Archive for May, 2015

Selfish Saturday: Dental decisions

Artwork by Anthony Falbo

Artwork by Anthony Falbo

This week, the young one and I had our first dental appointment in several years (four for him, over eight for me). There was a lot of trepidation for both of us; the boy was so nervous that even the dentist remarked on it, even if he did nothing but check and count his teeth. My own nervousness ran deeper.

With my extensive prosthetic work, which is well into the south of its useful life, what I need in way of oral hygiene is gum care (I’ve been fighting a slowly losing battle against gum disease for over a decade, without professional assistance, because, well, we couldn’t afford it), as well as having to think what I’m going to do when, inevitably, my crowns start breaking down. The particular dentist (whom we waited since our registration in March to see, all for a 15-minute lookover) didn’t even mention the condition of my gums, only an extraction that needs done – a crown that broke badly seven years ago, leaving the tooth exposed to decay. I’m not objected to having that one pulled, but with waiting times for NHS appointments being what they are, I’m already considering going private and hoping for the best (that is, my crowns living long and prospering).

I’m supposed to feel relieved after being done with a dental appointment, goshdarnit, not even more stressed, and over money, to boot.


Foodie Friday: Strawberry & Orange Jelly

strawberry_and_orange_jelly(Serves 6)

Vegetable oil, for greasing
250g strawberries, hulled and sliced
135g pack orange jelly
135g pack strawberry jelly
125g blueberries
1 orange, peeled and segmented
A few mint leaves, to garnish

1. Grease a 1lb loaf tin with oil and add half the strawberries. Put the orange jelly in a measuring jug and add boiling water up to the 200ml mark. Stir until dissolved, then top up with cold water to the 250ml mark. Allow to cool, then pour half the jelly over the strawberries. Leave to set in the freezer for 10 minutes.
2. Remove the jelly from the freezer and top with the blueberries. Make the strawberry jelly as above and pour half onto the blueberries. Return to the freezer for 10 minutes.
3. Place the remaining strawberries on top. Pour in the remaining orange jelly and leave to set in the fridge for 2-3 hours or overnight.
4. When ready to serve, remove from the fridge and quickly dip the loaf tin in warm water. Turn out the jelly onto a board, slice and serve with the orange segments and mint leaves.

Tip: Pour the leftover strawberry jelly into ramekins and keep in the fridge for a quick dessert the next day.

Music’s Never-Ending Story (1/2)

Composers have long been stuck in a baroque time warp. Gone is the excessive melodic freedom of the romantics as the twentieth century favours the simplicity and astringency of Bach and Handel. Simon Trezise explains the obsession.

Time travel as a desire to embrace or recreate a bygone era is not confined to the twentieth century. In the nineteenth, Victorian architects expended vast resources on wild fantasies based on gothic buildings of the remote, medieval past. In music, Tchaikovsky’s profound love of Mozart’s music manifested itself in the orchestral suite Mozartiana, and in the delicious intermezzo from his opera Queen of Spades. Mozart himself wrote a suite in what he considered Handel’s manner and Grieg did something similar in his glorious Holberg Suite.

But the twentieth century’s fascination with the past is at a far more obsessive and complex level, and it is the baroque period that has most captured the imagination of performing musicians and composers. Interest in Bach had been gathering momentum since Mendelssohn gave the first nineteenth-century performances of the Passions. At first this interest was not so historical in bias, more a question of what the baroque could do for us. So Busoni arranged Bach’s organ works into Lisztian piano works of stupendous virtuosity that must have had Bach twisting and shouting in his grave. Mahler took Bach’s two most popular orchestral suites, conflated movements from each and then added dynamics, phrasing and complex continuo parts that make the music sound like one of his symphonies.

The little baroque music that was performed would have sounded fat and bloated to our ears. Handel’s Messiah was, is, and will probably forever be the most popular of all baroque works; for years it was done with huge choirs sometimes exceeding a thousand voices, and full symphony orchestras – quite unlike the small groups heard at the Dublin premiere in the eighteenth century. Strings would have played with plenty of portamento, vibrato when it became fashionable, and modern brass instruments remote from the originals were used.

Strings with everything
Even such an intellectual conductor as Wilhelm Furtwängler showed little interest in how the music might have sounded when it was written. For Handel’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6 No. 10, he uses the full strings of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, whose awesome power makes the slow introduction sound like Wotan raging from the mountain tops. This was Handel filtered through the romantic German tradition – and the result is stupendous!

Working alongside the mainstream conductors and keyboard players were specialists like Wanda Landowska, whose interest in baroque keyboard music led her to revive the harpsichord (then almost forgotten), albeit in a colossal, hybrid format. Her instrument sounds like a cross between the real historical entity and a church organ, so vast was its range of timbres and volume (like modern pianos it was iron framed). But apart from her exotic registration, she played with real restraint and discipline, reviving masterpieces like Bach’s Goldberg Variations in recordings that still sound remarkably ‘authentic’, in spite of the idiosyncratic instrument. Her work wasn’t to all tastes: in his famous quote, Beecham thought her harpsichord sounded like ‘two skeletons copulating on a tin roof’!

Many years before a famous semi-amateur performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo in Oxford (1925), which began the massive revival of interest in his music, Nadia Boulanger, the great composition teacher, was performing and recording his madrigals in pre-war France. She was typical of a handful of dedicated enthusiasts who sowed the seed for the post-war baroque revival.

Wordless Wednesday: Getting ideas



Music Monday: May roundup

No surprises here. It’s the time of year I always get the itch to bring out my happy stompy pagan folk stuff and listen to it loud, whether I can get out in the garden or not! (Maypoles are out of the question anyway.) Okay, some of it is not particularly happy – coughcoughSkyclad – but stompy? You betcha.

1. Inkubus Sukkubus (192)
2. Skyclad (162)
3. Omnia (146)

Month at a Glance

May 2015
« Apr   Jun »


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