Archive for July, 2010

Schnittke: Idle Thoughts

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

One of the approaches to Schnittke is to regard him in the same way as many do Shostakovich, i.e. in relation to the Soviet regime.

The difference is whereas Shostakovich had to respond to an ideology which was still vital, Schnittke’s music is more of a “hangover”, when the USSR had all but run out of steam. He is the “anti-Shostakovich” if you like (although his music clearly shares many similarities and Schnittke was hugely influenced by Shostakovich).

His early work is confusing, confused and aggressive; his later work is bitter, like Shostakovich’s, but tinged with a true gift for humour. It can often turn very quickly (not unlike that of Malcolm Arnold) which is either disconcerting or unsatisfying, depending on your point of view. However, unlike Arnold, Schnittke abandons tonality very readily, and is a tougher listen in many ways.

A couple of recommendations: his first Cello Concerto is an utterly typical work, abrasive, challenging and at times moving, and it is given a magnificent performance by Natalie Gutman on Regis. His first Concerto Grosso (he was the twentieth century’s most prolific composer of concerti grossi, by then a largely defunct form) is a magnificently witty piece, not to be missed.

It’s true that he was not Shostakovich, but only Shostakovich managed to be Shostakovich. However, Schnittke was, like Shostakovich, trying to find a way to write “his own music” at a time when the regime in charge of the country wanted dismal saccharine pap like Dunaevsky. Schnittke succeed in avoiding that kind of dross, and remained firmly his own man in spite of pressure to write dumbed-down drivel.

Many composers of his generation felt that the expressive vocabulary of previous generations could no longer be taken at face value. Some responded by starting again from scratch, some by treating this vocabulary in a distanced, ironic or playful kind of way, while Schnittke responded (as I hear his music anyway) by amplifying and worrying obsessively at those expressive gestures until they began to take on some meaning again, albeit often a bitter and even hopeless one.

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Apricot tart

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Half Hour Meals

I often use this pastry recipe for tarts, as it’s buttery and crunchy. You will need a 23cm tart tin with a removable base.

For the pastry:

250g plain organic flour
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
2-3 drops of vanilla extract
1 tbsp caster sugar
a pinch of sea salt
125g unsalted butter, cut into cubes

For the filling:

12 apricots
4 tbsp sugar
the juice of half a lemon
1 tbsp caster sugar

Place the flour in a food processor and add all the other ingredients. Pulse until it resembles coarse sand. Continue to pulse until the pastry forms a ball (add a little water if necessary). Wrap in parchment paper and chill for 30 minutes, then roll out and line your tart tin. Prick the base all over and return to the fridge for 30 minutes.
Slice the apricots in half and remove the kernels. Put in a bowl and sprinkle over the sugar and lemon juice and set aside.

Now blind-bake the tart. Heat the oven to 180°C. Line the tin with parchment paper and weigh down with baking beans. Bake for 10 minutes, remove and take off the paper and beans.

Arrange the apricots around the tart and sprinkle on the caster sugar. Return to the oven for 20 minutes, by which time the pastry should be nutty brown.

Serve just warm rather than hot, with a big dollop of crème fraîche.

Daleks Invade Royal Albert Hall: BBC Dumbing Down Scandal

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on July 30, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

A Doctor Who Prom is not a new idea.

There has been a children/family type Prom for many years and they’ve always been very popular.

It’s an excellent way of getting children to hear a real orchestra and I don’t regard it as “dumbing down” at all.

Purists seem to think that every single Prom conducted by Henry Wood himself consisted of Wagner, Beethoven, Richard Strauss, etc., etc.

That’s simply not true.

1910: Frankenstein

Posted in Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 22, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Frankenstein is a 1910 film made by Edison Studios that was written and directed by J. Searle Dowley. It was the first motion picture adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The unbilled cast included Augustus Phillips as Dr. Frankenstein, Charles Ogle as the Monster, and Mary Fuller as the doctor’s fiancée.

Shot in three days, it was filmed at the Edison Studios in the Bronx, New York City. Although some sources credit Thomas Edison as the producer, he in fact played no direct part in the activities of the motion picture company that bore his name.

Dr Frankenstein creates his monster by putting some sort of an elixir into a vat. The monster emerges from said vat and terrifies his creator, who then runs off back home to his fiancée. The monster follows him, and they fight over her on the wedding night. The monster sees himself reflected in a mirror, and then disappears into the mirror.

The grainy out of focus camera work adds character to this movie, but also makes it a bit more difficult to follow the plot. However, the industrial looking sets, costumes, and make-up are more eerie and effective than a lot of what Hollywood churned out.

The very deepest roots of horror can be found in this gem. From the terrified look on Dr Frankenstein’s face when the first monster in US cinema history comes to life, to the last moments of footage, the film leaves one captivated.

Interview: Paul McCartney

Posted in Food, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Barbara Ellen interviews Sir Paul McCartney for the Observer:

Paul McCartney, rock star, family man, northern lad, contender for most famous person on the planet, is leaning back on a squashy sofa. In just a short time, he will announce that he is not going to lunge forward and kill me. However, for now, he’s musing on his favourite-ever vegetarian ingredients.

“Could I have a few?” he asks eventually. You can have as many as you like, you’re Paul McCartney. “OK, so … olive oil, balsamic. There’s this great hummus you only seem to be able to get here, ‘Amvrosia’ – Ambrosia with a v, I use that a lot. Lemon juice, salt, spinach leaves, rocket leaves, plum tomatoes. You see, it’s getting good already.”

You’re a decent cook then?

“I’m not bad. I can turn a meal out.”

McCartney loves steamed vegetables. “If I go on tour and eat a lot of restaurant or hotel food, I come back, and it’s like, yeah, broccoli! So, if I’m cooking, I’ll be steaming vegetables, making some nice salad, that kind of stuff.”

Do you follow recipes?

“No, I just make it up, like Linda did.”

This Sunday’s Observer Food Monthly is a vegetarian special, guest edited by Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney. As part of this very special event, OFM sourced a selection of vegetarian recipes from top chefs and celebrities, with everyone from Jamie Oliver to Gwyneth Paltrow contributing their favourites.

Brown Bread: Sir Charles Mackerras

Posted in Music, Obituaries with tags , , , , , on July 17, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Sir Charles Mackerras, who died on 14 July aged 84, was a conductor and musicologist, and introduced the passionate and heartfelt music of Leoš Janáček to British audiences.

Detractors, however, dubbed him “Chuck ’em Up Charlie” for his freelancer’s willingness to conduct anything, anywhere.

A great man, a great loss – but it is good that he was working right to the end. I managed to get to a lot of his performances, all of which were memorable; and I treasure a recollection of finding myself one day in Foyle’s music department (early 80s, I think) when he was the only other person there and we had an enjoyable five-minute chat.

He was once on the panel of a Wagner Society question and answer event following an ENO Rhinegold under his baton. Someone commented on the beautifully delicate and soft horn playing in the prelude and asked him how it had been achieved.

“Old socks and sandwiches,” was his reply, “stuffed into the bells of the instruments. Works a treat.”

R.I.P. Sir Charles Mackerras 1925-2010

Lemon courgette prawn pasta

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , , on July 14, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Half Hour Meals

400g penne pasta
2 courgettes, chopped
250g light soft cream cheese
200g cooked and peeled prawns
grated rind of 1 lemon
ground black pepper
2 tbsp chopped fresh chives

Boil the pasta and courgettes in a large pan of water for 10-12 minutes until tender. Meanwhile, put the soft cheese in a small pan and add 3 tbsp of water. Stir over a low heat until the cheese has melted.

Add the prawns to the cheese sauce and gently heat for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon rind and season.

Drain the pasta and return to the pan. Gently stir through the prawn sauce and serve immediately. Top with a sprinkle of chives.

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