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Archive for January, 2010

The Four Last Songs, for soprano and orchestra, were the last completed works by R. Strauss. The poem for Im Abendrot (At sunset) was by Joseph von Eichendorff while the poems for Frühling (Spring), September, and Beim Schlafengehen (Going to Sleep) were written by Hermann Hesse, writer of Siddartha and Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946.

The main subject of the poems/songs is Death, but not in the romantic sense of it. Death is seen as a wanted moment of rest after a full life. No afterlife is referred in the text, and it is implicit that there is nothing after death, but that is taken with calm and acceptance. Strauss gave no indication that they should form a song cycle, however they are usually played together, mainly due to the similarity of their subject. There is no correct order for them, but usually they are played by a subject “chronological” order: Frühling, September, Beim Schlafengehen, Im Abendrot.

There are many available recordings of the 4 last songs, most of them with famous singers and maestros. Naxos version, as usual, has no huge names, Ricarda Merberth (soprano) with the Weimar Staatskapelle conducted by Michael Halász, but the interpretation is one f the best I have ever heard. Halász is the great star of this recording, conducting in a Viennese style but with perfect awareness of the message present in the music and text. Merberth sings with her full dramatic soprano, which may sound wobbly for some listeners used to lighter voices, but it must be reminded that the songs were premiered by the great dramatic soprano Kirsten Flagstad (Frühling), following the composer’s request. The disc also contains the Bretano-Lieder and orchestral excerpts from the opera Ariadne auf Naxos, which leaves the hope that Naxos may give us a complete recording of Ariadne auf Naxos conducted by Michael Halász.

Among the most recent recordings is the Renee Fleming/Thielemann. As it happens in the older Fleming/Eschenbach recording, Renée Fleming (September) sings beautifully but somehow the spirit of Strauss is missing.

My favorite recording (still) is the Janowitz/Karajan. Gundula Janowitz’s voice is perfectly tuned with Herbert von Karajan and the Berliner Philharmoniker, and so the music sounds like a ray of light through crystal in a Russian winter morning: bright, crystal-clear, sharp and cold. These characteristics are the reason why some people criticize this version, or why others love it. (Beim Schlafengehen, Im Abendrot).

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Biblioteca is the Portuguese translation from the Serbian Biblioteka (original). In English it is known as The Library.

Biblioteca is composed of six short stories, all of them with the same theme: a Library. Each story is narrated by a man who comes in contact with a strange (magical/enchanted/fantastic) book or library. Each of the six men has a different personality, with strong manias or obsessions, and reacts differently to the strange events occurring to him. They also have different feelings towards books: from being writers or obsessive book lovers to despising books.

Although it is made of six different stories, Biblioteca is very uniform, and works very well as a unit. Each story is very good on its own, but together they become remarkable.

It is a very small fantasy book dedicated to books and their lovers. There is not much to say without spoiling it, except that… IT’S BRILLIANT!!!

Thank you, Cristina.

In 2003, Živković’s mosaic novel “The Library” won a World Fantasy Award for Best Novella.

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Sybel was the young, ivory-haired, black-eyed, hermit-wizard of the mountain of Eld. She was the descendant of a line of wizards who collected legendary magical animals by “calling” them. Like her ancestors, she had the power of controlling and talking to the animals in her collection, and they were her sole company.

One day, when Sybel was 16 years old, the warrior Coren came to the mountain of Eld bringing a baby. He explained to Sybel that the world around the Mountain was at war and asked her to take care and love the baby, Tamlorn, who came from the royal family, and also from Sybel’s non-magical family. Tamlorn grew up with Sybel, with the help of a neghbouring witch and the magical animals, till one day, twelve years later, that Coren retuned for him…

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is fairy tale rich in metaphoric elements, which reminded me of The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Before Coren’s first visit, bringing the baby, Sybel lived just with her animals, apart from human society, and had an animal-like innocence. She could be either benevolent or cruel to protect her “territory” and her collection. When she met Coren and kept the baby Tamlorn, and mostly when Coren retuned for Tamlorn, she started learning the ways of human society, from the love/friendship relationships to hate, deceit and the endless games of power.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld was first published in the 70’s for “young adults” and so it has no strong or violent scenes (wich would be useless), but it also never becomes lame. Throughout the book there are many double meanings and much is left unsaid, leading the reader to reflect and take his own conclusions. Even the ending could be taken lightly as an happy fairy tale ending, but much is left to the readers point of view.

It is definitely one of the Masterworks in the Fantasy genre.


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The remote Waystone Inn was a peaceful place with a peaceful clientele. One night, while the Chronicler was passing near the Inn, strange demons attack local villagers. The Chronicler recognized the innkeeper as the famous hero-wizard Kvothe, as he showed his expertise in dealing with demons. The Chronicler convinced Kvothe to tell his story, and Kvothe started the narration from the time he lived with his parents, itinerary actors jumping from town to town, and started his studies with a wizard who traveled with their troupe.

Although Kvothe was converted to a hero by popular tales and songs, his story showed a different perspective. He was an extremely clever, fast-learning boy who lost his parents to legendary demons, only remembered by children songs. He managed, sometimes by unconventional means, to survive in a wild city life and to get an education in magic. Later he tasted the sweet taste of heroism and liked it…

The Name of the Wind has a taste of a high fantasy classic all over. Kvothe is an interesting character, shaped like a regular hero but with some unconventional twists from time to time, specially related with his will to survive.

The main character of The Name of the Wind is an orphan who enters a magical school. The similarity with Harry Potter when Kvothe starts school is evident. This similarity is just strongly felt in a few chapters; it is a bit annoying and completely useless. The story of The Name of the Wind is interesting by itself and very well structured, it needed no support from a successful fantasy story which has nothing to do with it.

It is the beginning of a trilogy and it left me eager for the rest…

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