Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mercandante's I Briganti bridges styles

Saverio Mercandante: I Briganti
Maxim Mironov; Petya Ivanova; Vittorio Prato; Bruno Pratico
Camerata Bach Choir, Poznan; Virtuosi Brunensis; Antonio Fogliani, conductor 

Saverio Mercandante has been characterized as the bridge between Rossini and Verdi -- and I Briganti demonstrates why. Completed in 1836, "I Briganti" was written partially in response to Bellini's "I Puritani."

This bel canto opera eschews self-contained arias for music that is more fully integrated into the drama. At the same time, it provides plenty of opportunities for singers to show what they're made of -- as is the case in this performance.

This world premier recordings captures the 2012 Rossini in Wildsad Festival production, with all pros and cons of live recording. The pros include the singing of the three principals, tenor Maxim Mironov (Ermano), baritone Vittorio Prato (Corrado), and soprano Petya Ivanova (Amelia). All three sing with confidence and energy, producing warm, rounded tones.

The cons include some occasional pitch problems in the chorus, and the overall recorded sound. The sound stage seems a little cramped, and the music sounded to my ears somewhat soft around the edges.

Nevertheless, Mercandante's music works its magic and I soon forgot my quibbles with the recording. Highly recommended for lovers of Italian opera. And if you can, listen to I Briganti and then Verdi's "I Masnadieri," a setting of the same story. Mercandante's opera compares quite favorably, particularly in dramatic structure and pacing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Expressing Change for the O-Gauge Zen Garden

The latest addition -- a Haji Express Truck. This lithographed, tin
friction toy was manufactured in the late 1950's-early 1960's.
The nice thing about a train layout -- or as I think of it, an O-gauge Zen garden -- is that it's never really finished. There are always opportunities to change, upgrade, add to and/or rearrange components. And, unless you're a professional model builder, there's no deadline.

As I wrote in my last post (A Fetching Winch in the O-gauge Zen Garden), my current project is to improve my assortment of vehicles. I'm happy with some of the cars and trucks on the layout, but others are just placeholders until something better comes along. And what is that something? Well, I'll know it when I see it.

And that's just what happened recently. I saw something I knew would be perfect for the layout. It's a Haji tinplate express truck, made sometime in the early 1960's.

I was very happy with my last addition, the Haji tinplate winch truck. Haji created several varieties of the same vehicle as an economical way to offer more products (shared components lower costs). So far, I've seen examples of a cement mixer, flatbed truck, and fire engine, all using the same chassis and cab. With just a change of lithography (and something different attached to the back), a new truck model was created.

I didn't find those models especially interesting, but the express van caught my eye. As you can see from the photo below, the only difference between it and the winch truck is what's attached to the flatbed. When I placed them side by side, I was a little surprised to see that the cab graphics were different.  It's the same piece used on both, so I thought they might have been lithographed the same.

The two Haji trucks. Note the difference in lithography on the cabs. The
windshields, doors, grilles, and lights have all been changed to
disguise the fact that the component parts are identical.

Still, I think I made a good purchase. My layout is a mix of semi-scale structures and rolling stock with vintage tinplate accessories, and.the Haji express truck fits in nicely with that mix. It is toy-like in appearance, but not overly so. To me, that makes it a good addition to the Zen garden.

What's next? Well, I'm not sure. As with the Haji express truck, I'll know it when I see it. Whenever and wherever that may be.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Diabelli Project 062 - Piano Piece in A minor

 The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

I debated whether to actually name a key for this week's flash composition sketch. Although the bass clearly outlines an A minor chord, the right hand ranges a little farther afield. Still, it does have a strong pull towards A, so that's where we'll leave it for now.

Of course, as the piece develops, another key center could emerge. That's up to you. As always, you're welcome to use all or part of this sketch. Just let me know what you come up with!