Saturday, 5 September 2015


“Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.” - Napoleon Bonaparte

Zdenek Fibich (1850-1950) is the third of the so-called “Big Three” of 19th century Czech composers (the other two being Smetana and Dvorak). That Fibich is not as well known as the other two is not because his music was in any way inferior, but simply because he lived during a time of extreme national consciousness and unlike Dvorak and Smetana, he did not choose only to write in a purely Czech idiom. Although his music exhibits Slavic elements, it is rather more typically Central European in sound. This reflects his background. One of his parents was Czech, the other an Austrian German. His education was at both Czech and German schools. 

He studied at the famous Leipzig Conservatory then spent a year in Paris. Hence Fibich, in contrast to either Dvorak or Smetana, was the product of two cultures, German and Czech. His instrumental works are generally in the vein of the German romantics such as Mendelssohn, Schumann and Wagner.

Here is a Quintet, which dates from 1893, performed by the Ensemble Villa Musica. This is one of the most original sounding chamber music works because of the unusual tone colour effects that Fibich creates. Clearly, in its original version for piano, winds and strings, the nature of the instruments, by themselves alone, creates the stunning and rich effects. Because of the unusual combination of instruments Fibich selected for the original version, his publisher, knowing not many copies would be sold, asked for a version for standard piano quintet. This he produced and yet, such was Fibich’s genius, that it in no way sounds like an arrangement and often even gives the feeling of being an altogether separate composition. The version for standard piano quintet benefited immeasurably because Fibich strove hard to maintain the wonderful tone colour of the original.

The main theme to first movement, Allegro non tanto, is warm-hearted and presents a colourful reflection on the peacefulness of nature with a somewhat rustling quality in the background. There is a brief orchestral call to attention before the music seamlessly drifts away. The second movement, Largo, has for its main subject a melody which is serene and dignified but also capable of tremendous passion. A Schubertian Scherzo, with two trios comes next. Fibich gives the instruction “to be played with wild humour”. The finale, Allegro con spirito, is bright, joyous and festive.
I. Allegro Non Tanto - 00:00
II. Largo - 10:10
III. Scherzo - 20:15
IV. Finale - Allegro Con Spirito - 27:16

Friday, 4 September 2015


“Beans are such a nice, neutral canvas, you can make a big, basic pot of them and then play around with them differently every day.” - Crescent Dragonwagon

Here is a hearty bean soup from Greece, perfect for Spring or Autumn (depending on which Hemisphere you live in!).

Bean Soup


2 cups butter beans

1 potato
1 large onion
3 sticks of tender celery with its leaves
2 carrots
2 ripe tomatoes, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2  teaspoon marjoram
1 bay leaf
4 cups stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, pepper


Soak butter beans overnight, drain and cook in fresh water until soft. Drain and reserve the beans.
Chop the carrots, celery, onion and potato. Sauté the onion in the oil then add the vegetables and tomatoes. Cook until the celery has wilted.
Add the beans and herbs, and the stock and bring to the boil.
Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Serve hot with crusty bread.

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Thursday, 3 September 2015


“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” - Albert Einstein

We live close to a magnificent natural reserve within metropolitan Melbourne, the Darebin Parklands, which straddle Alphington and Ivanhoe, approximately 10 kilometres northeast of the City of Melbourne. This reserve is a district park covering an area of 33 hectares. Darebin Creek flows through the Parklands, to join the Yarra River, at Alphington.

The Darebin Parklands are highly regarded for its social, recreation, education, conservation, water quality management, cultural and heritage values. The Parklands have a rich history as the homeland of the Wurundjeri Willam people and for cattle and sheep grazing, orchard and market garden use post European settlement. The southern section of the Darebin Parklands was developed as a bluestone quarry in 1890 and following the closure of the quarry in 1965, the land was leased to the Northcote Council as a municipal garbage tip which reached its capacity by 1975.

In the 1970’s the site was marked as a potential freeway or an area for industrial or residential development. Following this classification, local residents moved to protect the area and in 1973, formed the Rockbeare Park Conservation Group. The group pushed for the acquisition of land on the Alphington side and in 1975 the Whitlam Government funded the purchase of land for the park (thank you, Gough!). A management committee was formed which included both adjoining Councils and community representatives.

In 2001, the Darebin Parklands Committee of Management joined the Darebin Creek Co- ordinating Committee to form the Darebin Creek Management Committee. The Darebin Parkland’s rich history has contributed greatly to it being such a special and highly valued place today.The Darebin Parklands is a stunning example of regenerated bushland, with indigenous vegetation, and native animals like echidna, lizards, snakes, possums, flying foxes and more than fifty bird species. The biodiversity of the Darebin Creek is not obvious at first. Walking along the creek the signs of careful planting by the rangers and Friends of Darebin Parklands becomes obvious with healthy clumps of native grasses and blooming wattles. The Parklands are a beautiful green, open space close to the City and al the better for us as they are within walking distance of our home.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015


“Our soulmate is the one who makes life come to life.” - Richard Bach

This week, PoetsUnited has as its Midweek Motif the concept of “Watersheds”. The challenge to participants is to: “Describe a watershed moment in your life…” – Here is my contribution.


I glimpsed you but for an instant
In the midst of throbbing crowds
And you were lost,
Just like a frightened bird
Scared into flight.

Your after-image is burnt indelibly,
Branded, as though with red-hot iron,
On the clear vellum of my memory.
Were it that I never met with you again,
And keep forever that image of your perfection…

Perhaps you were illusory
And all my yearning eyes beheld
Was a mirage,
A mere reflection
Of my every hope.

And yet, if only I could see you once again,
I would rejoice in your reality.
To hope that you would look for me is vain,
But if I could only gaze into your eyes
Once more, but for a moment,
And for that brief, elusive moment
Make believe that we two share all.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015


“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.” - Hal Borland

Today our calendar in the Southern Hemisphere marked the first day of Spring. The weather in Melbourne was absolutely glorious with sunshine, blue skies and a maximum temperature of 18˚C. It was a pleasure to shed some layers of clothing and go out walking and enjoying the fragrance of the jasmine and the pittosporum, the bright colours of the Spring bulb flowers and the blossom on the fruit trees.

Look at these beautiful Spring flowers in our garden and neighbourhood and if these are not enough here are some more!

It looks like the great weather will continue tomorrow, so more walks to enjoy the great outdoors. Winter seemed very long and harsh this year (although Melbourne does have very mild Winters, I know). In any case I am glad that the temperatures are climbing, that the sun is showing his face more and that the days are getting longer.

Here is Beethoven’s Violin Sonata.No.5, Op24 the “Spring Sonata”, with Anne Sophie Mutter (violin) and Lambert Orkis (piano).

Monday, 31 August 2015


“Each day is a little life: Every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death.” - Arthur Schopenhauer

We have just finished watching the first two seasons (2012-13) of the excellent BBC TV series “Call the Midwife”. The screenplay by Heidi Thomas is based on Jennifer Worth’s memoirs: “Call the Midwife”, later called “Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s”, is the first in a trilogy of books describing Worth’s work as a district nurse and midwife in the East End of London during the 1950s. Worth wrote the book after retiring from a subsequent career as a musician, and it was originally published in 2002. Reissued in 2007, it became a bestseller, as did the sequel “Shadows of the Workhouse” (2005, reissued 2008) and the final volume “Farewell to the East End” (2009). By the time of Jennifer Worth’s death in June 2011, her books had already sold almost a million copies.

The story of the series follows twenty-two year old Jenny Lee, who in 1957 leaves her comfortable home to become a midwife in London’s East End, one of the poorest districts of the metropolis. She is surprised to find that she will be living in a convent, Nonnatus House. Working alongside fellow nurses and the medically-trained nuns, Jenny has her eyes opened to the harsh living conditions of the slums, but she also discovers the warm hearts and the bravery of the mothers. Even after Jenny leaves Nonnatus, she continues to chronicle the lives of the midwives who have become her family.

The casting is perfect and Jessica Raine as Jenny Lee, shines as the inexperienced midwife who gains knowledge, skill, wisdom and maturity through her association with the nuns and fellow midwives, but most of all, the ordinary people of the East End. Helen George as the attractive, vivacious Trixie does well with her role as a “modern and fashionable” young nurse, while Miranda Hart as the tall, ungainly and awkward Chummy is both likeable and believable in her fish out of the water role. Jenny Agutter as the Mother Superior plays in a faultless, understated fashion and her immense acting experience really comes through. The rest of the cast is also exceptional, while the costumes and sets are up to the usual wonderful BBC period drama standards.

The real success of the series is the stories. Each episode deals with a variety of themes, which are replete with humanity at its best and worst. There are moments of high drama and heart-wrenching poignancy, there is humour, grit and sensitivity. The scenes of childbirth are sensitively done, but are also realistic and in some cases quite confronting. However, the whole is tastefully done and quite enthralling. One familiar with the books may balk a little as the screenplay has elaborated the anecdotes of the books. Some of the diversions from the book are to allow the characters other than Jenny Lee to have stronger story lines, which works well for TV. Some of the story lines have been expanded and enhanced for dramatic effect, so they are not relying strictly upon the original author’s memoirs, but rather the imagination of the scriptwriters. Once again this is understandable, given the medium of TV.

This series is entertaining, engaging, utterly watchable and most enjoyable. It proves that if a TV series deals with topics of general interest, has real characters and situations that display ordinary humans trying to make sense of the complicated and messy thing that we call life, it succeeds on multiple levels and makes for satisfying viewing. I recommend this most highly to anyone who wants to not only be entertained, but who also wants to learn a little of the history of mid-20th century London and also of the lives of midwives. We look forward to seeing the rest of the seasons (up to Season 5 in 2016!).

Sunday, 30 August 2015


“Every time I paint a portrait I lose a friend.” - John Singer Sargent

The Australian artist Sir William Dobell (1899-1970) was one of the world’s leading modern portraitists. His best portraits revealed an intimate perception of the sitter and an extraordinary psychological insight.

William Dobell was born in Newcastle, New South Wales, on Sept. 24, 1899. He moved to Sydney in 1925 to study at the Julian Ashton Art School. In 1929 he went to London on a travelling scholarship to study at the Slade School, where he won prizes for draughtsmanship and painting. Later he exhibited at the Royal Academy and before the New English Group.

Dobell returned to Sydney in 1939. He maintained a subjective approach to painting, and his work was very different from that of the then current Australian styles. In 1943 he won the Archibald Prize, Australia's principal award for portraiture, for a painting of fellow-artist Joshua Smith. The award was immediately challenged on the grounds that Dobell’s entry showed a degree of distortion which made it a “caricature” rather than a “true portrait”, but the court upheld the judging panel’s decision. Resultant newspaper publicity greatly expanded interest in Dobell’s work, but as a result of the controversy Dobell withdrew to Wangi, a small coastal town north of Sydney, and became a shy and enigmatic figure.

Gentle by nature, Dobell was also shrewd, warm, and strong in feeling, and these characteristics shone through his work. He was intensely interested in his fellow man. He achieved some of his effects by deft underscoring of aspects that typified the subject’s character, and others by sharp delineation of exciting and unusual features of the subject. 

Dobell was also a notable landscapist. He painted local scenes, views of Southeast Asia, and a series of cameos capturing the strangeness of New Guinea. He belonged to no school but acknowledged inspiration from Rembrandt, William Hogarth, Pierre Auguste Renoir, and Chaim Soutine. Dobell gained numerous significant awards and received many commissions, among them four for portraits for use as Time magazine cover subjects, including one of Australian prime minister Robert Menzies in 1960. Exhibitions of his work attracted exceptionally widespread attendance; and a sale in Sydney in 1962 realised record prices for an Australian artist. He was knighted in 1966 and died in Wangi on May 14, 1970.

One of his most famous portraits is that of Helena Rubinstein. Rubinstein was a Polish/Jewish-born cosmetics entrepreneur, who had a good eye for niche marketing as much as for men who were able to support financially her growing enterprise and social ambitions (one of her husbands was a prince). She was also a well-known philanthropist, who established a travelling fellowship at the Art Gallery of New South Wales enabling a number of young aspiring Australian artists to travel and study overseas.

Dobell’s portrait is grand and bold, much like the woman herself. The almost garish colour, the extravagant jewellery and patterned dress, the haughty look remind one of old master portraits of queens or noblewomen. The artist strove to combine the individuality of the sitter with the creation of a character stereotype (that some would call a “caricature”). He painted Rubinstein at least eight times, and in a later portrait of Helena seated in a green interior Dobell captured her as the personification a genteel grand dame she purported to be, rather than a vision of a formidable personality, over-emphasised vanity, and exaggerated femininity that comes forth from this striking and highly individualised portrait.