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Lee's book is made still more user-friendly with a single CD recommendation following each work under discussion; then, when each composer's pages are complete, the reader discovers a briefer, yet no less valuable section titled -- 'You may also want to hear ...'

For those who do not already claim to fully understand the book's extensive and inexhaustibly rewarding repertory -- the numerous merits of an unpretentious 'music lover's companion' should be clear from the outset.

Where relevant Lee sets compositions in the context of their times -- events and fashions that helped shaped 'great instrumental works' are re-invoked; in addition, the author indicates how music of 17th to 19th centuries is presented and received by 20th century performers and commentators.

A single, vividly crafted biographical summation precedes the discussion of work/s by each of Father Lee's selected composers.

In these, as elsewhere he speaks with a forthright and individual voice; ie 'Brahms, the lad from the slums who played the piano for pfennigs in the bordellos of Hamburg; Brahms, the devoted young friend of Robert and the platonic lover of Clara Schumann; Brahms, the sturdy upholder of classical forms when musical trends were changing inexorably ...'

Referring to Bartók's 2nd String Quartet, Op 17, he recalls 'using this (work) as background music for a screening of the weird silent-movie classic The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. Certainly it is more demanding than Bartók's now popular Bluebeard's Castle ; here there are no sudden revelations, no blinding climaxes as locked doors are opened.' Here in 'the first of the quartets to be recorded and to win a measure of popularity he (Bartók) passed beyond the German Romanticism of his 1st Quartet, written nine years earlier ... forging his Hungarian folk music traditions into a wholly new, personal, not-yet-atonal style.'

Father Lee's eloquent prose is precise and lucid; consequently he brings value-added appreciation to imperishable works -- music constantly being discovered by students or everyman, and re-explored by experienced music lovers. Enthusiastically recommended.

Copyright © 11 May 2006 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


Unlocking the Masters Series : No 7
The Great Instrumental Works

M Owen Lee

Amadeus Press, 2005, ISBN 1-57467-117-0,
266 pages, paperback

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