Friday, December 31, 2010

A whisper to the living

The last day of the year is traditionally one for musing and looking back. In my case, it will not surprise you that my heart attack of end November dominates in this respect. Therefore I want to close the year with a suitably titled masterpiece of one of the dearest friends I have made at Flickr, and a steady contributor of ideas for my two main blogs: jenny downing. I love everything about this shot - upto and including the title.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Keeper Dozen 2010

Picking my 12 favourite photographs of the year has become a yearly custom. It was triggered by a group at Flickr (Keeper Dozen), which was inspired by an Ansel Adams quote: "Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop." Last year trimming it down to 12 was a nightmare (I actually created a second set in my Flickr stream for 13-24 end 2009), this year there are quite a few in the top 12 that last year would not have made the top 24. Never mind, here they are:

12. Still climbing
Still climbing
This candid was taken in the castle of the Portuguese city of Braganca. A lovely moment, with lots of potential philosophical interpretations. One of the few candids of this year that I am satisfied with. Of my 12 selected shots this one was the least popular at Flickr. Faved 2 times at Flickr.

11. Hustle
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. This one I gave an aftertreatment (focal zoom) with the on-line editing programme Picnik. I quite like the outcome. Not everyone agrees - this was not one of the most popular shots in my stream this year. Faved 3 times at Flickr.

10. The swan
The Swan
I know it has been done before, but still. This is a detail shot of the beautiful Erasmus bridge in Rotterdam, which the locals have nicknamed "The swan". Special point of view and line play, and achieving a good response. Faved 6 times at Flickr.

9. Nightmare
Nightmare
Taking photographs of paintings is in my opinion only valid if you add some ingredient. Here I think the inclusion of a spectator (my wife) facing the full angriness of the depicted figures works rather well. The painting is by Luo Jie, it is titled Angry young men, and was created in 2007. We saw this as part of the Red Storm exhibition in the Rijksmuseum Twenthe. Faved 5 times at Flickr.

8. Paris Patterns
Paris patterns
This was my 50th shot in total to reach Flickr Explore, the 500 most interesting shots of the day. It is an architectural detail of a Paris apartment complex near the Champs Elysees, converted to black and white for higher impact. The increased exposure of Explore helped to get it to a large number of faves. Faved 18 times at Flickr.

7. Flight of fantasy
Flight of fantasy
My favourite shot from this year's holiday to Spain and Portugal. Architectural details on a wall of a Barcelona building, resembling toy airplanes thanks to their shadows. Minimalist and special - certainly when viewed on the white Flickr background. Faved 5 times at Flickr.

6. Almere tower abstraction
Almere tower abstraction
My favourite from a series of shots of a new high-rise office building in my home town, where the slant and zoom creates an abstract feeling. Selected for a local exhibition this year, and very popular. Faved 26 times at Flickr.

5. Hand
Hand
This one was taken whilst waiting for my wife and her business associate outside the Louis Vuitton shop near the Champs Elysees in Paris. I had time, a camera, and a mood to experiment with depth of field. Faved 11 times at Flickr.

4. Abstraction in yellow black and blue
Abstraction in yellow black and blue
This photograph is a detail of a bridge I drive over every day near the office. One day I walked there with the dog during lunch break. The combination of the bold lines and the primary colours makes for a compelling abstract. Faved 6 times at Flickr.

3. Cubism
Cubism
This creation started life in May of this year as a straightforward very early morning shot of the buildings I see every day across the lake whilst walking our dog in the park (they have featured often in my stream). I mixed it up digitally with a painting like texture and in the end flipped and cropped to focus on the reflections as a very special abstract. Faved 6 times at Flickr.

2. Dragon's nest
Dragon's nest (Happy Easter!)
A shot I took the Friday before Easter in my brother's home - zooming into a bag of chocolate Easter eggs. My second favourite shot of the year, although it received relatively little response. Faved 3 times at Flickr.

1. Morning mood in the park
Morning mood in the park
My pick of the year. I shot this during an early morning walk with the dog in the park near our home, when the morning fog and the first rays of the sun combined for a perfect moment. It makes a great wallpaper as well. One of the most popular shot in terms of faves, and it won the "something magical" competition at the Flickr group Learn Composition by Example. Faved 24 times at Flickr.

(All fave counts as per 24 December)

Rasputin

Yesterday Bobby Farrell, the lead "singer" of that German disco sensation Boney M, died aged 61 in Saint Petersburg. Although most of their music really was not my style, their persistent presence in the Dutch charts in the second half of the seventies makes them an important part of my years at university. To commemorate him, I picked my favourite song by far of them: Ra-Ra-Rasputin. Cheesy but fun.
Art Rock score: 8/10 (great song, I'd put it on my MP3 player)

YouTube

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Scala Dei turchi III

Continuing an absolutely stunning series of monochrome masterpieces of Sicilian landscapes, my Flickr friend Philipp Klinger produced an absolutely fantastic image here. Bleak and stark in its post-treatment with the silhouetted figure providing a sense of scale. One of the best in an outstanding stream.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

EisWein

With its name taken from the German word for ice wine, this recent creation by my Flickr friend auribins is a great study of patterns - and in addition I can't help but seeing an army ready to march (ents from the Lord of the Rings, anyone?).

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Sometimes it just feels like this

I was surprised to see that the last time my Flickr friend Ernesto Ortega featured in my blog was one and a half years ago. High time to make amends with this moody and thought provoking atmospheric study.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Corolla

It's been a while, but here we have the welcome return ot my blog of my Flickr friend LilFr38. Fantastic view point, with the eye spiralling down into the deep. In case you wondered, it is an underground parking garage in the French city of Lyon.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Owl butterfly

It's been a while since we had a dedicated Flickr favourites day. Let's change that with five fairly recent and very different favourites, which share the theme of monochrome tones. First off, my Flickr friend knips2007(Rainer) with an unusual butterfly shot. The original was rather drab in its colours, so he changed it into a black and white version which looks far superior.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

This 1983 Oshima movie is one of the most impressive world war two movies I have ever seen, helped of course by the fabulous music, including one of my all-time favourite songs, Forbidden colours by David Sylvian. The lead role is played astonishingly well by David Bowie. The poster is worthwhile as well, in its almost cartoon like minimalism. And of course, a suitable title for today.

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

Friday, December 24, 2010

Flowers for Hennie

Today marks another step on my way to full recovery: it is four weeks ago since the doctors told me I had suffered a heart attack, which means I am finally allowed to drive again. In the aftermath of the attack, I received a lot of positive and encouraging comments on Flickr, but I found this one particularly touching. My Flickr friend sannesu dedicated a shot to me, title and all. And the photograph is beautiful as well - the droplets make a wonderful pattern, and the back-lighting on the left side is exquisite.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Zemlinsky, an overlooked Austrian

The Austrian composer Alexander (von) Zemlinsky (1871-1942) has long been just a footnote in history, more known for his personal relationship to other composers than for his music: he courted Alma Schindler, the later wife of Mahler, and Schoenberg was his brother in law. In the past two decades, his sumptuous mildly dissonant music, with its rich orchestral palette, has finally gained interest and dozens of CD's with his compositions have been released. Most of his work can be classified as post-romantic, although later works show neo-classical tendencies. Surprisingly, he never experimented with the 12-tone technique invented by his brother in law. I have selected a CD with his (in my opinion) best composition, the 1904 extended symphonic fantasy Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid), coupled with the 1934 Sinfonietta, a stunning piece that recalls Stravinsky and Hindemith. The performances by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under James Judd leave nothing to be desired. A composer that should be represented in any serious classical music collection - and this is a CD suitable for that purpose.

Amazon

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Purano shei diner kotha

My Flickr friend aftab is fortunately back from leave, and shared another string of masterpieces with us the last few days. This is one of the most compelling portraits I have ever seen. The Bengali title translates as Memories of the Good Old Days, extremely fitting for this image.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

InnerWorkings

My Flickr friend auribins has featured a number of times already in the blog, and here he is once more with a recent shot. Beautiful silhouetted lines in this construction shot, where the people included really are the icing on the cake.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mucha's Winter

I was surprised to see that I had not featured Czech Art Nouveau master Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) yet in the paintings series since the re-start of my blog. Visiting his museum in Prague in the spring of 2008 was a great experience. His work is always elegant and refined and pleasing to look at. For the occasion of the start of winter (what did we have the last four weeks then?), an appropriate work from his oeuvre. More on Mucha in the wikipedia article linked to below.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Out of the blue's

Another wonderful abstract by my Flickr friend sannesu. Beautiful blue tones in the main subject, complemented by gorgeous bokeh'ed background. She selected this one as one of her 12 personal favourite shots of the year and I fully agree.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Freezing

Here is a fairly recent winter shot of mine taken in the park near our home. It received very good reactions on Flickr, including a string of faves, and it would probably have made Flickr Explore if they would still be using the algorithm of previous years.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D Digital 10 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.004 sec (1/250)
Aperture: f/10.0
Focal Length: 42 mm
ISO Speed: 400
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ice

A suitable Flickr favourite for today, when winter conditions once more deregulate normal life in the Netherlands. Another stunning minimalistic abstraction by my Flickr friend Caecilia Metella.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Camelot

I came across this beautiful 1967 movie poster recently by accident, and just had to post it, even though I never saw the movie myself. Awesome how the obvious Klimt influence is translated into a masterpiece.

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Shostakovich's 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 tenth installment, I re-examine the concertos of my favourite composer born in the 20th century: Russian grandmaster Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975).

Cello Concerto 1 in E-flat major (op.107, 1959)
My version: Schiff/Symphonie orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunk/M.Shostakovich (Philips, 1984, 28 min)
The opening Allegretto immediately states the main theme, a four note motto, which gets most of the attention throughout this march-like piece. There is an inherent nervousness about this movement that I still find unsettling. The slow Moderato partners the cello with the horn to great effect, although with a general grave feeling rather than luscious melodies - and with some heavenly celesta playing over the high register of the cello near the end. The following extended cadenza of over 6 minutes gives the soloist the chance to shine both technically and emotionally - it was after all composed for Rostropovich. The short Final Allegro comes back to the somewhat overused four notes theme.  In the end, there are good parts to this concerto (especially the Moderato and the Cadenza) but I find it not completely convincing.

My version: Schiff/Symphonie orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunk/M.Shostakovich (Philips, 1984, 33 min)
Kicking off with a Largo really sets the scene. Pensive, withdrawn, the contrast with the first movement of the first cello concerto could not be more pronounced. This is bleak music, foreshadowing compositions like the 14th symphony in mood. A short scherzo-like Allegretto provides some contrast, before French horn fanfares announce the final movement, another Allegretto. Shostakovich really pulls out the stops in this one, with cadenza's, marches, dances and lyrical sections - before it ends as the first movement began, in solemn quietness.  Without doubt, this a great concerto, even though it falls short of the best in the genre - or the best by Shostakovich for that matter.

Piano concerto 1 in C minor (op.35, 1933)
My version: Alexeev/English Chamber orchestra/Maksymiuk (EMI, 1983, 24 min)
This relatively early work is fun right from the start, sometimes even bordering on slapstick. The huge role of the trumpet is remarkable, at times it sound like a double concerto. The four movements form one continuum without pauses. The first movement sets the scene with the piano and trumpet dueling like around a circus ring. The unashamedly romantic and absolutely beautiful Lento that follows starts dream-like in its softness, but gradually gets a darker undertone - until the mood returns to quietness, which even the trumpet underlines. A short subdued scherzo-like Moderato paves the way for the Allegro con brio finale which brings us back to the circus, in the galloping lines for piano set off against the trumpet's frolics. Not amongst the very best piano concertos of all time, but fun to listen to, and more complicated than one would think on a casual listen.

My version: Alexeev/English Chamber orchestra/Maksymiuk (EMI, 1983, 19 min)
This very mature work starts off with a march-like theme set against an almost military orchestration. However, this march is not demonic or resigned, but recalls the wit of the first piano concerto in its bright atmosphere.The andante is amongst the most hauntingly beautiful slow movements ever composed for a piano concerto. Scored for piano, strings and a single horn, this moving nocturnal piece recalls the melodic style of Rachmaninov and even Tchaikovsky. The Allegro Finale is as upbeat as one can get with this composer, piano and orchestra racing one another to a fantastic climax. Perhaps not rich in chances of demonstrating virtuosity, this one still remains amongst my all-time favourite piano concertos. Very close to hors concours.

Violin concerto 1 in A minor (op.77 or op.99, 1948)
My version: Mordkovitch/Scottish National orchestra/Jarvi (Chandos, 1989, 38 min)
This concerto starts with a brooding and mysterious Nocturne, which is immediately recognizable as vintage Shostakovich. Particularly beautiful is the ghostly celeste sequence in the second half. The whole first movement reflects the torments in the composer's soul at a time when the communist party wanted to see patriotic music composed and nothing else - it took seven years after its completion before its first public performance. The following demonic Scherzo bounces around to give a welcome relief in mood, with every chance for the soloist to shine, in almost circus music like passages. The slow Passacaglia is the centre of the piece, lasting almost 15 minutes. Solemn fanfares give way to a beautiful bitter sweet melody line for the violin, getting more and more quiet. In the end, the violin is left on its own, in a prolonged cadenza, which paves the way to the exuberant finale, a folk dance like Burlesque in best Shostakovich manner. This is not an easy concerto to appreciate, but repeated listening has catapulted it straight into my top 10 favourite violin concertos of all time. Essential, and close to being hors concours.

Violin Concerto 2 in C-sharp minor (op.129, 1967)
My version: Mordkovitch/Scottish National orchestra/Jarvi (Chandos, 1989, 31 min)
Coming from his most enigmatic period of composing, this is an impressive work. Moments of despair and relief intermix in the opening Moderato - and I was struck to read that he composed this less than a year after his heart attack. In my current situation, I can quite relate to those mixed feelings as well. The Adagio movement brings little change in mood - in fact one critic characterized it as unrelieved melancholy. Heart breaking and agonizingly beautiful, with exquisite lines for the horn. As in the first violin concerto, a cadenza (be it shorter) paves the way for the final movement, a rondo that is fast but still relatively introvert. A very personal, not very accessible masterpiece. Just below the first in my ranking, but still in the top 12 of violin concertos.

Summarizing recommendation, based on my own taste:

Hors concours: none
Essential: Piano concerto 2, Violin concertos 1,2
Important: Cello concerto 2, Piano concerto 1
Good to have: Cello concerto 1
Not required: none

Monday, December 13, 2010

Assassing

The first four albums of Marillion, with Fish as singer and musical brain, stand out as some of the best in the prog rock repertoire, but also as some of the best in terms of album cover design, thanks to Mark Wilkinson. His talent was evident in their singles covers of that time as well. I picked the 1984 single Assassing as one of the best examples. More about Marillion on the linked wikipedia page.