Thursday, July 28, 2016

Mozart: Music for Harpsichord Four Hands - an unusual choice

This is a somewhat curious album. Not because of the repertoire -- recordings of Mozart's 4-hand keyboard works aren't that rare. Some of the works represented here have over 40 different recorded versions currently available.

No, what makes this collection unusual is the instrument itself. Most of the recordings of this music are done with a modern piano. A significant percentage use a fortepiano of the era. This is one of a very few to use a harpsichord.

It's not an entirely inauthentic choice. The earliest works here -- the K 19d sonata, the K381 sonata, and the k358 sonata -- were all composed between 1765 and 1774. It was a time of transition when the use of the fortepiano became widespread. It's conceivable that there were plenty of places (maybe even somewhere Wolfgang and Nannerl performed) where the upgrade from the harpsichord to the fortepiano hadn't been made.

But by the time the Andante con Variazioni in G major, K501 (1786) was written, the fortepiano would have been the norm, rather than the exception in most venues. And the Fantasia in F minor, K608 was originally written for mechanical organ, and later arranged for piano four hands -- well after the heyday of the harpsichord.

That's my quibble with this album, but of greater importance than instrumental choice is the sound. And that's where Basilio Timparano and Rossella Policardo excel. The harpsichord doesn't have the subtle dynamic options of a piano (or even a fortepiano), but the changes in texture serve that function. Four hands playing chords on the instrument sound much louder than two hands playing single lines. And it works.

These are crisp, clean performances that are full of Mozartean energy and good spirits. The harpsichord is particularly effective in the fugal section of the Fantasia, making it easy to hear the individual lines as they interact with each other.

Timparano and Policardo also play expressively, with phrasing and minor variations in tempo that make these engaging performances. I was a little skeptical when I first got this disc. But after hearing it, I'm won over. In the end, it didn't matter to me if Mozart had originally performed all these works at the harpsichord or not. They just sounded right.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Music for harpsichord four hands 
Basilio Timparano, Rossella Policardo, harpsichord 
Sonata in D major, K381; Andante con Variazioni in G major, K501; Sonata in C major, K 19d; Fantasia in F minor, K608; Sonata in B-flat major, K358 
Stradivarius STR 37045

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Outstanding Wind Ensemble Music from Van der Roost

It's really a shame. Mention "wind band" and immediately many people flash back to their high school bands. And they then assume that any works written for a wind ensemble have to be as prosaic and basic as those they played themselves.

And nothing could be farther from the truth. In the 20th Century several leading composers -- such as Paul Hindemith and Vincent Persichetti -- composed top-flight works for wind ensembles. And there are many composers adding quality music to the professional wind ensemble repertoire today, such as Jan Van der Roost.

This Belgian composer has written over 90 works for wind ensembles. And they're works of substance. Van der Roost teaches counterpoint and fugal writing -- not basic band techniques -- at the university level. Overall, his music is dynamic, imaginative, and skillfully uses the wind ensemble's resources. He writes idiomatically for the instruments, resulting in some truly engaging music.

Featured on this album is Spartacus, a 1988 tone poem dedicated to Ottorino Respighi. It's easy to hear the influence. Van der Roost's instrumental combinations are as vibrant as any in The Fountains of Rome. In the liner notes, Van der Roost states that there is "a particular connection between Poéme Montagnard and Spartacus. I can hear it. Poéme harkens back the renaissance, much as Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances did. but Van der Roost's music is entirely original, not arrangements of early music. However, the recorder quartet and the use of modal harmonies seem to come from the same neo- renaissance tradition as Ancient Airs.

The largest work in the program, Sinfonietta "Suito Sketches," was a commission by the Osaka Municipal Symphonic Band. Van der Roost makes great demands on the players. The work is almost Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra (well, OK -- Concerto for Wind Ensemble), showcasing various sections of the ensemble in different movements.

If you want to hear what a professional wind ensemble is capable of, this is the work to listen to. The composer conducts the Philharmonic Winds OSAKAN in standout performances. The album is well-recorded, with a nice ensemble blend that still allows important details to shine through. A joy to listen to.

Jan Van der Roost: Wind Band Classics 
Spartacus; Poéme Montagnard; Sinfonietta; Suito Sketches
Philharmonic Winds OSKAN; Jan Van der Roost, conductor 
Naxos 8.573486 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Straco Express Layout, Part 49 - A Seldom Seen Limousine

Your limousine awaits. You can tell it's limousine, too -- it says so
right on the side!
Read all the installments of the Straco Express layout project here.

This limousine is unusual in more ways than one. First, it didn't cost me a cent. A member of the CCC -- who also reads this blog -- thought I might be interested in it for the Straco display layout, and gave it to me as a gift. And I'm very grateful.

Second, I thought it was very similar to a car I already had. The lines looked about the same -- but I was wrong. However examining these pieces and trying to tease information out of them is part of the fun (at least for me).

Third, it looks great on the display. The limousine's the right size, and it has different lines than most of the other cars -- and I'm always looking for contrast.

When I first got the car, I thought it might possibly be an older version of a small sedan I already owned.

In a side-by-side comparison, the differences are clear.
The limousine is on the left, the newer car on the right.
There were too many differences for me to think they might have been made by the same company. The chassis are attached to the body through different tab configurations -- and the chassis themselves are too different. While a company may simplify manufacturing over time, usually there's a resemblance between the old and the new versions.

The wheels on both cars were rubber, but they weren't the same.

I had originally placed the newer sedan as a product of the early to mid-1960s. I've noticed that as Japanese toy manufacturers improved their lithography skills over time. The lines became thinner, the colors crisper, and there seemed to be fewer registration issues.

The limousine, on the other hand, has very simple lithography with very thick lines. I'm not sure how early in the postwar era Japanese toy companies started adding drivers and passengers (all with vaguely American features) to the lithographed decoration of these cars.

The limousine has black windows -- definitely easier to draw than gaijin. I don't think it's from the late 1940s, though. The body style seems more mid 1950s. And note the (relatively) elaborate stamping of the body.

The limousine has an embossed hood ornament and grille. The newer sedan just represents these features in the lithography.

I don't know who made this vehicle -- but I'd sure like to find out. This is the first vehicle I've seen of this type -- anywhere. There aren't any markings on it, save "Made in Japan." Nevertheless, it's a great addition to the Straco Display Layout, as you can see.

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
4 nesting houses $4.99

  • 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 Nomura 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
  • Red limousine FREE
Total Project Cost: $233.35