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Piano Sonatas Editorial Reviews Although Karol Rathaus (1895-1954) and Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) were contemporaries, they could hardly have led more different lives. Both biographies nevertheless exemplify the 20th century with its catastrophes, persecutions and destruction, and it is thus worthwhile to feature their music together in the same programme. Karol Rathaus as one of Franz Schrekers favorite students, he followed Schreker to the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, where he passed the entrance exam with flying colors with his First Sonata for Piano in C Minor, op. 2 (1920). Unlike the 3rd Sonata, the 1st Sonata still follows conventional, post-Romantic paths. In 1927, Rathaus wrote the 3rd Piano Sonata. The music is freely tonal Rathaus achieves an almost boundless improvisational freedom. This sonata sounds to me like a portrait of the 1920s, describing the moods and turbulences of a big city (Berlin?). In December 1926, 20-year-old Dmitrij Shostakovich presented his 1st Piano Sonata, op. 12. On 6 June 1943, in the midst of World War II, Shostakovich premiered his 2nd Piano Sonata op. 61. LBJJ Barber Salon Chair Hydraulic Reclining Salon Beaut Hydrauli our factry has been a leader in top quality, name brand electronics at exceptionally low prices. Max 58% OFF Max 67% OFF LBJJ Barber Salon Chair Hydraulic Reclining Salon Beaut Hydrauli Factory Shop Wholesale 100% CDs Vinyl => Classical => Forms Genres Fifteen years ago, in a typically thorough review of the Second and Third Symphonies, Paul Snook referred to Karol Rathaus (1895–1954) as “one of the most underappreciated composers of the ‘between the wars’ period of the 20th century” (Fanfare 28:6). You might have expected the reputation of this one-time Schreker student to have burgeoned since then, especially given a steady (if slow) stream of ear-opening recordings of his music and, more generally, an increased interest in careers brought low by the Holocaust. (Polish-born Rathaus managed to leave Germany in 1932, but even though he wound up at Queens College after wandering in Paris and London, he died without recouping his earlier prestige). While he’s shown up sporadically in these pages, however, he hasn’t caught on as Schulhoff and even Ullmann have. This is the first appearance of these two sonatas on these pages.They turn out to be pieces well worth knowing, even though they’re far from immediately ingratiating. The First, composed in 1920, is a glowering four-movement work running over half an hour in Stoupel’s hands. Scriabin is one point of orientation, perhaps; but so is Reger (indeed, Rathaus’s op. 1 was a set of variations on a theme by Reger). Solidly bass-centered with a wide dynamic range from pppp to ffff, this is music in which huge chords, thick contrapuntal textures, and chromatic harmonies predominate (the music is tonal, but sounds as if it doesn’t really want to be). The music is more often pesante than airy; the few moments where it seems to lighten up soon get embroiled in intricacy. Thus, for example, the second movement begins with a single voice, then two; but Rathaus can barely get through a phrase without piling on conflicting lines, so the weave thickens before we get to the end of the first page. The same thing happens in the third movement: It begins with relative transparency, even sporting hints of Spanish flavoring; but it, too, soon congeals.There aren’t, unsurprisingly, many memorable themes (although spots in the finale seem almost ready to fall into Spellbound). And rhythmically, the work is a bit loose, if not inchoate: Motifs don’t have the kind of rhythmic profile we get, say, in Medtner (much less Holst), and the larger formal units are apt to be metrically diffuse. While the third movement Scherzo and Trio maintain a regular pattern (3/8 and 12/8 respectively), the second movement is marginally less stable—and the outer movement switch meters with abandon. The first 22 measures of the piece, for instance, change meter 13 times, darting between seven different time signatures. The result is less to throw you off balance (as the Scherzo of the Mahler Sixth or the Rite of Spring do) than to dissolve any sense of metrical order. And yet, if you take to the post-Romantic heavings of composers like Feinberg, you’re apt to find yourself drawn in—and held captive. This is not music that makes easy concessions, but it’s surely music with a strong gravitational pull.The Third Sonata has many of the same qualities: the same emotional uneasiness, the same preference for counterpoint (the third movement is a fugue), the same apocalyptic outbursts, some of the same metrical instability (the first movement avoids time signatures completely, although it maintains bar lines—and is in fact more regular that the first movement of the First). But it’s a much less monolithic work, and it’s generally less extreme. There’s much more textual variety, and, more important, more variety of mood: The outer sections of the second movement, full of wacky trumpet calls, even have a certain Keystone Cops wildness.As a pianist, Vladimir Stoupel been widely admired for his work in late 19th- and early 20th-century music, especially for his partnership with violinist Judith Ingolfsson. His fluent Fauré has gotten especially positive reviews. Rathaus, of course, is in most ways the polar opposite of Fauré, yet Stoupel plays this music with similar conviction—conviction and technical confidence as well, despite the enormous challenges of the music. The massive chords don’t faze his fingers, and the metrical games never trip him up. Voicing is often impressive—and the few moments of more or less conventional lyricism are captured with lushness and beauty. Still, as on his performances of the Scriabin sonatas, in spots he’s arguably too emphatic, too insistent; a bit more of the limpidity he finds in Fauré might be useful here. Some listeners, therefore, may prefer Kolja Lessing’s account of the First Sonata—quicker on the whole, more light-fingered, and more varied in its colors. But Stoupel’s reading is certainly a formidable one—and since this is the only available CD of the Third (it’s advertised as a first recording), those who love music of this style will find it hard to resist.I don’t understand why the Rathaus sonatas—taped in 2013—were kept in the can for so long. Nor do I understand why they’ve been yoked to these 2014 Shostakovich recordings, recordings of works that don’t need the same kind of advocacy. Technically, they are stunning performances, especially in the more manic passages; and in spots (the quieter moments of the first movement of the Second), Stoupel brings out the hints and whispers well. And while he sometimes fails to differentiate dynamics, especially in the louder passages, his tone is so powerful that you’re apt to be convinced as you’re listening.Still, some of Shostakovich’s spirit is left by the wayside. Stoupel doesn’t quite mine the bad-boy irony of the First—and the Second simply dissolves under his glacial treatment of much of the slower music. Granted, timings rarely tell the full story, and in any case, there’s a lot of variation among pianists with respect to tempos in this piece. But Stoupel, at more than 34 minutes, is surely at the far end of the spectrum (the classic Gilels is six minutes quicker, and even Nikolayeva leaves him in the dust). Would it be possible to make a case for this kind of stretching? Perhaps, but as with his similarly slow Scriabin, Stoupel doesn’t, at least on this occasion, have the force of concentration necessary to keep us from drifting off. If you want these two sonatas on a single disc, go for Gugnin, who fits in a lot of additional music, too (Fanfare 43:3).Excellent sound, brief but informative notes by the pianist. Well worth considering for the Rathaus.


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