Friday, October 31, 2014

Spam Roundup: October, 2014

There's spam, and then there's spam so oddly written it's somewhat amusing. Here's a roundup of some of the "best" comments I received this month from spambots around the world.

Inscrutable commentary
- you are designing your ceremonial occasion and unsuitability all of the guild confront is the surest way to run them with the computer hardware's appearance contract. Since deciding magnitude can produce or bust an provide. You so intention not get this right, the wrap
[...And that's a wrap.]

- When some one searches for his necessary thing, therefore he/she wants to be available that in detail, therefore that thing is maintained over here.
[We have a thing about things.]

- Some can simply discern such a Christian.
[A comment about The Comical Dick Tracy which cites references to the Marx Bros., Rusty Riley, and Little Orphan Annie!]

"Lumbering along " stacks up comments like cords of wood
The Straco Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering along, a short post about a vintage Japanese tinplate toy continues to attract the most attention from spammers!

Quel est l'attrait mystérieux de ce petit jouet ?
- Quel bоnheur de visite ce site internet
[We're kind of big in France.]

- I get pleasure from, result in I discovered just what I was taking a look for. You have ended my 4 day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye
[Some can simply discern such a Christian.]

- It's enormous that you are getting ideas from this piece of writing as well as from our discussion made at this place.
[Enormous only in the volume of comments -- from spammers.]

Fastidious to the End
"Fastidious" continues to be a favorite word among foreign spammers. Although not one of them seems to be able to use the word correctly.

- Hello Dear, are you actually visiting this web paage daily, if so afterward you will without doubt get fastidious experience.

- Fine way of explaining, and fastidious piece of writing to take data about my presentation subject, which i am going to deliver in academy.
[I'd love to hear that presentation!]

- Fastidious respond in return of this issue with solid arguments and describing all about that.

And now you know all about that. Hope you had a fastidious experience reading this sampling of the over 8,000 spams I received this month. Till next month, may your discussions enormous, and keep looking for your necessary thing!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Joseph Martin Kraus: Symphonies & Violin Concerto

Joseph Martin Kraus
Symphonies & Violin Concerto
Capella Savaria; Zslot Kalló, violin, Nicholas McGegan, conductor

Joseph Martin Kraus is often called the Swedish Mozart, and with good reason. He was an exact contemporary of Mozart's and was considered by Haydn to be his near-equal as a composer. The German-born Kraus spent virtually all of his professional life in the service of Gustav II of Sweden, while remaining up-to-date on musical trends.

This new recording features two symphonies from the early 1780's, and a violin concerto from 1777. The Symphony in C major, VB138 is a three-movement chamber symphony, with a charming simplicity of melody that indeed recalls Mozart. By contrast, the Symphony in C-sharp minor, VB140 is a roiling work, reflecting the Strum und Drang aesthetic of Haydn. The choice of key also aids in the intensity of the emotion.

The violin concerto shares similarities to the early concertos of Mozart. By comparison, the violin part is a little understated, but still it's an attractive work. Zsolt Kalló performs with a rich, warm sound, taking full advantage of his gut-stringed violin.

The Capella Savaria is a period instrument ensemble, but under Nicholas McGegan's direction it doesn't really sound like one. Perhaps it's because the music is so well-matched to the ensemble, or maybe it's because Kraus uses wind instruments so sparingly (and no percussion at all). Whatever the reason, the Capella Savaria has a real presence and vitality that makes these great performances, not just great early music performances.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dussek Piano Concertos Launch Hyperion Series

Jan Ladislav Dussek: Piano Concertos
Classical Piano Concerto, Vol. 1
Howard Shelly, piano/conductor
Ulster Orchestra

Following the success of their Romantic Piano Concerto series (63 volumes and counting), Hyperion launches a companion series, The Classical Piano Concerto, featuring music from 1770-1820. It marked the rise of the piano virtuoso, the traveling artist who composed primarily to showcase his own talents. Mozart is one of the more famous examples, but certainly not the only one.

Jan Ladislav Dussek, whose music launches this series, was another. Dussek was roughly contemporary with Mozart. Born in Bohemia, he made his fortune in France (before the Revolution), lost it in England, regained it touring Europe and eventually settling in post-Revolutionary France.

The three concertos on this release traverse his career. The Piano Concerto in C major, Op. 1, No.3 from 1783 is Mozartian in form, with simple, attractive melodies at every turn. The Piano concerto of C major, Op. 29 (1795) is a more fully-developed work. Dussek abandoned the first-movement cadenza, making his later concertos sound like a more collaborative effort between piano and orchestra. The texture of this work is thicker, looking ahead the early Romantic composers, such as Mendelssohn and Weber.

The final work, the Piano concerto in E-flat major, Op. 70 (1810) retains the elegance of Haydn, with the more full-bodied orchestration of early Beethoven.

Howard Shelley, a veteran of the Romantic Piano Concerto series, performs and conducts the Ulster Orchestra from the keyboard. His clean attacks and articulate phrasing are a joy to listen to. This recording promises that this series will meet the same high standards as the Romantic Piano Concerto series.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Mighty Marvel Mutts 2

The week of July 21-27, 2014 the comic strip "Mutts" ran a sequence involving superheroes. This isn't the first time Patrick McDonnell has riffed on the targets of his acorn-bombing squirrels (see The Mighty Marvel Mutts).

Before, the sequence built up to a Sunday panel that enlarged the theme. This time, the buildup is deliberately anti-climactic. The daily sequences follow the same pattern with the squirrel's comment in the last panel referring to the superhero either by name or attribute. (click on images to enlarge)

This series starts out with an interesting variation on the theme. Superman is invulnerable, and therefore the only character unaffected by the acorn bonk (as the second panel shows). But just in case he does get angry, the squirrel decides to hide his identity (and reference Supe's own alter-ego Clark Kent in the process).

The Flash, like Superman is a DC Comics superhero.The squirrel must have pretty good reflexes to nail the Flash's noggin as he runs at supersonic speeds!

O'Donnell breaks the trend here and goes with a Marvel instead of a DC Comics superhero -- Dr.Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts. The second panel reaction pays homage to Steve Ditko, the first artist to portray the doctor and his mystic effects.

The hero formerly known as Captain Marvel had his name changed to the phrase that turns him into a superhero -- Shazam. DC Comics changed the character's name after Marvel comics (who also have a Captain Marvel) sued and won.

The victim is Mr. Fantastic from the Fantastic Four, another Marvel Comics character. Perhaps a little foreshadowing of Sunday's sequence?

The daily sequence wraps up with another DC Comics icon -- Batman. And note that there are two acorns tossed this time.

What makes this different than McDonnell's earlier squirrel/superhero sequence is that the action's
changed. Rather than having the squirrels drop an acorn once again, O'Donnell shifts the scene to have Mooch and Earl contemplate the nature of superheroes (or at least that of their nemesis, Butchie).

The Sunday sequence is clearly tied to the week's theme. The first two panels reference Marvel's classic masthead, and the Fantastic Four, issue 49. The original Jack Kirby cover features the arrival of Galactus, with the Fantastic Four fleeing before him.

Another great sequence from Patrick McDonnell that not only can be appreciated by the average newspaper comics reader, but one delivering a richer form of humor for the comic book fan as well.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Diabelli Project 063 - Piano Piece in C

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.
This sketch has four lines moving together. But it's not an SATB choral work, nor any other type of ensemble score. It's really just a piano piece, albeit one with four moving lines. I was thinking of the keyboard works of the rennaisance English composers like William Byrd or Giles Farnby. It's definitely not in the style of what they'd write, of course, but I think the texture is similar -- which was what I was after.

What happens next? 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!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Lessons from York -- Equilibrium

You could find a few of these.
Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association (TCA) Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. This is the largest such show in the United States, and provides an interesting snapshot of the state of the hobby. 

It can also hint at the current state of collecting in general. As is our tradition, we spent a lot of time discussing what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and more importantly, the reasons behind them. 

Usually, I divide our "Lessons from York" musings on the dynamics of collecting into two posts. The first focuses on what we saw and what that may imply, and the second on what we didn't see and what that suggests.

A little of everything
This time, though, the market seemed to have reached a state of equilibrium. We saw virtually everything we'd seen in the past -- but only a few examples scattered among the hundreds of dealer tables. And we saw virtually everything that was missing from past shows -- but only a few examples scattered among the hundreds of dealer tables.

There were a few of these available, too.
In other words, we saw just about everything collectors of this, and the two previous generations have been interested in, all in near-equal proportions.

So what could that mean? I have a few guesses.
Remember, toy trains -- like many other thing -- are collected primarily for their nostalgic value. Collectors tend to be most interested in either replacing the toys of their childhood, or obtaining the toys they wished for but never got in their childhood.

A little background
And what the generation that founded the Train Collectors Association considered valuable (toy trains from the early 1900's), weren't as sought after by the following generation, who grew up in the 1930's and 40's. The early Boomers prefer the post-war trains of the 1950's, and now the current generation of collectors in their late forties find toy trains from the 1970's appealing.

And some of these.
We'd witnessed an influx of early 1900's trains on the market, suggesting that generation was downsizing or their estates were being disposed of. We saw that with prewar trains, too, as that generation entered its eighties. And we even saw it to a certain extent with postwar trains, as that generation moves into retirement, with fixed incomes and smaller living spaces.

When it's all been sold...
And now it's all seemed to have evened out. Throughout the years we've noted that trains from the 1970's and later have always been available at bargain-basement prices -- mostly because of perceived poor quality of construction and lack of nostalgic value. And over time, I suspect that those that were interested quietly added to their collections.

There were even a few of these. A few.
And over the years, as each era of trains became available they were absorbed into the collections of younger members -- who aren't ready to break up their own collections.

So what's left are the remnants from all the eras that no one's especially interested in.

Is it just me?
I'd like to know if folks have seen similar trends in other hobbies. Has the market evened out for dolls? What about stamps and coins? Are all eras of sports cards equally available at this point? How about china patterns or pottery?

As for the toy train market, who knows What will we see in the spring? It's hard to predict. But you can bet we'll there to see for ourselves.
And there was some of this as well.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Seattle Symphony renders Hindemith beautifully

Paul Hindemith: Nobilissima Visione 
Seattle Symphony; Gerard Schwarz, conductor 

The 1936 ballet "Nobilissima Visione" is the story of St. Francis. Hindemith crafted the music from folk songs, and combined them with the same rich spiritual language he used for his opera "Mathus der Maler" (completed just a year before). "Nobilissima Visione" paints each scene in vivid orchestral colors, and Hindemith effectively conjures up a quasi-medieval world with a distinctively modern orchestra.

Also included is the instructional work "Five Pieces for String Orchestra, Op. 44, No. 4" Hindemith wrote it for beginning and intermediate string players, but one would never know it just by listening to the work. While keeping the technical demands simple, Hindemith creates a varied collection of movements of truly substantial music.

The Seattle Symphony is in fine form on this album. Directed by Gerard Schwarz, the orchestra seems to relish the finely-wrought textures of the scores, sometimes seeming to linger over especially luscious passages. The ensemble is tight throughout both works, and the string sound is gorgeously expansive, especially in the "Five Pieces." If you like Hindemith's "Mathus der Maler" symphony, or "The Four Temperaments," you'll find much to enjoy in this release.

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!

Friday, October 17, 2014

CCC 117 - Carter Pann

According to his website, American composer Carter Pann's music "has become known for its blend of crafty, popular-sounding idioms, subtle and unabashed humor, and haunted melodic writing." Which is why he's this week's  Consonant Classical Challenge featured composer.

Carter Pann has built an impressive body of works, both chamber and orchestral. While his melodies (and sometimes harmonies) reference other genres, such as jazz, ragtime, or even pop, they're simply building blocks that Pann incorporates into classical traditions.

Carter Pann is an advocate for the concert wind ensemble, and has composed a number of significant works in the genre. "The Mercury Concerto" is a good example of his writing. Some arrangers use clarinets as substitutes for strings. Pann's writing shows he understands the inherent character of the wind ensemble, and how it differs from a chamber orchestra.

Pann's chamber music is equally accessible. His Piano Trio No. 1 delivers on his website's promise of popular-sounding idioms and subtle humor.

That use of popular-sounding idioms is even more apparent in his concert rags.

Slalom shows Pann's skill as an orchestrator. This work is also available in a wind ensemble version, but to me the orchestral score more fully captures the excitement of a downhill race.


Carter Pann is a relatively young composer, and his reputation is growing. Still, I wish his music was more regularly programmed on concerts (and on air). Stylistically, his music could have been written at no other time than now, yet its strong connections to classical traditions mean his music should appeal to both traditionalists and those seeking out new music.

Recommended Recordings

American Portraits

Piano Concerto / Dance Patita

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Corelli - Assisi Sonatas Provide Fresh Perspective

Arcangelo Corelli
the Assisi Sonatas
Ensemble Aurora; Enrico Gatti, violin
Glossa Music GCD921209

Arcangelo Corelli is a well-known composer, but only for a fraction of his output. Like many Baroque composers, the bulk of his music was never published.

In Corelli's case, only the 72 sonatas made it to publication, and his reputation rests on those 72 works.

This new collection brings an additional 12 works to light, the "Assisi" violin sonatas. Named after the monastery where the manuscripts were stored, these works show Corelli in a somewhat different light.

Unlike his published works, these are all single movement sonatas, straight-forward and to the point. And they're somewhat lighter in character. collectively, the sonatas seem to have an airy, relaxed feeling to them, especially as performed on this album.

Part of that lightness comes from the texture -- the works are performed with only violin, cello, and harpsichord. Violinist Enrico Gatti lets his bow dance lightly over the strings in the fast sections, and sensuously draw out the melodies in the slow.

The recorded sound is clean and clear, with a nice ensemble blend. Whether you're familiar with Corelli or not, this release provides plenty of attractive music to enjoy.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tudors at Prayer - Renaissance Gems

The Tudors at Prayer
Byrd, Tallis, White, Munday, Tavener
Magnificat; Philip Cave, director

Though the theme is somewhat narrowly defined, (English sacred music from 1560-1590), there's a surprising amount of variety in this program. Henry VIII created the Anglican church, though it had very little change on the sacred music John Tavener and Thomas Tallis composed.

His daughter, Mary I, reinstated the Catholic church, and the music of her time by William Mundi and Robert White, reflect that return to tradition. Elizabeth I, like her father an ardent music-lover, brought back the Anglican church, and the sacred music of her time seems more cosmopolitan, somehow. The sacred works of William Byrd don't follow quite follow tradition as closely.

Magnificat performs all these works with appropriate interpretation, making it easier to hear the subtle differences between works written for monarchs with conflicting agendas.The sound is spacious, as befitting the chapels and cathedrals for which these works were written, with just enough ambiance to make the ensemble sound full, without obscuring the contrapuntal lines within.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Red and Rover's Magic Carpet

Brian Basset's Red and Rover may seem like just a gently nostalgic comic strip about childhood in the 1960's. Basset uses clean, simple lines to outline his figures, and a slightly retro style, so it's easy to miss his mastery of comic strip forms and conventions.

This Sunday section is an excellent example. Red mounts a slide and takes a magic carpet ride. (click on images to enlarge)

It seems simple enough, until you stop to think how Basset achieved the effect in the final panel. First of all, the final panel isn't in it's traditional placement in a two-tier grid. The eye reads from left to right, so it should be in the lower right corner -- not the lower left.

Because it's not traditionally placed, Basset needed to guide the reader through the sequence. Rather than using arrows, which would call attention to the rearranged panels, he did so in a very subtle fashion. He simply left an opening between them.

If you look carefully, the openings almost appear like entries in a maze. And note that Basset carefully places them so that they open over the background, creating a seamless transition from one panel to the other.

But why have panels out of order in the first place? That truly is the genius part. In a traditional layout, our eyes would track to the end of the first tier, then go back to the far left to track the second. There would be a brief pause in the action as our eyes moved from one tier to the other.

With Basset's organization, there is no pause. The eyes continue to gain momentum as they loop around the far right panel and race to the final panel at the far left. That momentum adds to the action of the last panel, and we can feel the carpet take flight.

If the panels were laid out traditionally, that sense of motion would have been lost. If Basset had cluttered up the grid with directional arrows, the sense of motion would have been lost. Only by providing almost subliminal directions and arranging the panels just so did he achieve his result.

And that's comic strip genius.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Diabelli Project 061 - Bass Line

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.

The self-imposed rules for the Diabelli Project flash composition are pretty simple. I've got 10 minutes to write whatever I want. But when time's up, I have to put the pen down. The idea for this week's piece was to do a chaconne. That is, a set of variations over a repeating baseline.

Well, Henry Purcell I'm not -- I only got the bass line finished... mostly.

This is one I'll return to, though. After all, the hard part's done. Now all I have to do is put some variations on top of it. And you can, too. As always, you're welcome to use all or part of this sketch. Just let me know what you come up with!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Collecting -- and collecting information 20

The end of an investigative trail.
(Click on images to enlarge)
Sometimes you can only research something so far -- and then you reach a dead end. I had found two Japanese tinplate toy signs. They seemed to go together -- were they part of a set?

I eventually found the answer when I saw such a set for sale. It had six signs and six vehicles (see Collecting -- and collecting information 15). Then I found another set with railroad-related signs and a small train. It was obviously made by the same anonymous Japanese company.

So I had a better idea of the extent of the product line, but since all the items I found were loose, no indication as to who the manufacturer was.

Then I ran across this offering of new old stock. It's a slightly different set of signs, and this time there are trucks rather than cars included.

Now I know a little bit more. The signs were shipped flat, which explains why most of the ones I found were poorly bent and didn't stand up very well.

I now know there were at least four different sets offered:

1) Railroad set
   Signs - semaphore, dwarf signal, crossbuck RR crossing sign, hexagonal RR crossing sing
   Vehicles - locomotive and two passenger cars

2) Traffic Control set 1
   Signs - Yellow stop sign, Slippery when wet, School zone sign
   Vehicles - Cement truck, gas truck, milk truck

3) Traffic Control set 3
   Signs - hexagonal RR crossing sign, keep right, speed limit 50
   Vehicles - red, green and blue cars

4) Traffic Control set 4
   Signs - hexagonal RR, keep right, stop ahead
   Vehicles - red, green and blue cars

What I still don't know is who. There are no markings or brands on either the packaging or the contents that provide any answer.

So it seems I've reached a dead end. I'll keep looking, of course -- there may be other sets out there. But I'm not optimistic about discovering their origin.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Nørgård Symphonies Nordic Masterworks

Per Nørgård: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 8
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Sakari Oramo, conductor
Dacapo SACD

Sakari Oramo has paired Per Nørgård's first symphony (1953) and his most recent symphony (2011) together, creating an interesting study in contrasts.

To my ears, there's a certain Nordic quality to both works. Although the 8th is more dissonant and not as tonal in structure, neither work falls neatly into the post-romantic or atonal categories. Like Sibelius, Nørgård has charted his own path and created his own musical language that draws somewhat from both camps.

Nørgård greatly admired Sibelius. He corresponded with the older composer, shared some scores with him, and dedicated his first quintet to Sibelius (with permission). The Symphony No. 1 suggests that Nørgård is indeed one of the heirs of Sibelius' ascetic.

The work has an icy coolness to it, mostly due to Nørgård's orchestration. His string writing, particularly, seems to favor the treble, giving it somewhat of an edge. The subtitle, "Sinfonia Austera," puts the listener on notice, and Nørgård indeed delivers an austere work that nonetheless is quite moving in parts (particularly the slow movement).

Nørgård's 8th Symphony is the work of a mature composer thoroughly in command of his materials. Like the first, it doesn't necessarily fit into the current compositional schools. Instead, Nørgård constructs his own sonic world that sounds contemporary without being trendy. The glittering chromaticism and unusual instrumentation make it a work both in and out of its time. If you purchase the SACD of this release, be sure to play it through an SACD player -- the greater detail I heard made a significant difference in the impact this symphony had on me.

Per Nørgård is well-regarded throughout Scandinavia. Perhaps this recording will help spread his reputation even further.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Mary Kathleen Ernst: Keeping Time

Mary Kathleen Ernst
Keeping Time
Fung, Higdon, Hoover, Shatin, de Kenessey, Deussen

Pianist Mary Kathleen Ernst turns in a strong program of solo piano works with equally strong performances. Yes, all the works were written by women, but that's about the only thing they have in common.

Vivan Fung's "Keeping Time" uses the piano as a percussion instrument. This work is all about rhythm, and Ernst delivers an energetic and (in my opinion) very cool performance.

By contrast, Jennifer Higdon's "Secret And Glass Gardens" sounds shimmering and ethereal, almost suspended in time and space. It's almost a companion piece to Debussy's "La cathédrale engloutie"

The "Dream Dances" of Katherine Hoover is a somewhat mysterious-sounding work, with slow-moving passages suddenly bursting forth with up-tempo angular melodies.

Judith Shatin used the I Ching to guide her compositional process, and the resulting music is fascinating. This 26-minute work is comprised of very short sections, sounding almost like aphorisms. Shatin sometimes has the piano sound very mechanistic, almost like an electronic instrument.

I sometimes think Stefania de Kenessey writes the music others wish they had the courage to. "Spontaneous D-Combustion" has catchy, tonal melodies, supported by full, rich chords and a rhythmic pulse that has more than hint of pop sensibilities. Nancy Bloomer Deussen's "A Recollection" is a wistful and quiet little work that calms down the listener and makes a peaceful close to the program.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The Straco Layout, Part 37 - Fade to Orange

The orange sedan, manufacturer unknown.
At least it's not red.
Read all the installments of the Straco Express layout project here.

The Straco Express display layout is a colorful place. But one with a severely limited range of colors. Most of the vehicles, as well as the Bandai, Nomura, and Straco trains are lithographed in bright, primary colors. And of those colors, red is most heavily favored, followed by yellow.

There's a whole lot of
red in that lineup.
As you can see from the line up of vehicles (left) , it can make things look a little too homogeneous. I've found it increasingly challenging to compose shots that don't have an excess of red/yellow vehicles in them. So I was quite happy to find this orange sedan offered for sale recently.

If the license plate is any indication (1955), it's a fairly early example. The artwork seems consistent with the 1950's style, as well as the body styling. Once I received it, I was struck with the similarities to another vehicle I had, a red sedan by Nomura. As you can see from the comparison shots, the undercarriage is very similar in size and contour. The wheels are identical, and the car profiles are very close, too.

The graphics suggest that the Nomura piece was made a little later than the orange sedan, which may or may not explain the differences. The Nomura chassis has an indentation -- was that an improvement over the previous iteration? The the chassis of the orange sedan is crimped over the body, holding it in place. The Nomura piece uses slotted tabs -- it's a simpler and more efficient assembly method. Could it also be an improvement?

If nothing else, the new sedan adds some welcome variety to
the display's color palette.

The orange sedan (r) and the red Nomura sedan (l).
Were they both made by Nomura?
The profiles look quite similar.
But there's one problem -- I've yet to run across a Nomura piece of any vintage (and made for any client) that didn't have the "TN" Nomura trademark somewhere on it. And this orange sedan has no markings at all. Did Nomura copy the design? Hard to say. And the wheels being identical doesn't really help -- it's possible both companies purchased them from the same sub-contractor.

Even if the origin is a mystery, this sedan's a welcome addition to the Straco Express display layout. Primary colors are nice, but variety is even nicer.

The chassis are quite similar, too. Orange sedan (top),
Nomura sedan (bottom)
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

  • Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Nomura Police Car $2.52
  • Haji three-wheel sedan $3.00
  • Nomura lumber truck $3.48
  • 1950's sedan $2.99
  • 6 Namura vehicles $16.99
  • LineMar Pepco Truck $8.50
  • LineMar Bond Bread Van $8.00 
  • LineMar Fire Engine $4.95 
  • LineMar Dump Truck $12.99
  • Nomura Red Sedan $5.00
  • Orange Sedan $10.99
Total Cost: $138.97

Monday, October 06, 2014

Diabelli Project 060 - Piano Piece

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.

This flash composition project has been useful for several reasons. I feel like I've finally knocked some of the rust off my creative self, and the ideas are flowing more freely at last. By forcing myself to dash off this music and bypass my internal editor, I think I've gained insight into my style (as opposed to what I thought my style was).

No question, I'm partial to odd meters. Here's another piano piece in 5/8 time. Perhaps it's time to collect all of these 5/8 piano piece fragments together and see if they are (as I suspect) part of a greater whole.

In the meantime, you're welcome to use all or part of this sketch as you will. No legal restrictions attached. Just share the results with me!

Friday, October 03, 2014

CCC 116 - David Tukiçi

Composer and singer David Tukiçi is the focus of this week's Consonant Classical Challenge. Tukiçi was born in Albania, and now holds Italian citizenship, but his music transcends national boundaries. Perhaps his training as a singer informs his melodic choices. Tukiçi's melodies can be quite complex, but they still have a forward motion to them, with a tonal center the ultimate goal.

Tukiçi's harmonies also have a tonal basis, although they're often far from simple major/minor triads. The somewhat dense harmonies Tukiçi uses sometimes heighten the emotional weight of his material through the use of dissonance.

A significant portion of Tukiçi's catalog is orchestral. His second piano concerto presents  a good overview of his orchestral writing. Note especially the carefully-crafted melody in the second movement, and his use of the solo cello to add dimension to the somewhat simple piano part in the movement.

David Tukiçi is a singer as well as a composer. The opening monologue from his work "La Vita é Sogno" demonstrates how effectively he writes for the human voice. Although it starts out with somewhat traditional orchestration, Tukiçi soon brings in unusual instrumental combinations to effectively illustrate the emotional content of the libretto.

His violin concerto also shows Tukiçi's melodic gift. The solo instrument is often giving long, singing lines to perform. But the violin is much more agile than the human voice, and Tukiçi writes idiomatically for the instrument. Tukiçi takes advantage of the wide leaps and agility available to the violin to create a work that's both expressive and exciting.

David Tukiçi writes in an expansive, post-post-romantic style that should fit in well with most orchestral programs. He's well-known in Europe, but virtually unknown here in the states. And while many of his works have been recorded, I was not able to find any of them readily available in this country. So who will be the first arts organization and/or record label to "discover" this contemporary composer?

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Armonia Ensemble Excels in Strauss Sonatinas

Richard Strauss: Wind Sonatinas
Armonia Ensemble
Berlin Classics

Wind music from one of the greatest orchestrators of all time played by the wind players of one of the greatest orchestras of all time. How could the results be anything less than satisfying?

Towards the end of his life, Richard Strauss ceded his role as an innovator and began writing works that unabashedly embraced the past -- which turned out to be just as innovative in their way. The 1943 Sonatina for 16 wind instruments was written during Strauss' recovery from influenza, hence the subtitle "From an Invalid's Workshop."

Strauss embraces a Mozartian ideal in this work, creating a composition of clarity and balance. He revisited the form the following year. The second wind sonatina "Happy workshop" is full of energy and good spirits.

Although written only for winds, Strauss' orchestration genius dazzles the ear with imaginative instrumental combinations throughout these two sonatinas.

The Armonia Ensemble is basically the Gewandaus Orchestra of Leipzig's wind players. And that's a plus. Because they make these works sound orchestral. Wind ensembles can sometimes sound a little wanting, but not with the Armonia. This ensemble doesn't need strings to give it a rich, full sound. Attacks are clean, the blend is seamless, and the playing is inspired. A perfect match of music and musicians.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Pleyel Quartett Köln continue Prussian Quartet cycle

Ignaz Pleyel
Prussian Quartets 1-3
Pleyel Quartett Köln

When Frederick William II became King of Prussia in 1786, many German composers paid the cello-playing monarch tribute with dedicated compositions. One of the first gifts to arrive was a set of twelve quartets by Ignaz Pleyel. With this release, the Pleyel Quartett Köln continues their traversal of the "Prussian" quartets.

Although similar in style to his contemporaries Haydn and Mozart, in comparison Pleyel's quartets seem to have a stripped-down simplicity. The melodies have an elegant balance to them, moving in a logical fashion from cadence to cadence. Pleyel might not be breaking new ground with these works, but there's enough originality to make them worthy of repeated listening.

The Pleyel Quartett Köln continues the same high quality of performance they established with the previous releases in this series. Their period instruments give the works a somewhat soft sound, especially on the unison attacks. The players nicely balance classical reserve with expressive energy, which I think adds to the attractiveness of the works. My only complaint is that the ensemble seems to be recorded a little too distantly (with no room ambiance to compensate).

CPO began this series with quartets Nos. 7-9, then released Nos. 4-6. Perhaps Nos. 10-12 will follow shortly. I, for one, am looking forward to the completion of Pleyel's attractive coronation gift.