Thursday, October 18, 2018

Halsam American Brick Build - Tower Building

In the mid-1950s' Halsam offered interlocking brick building toys made from pressed wood. I'm assembling each of the models shown in the instruction booklet for their 60/1 and 60/2 building sets. I'm calling it the Halsam American Brick Build.

The eighth build is a tower building. I've seen modest buildings such as this in the older sections of small cities. The instructions were quite clear, but I was puzzled by that white space over the door frame. It might be a panel insert, but I've never found one in any of the Halsam sets I've seen. I simply left it out.

Almost every building in the instruction book offers a different way to use the bricks. For this build, the new concept was offset patterns. As you can see in the photo below, using such a pattern creates a foundation that's only one peg row smaller. It provides a stable base set above an open space.

It was fun to build a structure with a little bit of height to it. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wilhelm Kempff Chamber Music - Worth a Listen

Wilhelm Kempff is best remembered as a piano virtuoso. But he was also a composer. This release features two youthful chamber works.

The Trio in G minor for violin, cello, and piano dates from 1911, when Kempff was studying composition with a former student of Brahms.

The lineage is easy to hear. Kempff develops his thematic material in the same fashion as Brahms. There are not extra-musical associations here. Like Brahms, Kempff develops his motifs in a methodical, logical fashion.

At times the piano seems to have an oil and water relationship with the strings. Granted, Kempff was only sixteen when he wrote this trio. I was a little surprised, though, at the somewhat pedestrian nature of the piano's music. I was expecting a little more from the composer writing for his own instrument (even a very young composer). Rather than three equal voices, many times I heard strings plus piano accompaniment.

More successful is the 1920 Quartet in G major for flute, violin, cello, and piano. Kempff had completed his studies and was touring as a concert pianist. The piano writing is much more fully realized, and decidedly more interesting. And one can hear Kempff's overall growth as a composer. The instruments are more fully integrated, with every instrument contributing equally.

The material Kempff works with seems more fully developed, too. Kempff does more with his thematic material in this work, breaking motifs down to their component parts and reassembling them in interesting ways.

The Quartetto Raro performs well, but I had a problem with the blend. I'm not sure if its the way the ensemble was recorded, or the way they played. For most of the recording I heard the instruments as individual voices, but seldom blending as an ensemble.

I'd call this a good but not great recording of good but not great chamber music. I love exploring the repertoire, so I enjoyed this release. If my caveat doesn't put you off, you may as well.

Wilhelm Kempff: Chamber Music
Quartet in G major Op.15 for flute, violin, cello and piano' Trio in G minor for violin, cello, and piano
Quartetto Raro
Brilliant Classics 95629

Harald Genzmer Concertos - Zestful, Artful, and Comprehensible

German composer Harald Genzmer had a philosophy. "Music should be zestful, artful and comprehensible. As practicable, it may win over the interpreter, and then the listener as graspable." The three concertos in this release, spanning 60 years, show Grenzmer remained true to his ideal.

In 1938 Genzmer had just completed his studies with Paul Hindemith. His Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 bears traces of Hindemith. It's written in a post-romantic style that still leans towards tonality.

The concerto an elegantly structured work that's easy to follow. In this work, Genmzer seems more playful than his teacher. There are some jazz elements woven into the piano part. The work has a jazzy, light-hearted feel to it. Perhaps Genzmer would call it zestful.

The Concerto for Cello and Orchestra was completed in 1950. And while the tenets of Genzmer's philosophy are still there, they're expressed in a more mature fashion. The work is darker and more serious than the pre-war piano concerto. Genzmer's language, though still tonal, has more chromatic elements in it. At times I was reminded of Stravinsky and Bartok.

Genzmer wrote the Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra when he was 90. His musical language is stripped down to its bare essentials. The work has a tight focus to it. I sensed that every note is there for a reason, and it's doing double duty. Still, it is a tonal composition, and is both "artful and comprehensible."

The Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin, directed by Ariane Matiakh, deliver straightforward, no-nonsense performances. In a way, the performers let Genzmer's music speak for itself. And it does just fine.

Genzmer's music is always listener-friendly, but never pandering. He's a composer that has something to say, and want to make sure what he says is understood. Did he succeed? I think "graspable" may be an understatement.

Harald Genzmer: Piano Concerto, Cello Concerto, Trombone Concerto
Oliver Triendl, piano; Patrick Demenga, cello, Jorgen van Rijen, trombone
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin; Ariane Matiakh, conductor
Capriccio C5330