A Retired Gentleman with no interest in golf or gardening is clearly in need of a diverting hobby, and what better time wasting diversion than to go in search of the “best” recording of the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites?

I put “best” in quotes because it is not really applicable in this context. Because the surviving manuscript copy, in the hand of Frau Anna Magdalena Bach, has no markings to indicate how the notes are to be played it is up to the cellist to create his or her own interpretation and consequently no two performances are identical.

That being the case the best I can look for is the version I like. And who am I to say?


I haven’t counted the recordings of the Bach Suites but there must be at least fifty. I have sampled about twenty-five, but mostly only in parts. The best I could do was to listen to bits and look for expert reviews.

Everyone starts with Gramophone, don’t they? Or The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs. Penguin likes Rostropovich, and what is not to like? The great Russian does Bach proud. And Gramophone waxes lyrical about Pierre Fournier’s 1961 recording for DG Archiv.

  • “Of all the great cellists, Pierre Fournier came closer to the heart of the music than almost any other. He seems to have possessed all the virtues of his fellow cellists without yielding to any of their self-indulgences. He could be brilliant in execution – his technique was second to none, as he proves throughout this set – profound in utterance, aristocratic in poise and wonderfully coherent in his understanding of Bach’s articulation and phrases.”

Sounds irresistible? I go immediately to my usual recordings download source, prestoclassical.co.uk, to be informed: Sorry, this download is not available in your country. But I can buy the physical CDs from them. Go figure, as they say.


So-called geoblocking has no legal force in Australia. CHOICE advises Australians on how to circumvent geoblocking by using a VPN [virtual private network]. This is not illegal – in fact it is the region blockers who are infringing the rights of Australian consumers. As long as you intend to buy, not steal the files, you can proceed guilt free.

But VPNs typically cost money and add to the price of the download. The good news is that there is a free alternative.

HOLA is a Chrome browser extension that, when enabled, can put you anywhere in the world with your Australian IP address completely disguised. When HOLA is run from the little flame icon in the Chrome toolbar you get to choose the country you want to be in – the US, UK etc.

Most download sites force you to setup an account with email address and street address with phone number. Make sure you use a Hotmail or Gmail address because they have no country identifiers, such as .au

The best street address to use – with permission – is the address of a friend in the chosen country. Assure them that they are not going to be charged for purchases because you will be using PayPal. You can’t use an Australian credit card because that is another geo-giveaway.


HOLA has a dark side. The company sells access to your computer to botnet bad guys. While HOLA is running on an otherwise idling PC your computer is part of a giant network of similar computers that can be used for nefarious purposes, such as denial-of-service attacks, overwhelming target computers and blocking access from genuine users.

Be aware that HOLA should only be enabled for the duration of the transaction and then disabled.

Scary? A bit. I am taking the risk.


Using HOLA I bought the Fournier Bach recording at the top resolution of 24bit/192kHz from a site that said I couldn’t have it because I live at the Arse End of the World. (Not in so many words, but…) It is magnificent in every way. The recording quality is surprisingly good for its age and the performance is as glorious as Gramophone says.

Posted in Consumables, Stories | 3 Comments


That Count Nikolaus (“The Magnificent”) Esterhazy had the right idea; if you want to hear orchestral music and opera in the home then buy yourself an orchestra. Even better, buy a composer to go with it. It would certainly be cheaper than buying a really good audio system.

A chap could easily spend half a million on esoteric gear and still not have a decent approximation of the concert hall or opera house experience. The problem is space. The concert hall is big and the stage is wide and deep. The hall itself is like an all-embracing instrument in which the music is made, projected and reverberated. Until we have some sort of sonic hologram that can realistically recreate the three dimensions of the hall listening experience high fidelity may be high, but it won’t be faithful.

With that dismal truth in mind I went in search of headphones suitable for our sort of music. Obviously, because the market demands it, most headphones are made for the doof doof crowd. Bass is emphasised at the expense of subtle tonality. So most of the headphones on offer, including the very expensive noise cancelling type, are not really suitable for listening to serious music.

I was looking for over-ear headphones, not ear buds, and they come in two types, completely closed and open back. Sennheiser call this form “open circumaural headphones”. This is the opposite of noise-cancelling because they are open to ambient noise and they also can be faintly heard by anyone nearby. They are not for use on the train or when someone else is in the room.

Many of the best – read “most expensive” – headphones are open back for a reason. [Read on…]

Posted in First impressions | Leave a comment


My friend Alex wanted some photos to mark his eighty-second year. Naturally I reached for the trusty Canon 5D MkII which has been my go-to portrait camera for years, although these days it doesn’t get used for anything else. It is too heavy and too cumbersome in operation. It feels decidedly old fashioned.

I set the camera up on the tripod and immediately realised that there was no way I was going to use this dinosaur. I needed to get down on my knees to look through the viewfinder. Ridiculous!

I put the Canon back in the bag and picked up the Sony a7, the full frame mirrorless camera — same resolution as the Canon, half the weight, but most importantly I could use the LCD on the back of the camera for framing, exposing and focusing without having to get down on the ground.

In portraiture it is important to engage the subject in conversation to get them to relax and try different positions — you can’t do that it you are on the floor with one eye to the viewfinder.

Will I ever use the Canon again? Probably not. Are you in the market for a Canon 5D MkII in perfect, as-new condition? Drop me a line.

Posted in Hardware | Leave a comment


This gallery contains 26 photos.

WITH A REAL CAMERA – my Olympus OMD E-M1 – to see what was going on.

[There are 7 photos, not 26. Blogo, the content manager I use, keeps multiplying the number of photos for no apparent reason.]

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