Saturday, November 27, 2010

The talisman

When I first came across this beautiful painting by French artist Paul Serusier (1864-1927), I was intrigued by the strong colours and abstract feeling - I expected it to be created around 1910, just after the best years of fauvism and at the start of the abstract movements. I was even more intrigued to learn that it actually dates back to 1888. Talk about being ahead of your time! More on Serusier in the wikipedia article linked to below.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Abstraction in yellow, black and blue

One of my own favourites of the year. It is actually a detail of a bridge I drive over every day, near the office. Last week I walked there with the dog during lunch break, and took the opportunity to click this one.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D Digital 10 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.004 sec (1/250)
Aperture: f/11.0
Focal Length: 28 mm
ISO Speed: 200
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mendelssohn's symphonies

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 ninth installment, I re-examine the symphonies of German composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), one of the most popular composers of the romantic era.

Symphony 1 in C minor (op.11, 1824)
My version: Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Masur (Teldec, 1990, 26 min)
An astonishing confident work for a 15 years old composer - who had already composed 12 symphonies for string orchestra only, to exercise his skills. The opening Allegro di molto is as expected with this composer melodic, though with a clear influence still of Weber. Hints of the Midsummer night dream music, but also some foreshadowing of the famous Italian symphony. The Andante puts elegance ahead of passion in a way that is not in line with the romantic ideals - more in line with the classical musical philosophy. A scherzo-like Menuetto follows, in which Mendelssohn shows more originality than in the first two movements. The final Allegro, with a wonderful moving part for clarinet over pizzicato strings, rounds off a work that may not be remembered as one of the essential romantic symphonies, but which deserves to be heard.

Symphony 5 in D minor "Reformation" (op.107, 1832)
My version: Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Masur (Teldec, 1990, 29 min)
Although numbered #5, this was his second, and one that he was so dissatisfied with that he did not allow publication of the score. The opening is slow, turning to fast (andante/allegro con fuco), revolving around the sequence of notes known as the Dresden Amen, with fanfares and string frenzies battling for our attention - almost as a very light version of Bruckner. The scherzo (Allegro Vivace) comes next against conventional wisdom, but it is very effectively placed. A quirky mixture of light hearted feelings and march-like rhythms, this is the best movement of his first two symphonies. The short Andante serves as an introduction for the final, based on the hymn Ein' feste Burg ist under Gott, from which the work got its subtitle. Its strength (the recognizable melody) is also its potential downfall, but Mendelssohn manages to keep it interesting throughout its 8 minutes, although the lackluster finale is somewhat disappointing. All in all, another well-crafted and interesting symphony, but not quite a step-up in quality from the first overall.

Symphony 4 in A major "Italian" (op.90, 1833)
My version: Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Solite (Decca, 1986, 30 min)
Mendelssohn himself considered this the jolliest piece he had ever written, and indeed, right from the exuberant opening bars of the Allegro Vivace, the sun shines through this symphony as befits its nickname. The Andante is somewhat more restrained - it was actually inspired by a religious procession the composer witnessed in Naples. Given the nature of the final movement, a scherzo would have been quite ineffective, so Mendelssohn opted for a graceful and charming Minuet as third movement. The Saltarello final movement incorporates dance figurations from the Roman saltarello and the Neapolitan tarantella, and closes out this delightful symphony in the optimistic style that is so characteristic of this work. One of the highlights of the romantic symphonic repertoire.

Symphony 2 in B flat major "Lobgesang" (op.52, 1840)
My version: Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Masur with Bonney, Wiens, Schreier and the Rundfunkchor Leipzig (Teldec, 1989, 59 min)
This was actually the very first numbered symphony composed after Beethoven's ninth to use the human voice, unless we include Berlioz' hybrid Romeo et Juliette symphonic drama. Its structure is unique: a three part orchestral Sinfonia followed by nine parts for orchestra and soloists or choir. The first movement of the Sinfonia immediately introduces the main theme, the chorale Let every living creature praise the lord, with a series of variations on it. The scherzo-like Allegretto is an elegant interlude with the subsequent solemn Adagio religioso paving the way to the vocal parts. This Sinfonia is accomplished music, as expected, but a far cry from the beauty of the Italian and Scottish symphonies. Then the voices join the orchestra for the remaining 36 minutes, a moment I feared when I played this CD again. You see, I am in the minority who considers the vocal part of Beethoven's ninth absolutely awful - for me, Mahler was the first to really skillfully integrate the human voice into the orchestral symphonic sound scape. Mendelssohn tries, and for what it's worth, I think he does better than Beethoven, but still..... for me the whole is definitely not better than the parts, and this might as well have been published as a separate symphony and cantata. And unfortunately, neither part really impresses me.

Symphony 3 in A minor "Scottish" (op.56 1842)
My version: Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Solite (Decca, 1986, 40 min)
Although its first sketches date back to 1830, this Scotland-inspired masterpiece was the final symphony that Mendelssohn completed. Right from the start, the 16 minutes opening movement (Andante con moto - Allegro un poco agitato) engulfs the listener in some of the most beautiful and moving melodies written between Schubert and Mahler, whilst also conveying a feeling of strength as befits the rugged landscape that inspired it. Unusually for that time, Mendelssohn follows up with a short Scherzo as second movement, a delightful jaunty movement based on a distinctly Scottish sounding theme. The following restrained and solemn Adagio features some of the most moving music he ever composed, and in some ways foreshadowing Bruckner. The upbeat Finale introduces one sterling melody after the other in a contrapuntal feast. One of the ten best symphonies of all time for me, and a jewel of the romantic era.

Summarizing recommendation, based on my own taste:

Hors concours: Symphony 3
Essential: Symphony 4
Important:
Good to have: Symphonies 1,5
Not required: Symphony 2

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Eyes

I came across this wonderful striking owl shot by fellow Flickrite Peterhdr in the Flickr group Learn composition by example, where he was the deserved winner of a recent biweekly competition, this one on the theme "eyes". Brilliant variation on the common owl shots, thanks to the unusual diagonal take. Good control of dof, with razor like sharpness in the owl and beautiful blurred (and suitably coloured) background. A gem.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

48 Crash

I came across this video by chance and was transported back to 1973 when this teenager had an immense crush on Suzy Quatro. It is a sobering thought that she celebrated her 60th birthday just a few months ago.... This rocker is one of her early hits, that went top 10 in most European countries and sold over a million copies.
Art Rock score: 8/10 (great song, I'd put it on my MP3 player)

YouTube

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Still climbing

One of my favourite shots from the recent holiday. This candid was taken in the castle of the Portuguese city of Braganca. A lovely moment, with lots of potential philosophical interpretations.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D Digital 10 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.005 sec (1/200)
Aperture: f/7.1
Focal Length: 134 mm
ISO Speed: 400
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Pebbledash

This is such a wonderful shot, with that line of waves and deliciously shimmering bokeh. A real gem by my dear Flickr friend jenny downing.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

With our eyes open

Sweden's newest sensation Boccanegra clearly takes the example of their compatriots Opeth to heart - even to the extent of almost copying the style of the band logo. However, instead of combining death metal with progressive rock, they opted to combine it with psychedelic rock - think sixties' style Pink Floyd with typical death metal grunts and riffs. It should not work - yet, it does. Fascinating and unique, and highly recommended.

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 Boccanegra.
[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 Jawaharlal Nehru: There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.
[3] The illustration: pick a suitable one from my Flickr collection. My picture, Eyes without a face, can be found here on Flickr. The on-line editing was done with the programme On-line image editor, the font settings selected were informal Roman 70 white and Parchment 180 white, 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.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cross

Most of the Flickr favourites that I post come from the streams of my 100 or so Flickr friends, because I pay most attention to them. Once in a while I encounter an image elsewhere that is so good that I love to share it. A case in point is this shot by fellow Flickrite walker.dylan, one of my admin picks of the day in the group Life thru a Lenz. I love the stark minimalism of this shot, further enhanced by the black and white treatment. And for those who equal good photography with having the best equipment: this was shot with a cell phone.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Those eyes

Sheer perfection, this glamour shot of a highly attractive model (JeSs), whom we have encountered before in this blog in the shot Rock chick. Let me quote its creator, my Flickr friend word artist: "I have seen many a time glamour photos where the model's eyes glowed with an amazing intensity of colour. It felt - so often - unnatural. All the pictures I had taken, the eyes, while occasionally colourful, never leapt out at me with such vibrancy and detail. Then, this shot of Jess."

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cefalu

A textbook example of top notch black and white landscape/cityscape photography. Wonderful range of contrast. A masterpiece by my Flickr friend Philipp Klinger.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Monday, November 15, 2010

David Hockney's iPad art

Shortly after I posted about my wife's digital creations with the iPad, I came across this article on the same theme - but substitute David Hockney for my wife's name..... Of course I am biased, but I actually prefer hers. Still, it is fun to see an acknowledged master of 73 years old embrace the new medium like Hockney is doing. The attached link is an interesting interview with him on the subject, and his concluding remark is clear: "Picasso would have gone mad with this. So would Van Gogh. I don’t know an artist who wouldn’t, actually." Image from here.

web site

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Chaussures

This shot of mine, dating back to our recent holiday, seems appropriate for today as it depicts my wife walking away, in this case in the Paris LaFayette department store. It became a rather unexpected hit on Flickr, quickly becoming one of my most popular shots of the year, even though it was once more snubbed by Explore.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D Digital 10 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.02 sec (1/50)
Aperture: f/4.5
Focal Length: 18 mm
ISO Speed: 400
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Shanghai Express

Once more I am taking my wife to the airport, as she will be spending the next 8 months or so in Shanghai (I will be visiting her in-between). For this occasion, an absolutely magnificent vintage movie poster in art deco style: director von Sternberg's 1932 classic Shanghai Express, starring Marlene Dietrich.

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

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gorecki, sorrowful symphonist

With yesterday's news about the death of Polish composer Henryk Gorecki (1933-2010), this makes a logical tribute. His style has gone through various phases, but he is best known for the sacred minimalist sound he embraced in the seventies. His choral music is beautiful, his string quartets the best this side of Shostakovitch, but he will always be remembered by the immensely successful third symphony (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) from 1976, available on one of the best selling classical albums of the previous century. Exploring this composer is very rewarding, but you will have to start with his third, which I personally rank amongst the ten best symphonies of all time. For further information on this masterpiece, I refer to yesterday's post on this theme in the fascinating blog Unsung symphonies. The Naxos CD I link to has one of the best performances of this composition, by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra under Antoni Wit with soprano Zofia Kilanowicz in the crucial vocal parts. A small but interesting bonus is the inclusion of his Three Olden style pieces. Essential.

Amazon

Friday, November 12, 2010

In Memoriam Henryk Gorecki

Sad to read just now that Polish composer Henryk Gorecki passed away today at the age of 76. I loved most of his music, in particular his string quartets and his phenomenal (though controversial) third symphony, described as the most boring piece of music ever writen by some, and hailed as one of the 10 finest symphonies of all time by others (including yours truly). In his memory, the third movement of his second string quartet (Quasi una Fantasia) in the version of the phenomenal Kronos Quartet. The video aptly includes war images from John Huston's war documentaries. Rest in peace grandmaster.

YouTube

Find your own seas to swim

And to round off this spree of ten different female Flickr favourites spread over two days, we have another abstract masterpiece by my Flickr friend kate mellersh. One of the rare shots that made the Explore frontpage - and deservedly so.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

La Grande Arche

It has been a while (and she posted under a different name then, toomanytribbles), but here is a welcome return to my blog for my Flickr friend helen sotiriadis. This Paris building is one of my favourites (I featured it before under the Architecture category), but this is easily the best shot I have ever seen of this modern landmark.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Sometimes

Stunning and exquisite, this pastel masterpiece of floral abstraction by my Flickr friend SteffenTuck. Softness, pure and simple.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Vernacular

An unusual image for her, but a great one: my Flickr friend Caecilia Metella can take a scene that any tourist would shoot (in this case in Newcastle upon Tyne), and create something completely different and stunning. The mark of a true artist.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Just colors and light

After five feminine Flickr favourites the day before yesterday, five other ones on the same theme today. First off, another fabulous abstract by my Flickr friend sannesu. Wonderful play on shapes and colours.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Vogue May 1914

Appropriate for today's theme: the last Vogue cover before the outbreak of the Great War. A sweet drawing, attributed to Helen Dryden. All readers who looked at the magazine were still oblivious that their world would be changed forever, with many families suffering at least one casualty in the four years to come.

link

Over the top

Today marks the 92nd anniversary of the Armistice, the end of the misnamed Great War (World War I is the better term). If you have been following my blog for years, you know that this subject is very dear to my heart, and will always get special attention. Links to previous posts:
In Flanders' Fields [picture/poem/history]
What passing bells... [video]
Returning to the trenches [painting]
Lest we forget [picture]
In Flanders' Fields [poster]
La guerre (the war) [painting]
Remembrance [picture]
For this year, I have selected a painting by British artist John Nash (1893-1977). He may not have been the greatest of talents, but few works depict the senseless sacrifice of the trench warfare so clearly as his Over the top. This scene depicts the attack during which his battalion left their trenches in an attempt to gain maybe a kilometer advantage. Of the eighty men, sixty-eight were killed or wounded during the first few minutes. Nash was one of the twelve spared by the shellfire and painted this picture three months later as a testimony to the enormity of the suffering of this war. More on Nash in the wikipedia article linked to below.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Water art: Frozen abstract

To round off today's feminine five, another marvelous water abstract of my Flickr friend peggyhr. The autumn frost adds another dimension here, creating a really beautiful colourful and brrrrrrrrreautiful abstract. Do click the link, because she includes a number of other shots on the same theme in that post.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Lighting-up time

Even for my Flickr friend jenny downing, this is such an unusual image. Then again, who else would have thought of shooting a landscape with the focus on the few branches upfront, thus creating an exquisite bokeh row?

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

World in a puddle

Another long-time Flickr friend who has been absent for a while: tina negus. This recent effort is simply brilliant, with fascinating colours reflected in a street puddle. Top notch diagonal composition as well.

All rights retained by the photographer (tina negus).

Flickr