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Product: Audio CD
Title: New Kids on the Block - Greatest Hits
Label: Sony
Artist: New Kids on the Block
Rating: 4/5
Customer rating - 4 out of 5
The New Kids Return...sort of...

As a guy (and a black guy, at that) I took more than my fair share of criticism for being a New Kids fan back in the day. This compilation CD is a powerful reminder of why they were so popular, as well as a primer for those kids who wanna know who BSB ripped off...catchy songs that most people remember by heart TEN years later. There's really little to argue with as far as the content is concerned. All the major hits are here, and in their more popular radio/video versions (although I'd have been happy to hear the "Right Stuff" remix) There were a couple of fan faves that were left off ("My Favorite Girl", "Games") in favor of pretty forgettable songs ("Let's Try it Again"? ), and there is nothing from the Kids' final and best album "Face the Music", but as a reminder of the innocent 80's, you cant really go wrong with this CD.

Product: Audio CD
Title: The Phantom of the Opera (Original 1986 London Cast)
Label: Decca U.S.
Rating: 5/5
Customer rating - 5 out of 5
Buy the Re-Mastered Version

Ever since the day that I first heard "Music of the night" on my grandmother's copy of this CD, I knew that this was the greatest music I would ever hear. And you know what? I was RIGHT!
The main character is the best, most fascinating, most lovable character in all of fiction. I love him in every work of fiction he is in, be it novel, movie or anything else at all, but never more that here, in the place where I discovered him, in his purest form. He is like a God to me, and also serves as an infinitely improved mirror of my own soul. I don't honestly care if he is a murderer; I love him. He puts all else to shame.
The story...oh, the beautiful, shockingly romantic the most moving portrayal of the classic "beauty and the beast" archetype possible. Due to its deadly seriousness and endless tragic depth, the over-the-top emotions are as far from corny or overblown as night is from day. The plot is so moving that it can support truly insane, frenzied acting...and it isn't even the star attraction.
This star attraction is the music. The instrumentation is a divine blend of rock and classical music, gorgeous and echoing and sounding like it came from the Heavenly choirs, but the greatest thing about this production is the voices. Michael Crawford is, in my opinion, the greatest singer of all time bar none. There are simply no words to describe this man's god-like, aching, thunderous, GLORIOUS high tenor voice, except perhaps that it contains a truly perfect blend of masculine and feminine sounds. Even this description is incomplete in that it does not express his genius. Hear him; that is the only way to understand the glory that is his voice.
As if that weren't enough, the _second_ best singer I've ever heard is also a major singer in this musical...the seraphic opera soprano Sarah Brightman. She can make me weep, sigh, and bow down in worship. Her quiet, pitifully shy Christine is yet another of my favorite characters in all existing fictional works, second only to her beloved and a tiny handful of others. And unlike many later actresses who played Christine, she never let us forget for a moment that Christine genuinely loved the Phantom. She supported the seriousness of the story rather than undermining it as many Christines do. She is perfection, second only to her phenomenal co-star.
Steve Barton, although he fades in comparison to the other two main cast members, is still a stunning singer, his lovely light baritone and sweet yet sometimes frightening acting making a potentially loathsome character into a fully sympathetic one, simultaneously noble, compassionate and psychotic.
My God, even the humorous bit-part cast members are brilliant. Andre, the manager, has a sweet, light tenor, and his partner Firmin's deep, dry baritone is equally stunning. Carlotta and Piangi manage to have exaggerated, "ugly" voices while still sounding beautiful and professional, and Madame Giry herself, the least of the major cast, has an excellent eerie "ghost story" voice, perfect for the part, and quite a nice singing ability. But Meg, with her sweet, quiet mezzo, is ever better than Steve Barton, and the greatest by far of the supporting cast. All of these can also act as well as any drama expert, and all of them are among my all-time favorite singers.
Finally, while every song in this musical is a work of genius and a huge favorite of mine, my five favorite songs of all time are all from this musical--the tender, achingly glorious _Wandering child_, the echoey, powerful _Mirror_, the sinister, seductive _Point of no return_, the quite genuinely stunning _Phantom of the Opera_, and most of all _Music of the Night_, which, when sung by Michael Crawford himself, is in my opinion the standard by which all other music must be judged.
I have used the word _Glorious_ several times throughout this review. This is because it is the only word for "Phantom" when performed by the original cast, and a word I have always associated with this divine salvation in the form of music. Five stars in only the smallest fraction of what this brilliant work deserves. GET THIS CD! It is truly divine. It is the greatest music ever. Any sane person will worship this godlike work of genius. Thank God for Lloyd Webber and Michael Crawford!
I will say it one more time. GET THIS CD!

Product: Audio CD
Title: I'll Lead You Home
Label: Reunion
Artist: Michael W. Smith
Rating: 5/5
Customer rating - 5 out of 5
Fabulous, moving musical artistry

From the very first time I listened, each song seemed to reach into my life and touch me in a very deep way. It finds its way into the CD changer again and again, while many other CDs sit around collecting dust!

Product: Audio CD
Title: Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 / Violin Concerto
Label: Sony
Rating: 5/5
Customer rating - 5 out of 5
Tchaikovsky really IS Russian!

My family, all violinists, has been a great admirer of the marvelous violinist David Oistrakh ever since I can remember. My Dad has always revered him above the rest for his complete violin playing, bolstered by having accompanied him while playing in the Utah Symphony back in the 1960s - Oistrakh played the Shostakovich violin concerto with them in Greece. The performance took place in an ancient Greek amphitheater and my Dad recounts how the audience, at the end of Oistrakh's performance, was still clapping after the entire symphony had packed up and leaving on the bus....
Oistrakh gives the music everything that it needs to easily be understood and - most importantly - felt. To put it in simpler terms, Oistrakh didn't play to show off his virtuosity, he played music and let the music overwhelm the listener with its powerful meaning and depth. He was a medium through which the listener could really know how the composer would have wanted his piece to be played.
That having been said, I must echo one of the other reviewer's opinion, in saying that I believe this to be the finest recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto to date. I have recordings of Heifetz playing the piece when he was young and other violinists as well. I have also heard the piece performed by even more violinists live and from other recordings, and I always had a puzzling question in my mind: how is this piece Russian?
I had always had troubles understanding the piece itself. When artists would perform the work, I heard many pretty melodies and a lot of difficult technique being performed, but obviously, there was more to the piece than that. I then received this recording for Christmas, about 5 years ago, listened to it, thought it was pretty great but was still too immature in my music-making to really grasp the true quality of the performance on the recording. I put it with the rest of my CD collection and didn't listen to it for another 3 years.
As I worked my way through my performance degree in college, I became more and more familiar with my instrument and - the Tchaikovsky concerto itself. Soon, that old question resurfaced, and I decided to listen to the recording again, this time being able to pay better attention to Oistrakh's interpretation. I began to listen, and heard many things I had never heard, many times thinking to myself, "Well, that sounds sort of Russian," or "That was well-executed." However, it wasn't until the opening of the third movement that Tchaikovsky's heritage unveiled its beautiful head in Oistrakh's hands. Following a short, jarring orchestral introduction, the violin comes in with a short cadenza. From other recordings, the cadenza had seemed like a time for the performer to let the audience know he could play ferociously and intensely with whatever rubato he pleased to achieve that effect. I wasn't expecting anything different. However, when Oistrakh entered, it wasn't an angry feline I heard, but the opening steps of a bonified Russian dancer! I was overjoyed and couldn't believe my ears! Yet, how he achieved it was so simple. He merely followed the music and took the music in a straight, measured tempo (without rubato), playing it with dignified grandeur, rather than biting vengeance.
The rest of the third movement was exactly what he had introduced - a lively, heart-thumping Russian tribute, filled with his understanding of his country and how its music is to be played.