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Arts & Entertainment - Reviews

JS Bach, Beethoven and Chopin at St Peter's Church: was this the best recital of the current series?

Kausikan RajeshkumarKausikan RajeshkumarThe April recital in the ‘Brilliant Young Pianists at Saint Peter’s Church’ series was given by Kausikan Rajeshkumar, who was born in London in 1990.   Kausikan was offered scholarships at both the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music, but chose to read music at Cambridge graduating with a first class honours degree.  

He was one of the piano finalists in the BBC Young Musician of the Year competitions in 2006 and 2008, before winning the International Franz Liszt Prize for Young Pianists in 2009.  Among his many engagements in Great Britain and elsewhere in Europe, he performed in the Royal College of Music ‘s ‘Rising Stars’ series at the Cadogan Hall.  

He began his Marlborough recital with JS Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No.18 which was published in the first volume of his ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’.   Written in a minor key, the work is sombre and reflective.

Brilliantly crafted, the first movement is a rising thematic figure passed from one hand to another, and played with such clarity as to clearly expose the structure of the movement. The stately fugue that followed was played with feeling and delicacy - the notes flowing seamlessly from Kausikan’s hands.

This was followed by a late Beethoven Sonata: No.30 in E Major. What a contrast in tonality. The bright major key creating a dramatically different mood from the Bach. The first movement is lyrical and flowing, creating a sense of tenderness which is suddenly shattered by the demotic opening chords of the powerful prestissimo.
The last movement begins with a wonderful plangent melody, surely one of the finest that Beethoven wrote. 

This then heralds a series of variations of increasing complexity, one of which is so rich in counterpoint as to be reminiscent of JS Bach. Finally calm is restored and the initial melody returns, lovingly and gently played, Kausikan’s whole body enfolded in the music. This was a performance of great intensity and passion.

The second half of the concert was largely devoted to Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestucke (Fantasy Pieces.) These were inspired by a series of novellas written by the German author Hoffman and were dedicated to a young Scottish pianist.  The eight miniatures are very varied, some are reflective and elegiac, others more agitated and passionate.

The wind can be heard gently rustling in the trees in ‘In der Nacht’ while ‘Traumes Wirren’ is a joyous and effervescent riot of notes. ‘Ende von Lied’ begins in great solemnity and then appropriately, dies away to nothing.  Kuasikan played these with grace and sensitivity, highlighting the contrast in mood, but always retaining the emotional intensity which these pieces demand.

Two pieces of Chopin completed the programme.  The Etude Opus 10 No. 8 is a showy piece, requiring great skill from the pianist.  This was fireworks from beginning to end - Kausikan’s hands racing up and down the keyboard in an endless cascade of notes. It was played with consummate skill and confidence.

The Polonaise-Fantasie Opus 61 is quite different. Said to be one of the finest of Chopin’s works, it is a profound and very complex piece, gentle and nostalgic for the most part with a lovely lyrical and calm middle section. The contrast between the fiery outbursts and the reflective and serene moments was beautifully articulated.  

It was a lovely concert with a rich variety of musical styles, and there were many who thought that this was the best they had heard in the series. Kausikan played with musicality, passion and confidence demonstrating a deep understanding of each composer’s intentions.  We wish him well in his career.

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St John's students excel in brilliant production of We Will Rock You


Front L to R: Rhys Rowlands (Brit), Emma Doyle (Meat), Will Sexton (Galileo) & Rosie Amos (Scaramouche) - with dancersFront L to R: Rhys Rowlands (Brit), Emma Doyle (Meat), Will Sexton (Galileo) & Rosie Amos (Scaramouche) - with dancersWow!  They filled the stage with dancers, they filled the Theatre on the Hill with music and they filled its seats with very enthusiastic audiences. 

This was a highly ambitious production by St John's Academy of the school version of the very adult musical We Will Rock You - and it came off with great aplomb and a display of some truly amazing local talents.

Based on the music of Queen, it tells of a time in the future when the biggest of the big multinational technology corporations has taken over the world (renamed here as iPlanet) and for some weird reason has outlawed the making of music - leaving the young to rely on boring old Radio Ga Ga (cue, of course, for another memorable Queen song.)

Enter Galileo Figaro - or Gazza for short - who has in his head a sort of archaeologist's collection of shards of pop music and broken bits of lyrics from times past.  And who refuses to conform.  

He is played by Will Sexton, who left St John's last year and is spending a year gaining stage experience before going to drama school.  For this production he doubled as Acting Director. 

He has a wonderful voice, which made the most of both the quieter and the more raucous Queen numbers. And he had great fun with the odd words and phrases from all those barely remembered pop lyrics.

All the rest of the cast - and the 34-strong dance troupe and the nine-strong chorus - are current St John's students.  And the director and producer of this triumph was Max Moore, the school's Director of Performance - who had a third role as pianist and conductor of the twelve-strong live band.

Galileo and Scaramouche Galileo and Scaramouche Galileo gets arrested by the music police led by Khashoggi (Sam Austen in black leather - not Armani but M&S - and shades) under orders from Killer Queen (played on the night I watched by Chrissy Lightowler - a part shared with Tamlin Morgan.)

Arrested with Galileo is another cultural and dress-code refusnik who he names Scaramouche - another name of impeccable Queen ancestry.  She was played by Rosie Amos.

This is a part that calls for careful and clever acting and great singing.  Well, Ms Amos has great stage presence, confident movement and a grand voice - and she gave her character a depth I am pretty certain was not foreseen when the musical was written.  She made the story work - especially her on-off-on-again love affair with Gazza.  

Rosie Amos as ScaramoucheRosie Amos as ScaramoucheGalileo persuades Scaramouche to join the underground Bohemians' movement which is trying to revive the live music they long for.   This was the school version, but innuendos and double entendres and some spicy language flew about - all quite in character - and gave Scaramouche some of the evening's best lines.

I did like the way our magazines were seen from the future as 'websites made of paper'.  And I loved the repartee about dreams and when love dies:  When your partner wakes up and tells you about your dream of a rabbit in a bowler hat cooking an omelette for you.

Ellen Trevaskiss as PopEllen Trevaskiss as PopOne highpoint was the Seven Seas of Rhye pub with its bar full of youngsters who have had their brains emptied by the authorities and with barmaid Pop who had escaped, but was nonetheless pretty dippy and hippy. 

Pop gave Ellen Trevaskiss a wonderful chance to entertain us and to sing with fine gusto.

There were several other highpoints:  Killer Queen, living up to her name and laying waste a large number of young girls to Another One Bites the Dust.  The tender duet sung by Will Sexton and Rosie Amos - with those telling lines "There's no place for us, there's no chance for us...Who wants to live for ever."  There were also standout performances by Rhys Rowlands as Brit (that's Brit as, apparently, in Britney Spears) and Emma Doyle as Meat.

If anyone ever tells you again that the Theatre on the Hill has too small a stage and no proper wings, just run this production past them.  The set design included a well-used raised walkway at the back of the stage.  And called for wheel-on scenery of some complexity.  

But more than that, the stage was filled from time to time with 24 dancers - sometimes GaGa Girls and sometimes not!  (I think it was 24 but it was quite hard to count them as they moved so quickly between groupings and movements)  The dancing was of a very high calibre.  

You try athletic movements with that many fit young girls on a stage that size - with no one getting poked in the eye!  They were brilliant and kept in perfect sync.

The boy dancers were that bit younger and showed their skills with some frenzied break dancing.  The direction made the most of the theatre's space with actors tumbling off the stage and exiting through the audience.

The music was excellent and chorus sang clearly with some great Queen harmonies.  Max More directed a humdinger of an evening even at one point adding a shouted intervention from his piano - much to the delight of students in the audience.

The Saturday sell-out performance was the last night of a run that was probably short enough for those with exams coming up, but too short for all those of the cast who were obviously enjoying the whole live stage experience so much.

Now the run is over I do not need to give readers a spoiler alert:  after the curtain call, after the applause had finally died away and the stage had emptied, an offstage voice (Galileo, I think) suddenly said "We've left something out" - and back they came for the most amazing, spine tingling  performance of Bohemian Rhapsody. Wow!

They filled the stage with dancers, lights and music [Photos by Max More] [Click on images to enlarge them] They filled the stage with dancers, lights and music [Photos by Max More] [Click on images to enlarge them]


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Review: Brilliant Young Musicians at St Peter's Church - cellist and pianist make a perfect duo

Chris Graves and Alison RhindChris Graves and Alison RhindThe latest in this popular Brilliant Young Musicians series of concerts was given to a very large audience at St Peter's Church on Sunday  (February 21) by Chris Graves (cello) and Alison Rhind (piano).

Alison is a respected ‘collaborative’ pianist working mainly on a repertoire of piano with strings.  Having first worked at the Yehudi Menuhin School, she is now coach for the String Department at the Royal College of Music - a post she combines with her freelance recital work. 

Chris Graves studied at the Royal College and is developing a successful career both as a soloist and as a chamber musician - he plays with the Castalian String Quartet.  

The concert opened with Beethoven’s Sonata in D Major written between 1812 and 1817.  It is the last of a series of sonatas for piano and cello - a combination of instruments then its infancy. The first movement opens with a series of fanfare-like arpeggios, a motif that is repeated by both piano and cello at regular intervals, separated by a plangent melodic line.

Both instrumentalists played with bravura and there was very obvious dialogue between the two instruments.  

This was followed by a gentle adagio developed first by the cello and then taken up by the piano. There is a melancholic darkness to the movement created by the piano's steady rich chords. The playing exploited very sensitively the elegiac properties, especially the change of mood in the middle of the work.  

The sonata concludes with a fine fugue - the first time that Beethoven had included a full fugue as a final movement.   This opens with a tantalising rising scale, repeated by the piano, before the two hurtle away in a dazzling conversation, the fugue subject batted from one player to the other. Wonderful stuff and played with great zest.  

The first half was completed with Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestucke. Three lovely pieces originally scored for clarinet and piano, but ideally suited to the cello.  They are warm and rich elegiac pieces; ‘songs without words’ indeed. Here is an outpouring of beauty with long flowing waves rolling from the cello, supported by rippling piano accompaniment. They were played with grace and all the ‘soul’ expected from German Romantic music.

The second half of the concert was devoted to one work, Brahms’ Sonata in E Minor. Begun in 1862 it was the first of Brahms’ duo sonatas. The long first movement begins with a profound theme on the cello around which the piano weaves a glorious halo of sound.

This was real collaboration, neither part dominant, but engaged in a continuous dialogue throughout.  

The second movement is a graceful minuet, with a trio forming the central section. Here, unexpectedly, we hear Brahms exploring the vocabulary of his classical predecessors.

The final movement is another allegro. The opening bars for the piano are a quotation from JS Bach’s Art of Fugue, a theme which is richly developed by both instruments at regular intervals.  This is a complex and difficult movement for both performers and played here with great confidence.

This was a very rewarding evening. The pieces were well selected and showed off the virtuosity of each of these competent instrumentalists, but also their ability to perform empathetically as a duo.

The next recital in this series of recital features pianist Kausikan Rajeshkumar - on Sunday 10 April 2016 - full details here.  The recitals ar sponsored by Hiscox Insurance and raise funds for the Marlborough Brandt Group and the St Peter's Church Trust.

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Gerald Seymour: the thriller writer who just loves story-telling


Gerald Seymour Gerald Seymour The White Horse Bookshop brought the internationally respected  thriller writer Gerald Seymour to Marlborough Town Hall on Wednesday (January 27) for a well-attended "Evening with..." session.

Interviewed by the bookshop's manager Angus Maclennan, Seymour was in an impish mood: "Thank you all for coming out on a January night - I too didn't think there was anything on television this evening!"

When we got into the story of his journalism with ITN and his books, one thing became obvious:  Gerald Seymour simply loves story telling.  Whether it's a passing tale about the way he works or one of his complex thrillers, it 's a story - and he tells them all so well.

Seymour described how he joined ITN aged 21 - apparently on the strength of his way with a googly - at £875 a year.  In at the deep end - he reported on The Great Train Robbery and The Profumo Affair: both stories meriting a very definite article with capital 'T'.

He told us how he got one of ITN's great scoops of the 1970s.  During the long running Nixon-Watergate scandal, none of the main characters would talk much, and certainly not to British television.

Somewhere in the ITN film archives there is a clip of Gerald Seymour walking, hand outstretched, across John Ehrlichman's front lawn.  Ehrlichman was Nixon's counsel and chief assistant.  The shot is followed by the exclusive interview with this man right at the heart of the Watergate web.

Working at ITN at the time, I promise I have never seen so many dropped jaws - not to mention the alarm expressed by the resident Washington correspondent - when this interview arrived at ITN headquarters.  A scoop got by a reporter who was just passing through Washington on his way back from another story - in Hawaii.

Gerald Seymour gave us a hint as to how he got this key member of the Nixon circle to talk.  He found out that Ehrlichman had been with American bomber squadrons based in Britain during World War 2 - and Seymour told him how grateful the British people were for his service.

Gerald Seymour's professional writing career has lasted longer than his time at ITN - all thirty-two books and six film versions worth.  This session celebrated the publication of his new book No Mortal Thing and the 40th anniversary of the publication of his first book, Harry's Game - set in the Northern Ireland troubles he had been reporting for ITN.  

When it was published, Northern Ireland was not considered 'good box office'.  The man who bought the film rights asked the head of EMI for some advice on what to do next, he got the reply "See a psychiatrist."  To which Seymour commented: "I thought it covered relatively new ground."

Angus Maclennan asked Seymour why he never takes side in his books, but lets readers make up their own minds on characters' moral failings.  Gerald Seymour replied with the well known quip: "If you've got a message go to the Western Union."

But he added: "Life is complicated - things are very rarely black and white.  It's the shades of grey I try to explore."

He did cite two issues on which he lost his objectivity and became 'partisan' - "I rarely take sides, but...".  

One was over the Italian Mafia, which he learnt a lot about when he was based in Rome for ITN: "They are not very nice at all - very horrid people. Yes - I am partisan with them."

The other arose while he was researching a book involving the current Russian secret service.  He was introduced to a recent Russian defector and spent an hour learning about the FSB which had taken on the mantle of the KGB. Days later he saw the man's face in the newspapers, dying in his hospital bed: Alexander Litvinenko.

"What they did to him was disgusting - utterly ghastly."  And only Porton Down's last minute identification of the polonium unmasked the killers: "They must be so angry they didn't get away with it. I'm not usually partisan - he was a charming man and I liked him."

Describing the kind of people who fire his imagination, Gerald Seymour pictured the person who gets up in the morning, puts his socks on as usual, but by the end of the day has become someone totally new and different - whether hero or villain.

Gerald Seymour, it is clear, gets up in the morning, puts his socks on as usual and starts on his next book - beginning with meticulous research: "I am a journalist - still."

Signed copies of the new book are still available at the White Horse Bookshop.


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Wiltshire Museum’s new exhibition raises lots of laughs - and some serious thoughts


Jane Williams with her Leasingstede Museum security badge (Photo: Wiltshire Museum)Jane Williams with her Leasingstede Museum security badge (Photo: Wiltshire Museum)The sound of laughter is not heard too often in the exhibition rooms at Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.  But artist Jane Williams' Fibs and Fibulae exhibition at the museum is certainly changing that.

This is a touring exhibition from the Leasingstede Museum - which is a small village museum with its chairman (Lady Alphyn), treasurer, secretary and a long-serving gallery attendant.  Or is it?

Try the labels on some of the exhibits: Mould Foxer (Veritas Brand), Runner Blade, Settle Scorer (with replaced blade), Root Master and the Seventeen Counter. 

The latter has a label: "A curious measuring device, not only with 17 slots which expose sections of the sliding rod, but with coloured chain links in groups of 17."  

Could the Seventeen Counter, perhaps, predate the 10-base or decimal and the 12-base (as in twelve pennies to the shilling) systems of counting?

Do a bit of Googling and you will find that 'leasing' is Old English for 'lying', and 'stede' meant 'place'  - so this museum is in the 'Place of Deception'.  And it's all a deception - it's an art installation that aims to entertain and raise a few pertinent questions.  Like all good spoofs it has a more serious message.

Marlborough News Online asked Jane Williams why she dreamt up the Leasingstede Museum: "There was a double reason really.  You go to a museum and you see stuff that's incredibly valuable and rare...yet it doesn't look so - it looks very ordinary and mundane.  I was intrigued by that."

"It looks worthless - so why not put something of no value in the cases yet treat it as though it is priceless?"

"I also wanted to draw attention to the importance of little, backwater museums - many of these are closing due to lack of visitors and funding.  So while affectionately sending them up, I'm saying 'Please support them'."

The Beaker The Beaker I did not quite believe Jane when she said that 'initially there was no humour in it'.  Take the 2,000 year-old 'Beaker'  - surely a piece de resistance in any museum?  

"Most unusually", says its label, "it was found intact and has not required restoration."  Humph!   The label continues explaining that the square hole at the top would have made it difficult to drink out of "...but there's a hole for a straw."

I won't spoil the fun by describing more exhibits.  Though it is tempting to tell the secret of the 'Tribasket'.  And it is said that one visitor believed the story about the lion that ate a hole in the Dandelion Shield.

Reactions in the visitors' book after the first week give a good idea of the exhibition's success:  "Ha Ha - well done!", "Love it" "This is fun", "I'm hooked - totally believable" , "A convincing spoof - it took me ages to realise the fact, as it is so imaginative..."  And yes, I really laughed out loud.

The Dandelion ShieldThe Dandelion ShieldThat there is a more serious side to the exhibition - a questioning of what exhibits mean once they are behind glass - becomes clear from this reaction: "Cause for thought (from an ex-curator.)"

A truly wonderful installation by artist Jane Williams who made all the artefacts on display.  And hats off to the Wiltshire Museum for supporting this gentle dig at its own world of museum displays.

The exhibition is at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes until 10 April.  On some days you may find Jane Williams at the Museum - acting out her role as Leasingstede Museum's Gallery Attendant.

But she will certainly be at the Museum on Saturday, 12 March for a special Young Wiltshire Archaeology and Natural History Society event: "What's in MY Museum". Jane will be encouraging people to think about what they would put in their own museum.  All that and model making too.  10.15am to 12.15pm - booking essential - tickets £4.

And every museum needs its hoard of ancient coins...And every museum needs its hoard of ancient coins...


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REVIEW: Marlborough and district before-and-after photographs show how town and around have - and have not - changed

Marlborough and Around Through Time by Stanley C Jenkins and Angela Long (Amberley Publishing, 2015)   £14.99

Here's a very new book - a slim volume ideal for the Christmas stocking.  But an ideal stocking filler for which member of the family?

Published this month - along with nine other new titles - it comes in Amberley Publishing's vast series of illustrated books about British towns and locations.  The series has around 400 titles and between them they have sold half a million copies. And they are about to start an Irish series too.

The Amberley formula is to compare and contrast old photographs (mainly in this case old and atmospheric postcards) with new photographs and a dash of explanatory text that always includes a few good tales.

In Marlborough and Around Through Time the new photographs were taken this August and September - when Marlborough in Bloom was in full colour.  They capture, in passing, the weeks when the Bollywood Indian restaurant became, briefly, the Jyoti - a time before The Crown's Inn sign changed into the much more arresting Piano Lounge sign - and just another day when Dormy House was damaged by an HGV truck.

Many of the old photographs are really interesting - some are dated from 'around 1912'.  One of Kingsbury Street includes the inn sign of The Bell and Shoulder - though it was surely known as The Bell and Shoulder of Mutton, which, unless I am mistaken, closed in 1919.

Its landlord at the time of the photograph was Frederick Pile.   Was he the same Frederick Pile who is listed (discovered after a bit of Googling) as a five-year-old 'Scholar' living in Preshute in 1871?  Answers on a postcard - please.

The one trouble with this formula is that 'before' and 'after' pictures often look very alike.  Perhaps that's part of the point: evidence of successful conservation decisions keeping town and country from modern blight.

The 'Around' part of this book is fairly large - one third of the book's pages are devoted to Avebury.  And it's a take on Avebury that will fascinate tourists - concentrating on Third Age Avebury with several pages featuring the visit in 1993 by Tibetan Lama Gangchen and 'Avebury Henge - the role of the Druid.'  

Indeed the book is dedicated to 'Tim Sebastion Woodman (1948-2007), Arch-Druid of Wiltshire, asnd Donna Brooke (1965-2015), Arch-Druidess of the Glastonbury Order of Druids.'

There is a very sad 2015 photograph of what used to be Charles Perry's hotel in Avebury.  It looks as though it is deteriorating very quickly - and may soon become a 'before' photograph.

There is a good section on the College and another on Marlborough's connection to and severance from the rail network.  And there are two surprising pages on Yatesbury at war.

But there is nothing in this book on one of the main features of the area: Savernake Forest which has a history all of its own. And from a marketing point of view, a couple of pages on Wolf Hall and why it's no longer there would have been good.

So whose stocking will it best fit into? A grandparent or perhaps an aunt visiting from Australia.   Actually, it should find its way into stockings belonging to anyone who is interested in Marlborough and its past.

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REVIEW: St Peter's Church recitals: a brilliant young pianist is joined by a brilliant young violinist

The Choi-Fox DuoThe Choi-Fox DuoOn a cold November night these two young musicians provided us with a feast of lovely music: Harry Nowakowski-Fox (piano) and Judith Choi-Castro (violin) - who perform and record as the Choi-Fox Duo.

The first half of this recital in the was devoted entirely to piano works played by Harry. He began with JS Bach’s Partita No2 in C Minor, very well known to the St Peter's Church audience. The work begins with an opening sinfonia, which has three very different sections.  We were treated to a very formal almost solemn grave section, which gives way to a lovely gentle andante before finishing with a two-part fugue in which Harry showed  a thorough mastery  of Bach’s familiar counterpart.  

Then follow a series of dance movements, all very varied in speed and in mood.  However it is in the last two movements, the rondeaux and finally the capriccio, where all the excitement lies.  Technically demanding, Harry sailed through these movements at a cracking tempo, the notes just pouring from his finger tips.

The Chopin Barcarolle in F Sharp Major which followed is a very different piece. A barcarolle is based on the rhythm and mood of the ‘barcarola’, a song sung by Venetian gondoliers, and a source of inspiration to many nineteenth century composers.  This one is lovely.

Harry articulated the rippling arpeggios which were reminiscent of sunlight on the waters of the Grand Canal, and poured much expression into the main theme, which is unmistakably Italian in its form.

The great Piano Sonata no 21 in C major, the ‘Waldstein’, was a complete contrast. Here is one of Beethoven’s finest piano works. Two thunderous outer movements are separated by a short and reflective adagio. Harry played with huge confidence, mastering the bravado that this work demands, but, at the same time, highlighting the moments of quiet contemplation found therein.

The second half saw Harry back at the piano to accompany Judith in two well-established works for piano and violin duo. The first of these was Beethoven’s wonderful Violin Sonata in F Major which, thanks to its sunny and joyous character has been known as the ‘Spring’ sonata.  

Its ‘uncomplicated’ light-heartedness makes a good contrast with the powerful Waldstein which had preceded it.  You can’t help but smile from the first moment of this work. Judith gave us a very personal rendering, highlighting the sometimes very intimate ‘conversation’ between the violin and the piano. This was joy both to watch and to hear.

The concert finished with a violin sonata in F Major written in 1838 by a young and buoyant Mendelssohn.  It is more complex than the Beethoven, and requires more attention from both the performer and the listener.  There are serene moments where the elegant melodies are reminiscent of the Songs Without Words. These were played with great eloquence. However, it is the ‘dash for the finish’, the assai vivace, with its long and breathless passages of joyous fast notes passed from one instrument to the other that was memorable.

Played with youthful bravado, this was a worthy end to the concert. Perhaps, though, Saint Peter’s church is not an ideal acoustic for the violin and there were times when the balance between the two instruments was not good, and the quiet intimacy of the instrument was drowned out by the piano.  Nevertheless this concert was recognised by many as one of the very best in these recent series of recitals by young musicians.

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