Thursday, March 26, 2015

"Got a Little Rhythm" has a lot of fun

It's always fun when friends get together to make music. And that's exactly what this intimately-recorded release sounds like. Pianist John Musto and soprano Amy Burton are a husband and wife team, steeped both in Broadway and classical music traditions. Baritone Patrick Mason is a long-time collaborator with both Musto and Burton, and the easy camaraderie of these three comes across in the release.

Many singers stick to the Great American Songbook when performing an album of show tunes, but mercifully that's not what happens here. Sure, there are some standards such as George Gershwin's "Fascinating Rhythm" and Vernon Duke's "Autumn in New York."

But this trio goes deeper into the repertoire, coming up with some unusual gems like "I'll See You in C-U-B-A" by Irving Berlin and "Faithful Forever," by Ralph Robin and Leo Rainger.

I'm used to the singing style of Broadway's current crop of full-throated performers. Initially Burton and Mason's voices sounded a little thin to me. After a couple of numbers, though, I began to appreciate the subtleties their restraint brought to the songs.

It sounds like"Got a Little Rhythm" was a lot of fun to record. I'm glad Bridge Records let us sit in on the fun.

Got a Little Rhythm
Amy Burton, soprano; Patrick Mason, baritone; John Musto, piano
Bridge Records 9430

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Zdnek Fibich Overtures a delight

Zdeněk Fibich was almost an exact contemporary of Antonin Dovrak. And like his fellow Czech, Fibish's music in infused with the energy of his country's folk music. Volume Four of Naxos' ongoing traversal of Fibich's orchestral music is perhaps the most exciting installment so far.

The disc collects several of Fibich's overtures, as well as the ballet music to hone of his opera, "Hedy.". The scores are from Fibich operas, and all are real curtain-raisers. If you're not familiar with Fibich, these works share the same freshness and energy of Dvorak's concert overtures.

The opera "Hedy" (based on Byron's Don Juan) is filled with exciting ballet sequences, and the 17-minute concert suite Fibich created from it is a high point of the release. While perhaps not quite on par with Tchaikovsky, Fibich nevertheless manages to create charming dances that practically command the listener's body to respond in some way -- if not by dancing around the room, then at least by tapping one's foot (as I did quite frequently).

Marek Stilec and the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubic play these works with the deep understanding only a native ensemble can bring to Czech repertoire. The pace is quick, the fortes joyfully loud, and the ensemble is fully committed to bringng these works off -- which they do.

Zdeněk Fibich: Orchestral Works, Vol. 4
Overtures; Ballet Music from Hedy
Czech Chamnber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice; Marek Stilec, conductor

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Straco Express Layout, Part 43 - Tower of Strength

Although this was made for H0 scale model
layouts, the size -- and the manufacturer --
made this a logical addition to the Straco
display layoug.
Read all the installments of the Straco Express layout project here.

One of the major challenges in developing the Straco Express display layout has been finding appropriate scenery. The guidelines for the layout are pretty simple.

  1. Everything must come from a Japanese toy manufacturer
  2. Everything must have been made between 1948-1964 (or so)
  3. Everything should be tinplate, with minimal plastic

It's been relatively easy to fill the roads and rails with sort-of-H0-scale vehicles and rolling stock. Buildings and other accessories, though, have been another matter. When I first came across the Cragstan light tower, I wasn't sure if it would be a good fit (especially at its original asking price).

Cragstan was a major importer of Japanese toys, and a number of pieces on the display layout were brought in under the Cragstan brand. But this tower was designed not for the toy market, but for the model railroad market. After the Second World War, H0 model railroading blossomed, and both 0-gauge and S-gauge railroading declined proportionally.

The asking price for this particular tower also declined, and when it finally reached a reasonable amount, I bought it. And I'm glad I did.

Both the construction of the piece and the box's artwork suggest this is probably from the early 1950's. The tower itself is metal rather than plastic. The lens covers screw onto the light fixture, and the fixtures pivot on a moving metal bracket. It's a pretty elaborate construction.

The tower adds something to landscape, I think.
The lights don't work, but that's OK. None of these tinplate trains have any lights on them, so running them in a darkened room isn't the best idea anyway. When I have some free time, I'll see if I can replace the bulbs -- it would be nice to have it fully operational, after all.

As you can see from the photos, the tower fits well on the layout. The finish of the metal is in keeping with the finish of the cars and trains. The height of the piece adds some visual interest to the display, and it fills in a bare spot on the layout.

At this point, I'm not sure there's much more I can add -- or should add -- the display layout. I am on the lookout for a few things -- like the Sakai Hudson & Pacific diesel for my Sakai freight cars; the rest of the train for my lone Rosko box car; the Nomura Milwaukee Road engine and box car for my orphaned gondola car. But I expect it will be quite a while before I find any of those at a price I'm willing to pay.

For now, I'll just enjoy what I have.

Total cost for the project:

Layout construction:
  • Pegboard: $4.95
  • Flathead Screws: $0.40
  • Molding: $2.49
  • SilClear: borrowed from a friend
  • Green Paint: left over from another project
  • Wood Screws: $3.60
  • Felt Pads: $1.99
Power Pack: $5.90
Small Houses: $3.00
Testor's Gray Paint for road: $1.29

Bandai Areo Station: $8.99
2 tinplate signs: $1.00
4 tinplate signs (with train) $5.99
Cragstan HO Light Tower $20.49


  • Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Haji three-wheel sedan $3.00
  • 1950's sedan $2.99
  • LineMar Pepco Truck $8.50
  • LineMar Bond Bread Van $8.00
  • LineMar Fire Engine $4.95
  • LineMar Dump Truck $12.99
  • LineMar GE Courier Car $10.98
  • Nomura Red Sedan $5.00
  • Nomura Police Car $2.52
  • Nomura lumber truck $3.48
  • 6 Namura vehicles $16.99
  • Orange Sedan $10.99
  • King Sedan $9.95
  • Indian Head logo sedan $4.99
  • Yellow/red Express truck $9.99
Total Project Cost: $186.37