Daily Archives: December 4, 2008

Review: A Wood Engraver’s Alphabet by G. Brender à Brandis

Author: Gerard Brender à Brandis
Title: A Wood Engraver’s Alphabet
Publisher: The Porcupine’s Quill
Media type: Trade paperback, 64 pages
Release date: August 2008
Reading period: November 2008
ISBN-13: 978-0-889843110
Category: Art; Alphabet books

The first thing that strikes you about A Wood Engraver’s Alphabet is that it is a beautifully made book. The texture of the cover and the paper delight both hands and eyes. The paper is a warm ecru colour and of very heavy weight, an excellent ground on which to display the prints. The play between dark and light in the prints themselves is fascinating. Brender à Brandis creates an incredible amount of visual texture and suggestion of different materials (wood, petal, stalk, leaf, ground cover, stamens) in his engravings. The end papers are a green between olive and moss, and the signatures are sewn, not glued.

This book is Gerard Brender à Brandis’ love letter to the botanicals in his world. The form is a simple alphabet book, but instead of illustrating the letter itself the artist has chosen to create a wood engraving of a plant whose name begins with that letter. On the lower edge of the blank left page, facing the print on the opposite page, the name of the plant is displayed, both the common name and the botanical name. The engravings themselves on the right page vary in size and shape, and in placement on the page. Some are slender tall rectangles; others are squares. In each the delicate, lyrical interplay between negative and positive space, between black and white, creates depth and light. Some almost fill the right page, while others seem to float in a vast ecru frame.

I have only one minor quibble with the book, and it rests in the choice of plant for certain illustrations. At times the plant is chosen for its Latin name, other times for its common name, yet other times for the colour. For example, ‘Nodding Trillium’ illustrates the letter N instead of T, as one would expect. And yet the quibble is so very minor, because the subjects Brender à Brandis has chosen to engrave offer so much visual interest that in the end what they are or what they’re called doesn’t matter. If he was called or inspired to illustrate a certain plant instead of something else, then there was a reason for it, and the result is so beautiful that the quibble is forgotten in the subsequent examination of the artwork.

What I appreciated most was the brief introduction written by Brender à Brandis, which talked about the physical process of production and his creative artistic process. He talks about being led to use certain woods for certain engravings, how he chose what plants to engrave, and the delight humanity takes in flowers,

It’s a slender little paperbound volume priced at $16.95. The production quality is very high. It’s an exquisite little art book that would make a lovely gift for someone interested in engraving or for a lover of botanicals. It does require a relaxed and open mind when one sits down to read it, however, and plenty of time to pore over the engravings. I will absolutely go on to look up Brender à Brandis’ other books, particularly A Gathering of Flowers from Shakespeare.

Many thanks to Mini Book Expo and The Porcupine’s Quill, through whom I acquired the review copy of this book.

Publisher web site:
Author web site: n/a

Orchestra Video

I debated about posting this, but why not.

Someone made a video recording of about half of the recent LCO fall concert. It’s broken into approximately eight-minute long sections, so you can see the first and second part of the three-movement Mozart Divertimento (the second part covers the second and third movements), the lovely Adagio for Clarinet and Strings (the so-called “Wagner adagio”, which has some nice close-ups of Martine’s hands for you clarinet players out there), and the Haydn Symphony 104 in D major (first part, second part, third part, and fourth part). I wish I could say each part actually corresponds to a movement, but they don’t. The first part is most of the first movement, the second part is the end of the first and most of the second, the third is the rest of the second and the full minuet/trio, and the fourth is the fourth movement in its entirety.

Why did I consider not posting this? Well, mainly due to the fact that the sound is awful. It’s very flat and quite distorted. (Although I recognise that not all the distortion is due to the recording. Ahem.) The balance is completely off, and things are very muddy. Hand-held video cameras just aren’t designed to record such a wide range of sound level, especially from that distance in a very echoey venue. And as such, it isn’t particularly complimentary. But it’s an idea of what went on. Also, it’s fun to see what the audience members are doing while we play. (I was amused by the people nodding and tapping their programmes during the minuet, and by the kids.)

And yes, I am cleverly hidden by my teacher’s scroll most of the time through the Mozart and the Adagio! Although the videographer seems to have moved forward for the first two-thirds of the symphony and therefore there is a better view of me from a three-quarter back angle in those recordings. (And thus my pathological avoidance of vibrato has been preserved for prosperity. I’m working on that now in my lessons.) Also, good gods, does my left hand always look that spidery?

This is the first half of the programme. I wonder if the videographer recorded the last half, and if it will be posted.