Monday, 30 March 2009

My Classical Music Collection

My classical music collection originally started on ye olde lp record and for a brief period went to cassettes as their quality improved in the early 1980's.
The first classical cd I bought was one of Sibelius's tone poems by the Berlin Philharmonic followed by a Lalo disc in 1986.
Back then cd's were quite expensive £12.49 or more and many discs only contained one major work say Beethoven's 5th Symphony running for about 35 minutes performances that were also often were mid or budget price tapes and lp's so I didn't get anymore .
In 1987 four years after the introduction of cd in Europe, the first Mid Price discs started to come out and the then PolyGram companies - DG, Decca and Philips - issued a series often adding extra works to improve the value for money.

That was when I first made a head start adding titles by Mozart, Handel, Stravinsky (The Rite Of Spring) and Holst.
By 1988 Naxos had pioneered the budget price new digitally recorded cd and I picked up several in that series made using Eastern European orchestras but the big push was 1991 and the anniversary of Mozart's birth which DG celebrated in style with the Mozart Masterpieces collection of 25 cd's all at budget price many of which had been previously on more expensive labels.
I bought a shedload of them at the time and they remain the hub of my Mozart collection featuring the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic orchestras and leading DG pianists and violin players from the 60's to the early 1980's.

It was around this period I discovered Anne Sophie Mutter although many over here in England were more taken by Nigel Kennedy whose recording of the Four Seasons by Vivaldi was one of the top selling albums of 1989/90 and I bought several discs of her performances.
I picked up some budget DG issues that although lacking narratives contained great performances the Tone poems of Brahms, Richard Strauss, ballet favourites and Beethoven's Violin Concerto.
I went mad in 1992 buying the compete DG 1963 Beethoven Symphonies (Berlin P.O. Herbert von Karajan) and the City of Birmingham S.O recordings with Simon Rattle of Sibelius's symphonies on EMI. I topped up the Beethoven with a complete set of his Piano Concertos and some solo Piano pieces.

In 1993 I added to my lone 1987 full price buy - the Grieg Peer Gynt suite (Academy of St Martins in the Fields) - adding his Symphonic Dances and Violin Sonatas followed in '96 by the Piano Concerto (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra).

I also made a bit of a start on American Classics by Ives, Copland and Barber which I had loved from high school even if some think nothing American is fit to put on the same level as 19th and 20th century European composers.

Naxos that budget label I mentioned earlier had by then taken on the mantle of recording the less popular tackling in a systematic way all this material and it hadn't been unnoticed that they recordings were often as good as or even better than the traditional majors such as Sony (CBS), EMI and DG/Philips/Decca. In fact they were to become the one of the two largest companies recording the classics! I got the complete Falloni set of Schubert symphonies issued in 1994/5 they did and some titles from the Iceland Symphony orchestras Sibelius cycle of 1999/2000.
Currently I am building on this collection having added complete series of Mozart's Quintets and Quartets and have replaced a couple of older discs that gave me the 'bare bones' of the piece didn't really satisfy.
Unfortunately a few of my discs bought in 1991/2 are going bronzed due to a cd pressing plant problem that could cut short their life so am investigating replacements.

Monday, 16 March 2009

What a feeling!

On Saturday night British comedian Robert Webb won the charity Let's Dance competition for Red Nose day with his performance of this iconic Irene Cara Flashdance dance

From Associated Press
Comedian Robert Webb won the public's heart with a leotard-clad performance of What A Feeling from '80s film Flashdance.
He narrowly beat Keith Lemon & Paddy McGuinness to the title of Let's Dance For Comic Relief Champion despite an impassioned performance from the pair of the famous final dance of another film favourite, Dirty Dancing.
After four weeks of tense heats and dance-offs the public made the final decision with a telephone vote, the proceeds of which will raise even more money for Comic Relief.
As he accepted the trophy he said: "I feel fantastic. It's been marvellous, it's been like falling in love with myself all over again."
Head panelist and Strictly Come Dancing favourite Anton Du Beke suspended his exacting judgement to heap enthusiastic praise on all the dancers' efforts. He said: "I wish we could have a big old tie, personally."
But guest panelists Denise Van Outen and Michael McIntyre both backed Webb as winner.
The show, hosted by Claudia Winkleman and Steve Jones, saw turns from sports stars Martin Offiah and Denise Lewis in an exotic Bollywood routine, The Bill actors Lisa Maxwell and Patrick Robinson doing Riverdance, TV presenters Dick and Dom reprising the Blues Brothers and Jo Brand as Britney Spears."

This is some performance, eh?

Friday, 13 March 2009

My new camera

I guess it happens to us all really. You outgrow something you got to understand intuitively and cherish however restricting might it be so you have to replace it.

Well that's what happened with my 'old' digital compact which had a fixed focus lens and one and a bit megapixals.
I'd been thinking about this about Christmas time - seems so long ago I guess - but couldn't really make up my mind about which one or even if wanted a digital SLR instead. It's a weakness of mine actually but I found this was on offer at half price and it had quite a good specification eve if it's not quite what the photo reviewers call groundbreaking.
It's a Canon A470 Powershot.
It's quite small really - about the size of your hand - and has this 3.4 times optical zoom that makes it easy to frame your pictures with a close up bit too. This will come in really for stuff like vacations as I can take wider pictures like landscapes but have the ability to get smaller details of buildings too.
It's has 7.1 megapixals apparently - well I only really understand film as that's what I grew up - with but I gather it means you have more bits carrying the picture so your image is much finer which coupled with the digital antishake, should help my picture taking.
The focusing is automatic - something I have to get used to as my Olympus film SLR is manual - and with the built in flash makes it easy to get a quick picture.
I'm really looking forward to learning to use it.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Fruits Basket

This four DVD set comprises of the first 8 volumes of the Fruits Basket manga in anime form and is packaged in a pop up style box containing the individual DVD's.
This is about the Sohma family who are cursed. However, this is not an ordinary family curse. When a member of the family is embraced by a person of the opposite gender, they transform into an animal of the Chinese Zodiac. The Sohmas' managed to keep the curse private for generations, but when a young girl stumbles upon their secret, life at the Sohma house changes forever. Conflict erupts as Zodiac rivals clash in the most unusual household. Young Tohru Honda must promise the secret will remain her own, or face the consequences!

Disc1: A great transformation? Episodes 1-6

Try imagining if you moved in with a new family and friends... and found out they turn into animals when you hug them.

The first three episodes of the Anime version are take up with the four main characters of the story and an explanation the nature of the Zodiac curse the family are under. The action as it slowly unfolds is genuinely charming - slapstick fighting, side splitting tongue in check dialogue ad romantic comedy.

As the story opens, Tohru Honda is living in the woods in a cheap tent, with only her late mother's photo for company. One day she wanders down to a large house nearby, and encounters the flirtatious Shigure Sohma, and his gorgeous cousin Yuki -- the school's mysterious "Prince." After Tohru becomes ill and her tent is destroyed, Yuki and Shigure take her into their home as their new housekeeper.

But Yuki and Shigure are keeping a secret from her. When martial-artist Kyo bursts in to fight Yuki, Tohru tries to stop him -- and the three men end up turning into a dog, a cat, and a rat. Their family is cursed with the thirteen spirits of the Chinese zodiac, and they turn into those animals whenever a member of the opposite sex hugs them.

Surprisingly, the mysterious family head Akito allows Tohru to stay with Yuki and Shigure, as long as the volatile Kyo also stays. And soon she starts encountering new problems -- the intermittently crazed Kagura (the boar) invades the house, Yuki and Kyo trash the house, and Tohru's pals Hana and Uo come for a sleepover. But when Tohru's grandfather calls her back to his house, will the Sohmas lose their new friend?

Tohru herself is the most lovable character of the bunch -- she has a lot of sorrow over her mother's death and the unkindness of some of her relatives, but she compensates with optimism and friendliness. And the Sohmas rule as far as quirkiness is concerned -- there's the shy, strong "Prince" Yuki, the volatile loner Kyo, and the charmingly kooky Shigure ("Sometimes it feels like the whole world is conspiring to destroy my house!").
This first volume may start a little slow however once the storyline gets underway the quirky sweet-natured comody of lovable characters is revealed in its glory.

Disc2: What Becomes of Snow? Episodes 7-12

Having introduced use the the four main characters the following episodes reveal a darker side mainly from Hatori's tragic past, and the revelation of just what a lonely, painful life many of the zodiac members lead. Even the younger ones like Haru aren't immune, since we see that he was often mocked for his animal's part in the old zodiac folktaleide .
"Fruits Basket, Volume 2: What Becomes of Snow?" introduces us to three new members of the Sohma family, as well as a look at how the mysterious Akito rules over them. But despite these darker moments, the series never strays too far from the warm-hearted comedy and appealing characters.

Our leads are all involved in the school's Cultural Festival, despite Yuki's distress at having to wear a dress. But then two new Sohmas show up: bubbly rabbit Momiji, and the chilly Hatori, who tells Tohru to meet him at the Sohma main house -- alone. Despite Tohru's nervousness, she obeys -- and finds out the painful facts about Hatori's past, and the isolation felt by cursed Sohmas.

When New Year's rolls around, Tohru and her friends help Kyo and Yuki clean the house, while Shigure torments his hysterical editor Mii. They're expected back at the main Sohma house, but the boys are reluctant to leave Tohru alone. And a school endurance run is interrupted by Haru Sohma, who is determined to fight Kyo -- but their battle is interrupted when Yuki collapses.

Then Valentine's Day comes around. Tohru has chocolate for everyone (literally), Yuki is stalked by his fangirls, and Kagura is busily trying to feed Kyo a chocolate heart the size of his head. And a month later, Momiji repays Tohru's favour by giving her an extravagant gift -- a trip to a hot spring.

We also get to see some different sides of Tohru and her friends -- for instance, it's revealed that despite her outward cheery demeanour, Tohru is at times very lonely for her mother. Yuki continues trying to come out of his shell, while Kyo gingerly tries to overcome his social awkwardness. The "plum on the back" scene ends up being adorable because of this.

We are introduced to meet some new Sohmas, particularly Haru and Hatori. Haru has a dual personality -- one placid and serene, one violent and lecherous -- and a tumultuous past with Yuki while Hatori comes across as the most tragic figure thus far, convinced that he is doomed to loneliness, and haunted by what happened when he dared to love someone.

Disc3: Puddles Of Memories Episodes 13-19

Following the ending of disc 2 with the revelation that Hatsuharu and Momiji would soon be attending high school with the others, it's not surprising that the high school hijinks ensue once these weird teenagers join the student body. And though there's plenty of goofiness from Yuki's fangirls and his long-estranged brother in "Fruits Basket Vol. 3 - Puddles of Memories," it has some very bittersweet themes in many of the episodes. For a series with such a sparkly happy heroine, it's remarkably dark.

The first day of school gets off to a rocky start, with Momiji dressing like a girl and Haru getting into a "black" bustup with the pompous class president. But then the news arrives that Akito is about to visit the school -- and Tohru bumps into the mysterious head of the Sohma family. Although he's pleasant and warm toward her, she catches a glimpse of the true, malevolent personality behind the mask.

If that wasn't enough more members of the zodiac pop out of the woodwork -- a snake slithers up Tohru's dress, and is revealed to be the flamboyant, eccentric Ayame Sohma, Yuki's estranged big brother, who is now trying to make amends for his past behaviour. And then Haru introduces Tohru to a very bitey little tiger cub, Kisa Sohma. Kisa has been ignored and tormented by her peers until she stopped talking, and now only Tohru's love and Yuki's understanding can draw her out of her shell.

Elsewhere we learn Tohru contracts the flu right before a big test, Shigure sweeps his friends off to a weekend at a lake house, the gang visits the grave of Tohru's mother, and Tohru learns of the cheerful Momiji's tragic past. Plus in one hilarious episode, Yuki's fangirls scheme to infiltrate Hanajima's house so they can take out the "witch" Tohru but not to worry Hana and her little brother have some surprises in store...

"Fruits Basket" has always been a series that is rather bright and sunny in its overall outlook, but the short-term stories always have some darker, sadder dimensions. In particular, the third volume delves into Yuki's past abuse at Akito's hands, a parent who abandoned their cursed child, and some closure to Hatori's story of his tragic lost love. And there are hints of a dark connection between Tohru's late mother and Kyo.

The writers successfully transport Natsuki Takaya's bittersweet scenes into anime, such as an adorable scene where Tohru hugs Momiji after he proclaims that he wants to believe that every memory is important, even the painful ones. Even Ayame -- crazy, flamboyant, and utterly self-absorbed -- gets a few poignant moments as he reflects on his own past selfishness.

These episodes also introduce us to the most priceless character in all of "Fruits Basket" -- Ayame the crazy, flamboyant, self-absorbed, lecherous, hyperdramatic seamster. Not only is it completely surreal whenever he's onscreen ("They may direct their desire towards ME!"), but he has his own brand of poignancy -- he tries so hard to connect with Yuki, but fails so hilariously. Kisa sure is a little sweetie, but she's understandably overshadowed by her older cousin.

Yuki and Kyo also experience some growth in personal character in these episodes.
For instance we see Yuki freezing when confronted by his former tormentor, and struggles just to be in the same room as his brother and yet we also see him trying to be stronger despite his flaws. Kyo's klutzy attempts to help Tohru - including making the hated leek soup - show his growing feelings. Also Momiji, a character even sunnier than Tohru, is revealed to have a past even more horrible than hers.

Disc4: The clearing Sky Episodes 20-26
At this the dead end of the anime series more zodiac members are introduced to Tohru and more madcap comedy ensues (courtesy of Ayame and the demented fanclub), but it reaches new heights in the final two episodes -- where Tohru's love and kindness are faced with new obstacles.

Yuki and Tohru make a weekend trip to Ayame's special clothing shop, and are promptly swept up into Hurricane Ayame, who is all too happy to regale Yuki with every detail of his oddball business. Can the brothers manage to bridge the gap that separates them -- and what exactly is "The Thing" that Ayame's girlfriend is dressing Tohru in?

Plus Tohru is confronted by a pair of new zodiac members. First she encounters Hiro, the antisocial "sheep" who resents her friendship with Kisa and then she meets the beautiful, hyperapologetic daughter of the hot spring lady, Ritsu... only to discover that Ritsu is actually a very effeminate young man, who suffers from self-esteem so low that it dips below Atlantis.

As Ritsu drives Kyo and Yuki crazy with his screaming apologies (and is teased constantly by Shigure), it's up to Tohru to help him regain some hope. Finally, the president of Yuki's fanclub is haunted by her impending graduation, only to find herself in conversation with the "prince" himself. Unfortunately, her jealousy wells up in front of him -- and she has to face the ugly truth about her own feelings.

It isn't long before the story takes a truly dark turn when Kyo's beloved master Kazuma arrives at Shigure's house, and reveals a horrifying facet of Kyo's curse -- a ghastly transformation that horrifies anyone who sees it. And as she struggles to help Kyo, Tohru begins to learn the reason for Akito's anger and hatred.

"Fruits Basket, Volume 4: The Clearing Sky" doesn't so much end the series as hit pause -- the curse remains unbroken and the love triangle is still unresolved. As a sort of series climax, the writers even scripted in a harrowing encounter between Tohru and Akito, which gives the series the vague feeling of having been finished.

Before that end, we get "Fruits Basket's" signature mingling of heartwarming comedy and bittersweet drama. There are plenty of roiling emotions -- jealousy, loneliness, self-loathing -- but with the realization that there's always a glimmer of hope. The wrenching emotions reach a climax in the final two episodes, when the reasons for Kyo's loneliness are revealed, as well as Kagura's mad crush on him. Horror, romance and drama just soak every scene but the humour remais as infectious as ever.

Tohru continues to be a shining beacon at the series' heart -- she's sweet, kind, accepting, and cannot help but try to be kind to anyone, even when Hiro steals her purse and insults her. On the flipside, Kyo's feelings of loneliness and misery are absolutely palpable near the end -- and considering what he turns into, it's not hard to see why.

Actually, all the characters we see are pretty lovable -- Yuki is quiet, cool and a lot tougher than he appears, while Ayame and his girlfriend are insane and quirky, Kisa and Ritsu are adorable, and Shigure is winningly sadistic. Even the deranged hot springs lady appears ("I'm SORRY! I'll do it again! I never should have put myself into the reel! What was I thinking?! I'm SORRY!" "I told him we shouldn't have asked her to come...").
It is in some respects unfortunate that the storyline was not completed in this
beautiful, hilarious "Fruits Basket" anime series but that doesn't stop it from being a truly, wrenchingly beautiful end to an adorable series.
The fourth and final volume of the sadly wasn't able to finish the storyline -- but it's still a brilliant finale to a moving anime adaptation.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Ant Music

For some of us the late 1970's and early 80's was a very colourful period musically and also in terms of fashion few were more unforgettable than Adam Ant.
I'm going through an Ant revival here so thought I'd post a few comments on it.

* Born: 3 November 1954
* Birthplace: London, England
* Best Known As: Face-striped singer of "Goody Two Shoes"

Name at birth: Stuart Leslie Goddard

After art school, Goddard became keen on rock music and changed his name to Adam Ant which was a graphical statement.By 1977 the band was popular in punk-torn England, and Ant's self-named "antmusic" -- distinctive theatrics and a tribal drum sound -- made him a local idol. His early period had clear links to the BDSM scene - several promo posters used that imagery. His fancy dress and distinctive white stripe of face paint became his signature during the early 80's.
After taking part in the iconic Jubilee punk film they got a contract with Decca UK issuing the Young Parisians 45 that charted during Antmania at #9 in 1981.
This was followed up by a Lp, Dirk Wears White Sox for Do It Records in 1979 with some 45's from it being issued.
In 1980 the band recorded the album Kings Of The Wild Frontier which was issued by CBS in the UK and several months later by Epic in the States. This featured the signature Burundi beat drumming.

The lp had a booklet covering the formation of the band to date. It wasn't issued in Europe until the mid 1990's on CD in the Sony Rewind series. My copy is the 1990 US cd.

From this album the 45's Dog Eat Dog - a top 20 hit in October 1980 -, Ant Music and title track were issued with powerful videos.
He took his act to America and benefited from a new TV channel called MTV. He is remembered for such hits as "Dirk Wears White Sox," "Stand and Deliver" and, later, "Goody Two Shoes".
The album Price Charming was released at the bands peak in 1981 with the 45's Stand and Deliver, Ant Rap and Title track.

This again was late to cd issue in the UK and mine is the US version on Epic.

It was on the extravagant tour accompanying this album with Dancers (Diana Dors was also present), filmed for posterity that Adam felt the performance was dry and resolved to disband the Ants and embark on a solo career.

This album was a top five seller in the UK featuring the 45's Goody Two Shoes - a UK #2, Desperate But Not Serious and the title track.

This was issued in the mid 80's as a rare JPN for Europe Cd but mine's a regular US pressing.(EK38370)
Despite this his sales were on the decline and subsequent albums such as 1983's Strip and Vive Le Rock sold poorly even though the 45's such as Stripped, Puss And Boots, Apollo 9 and Vive Le Rock sold well.
When his popularity on the charts dwindled, Ant took to acting in movies and TV shows. He made a comeback of sorts i 1990 with his Manners And Physique album for MCA with the single Room At The Top charting. In 2002 he was arrested in a London pub for assault and possession of a firearm (witnesses said he threatened a crowd with a starter's pistol after patrons laughed at his clothing ensemble).