Europe for his numerous German movie scores, including the Edgar Wallace and Karl May series. Francoise Hardy's German lyrics are delivered with a seductive accent, and the end result is simply great.
Art Rock score: 10/10 (brilliant masterpiece, one of 200 best songs of all time)

YouTube

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Lady in red

In Imaginary Movies I will be posting some fake movie posters I created (including a fake review), with two recurring themes: the title is based on a pop/rock song, and the image is from my Flickr stream. This one takes a Chris de Burgh song in combination with my shot La femme en rouge.

This is a disturbing movie. Great, but disturbing. The tag line says it all: "Passion is a positive obsession, obsession is a negative passion". Frank Terry paints a fascinating bleak picture of a manager with a successful career, who gets obsessed by a woman in a red rain coat he encounters one day in the streets of Boston, and sees his life slowly but surely fall apart because of this. His decision to start stalking her turns out to be just the beginning of the end. Bridget Scholes and John Cole may not be household names (yet), but their performance in this drama are spell binding. Four and a half stars out of five - but not for the faint of heart.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Venice vamp

Another creation of my wife that is currently hanging in my study. Inspired by the typical masks we saw in Venice, and very much in her unique Shanghai Expressionism style.

The Art of Lu Schaper

Can you guess what this is?

The title is not mine, but was posted by the creator of this beautiful shot, my Flickr friend peggyhr. To quote the answer (which I would not have got in a million years): "I was frying up spicy peppers with red and yellow sweet peppers, zucchini, onions, parsley and thickly sliced small red potatoes. Suddenly, I noticed how the colourful mixture was being reflected in the condensation droplets accumulating on the inside of the glass lid of my electric frying pan. So, needless to say, I zoomed in on it and clicked several times. :-)". Absolutely fabulous.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Monday, June 21, 2010

Souveche

My esteemed Flickr friend andy_57 keeps posting wonderful series of shots with gorgeous models, in this case the beautiful Souveche. Another prime example of his mastery with lighting and composition, emphasizing the combination of her dress and her skin tone. A gorgeous glamour shot.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Saturday, June 19, 2010

In eternity

High time to light up my blog with another shot by my Flickr friend aftab. Minimalism at its best, with the limited colour scheme adding to the impact of the photograph.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Shanghai scarf

A new line of art of my wife. Since a few months she is cooperating with the leading Shanghai High End Fashion chain, who plans to use her designs on new lines of products. The first one, depicted above, is a special silk scarf with Shanghai themes that hit the stores earlier this week and is selling very well. It depicts both side of the Hangpu river, the traditional PuXi Bund district and the new PuDong high rise buildings.

The Art of Lu Schaper

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Nuts

As expected, I did not come back with loads of photographs from my business trip to Houston, but this one is perhaps my best wildlife shot so far. This little squirrel kept on posing for me. Love the bokeh I got here.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D Digital 10 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.013 sec (1/80)
Aperture: f/6.3
Focal Length: 173 mm
ISO speed 400
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Fickle heart

You sometimes encounter the album cover painting in overviews of realistic paintings (a topic that really does not appeal to me). What many people do not realize is not just that this painting was actually made for the cover of the debut album of the British band Sniff 'n' the Tears, but it was in fact frontman Paul Roberts who was the painter.

All Music

Monday, June 14, 2010

Napery

Another great shot by my Flickr friend jenny downing, who has such a knack to see photographic opportunities in day to day subjects. This still life of napkins on a table is a case in point - it is transformed into a beautiful piece of art.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

White wedding

A new subject, inspired by the Imaginary Albums topic. In Imaginary Movies I will be posting some fake movie posters I created (including a fake review), with two recurring themes: the title is based on a pop/rock song, and the image is from my Flickr stream. The first one takes a Billy Idol song in combination with my shot Hurry Hurry.

Joris Linssen's third movie White Wedding stars Suzy Wong as Chinese exchange student Yang Fey, who falls for her fellow Paris Sorbonne student Jean Germaine, played by Philippe Lacombe. After a tumultuous love affair, they decide to get married - but on her wedding day more is revealed to her than she expected. A complicated triangular affair unfolds with a brilliant display by Therese-Marie de Passy as the older woman that Philippe cannot cut out of his life. The atmosphere of the Paris Left Bank is an excellent backdrop for this fascinating drama. Four stars out of five.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

How many worlds

Inspired by a competition of the Flickr group "Learn composition by example" in which we are both on the admin team, my Flickr friend sannesu has embarked recently on a series of abstract shots. This is one of the best, supported by a perfect composition.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mozart's wind concertos

Between 1986 and 1999 I built up a considerable collection of classical music CD's (exceeding 2000 CD's in total). For various reasons I have played them a lot less in the past decade, but I am embarking on a rediscovery tour that I intend to share in this blog. In the second instalment, I re-examine the wind concertos of Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).

My version: Elliot/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Abbado (DG, 1985, 18 minutes)
Not Mozart's best work, but bassoon concertos are so rare that this one still gets a decent exposure - and objectively it is probably the best in the small repertoire. Mozart makes the most out of what is in the end hardly a suitable concertante instrument, logically emphasizing the upper registers, but with some nice grumpy sounds as well in the Allegro and the Rondo. The Andante even makes the bassoon sound like a melancholic singer in beautiful melodic lines.

My version: Aurele Nicolet/Royal Concertgebouworchestra/Zinman (Philips, 1978, 24 minutes)
A typical Mozart concerto, unmistakingly by his hand, and very pleasing to listen to. The Allegro gives the soloist ample occasion to shine with melodic cadenzas. The Adagio's first notes foreshadow Johann Strauss' famous Blue Danube theme, but then meanders off. Usually the slow movements are the ones that impress me the most in the Mozart concertos, but this is not one of the best. The closing Rondo is of a higher level again, but in the end, this concerto leaves an average feeling in the Mozart concerto oeuvre - and is yet one of the best flute concertos of all time.

My version (flute): Nicolet/Royal Concertgebouworchestra/Zinman (Philips, 1978, 20 minutes)
My version (oboe): Still/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Abbado (DG, 1985, 20 minutes)
This concerto exists in two version. It is now generally accepted that it was originally an oboe concerto, which Mozart himself transcribed for flute. The Allegro has a very optimistic sunny sound and gives the soloist every chance to shine. The Andante is beautiful, and the final Rondo quirky, with one of his most enduring themes. Oboe or flute? They both have their own character, the flute more playful, the oboe more wistful, especially in the lower registers. In the end, I have a clear preference for the oboe which makes the flute version somewhat redundant.

My version: Schulz&Zabaleta/Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Boehm (DG, 1976, 30 minutes)
I include this double concerto as the flute gets far more chance to shine than the harp here. I find the opening Allegro in general rather uninspired in its themes, although some of the flute play is quite exquisite. The Andantino has far better melodies, and makes better use of the flute/harp interaction, especially in the last 2 minutes. The closing Rondo is pleasing, but nothing special.

Horn Concerto 2 in E-flat Major, KV417 (1783)
My version: Purvis/Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (DG, 1988, 13 minutes)
Joyful play by the soloist in the Allegro, but I would have preferred stronger melodies from the orchestra here. The Andante brings just that, with the horn following suit. The Rondo is quirky, but in the end somewhat superficial.

Horn Concerto 3 in E-flat Major, KV447 (1786)
My version: Purvis/Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (DG, 1988, 16 minutes)
Right from the start of the Allegro, Mozart throws in great rhythmic melodies, and less usual lines for the horn (no hunting associations here). The Romance that follows has the horn leading in one of his most beautiful melodies.The final allegro has one of the best up tempo melodies Mozart came up with. My favourite horn concerto in the repertoire, regardless of composer.

My version: Jolley/Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (DG, 1988, 17 minutes)
The Allegro maestoso has some of the best horn lines of the four concertos. The highly melodic Romance continues the high quality of this concerto, and the closing rondo, which evokes a hunt in a very subtle way, rounds off the concerto in a very upbeat manner. My second favourite horn concerto in the repertoire, regardless of composer.

Horn Concerto 1 in D major, KV412 (1791)
My version: Jolley/Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (DG, 1988, 9 minutes)
Although now known as the first, it was actually the last of the four horn concertos that Mozart composed. It is a mini-concerto with only two movements (no Andante), and calling for far less virtuosity from the soloist than the other three - and Mozart obviously kept his better themes for other works in his final year.

My version: Prinz/Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Boehm (DG, 1974, 31 minutes)
Although Mozart is not in my top 5 favourite composers, I think very highly of him - and if I could save only one of his works, it would be the clarinet concerto. The allegro opens with a typical jolly rhythmic Mozart melody, after which the clarinet leads the dance temporarily into slightly more melancholy terrain, only to come up with a joyous mood at the end. The lullaby-like melody with which the clarinet opens the Adagio will immediately be recognized by many non-classical music lovers, as it was used in the soundtrack of Out of Africa. This movement was one of the favourite pieces of music of my mother, and one of the last she played before she died. It never fails to bring tears to my eyes - literally. The Rondo offers relief, with more magic melodies. The best clarinet concerto ever written, and a candidate for the honour of best concerto for any instrument.

Summarizing recommendation, based on my own taste:

Hors concours: clarinet
Essential:
Important: oboe, horn 3, horn 4
Good to have: bassoon, flute 1, flute&harp, horn 2
Not required: flute 2, horn 1

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The war against reality

Psychedelic rock is of course associated with the late sixties rather than our century, but the Swiss formation Virusheat apparently does not care about that. Their fourth album The war against reality continues where its predecessor Mushroom Magic left off - compositions that drone on for 6-17 minutes in the style of early Pink Floyd. But - unfortunately - without the brilliance of their famous idols. Virusheat are undoubtedly accomplished musicians, but their musical vision is limited. Not recommended. Unless you are high, perhaps.

The idea of this little game is to create an album cover for an imaginary artist/group, as well as an imaginary review, following these instructions:

[1] The artist/group: go to the wiki random page generator. The first random Wikipedia article obtained this way is the name of the band or performer. In this case, I ended up with Virusheat.
[2] The title: go to the random quotations site. The last four words of the very last quote of the page is the title of the album. The random quote that came up was by Jules de Gaultier: Imagination is the one weapon in the war against reality.
[3] The illustration: pick a suitable one from my Flickr collection. My picture, Foot rest, can be found here on Flickr. The on-line editing was done with the programme On-line image editor, the font settings selected were Bookworm 60 Yellow and Beware 60 Red, respectively.

Note: this is a variation on the "Debut album game" that has been making its rounds around bulletin boards and blogs for some time now - the original version called for a random Flickr Explore photograph to be used as the cover. I have been trying to find out who had the original idea, but so far no success.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The lovers on the bridge

Any movie with French actress Juliette Binoche is on my "to see" list, and that holds for The lovers on the bridge (Les amants du Pont-Neuf) from 1992 as well. Beautiful mysterious poster to boot.

More on this movie in the IMDB article linked to below.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Harty, Irish inspiration

British/Irish composers have never got the appreciation they deserve outside their own countries. Hamilton Harty (1879 – 1941) is an excellent example. His work may not be grandmasterly, but it is always a joy to listen to his late romantic compositions. This Naxos CD gives an great introduction, compiling his three best works. An Irish Symphony takes a number of Irish tunes and weaves them cunningly into a symphonic tapestry, with a very visual overall effect. A delightful symphony. The dramatic tone poem With the wild geese, based on events in a war long ago, was my first encounter with this composer, and it holds up as one of the better in its genre. Finally, In Ireland is hardly less interesting than its counterparts. Not surprisingly, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland under O'Duinn is very much at home in this repertoire. An excellent introduction to an undervalued composer.

Amazon