Friday, July 29, 2016

Spam Roundup, July 2016

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. 

Thanks... I think

- It's remarkable in favor of me to have a web site, which is valuable in support of my experience. [I'm not in favor of that. I mean you.]

- I'm amazed, I have to admit. Rarely do I come across a blog that's both educative and entertaining and without a doubt you have hit the nail ion the head. The issue is something which too few folks are speaking intelligently about. [Oh, we're all about educative process here.]

-Whoah this blog is magnificent really like studying your aritcles. Stay up the good work! [I promise to stay it up, pardner!]

- Somebody necessarily lend a hand to make critically articles I would state. [Say, are you saying I don't write my own stuff?]

Still lumbering along

My modest post, The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along continues draw comments. Remember -- this is a short post about an inexpensive tin toy truck made in Japan. It has virtually no collectible value or even interest in the toy community.
That green lumber truck -- that's what all the hubbub's about.

 - Have you ever considered about including a little more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is fundamental and all. Nevertheless think about if you added some great photos or videos to give your posts more pop. [ It HAD photos! What do you want from me?]

 - Plenty of useful information here. I am sending it to some friends ans also sharing in delicious. And naturally, thanks on your sweat! [Sure, no sweat! I mean...]

 - Hi there, this weekend is pleasant for me, because this point in time I am reading this enourmous informative piece of writing here at my home. [Amazing how a 200-word post -- enormous -- can just take up an entire weekend.]

And finally....

Now I know why the phrase "fastidious" is in decline. It's all my fault.

 - I think that everything posted made a great deal of sense. But, think about this, what if you added a little content? I me, what if you added a title that makes people desire more? I mean "Fastidious Spam" is a little plain

That's all for this month. Stay it up, and remember to thank your sweat.

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

Vehicles:
  • 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

Monday, July 25, 2016

Diabelli Project 119 - Wind Trio

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 week's flash composition is another wind trio sketch. This is the fifth Diabelli wind trio I've done. And all of them are for the same instrumentation. Which suggests to me that they all might be interrelated somehow.  In this one, the initial idea kicks off a phrase that expands slightly every time it's brought back.

I remember as I was writing this that, had I time to continue, the phrase would encompass nine or more measures, at which point there'd be a cadence to end the section. I may still do something like that.





As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Bridges and Blocks, Part 4 - Kenner Girder and Panel

Once again my dad roped me into giving a presentation for the Capital Miniature Auto Collectors Club (you can read about my other adventures with the CMACC here). At their monthly meetings, the rotating host is expected to come up with a theme. Members who have things that tie in with the theme bring them and present them, providing background information about the items.
This July the subject was building sets and roadways. The group is focused around the appreciation and collection of toy cars and car models, so the idea was to present building sets and roadways that were (or could have been) used with toy cars.


Some of the members brought some of the same sets they did last time (see: Kenner Sky Rail Project, Part 10). I however, chose to focus on a couple of vintage roadway sets. One very well-known, one quite obscure. Below are some of the set other members brought.



Kenner Girder and Panel

The "girder and panel" building by Kenner first hit the market in 1957 -- and after passing thruogh several hands -- is still being sold today by Bridge Street. The last time I talked at the CMACC, I showcased the Kenner building sets (see: Kenner Skyrail Project 7). This time I presented an example of the roadway sets. Kenner offered their "Bridge and Turnpike" sets from 1958 through 1960.



Since the girders were uniform in both the roadway and building sets, you could mix and patch them to build all kinds of structures -- in fact, the 1960 sets were a combination of the two.



We only had a limited amount of time to set up the displays, and the Playskool Teach-A-Tot Road System (see Part 3), took up most of it. Nevertheless I did manage a representative suspension bridge. I owned the No. 4 Bridge and Turnpike set. I used the pieces from that set to construct the display.

The traffic were vehicles from my Matchbox car collection -- all of them I've owned since I was a boy. Yes, they really are in near-mint condition -- I knew how to play nicely with my toys!


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Bridges and Blocks, Part 3 - Playskool Teach-a-Tot Road System

Once again my dad roped me into giving a presentation for the Capital Miniature Auto Collectors Club (you can read about my other adventures with the CMACC here). At their monthly meetings, the rotating host is expected to come up with a theme. Members who have things that tie in with the theme bring them and present them, providing background information about the items.
This July the subject was building sets and roadways. The group is focused around the appreciation and collection of toy cars and car models, so the idea was to present building sets and roadways that were (or could have been) used with toy cars.


Some of the members brought some of the same sets they did last time (see: Kenner Sky Rail Project, Part 10). I however, chose to focus on a couple of vintage roadway sets. One very well-known, one quite obscure. Below are some of the set other members brought.



Playskool Teach-A-Tot Road System

For my part of the program, I brought two examples of roadway sets that would be used with toy cars. By far, the rarest was the Playskool Teach-A-Tot Road System. Developed in conjunction with the National Safety Council, I believe, the idea was to teach youngsters about traffic safety -- and traffic patterns -- with a highly realistic roadway set. To my knowledge, the set was only offered in 1964.



I was lucky enough to get one. Thanks, Santa!

The system was quite remarkable. The road sections linked together with dovetail joints, making them pretty secure. Double-sided dovetails were provided to ensure you could always join the pieces you wanted to together.

In addition to straight and curved sections, the system had inclines for bridges (pretty steep ones at that), as well as sharp curves so you could construct cloverleaf intersections. There were also pieces that converted a two-lane road into a divided highway, plus three- and four-way intersections.



But that wasn't all. The set also included traffic lights and various traffic signs that could be attached to the roadway. Overhead signs showing turnoffs and mileage markers were also included. You could also clutter up the landscape with billboards, and run a series of overhanging street lights along the road.


And there was more. The set came with over a dozen different vehicles that could be customized with stickers. For me, the real attraction were the buildings. Die-cut cardboard buildings came with the set you could assemble. The selection and variety of the buildings is a veritable snapshot of the era.


The set had a Howard Johnson's-style restaurant, and a log cabin gift shop. Several "modern" houses were included, a house converted into a market, truck depot, and a representative city block. There was a also a multi-story hospital, plus a state police headquarters building and a highway department building, both in mid-century modern style.


And best of all, I think, is that these structures sported hand-drawn features, done in an early 1960s modernist commercial art style. It gives the buildings a certain appeal and solidly ties them to their era.



I spent many hours building and playing with this set, although I can't say I learned a lot about traffic safety. I did develop an appreciation for DOT engineers, though. The intricacies of constructing a divided highway can be challenging -- even on a basement floor.





Next: Kenner's Girder and Panel

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Bridges and Blocks, Part 2 - A Paper Mystery

Once again my dad roped me into giving a presentation for the Capital Miniature Auto Collectors Club (you can read about my other adventures with the CMACC here). At their monthly meetings, the rotating host is expected to come up with a theme. Members who have things that tie in with the theme bring them and present them, providing background information about the items.
This July the subject was building sets and roadways. The group is focused around the appreciation and collection of toy cars and car models, so the idea was to present building sets and roadways that were (or could have been) used with toy cars.


Some of the members brought some of the same sets they did last time (see: Kenner Sky Rail Project, Part 10). I however, chose to focus on a couple of vintage roadway sets. One very well-known, one quite obscure. Below are some of the set other members brought.


A Paper Mystery

One member brought in a building set that was absolutely fascinating. It has no manufacturer listed, no trade mark, no clue as to who made it. Or indeed, why. The set is a paper village that mailed in a flat over-sized envelope. Inside was a base, and several buildings that unfolded into shape. 


Even with no hard information, it's possible to make some educated guesses about this piece.

First, the style of the artwork and the color palette suggest this was made in the 1920s, or possibly the very early 1930s. 


Personally, I lean towards the 1920s. I think a 1930s set would have more streamlined and Art Deco-style buildings. 


Also, the lettering -- particularly on the garage (above) seems more 1920s. Even in the early 1930s, san serif was preferred as it looked newer and more streamlined.


I think that it might possibly be a premium of some kind. Since it was shipped in a envelope, and designed to be shipped in an envelope, I think it unlikely that this village was sold in retail stores. Either it was something you had to purchase through the mail, or perhaps send for with your collection of labels or box tops. 

While we don't know a lot about it, this paper village made an interesting display. And I could imagine some youngster almost 80 years ago on the floor pushing his Tootsietoy Grahams through the streets of this brightly-colored town. 



Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Bridges and Blocks, Part 1 - Anchor Stone, Bilt EZ, Block City

Once again my dad roped me into giving a presentation for the Capital Miniature Auto Collectors Club (you can read about my other adventures with the CMACC here). At their monthly meetings, the rotating host is expected to come up with a theme. Members who have things that tie in with the theme bring them and present them, providing background information about the items.
This July the subject was building sets and roadways. The group is focused around the appreciation and collection of toy cars and car models, so the idea was to present building sets and roadways that were (or could have been) used with toy cars.


Some of the members brought some of the same sets they did last time (see: Kenner Sky Rail Project, Part 10). I however, chose to focus on a couple of vintage roadway sets. One very well-known, one quite obscure. Below are some of the set other members brought.


Anchor Stone Blocks

Anchor Stone Blocks were introduced in the 1880's and are still in production today Anchor Stone Blocks were always a high-end toy, and can be found at boutique toy stores and toy websites.

The pieces were made from limestone, sand, and linseed oil, simulating brick, marble, and concrete blocks. The set brought to the meeting was made around 1890-1900 and included metal parts for the bridge construction.



Bilt EZ

In the 1920's, the Scott Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Il. came out with the Bilt EZ metal construction sets. The inspiration for Bilt EZ was the skyline of Chicago itself. The sets consisted of metal wall panels connected by tabbed metal floor plates. The metal is quite thin, and the tabs require some forcing to lock in place. As a result, the panels can be warped easily. 

The owner explained that he's quite cautious about using this set, and I understand why. I've had the same trouble with the Line Mar Vest Pocket Builder. I very quickly discovered that I had to be very gentle with the metal pieces if I wanted them to last to the end of the project.




>

Block City

We were fortunate to have examples from all phases of Tri-State Plastic Molding's Block City. The earliest version, which pre-dated Lego, had plastic blocks that just sort of sat atop one another. The round keys helped as guides, but they didn't lock the bricks together.


A later iteration used square keys on the top of the bricks, which helped them snap into place -- and make taller structures possible.  The name was also changed from Block City to Brick Town.



The most recent version of this toy used vinyl bricks, with softer, rounded edges. The original Block City shipped in a tube, with cardboard roofs that were almost impossible for a kid to uncurl. Brick City shipped in a flat box, so the provided cardboard roofs worked quite well. Best of all might be the model below, where you could construct the roof as well as the walls, ensuring you can build whatever you want to.


Next: A Paper Mystery

Monday, July 18, 2016

Diabelli Project 118 - Wind Trio

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 week produced another wind trio sketch during my flash composition session. In a way, it's a continuation of an idea I explored with the string orchestra sketch (see: Diabelli Project No. 115). Like the string orchestra piece, tension and motion are generated by the cross-rhythms of the beat being sub-divided into three, four, five, and six -- and those subdivisions playing against each other.


This is the fifth wind trio sketch I've done in this series, and they all seem to share certain similarities. One of which is that they all seem to be the opening bars of their respective movements. All I have to do is fill them out, and I'll have another completed wind trio.

You may have other ideas.

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 013 - Fort

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

013. Fort

The fort was one of the easiest toys to assemble so far. It's not very tall, so there's no issue with pieces being stacked too high and becoming unstable.

This was another toy whose label surprised me, though When I think of a fort, I think of a structure designed to keep people out. This looks quite open to me. In fact, I initially thought it was a turnpike toll booth (except that those didn't exist in the 1930s). Perhaps this is the type of fort Quakers would have built?


Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Way Things Go for O'Connor and Kampmeier

For flutist Tara Helen O'Connor, "The Way Things Go" is a labor of love. As she explains in the liner notes, she and pianist Margaret Kampmeier have taken several years to record the selections on this release.

Five of the works were commissioned by O'Connor,the rest were compositions by the duo's favorite composers. Perhaps because of its origins, "The Way Things Go" is an extraordinary release.

The works vary greatly in style, reflecting the many different directions contemporary music is taking. The oldest work on the disc, "Crystal Shadows" by Steven Mackay dates from 1985. While the duo gives the work an assured, authoritative performance, the disjointed nature of the music sound a little dated to me. I'd describe it as a variety of academic atonality.

Much more interesting are the composers who've incorporated popular idioms into their music. Randall Woolf's "Righteous Babe" from 2000 just flat out rocks, and makes a terrific opening for the program. "Gaze" (an O'Connor commission) by John Halle has some jazz-infused gestures and a great modern rag that O'Connor delivers with a smokey, sinuous sound.

Other standouts on the release include "Share" by Belinda Reynolds, whose subtly-crafted themes develop over a repeating ground. I also enjoyed the title track, "The Way Things Go" by Richard Festinger, another O'Connor commission. This ultra-chromatic modernist work has a series of dramatic starts and stops, yet always moves inexorably towards its climaxes. The piece is a technical challenge for both performers, and O'Connor and Kampmeier own it.

To my ears, the most technically challenging work is the one that ends the program: Laura Kaminsky's "Duo for Flute and Piano." The work is somewhat conservative in structure, but don't be fooled. "Duo" was commissioned by and dedicated to the duo, and the music seems to fit them like a glove.

I was surprised to read that album took years to record. The sound and the playing is so consistent I would have guess sessions spanning a few days rather than years. O'Connor and Kampmeier make a great team, and their long association gives these works a dynamic and chemistry that just makes them all the more effective musically.

The Way Things Go
Tara Helen O'Connor, flute; Margaret Kampmeier, piano
Righteous Babe: Randall Woolf; Crystal Shadows: Steven Mackey; Gaze: John Halle; All Sensation is Already Memory: Eric Moe; Share: Belinda Reynolds; The Way things Go: Richard Festinger; Duo for Flute and Piano: Laura Kaminsky
Bridge Records 9467

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Music of Ursula Mamlok, Vol. 5 -- A study in contrasts

Volume five of Bridge Record's Ursula Mamlok survey is a study in contrasts. Mamlok moved from a neo-classical style at the start of her career in the 1940s to a highly personal version of atonality by the time of her death in 2016. This release presents some of Mamlok's earliest compositions, as well as some of her latest. Stylistically, there's a significant change, but not aesthetically. Throughout the music on this release, there's a certain consistency of organization.

As Mamlok wrote: "music should convey the various emotions in it with clarity and conviction. It interests me to accomplish this with a minimum of material, transforming it in such multiple ways so as to give the impression of ever-new ideas that are like the flowers of a plant, all related yet each one different."

The first four works on the disc were written in the 1940s and are perhaps the most accessible compositions in the program. The 1942 piano sonata is a charming post-romantic work that reminds me of a chromatic Gerald Finzi. The 1943 Allegro for Violin and Piano plays with the concept of tonality by refusing to alight on a particular key center for any length of time yet still sounding tonal. The Birds Dream (1944) and the Molto vivo (1947) are similarly constructed. All of these works are quite short, reflecting Mamlok's desire to use the minimal  material.

To my ears, the 1977 Sextet sounds a little dated. It's a work from the mid-point of Mamlok's career and shows her interest in atonality. But the atonal organization seems a little too much in the forefront. While Mamlok continually transforms her material, it seems more intellectual than emotional expression -- especially compared to the 1940s works that precede it.

Most interesting to me are the late works: the Five Fantasy Pieces for oboe and string trio, Above Clouds for viola and piano, and Breezes for clarinet and piano quartet. In these pieces, composed between 2013 and 2015, Mamlok seems to have completely internalized her atonal aesthetic. Even though there are sudden register leaps and dramatic dynamic contrasts, the music seems to flow naturally from one event to the next.

The works were recorded with a variety of artists in several different venues. Yet there's a consistent overall sound to the release. Another excellent installment in this series.

Music of Ursula Mamlok, Volume 5
Sonata for piano solo (1942), The Birds Dream (1944), Molto Vivo (1947) - Holger Groschopp, piano;
Allegro for Violin and Piano (1943), Sonata for Violin and Piano (1989) - Kolja Lessing violin; Holger Groschopp, piano
Sextet (1977) - Parnassus; Anthony Korf, conductor
Rückblick (2002) - Frank Lunte, alto saxophone; Tatjana Blome, piano
Fünf Phantasiestücje (2013/14) - Heinz Holliger, oboe; Hanna Weinmeister, violin; Jürg Dähler, viola; Daniel Haefliger, violoncello
Above Clouds (2013/14) - Harmut Rohde, viola; Holger Groschopp, piano
Breezes (2015)  - Musicians of Spectrum Consorts Berlin
Bridge Records 9457

Monday, July 11, 2016

Diabelli Project 117 - Piece for solo marimba

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 week's flash composition is another sketch for solo marimba -- and I'm sure it will tie in with some of the previous sketches. Usually when I start writing, I start at the beginning of the piece, so just about the point where things get interesting, time's run out and I have to put down the pen. Conceptually, I think this one starts somewhat in the middle. I really wanted to see if I could get to a transition point in the allotted ten minutes, and so I did.

The first part of this sketch seems to continue the idea of No. 102, which treats each hand separately. After the 2/4 rest, I think the chordal section could grow into that of No. 113, which also is built on tightly-packed intervals.


That's the way I see it, but perhaps you see this sketch expanding outwards in a different fashion. As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 012 - County Seat

012 - County Seat
I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

012. County Seat

For the most part, construction was simple. I had the most trouble placing those flat pieces on top of the pillars, without shifting the pillars out of position.

The biggest puzzle for me was making sense of the label. I have never seen any municipal building that looks quite like this. What are those flat things on top of the structure? Terraces? That's a pretty swanky county!


Thursday, July 07, 2016

Max Reger: Music for Clarinet and Piano

In 1900, Max Reger heard Brahms' Op. 120 clarinet sonatas for the first time. According to one of the performers, he said, 'Fine, I am also going to write two such things.' Three weeks later, Reger's Op. 49 clarinet sonatas were completed.

As one might expect, these sonatas are very similar to Brahms', both in structure and harmonic language. I have heard performances of these works that emphasize that connection. Clarinetist Alan R. Kay and pianist Jon Klibonoff take a different tack.

It's difficult for me to put into words exactly what they do with these sonatas, but here goes. To my ears, Kay and Klibonoff seem to move the Brahmsian influences more to the background and bring Reger's own voice to the forefront. It's done in subtle ways; the phrasing is a little more aggressive, the dynamics perhaps a little more pronounced. Hard to describe, but for me, it works.

Reger revisited the genre in 1909 with what he called "a new crime against harmony and counterpoint." The Op. 107 sonata is a more substantial work, and decidedly more adventurous harmonically. But in the end, as Reger wrote to a friend, "Brahms developed classic examples of what the style was meant to be like," and so the sonata never strays too far into the avant-garde. The melodies do take full advantage of the advanced harmonies, creating some wonderfully evocative and poignant passages.

Kay and Klibonoff make a great team. I found their performances of these works to be engaging and true to Reger's intentions with these compositions (as least as I perceived them).

My one complaint (and understand it's a minor one) is that the clarinet at times has a slightly steely edge to it. I heard it even when the clarinet was playing in the lower register. That edge softened considerably when played through a higher quality audio system (your mileage may vary). What didn't vary, though, were the quality of the performances. And that's reason enough to add this release to your collection.

Max Reger: Music for Clarinet and Piano
Albumblatt, WoO II/13; Sonata in A-flat major, Op. 49, No. 1;  Sonata in F-sharp minor, Op. 49, No. 2; Sonata in B-flat major, Op. 107; Tarantella, WoO II/12
Alan R. Kay, clarinet; Jon Klibonoff, piano
Bridge 9461

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Mark Kaplan - Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin

It's a decidedly crowded field. I did a quick check and found over 180 different recordings of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. Because of the rich possibilities of the music -- and the fact that it's for one performer -- these pieces have become works that every serious violinist wants to record. They present rare opportunities for performers to fully express themselves unfiltered through the music.

So why should you listen to Mark Kaplan's version as opposed to any of those other 180+ recordings?

In this case, I think the liner notes make the difference. Kaplan writes thoughtful essays not just about each sonata and partita, but about higher concepts surrounding these works. Kaplan goes into detail explaining the significance of these works for him (and why he's recording them again after twenty years). Kaplan also looks at the relationship between musician and audience, historical vs. modern practices, and more.

He writes, "there is some basic kernel of what we might call 'the music itself' that shines through, no matter how we play it -- as long as we approach it with respect and love, with dedication and patience." 

While Kaplan's performances stand on their own merits, his writing gives the listener additional insight into his interpretations. For me, his liner notes added to my appreciation of those performances.

So what do those performances sound like? Bridge's close-mic recording isn't too close -- there's a slightly resonant ambiance that frames the sound nicely. Kaplan's playing is precise without being fussy.

When I initially listened to this recording, I thought this was a good technical recording of these works. After I read the liner notes, I began to hear the more subtle nuances of Kaplan's interpretations, which deepened my appreciation of them.

Kaplan has a clear vision of the structure of each movement, and he seems to understand the role of every note within that structure. The music sounds cohesive and expressive. The intellectual nature of the construction  (such as the fugues in the sonatas) seem to just vanish into the background. The music seems to just flow naturally.


I'm not going to suggest that this is the only recording of the Bach solo sonatas and partitas you should own. But for me, it's definitely one of the top ten.

Johann Sebastian Bach: The Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, BWV 1001-1006
Mark Kaplan, violin
Bridge 9460A/B
2 CD set

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Dick Tracy's Honeymoon(ers)

Sometimes I think I could almost make a weekly feature out of Dick Tracy cameos. Mike Curtis and Joe Staton are clearly having fun with the strip. As I've noted previously, they've had crossover stories with characters from other strips (see: Dick Tracy and the Jumble Crossover and Dick Tracy Gets Funky), and referenced other media (see: The Comical Dick Tracy, Part 3 and Dick Tracy and Superman). Some of these references are major parts of the story and some minor. But the most fun is the ones that are just throwaways. if you're not paying attention, you might think it's just filler -- but it's not.

Here's a good example -- the characters in the January 19, 2016, sequence only appeared this one day. And they were there to further the story (by showing what happened to a corpse).


Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden and
Art Carney as Ed Norton in "The Honeymooners."
To readers of a certain age, the identities of the two garbagemen are obvious -- it's Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton. These two blue-collar characters were mainstays on the Jackie Gleason Show in a skit titled "The Honeymooners." (Gleason played Kramden, Art Carney played Norton). The segment proved so popular that it later became a sitcom.

Their jobs were just a little different in the golden age sitcom -- Ralph Kramden drove a bus, and Ed Norton worked in the sewers. But Kramden was always quitting his job to pursue another get-rich-quick scheme, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that eventually the transit system just stopped taking him back. And as for Norton, collecting garbage might even be considered a promotion!

Thanks to Curtis and Staton for sequences like this one. It keeps readers like me on my toes!

Monday, July 04, 2016

More Ways to Liberate the 4th of July

This is an updated version of a post originally written July 4, 2007 I say it every year -- it's past time to retire the "1812 Overture" from 4th of July concerts. I understand why its there. The score has a part for cannons. Cannons go boom. Fireworks go boom. We have a piece of classical music that goes boom.

But what is the "1812 Overture" really about? It's not about our War of 1812 against the British. Rather, Tchaikovsky wrote it to commemorate a Russian victory in the Napoleonic Wars -- the Battle of Borodino, where Russian forces turned back Napoleon. Let's just recap: in relation to the very American July 4th event, the "1812 Overture" is about the wrong war on the wrong continent between the wrong protagonists. And there's more. The work quotes the Russian Imperial and the French national anthems, and uses those two tunes to represent the ebb and flow of the two armies. Is blasting out the "God Save the Tsar" really the best way to celebrate America's Independence Day? And what about "La Marsailles"? So let's forget the Russian overture written by a Russian honoring the victory of a Russian monarch over a French military dictator and trot out some red-blooded American classical music written by real Americans.

If you're looking for rousing, orchestral music that can be enjoyed by casual listeners in a casual setting, here are some suggestions of Real American music written by Real Americans.

Michael Daugherty: Mount Rushmore

Daugherty's composition embodies the vernacular of American music and culture. His Metropolis Symphony is a musical portrait of Superman (a distinctly American superhero) and his world. "Mount Rushmore" has four movements, corresponding to the four presidents it depicts: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. Daugherty quotes Revolutionary War songs in Washington's movement, 18th Century French music in Jefferson's, and the finale is an inspiring Copland-esque setting of Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" for orchestra and chorus. This should be a standard work for 4th of July concerts!

Charles Ives: Variations on "America"

No composer sums up the American spirit of independence of thought than Ives. His variations on this distinctively American tune are original and inspired, and makes more traditional arrangements just sound uninspired.


Randall Thompson - Testament of Freedom

Thompson wrote this four-movement choral work for Thomas Jefferson's bicentennial in 1943. It's a populist setting of Jefferson's words, written in the midst of the Second World War. This is an easily accessible work, and can be an uplifting one, too.

Ernest Bloch - America, an Epic Rhapsody

Want to celebrate the immigrant experience on the 4th? After all, if you go back far enough, you'll find we all came from someplace else. Swiss-born Ernest Bloch wrote a tribute to his adopted country in 1923. It starts with music inspired by Native Americans and moves forward through the centuries. Epic, indeed.




Clifton Williams: Strategic Air Command March

No one could write expansive, elegiac American music like Clifton Williams. Want to salute our troops? This march should fill the bill -- especially if you'd like to give the Sousa marches a rest.



J.J. Richards: Shield of Liberty March

And speaking of marches, Sousa wasn't the only one writing good ones in the 1890's. C.L. Barnhouse was a cornet player who wanted to improve the quality of band music, so he started a publishing company that's still in business today. Marches were among the most popular genres, and things like Richards' "Shield of Liberty" march. Now this is the way to start a patriotic concert!



A uniquely American holiday should feature uniquely American music. And there's plenty of it for full orchestra (or wind ensemble). We can do better than the "1812 Overture." Much better.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 011 - Cross Monument

011. Cross Monument
I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

011. Cross Monument

I'm glad these toys are labeled. I thought this one was a skyscraper facing the river, with two docks extending outward. According to instructions, it's actually a cross monument. I guess it's just a question of scale.

Construction was a little tricky. I had some difficulty making sure those side pieces stood flush against the big one. On the other hand, the cross was pretty stable, even without a dowel.

011. Cross Monument -- The cross I can see. The monument not so much.