Thursday, October 08, 2015

Powerhouse Pianists Return

I haven't heard the original Powerhouse Pianists album, but after listening to this release, I'll be searching it out. This release features the same type of programming as the first Powerhouse Pianists, although it can be enjoyed on its own merits.

Pianists Stephen Gosling and Blair McMillen present a collection of contemporary works that push the boundaries the piano duo -- and not always in the way one might expect.

Robert Paterson's Deep Blue Ocean, for example, is an extended work that I can only describe as impressionistic minimalism. It's impressionistic in terms of its harmonic coloration and the way it evokes the motion of the water a la Debussy's La Mer. It's minimalist in terms of its driving -- and sometimes -- unrelenting rhythm.

Some major composers are represented. John Corigliano's quarter-tone work Chiaroscuoro, and John Adam's ground-breaking Hallelujah Junction are both present.

Frederic Rzewski utilizes the rumbling, intense power of two concert grands hammering away in the lower register to represent factory machinery in his "Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues" (before momentarily desolving into some languid blues).

Also included are engaging works from Mary Ellen Childs, Doug Opel, and Amanda Harberg -- all equal in quality to the aforementioned compositions.

Stephen Gosling and Blair McMillen are young performers, and they bring a take-no-prisoners attitude and youthful energy to this music. While the styles are widely different, the duo seems to bring out the best in each.

As I said -- I'll be looking for the first volume of this series.

Powerhouse Pianists II
Stephen Gosling and Blair McMillen, piano duo
Robert Paterson: Deep Blue Ocean; Doug Opel: Dilukkenjon; Amanda Harberg: Subway; Mary Ellen Childs: Kilter; John Corigliano:  Chiaroscuro; John Adams: Hallelujah Junction; Frederic Rzewski: Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues
American Modern Recordings, AMR 1039

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Joan Tower - Violin Concerto bold and colorful

This new release serves up three outstanding orchestral works by American composer Joan Tower.

Stroke is a 2010 musical portrait of a stroke, and the disruptive effect it has on the victim. Tower's music upends itself early on, and over the course of the piece moves through several violent emotions before settling on serene acceptance of the new norm.

The earliest work on the album is the 1991 Violin Concerto. This single-movement piece was originally composed for violinist Elmar Oliveria. In this recording, Cho-Liang Lin is the featured soloist. Lin has an intense style that imbues his performance with a frantic energy that gives the entire work a sense of urgency -- and to good effect. While Lin's style may differ from Oliveria's his interpretation is no less valid.

The Chamber Dance, to my ears, seems like a kind of a concerto for orchestra. Over the course of the 16-minute work, each instrument (and instrumental combination) is showcased. Originally written in 2006 for the Orpheus Ensemble, the work betrays its origin as a piece for leaderless orchestra. In such an organization, all players are equal -- and the Chamber Dance gives everyone equal time to shine. The piece moves through various orchestral textures and colors in kaleidoscopic fashion. Underneath it all is a thematic framework with a clear sense of direction, giving the work substance as well as glitter.

A colleague of mine calls Joan Tower one of the greatest living composers. After hearing this release, I can't argue with him.

Joan Tower: Violin Concerto; Stroke; Chamber Dance
Cho-Liang Lin, violin; Nashville Symphony; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor
Naxos 8.559775

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Straco Express Layout, Part 47 - Serving District No. 7

The Line Mar School Bus, ca. 1959
Read all the installments of the Straco Express layout project here.

At this point, I really didn't expect to acquire any more of the Line Mar 3" vehicles. Out of that set of ten, the three remaining are all pretty rare and/or pretty expensive.

Nevertheless, I did run across an example of the Line Mar school bus at a reasonable price, and although the condition wasn't perfect, it was good enough for the Straco Display Layout.

Comparing it to the other vehicles in the Line Mar set, I discovered it used the later, cheaper chassis construction.  The body, though, seems closest to the coal truck, which has the earlier crimped chassis. Perhaps the school bus was a transition piece? (click on images to enlarge)

Of the eight vehicles I own in this Line Mar series, five have the inexpensive
tab-connected chassis (the bus is lower right). Note how the materials
used varied over time.

Line Mar was the Japanese subsidiary of Louis Marx, Co. Unlike other Japanese firms making toys for the American market, Line Mar seems to have received some input from Marx that let them (sometimes) model US prototypes more accurately.

The current Line Mar roster for the Straco Display Layout

Compare the Line Mar school bus with the Nomura model. Line Mar's is orange, the standard color of school buses in the late 1950's. The Nomura bus, on the other hand, is fancifully colored in primary colors. The Linemar vehilce is labeled "County School District No. 7," something fairly close to what many children would have seen (albeit with the county or township explicitly stated). The Nomura vehicle just has a generic "school bus" label.

Line Mar bus (left) vs. Nomura bus (right)

I have no problem with both being on the display layout . Perhaps the Nomura bus, which is newer and in better condition -- is owned by a private school...

The eight Line Mar vehicles on the display layout, with the school bus
in the lead. The original Straco Express rounds the bend.

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
  • Haji three-wheel tanker $5.00
  • 1950's sedan $2.99
  • LineMar Police Car $9.00
  • 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
  • LineMar County School Bus $9.99
  • 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
  • Indian Head (?) convertible $18.00
  • Yellow/red Express truck $9.99
Total Project Cost: $228.36