Friday, November 16, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #ArmisticeClassics Week 2

November 19, 2018, is the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended the First World War. The #ClassicaDay team asked participants to post classical works related to the conflict. 


For my part, I tried to find examples from both sides of the war, and from as many different countries as possible. Here are my posts from the first full week of November.

George Butterworth (UK) - Banks of Green Willow

Butterworth was just starting his career when WW1 broke out. He was killed at the Battle of the Somme, 8/25/16. His body was never recovered. His tone poem, "Banks of the Green Willow" became an anthem for the War's Unkown Soldiers.



Arnold Schoenberg (Austria-Hungary) - Die eiserne Brigade, March for string quartet and piano (1916)

Schoenberg was conscripted at age 42. An officer demanded to know if he was "this notorious Schoenberg, then." He replied, "Nobody wanted to be, someone had to be, so I volunteered." He composed this march for his regiment, but it was rejected as too dissonant.



Sergei Bortkiewicz (Russia) - Piano Concerto No.2 (for the Left Hand), op.28

Pianist Paul Wittgenstein lost his right arm fighting in the German army during World War I. Determined to carry on after the war, he commissioned left-handed piano works from several European composers. Wittgenstein premiered Bortkiewicz's concerto in 1923, and he performed it quite frequently in the 1920s and 1930s.



Frank Bridge (UK) - Lament (for Catherine, aged 9 "Lusitania" 1915)

The sinking of the "Lusitania" by a German U-boat shocked the world because of the large number of civilian casualties. 1,198 died, including several children. One of them was a family friend of Bridge, who wrote this Lament to exorcize his grief.



Albéric Magnard (France) - Symphony No. 4 in C sharp minor, Op. 23

When war broke out in 1914, Magnard sent his family to safety. He remained behind to defend his home. When German soldiers arrived, he shot at them. They returned fire and set his house ablaze. Magnard and all of his unpublished scores were destroyed in the fire.



Frederick Septimus Kelly (Australia) - Elegy for Strings "In Memoriam Rupert Brooke"

Australian Frederick Kelly was a champion rower -- he won gold at the 1908 Olympics. He was also a talented composer. Serving in the Navy, he was wounded twice at Gallipoli. His elegy was written for a fallen comrade. Kelly died in 1916, rushing a machine gun nest at the Battle of the Somme.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Halsam American Brick Build - Office Building

In the mid-1950s' Halsam offered interlocking brick building toys made from pressed wood. I'm assembling each of the models shown in the instruction booklet for their 60/1 and 60/2 building sets. I'm calling it the Halsam American Brick Build.



The eleventh build is an office building. Like some of the previous structures, this one required sections to span openings in the floor plan. In this case, the bricks were cantilevered in two directions. The first extended the second story walls across the gaps. 


Two additional rows are added to secure the span. Then bricks are extended out of the second story walls to support the gables. It worked pretty well. The overall structure was quite stable.


The roofs on the second stories use the same offset technique as the tower. The end result is a nice -- if somewhat non-descript office building of the early post-war era. 

Office building (front)

Office building (back)


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wilhelm Kempff Chamber Music - Worth a Listen

Wilhelm Kempff is best remembered as a piano virtuoso. But he was also a composer. This release features two youthful chamber works.

The Trio in G minor for violin, cello, and piano dates from 1911, when Kempff was studying composition with a former student of Brahms.

The lineage is easy to hear. Kempff develops his thematic material in the same fashion as Brahms. There are not extra-musical associations here. Like Brahms, Kempff develops his motifs in a methodical, logical fashion.

At times the piano seems to have an oil and water relationship with the strings. Granted, Kempff was only sixteen when he wrote this trio. I was a little surprised, though, at the somewhat pedestrian nature of the piano's music. I was expecting a little more from the composer writing for his own instrument (even a very young composer). Rather than three equal voices, many times I heard strings plus piano accompaniment.

More successful is the 1920 Quartet in G major for flute, violin, cello, and piano. Kempff had completed his studies and was touring as a concert pianist. The piano writing is much more fully realized, and decidedly more interesting. And one can hear Kempff's overall growth as a composer. The instruments are more fully integrated, with every instrument contributing equally.

The material Kempff works with seems more fully developed, too. Kempff does more with his thematic material in this work, breaking motifs down to their component parts and reassembling them in interesting ways.

The Quartetto Raro performs well, but I had a problem with the blend. I'm not sure if its the way the ensemble was recorded, or the way they played. For most of the recording I heard the instruments as individual voices, but seldom blending as an ensemble.

I'd call this a good but not great recording of good but not great chamber music. I love exploring the repertoire, so I enjoyed this release. If my caveat doesn't put you off, you may as well.

Wilhelm Kempff: Chamber Music
Quartet in G major Op.15 for flute, violin, cello and piano' Trio in G minor for violin, cello, and piano
Quartetto Raro
Brilliant Classics 95629


Friday, November 09, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #ArmisticeClassics Week 1

November 19, 2018, is the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended the First World War. The #ClassicaDay team asked participants to post classical works related to the conflict. 


For my part, I tried to find examples from both sides of the war, and from as many different countries as possible. Here are my posts from the first full week of November.

George Butterworth (UK) - Banks of Green Willow

Butterworth was just starting his career when WW1 broke out. He was killed at the Battle of the Somme, 8/25/16. His body was never recovered. His tone poem, "Banks of the Green Willow" became an anthem for the War's Unkown Soldiers.



André Caplet (France) - Les Prières (1914-1917)

Serving in the French army, Caplet was wounded twice. He was gassed, which severely damaged his lungs and lead to his death in 1925. Caplet was a close friend of Debussy. His song cycle Les Prières as completed during the war.




Nikolai Yakovlevich Myaskovsky (Russia) - Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 17

Myaskovsky was wounded on the Austrian front and suffered from shell-shock. He was transferred to Tallinn to work on navel fortifications. While working and recovering, he produced two symphonies - Nos. 4 and 5.



Maurice Ravel (France) - Piano Concerto for the Left Hand

Pianist Paul Wittgenstein lost his right arm in WW1. Determined to carry one, he commissioned left-handed piano works after the war. Ravel's Concerto is one that's entered the repertoire (both one- and two-handed versions).




Edgar Bainton (UK/Australia) - String Quartet in A (1919)

Conductor/composer Bainton was attending a Wagner Bayreuth festival when WW1 broke out. He was sent to the Ruhleben internment camp outside Berlin. Bainton soon became its music director, working with fellow prisoners Arthur Benjamin and Edward Clark to produce chamber music concerts, operetta productions, and musical lectures. His String Quartet was one of the first pieces completed after the War.



Paul Hindemith (Germany) - String Quartet No.2 in F minor, Op. 10 (1917)

Hindemith's father enlisted at age 44 when the war broke out. He was killed in hand-to-hand combat in 1915. Hindemith was conscripted in 1917. He served in Flanders in 1918, according to his diary "surviving grenade attacks only by good luck." His second string quartet was written for a quartet he formed with fellow soldiers.




Enrique Granados (Spain) - Canción del Postillón (1916)

Granados was in New York when war broke out in Europe. Because of the conflict, he was unable to return directly to Spain. Granados sailed to England, then booked passage on the passenger ferry SS Sussex to France. The ship was sunk by a German U-boat. Granados, who was afraid of water, drowned while unsuccessfully trying to save his wife. The Canción del Postillón is one of his last works.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Halsam American Brick Build - Two Story House with Wing

In the mid-1950s' Halsam offered interlocking brick building toys made from pressed wood. I'm assembling each of the models shown in the instruction booklet for their 60/1 and 60/2 building sets. I'm calling it the Halsam American Brick Build.




The tenth build is a two-story house with a wing. This was one of the more complicated structures to build. You can see in the instructions, the detail for the rear wing gable.

There are two places where bricks need to be cantilevered (photo, right). The gable for the wing roof is in the foreground. The second-story wall is in the back.

I was a little surprised that the instructions didn't have the two spans connected by bricks running across both. But that would mean the second story span would have to start two courses lower.

And that, with the inset of the wing's wall, would have lead to a more complicated structure -- and a weaker one.

The end result is a fairly substantial structure. It does seem a little odd to me that the most imposing door frame is on the wing. What I would think of as the front has a smaller, simpler door, as does the back.

It may be part of the same problem as positioning the spanning bricks. The fancier door is taller, and that could push the window above the front door up two more rows.

And that would make the second story disproportionately tall. 

Two-story house with wing (front).

Two-story house with wing (back).

.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Poul Ruders: Occam's Razor - Music-making with Old Friends

The cover of this release shows two old friends sharing a moment -- composer Poul Ruders and guitarist David Starobin. Their 30+ year relationship has been extraordinarily fruitful. This release presents a few of Ruders' works commissioned by Starobin.

Occam's Razor is a philosophical principle: the simplest explanation is usually the best. Just as Occam's Razor trims away convoluted explanations, Ruders pares his music down to its basics with these works.

The title track is a 2013 work for oboe and guitar. Each of the eight extremely short movements is a model of conciseness. It's a pithy conversation between oboe and guitar that works on several levels. Each brief movement makes its own point, and the movements fit together to make a larger structure.

Schrodinger's Cat is a thought experiment used to explain quantum mechanics. Quantum particles exist in two states simultaneously. When observed, though, the particles collapse into a single state. The twelve canons Ruders wrote in 2012 share that concept.

The violin represents one state, the guitar the other. And the music bounces back and forth, simultaneously moving and developing until suddenly, it comes together. The description doesn't' do the work justice -- even without knowing the concept behind it, a listener can enjoy the music on its own merits. And when it comes to complex counterpoint, Schrodinger's Cat is exceptionally meritorious.

My favorite works, though, were the simplest. Ruders wrote a series of short pieces for guitar titled "Pages." How short? Each piece fills exactly one page of manuscript paper. With only a page, there's no room for elaborate development or expositions. These pieces are elegantly simple and beautiful.

David Starobin is an exceptional guitarist. Here he's performing music he knows intimately created by his friend. So yes, if you enjoy contemporary music or classical guitar music, this is the disc to get.

Poul Ruders: Occam's Razor
New Music with Guitar, Vol. 11
David Starobin, guitar
Liang Wang, oboe; Daniel Druckman, percussion; Movses Pegossian, Amaila Hall, violin; Xiaobo Pu, YunXianGan, Hao Yang, guitar
Bridge Records 9500

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Election Day - More than a Wave

Same time next year?
Every election day I write basically the same post. That is, it's not just important to vote in the big contests. It's important to vote every election.

Because the politicians who can impact your daily life aren't always in Washington. Sometimes, they're at the state capitol. Sometimes, they're governing your county, your city, or your town.

Suppose the party you like takes control of the Federal Government -- but the other party has control of the State House. You can bet that there will be lots of roadblocks to Federal mandates, and perhaps even some countering state laws as well.

What if your town council is mostly made up of folks who have the opposite political view as you? Get ready for new ordinances, taxes, and/or fees you won't like.

We just had a big fight over the Supreme Court nominee. If you had strong opinions about, you should know that many states elect their judges. Sit out an off-year election, and a member of the party you don't like could end up sitting on your state supreme court, appellate court, trial court, or (in some cases), even probate court.

The rulings in those courts will affect you and your community, and perhaps more directly than those of the Supreme Court.

Many law enforcement officials are elected. Some are quite competent, others are just political hacks. How qualified do you want the person in charge of public safety (and your personal security) to be?

This election is important. But don't vote and think it's over until 2020. Every election matters. Because every election shapes some aspect of our government -- local, state, federal.

When it comes to freedom, we should all sweat the small stuff. Because that's where the erosion starts.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Lars-Erik Larsson Symphony No. 3 - music that should be heard more often

This release completes Andrew Manze's traversal of Lars-Erik Larsson symphonies -- although I hope he doesn't stop there. Larsson was a talented composer who crafted his own language out of various 20th Century trends. It's a voice that needs to be heard more often.

The centerpiece of this release is Larsson's 1944 Symphony No. 3 in C minor. Larsson withdrew the symphony after its premiere. The final movement of the third symphony was reworked and recast as his Concert Overture No. 3. It's a shame that the work went unheard for decades. The symphony is a superbly-crafted four-movement work with brilliant motifs and equally brilliant orchestrations.

The work opens with a motif as distinctive as that of Beethoven's 5th symphony. And like Beethoven's theme, it forms the foundation of all that follows. How to describe the slow movement? Beautifully poignant. It's highly chromatic harmonies reminded me somewhat of Wagner -- with perhaps a little more restraint. The third movement has some lovely modal passages that could only come from Larsson. And the finale brings it all home with the opening motif transformed into something new, yet still recognizable. This symphony is a masterwork.

Andrew Manze and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra perform with energy and verve. The orchestra has a warm, full sound. The wind and brass sections are especially fine in this recording, especially in solo passages.

Also included are three of Larsson's later works. The Adagio for String Orchestra and Tre Orkesterstyken (Three Orchestral Pieces) date from 1960. Larsson had incorporated 12-tone technique into his work -- or rather, he adapted it to his needs. The works sound highly chromatic, yet remain grounded. Larsson harnesses the dissonances of 12-tone music to heighten the emotional impact of his (somewhat) tonal melodies.

This release was well worth the wait.

Lars-Erik Larsson: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3
Symphony No. 3, Op. 34; Tre Orkesterstyken op. 49; Adagio for String Orchestra op. 48, Musica permutatio for Orchestra op. 66 
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Manze, conductor 
CPO 777673-2  SACD 

Friday, November 02, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #FamousLastWorks Week 5

october Famous last Works For the month of October, the #ClassicsaDay team (of which I'm a part), decided to go with a Halloween theme. The idea is to share works marked in some way with the composer's demise. It can be the last piece a composer completed before death, or one left incomplete at death.



For my part, I chose to narrow the focus a little bit. Not all incomplete works were deathbed projects. Schubert, for example, abandoned his "Unfinished" symphony six years before his death. For my contributions, I focussed on the last piece a composer wrote -- whether it was completed or not.  

From famous last words to #FamousLastWorks. Here are my posts for the final week of October.


Giuseppe Verdi - Falstaff

Verdi completed his 28th opera -- Falstaff -- as he approached his eighth birthday. The work took three years to write, and Verdi worked on revisions up until his death. Initially, Falstaff received a lukewarm reception. Toscanini championed the opera, helping Falstaff to become part of the accepted operatic canon. https://youtu.be/eZOClxjcSYg



Giacomo Puccini - Turandot

Puccini was very close to finishing Turandot when he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He had composed all but the final duet, which he was never satisfied with. When he died, the first two acts were completed and orchestrated, as was most of the last act. Franco Alfano completed the opera, reprising "Nessun dorma" for the finale.



Hugo Wolf - Manuel Venegas

Wolf suffered from syphillis and by 1897 it was triggering bouts of insanity. Wolf began work on the opera Maneul Venegas, hoping to complete the work in his decreasing moments of lucidity. He was unsuccessful, and died with only the first act sketched out.




Sergie Rachmanoniff - Piano Concerto to No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40 (two-piano reduction)

Rachmaninoff was working on a two-piano version of his fourth piano concerto when his health gave out. His last original composition were the 1940 Symphonic Dances. The piano reduction was left incomplete at the time of his death. Richard Rodney Bennett completed the two-piano version at the request of Rachmaninoff's widow.



Frederick Chopin - Mazurka in F minor, Op. 68, No. 4

There's some question as to whether this Mazurka is indeed Chopin's final composition. The work exists only a a single-page sketch. It may have been written as early as 1846. Chopin was in the process of making clean copies of his manuscripts when he died, and the supposition was that he wasn't able to get to this one. Auguste Franchomme and Julian Fontana made a performance version of the work, but it's not complete -- some of the middle section is virtually illegible and was left it out.



Frederick Delius - Idyll

By 1923 Delius was paralysed and blind -- and unable to composer. An admirer, Eric Fenby, offered his services as an amanuensis. From 1928 until Delius' death in 1934, the two worked together. "Idyll" was the final composition completed by Delius.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Spam Roundup October, 2018

Even with spam filters, some comments manage to make it through. Some of it's so oddly written, that it's oddly amusing. Here's a roundup of some of the "best" comments I received this month from spambots around the world.


Best blog ever!

Anonymous spambots are nothing if not enthusiastic about my writing. 

 -  Very soon this website will be famous amid all blogging viewers due to its good articles or reviews. [Articles *or* reviews? I can't be famous for both?]

- Hello, the whole thing is going well here and of course, every one is sharing data. [Of course!]

 - I think everyone is getting more from this site, and your views are good in favor of new viewers. [Retention of older viewers is another story.]

 - You can drop a smaller season all few months. Now that you can get you get down the pass judgment with your attorney. [There's always an outlier.]

"Lumbering along" continues

Hard to believe that search engines are actively suppressing
info about this beauty.  
The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along remains a favorite post for spam comments.

- It's such as you learn my mind! You seem to grasp so much approximately this. [I approximately understand.] 

- It's difficult to find knowledgeable people about this subject, but you seem like you know what you're talking about. ["Seem like." Looks like I fooled you, too.]

- That is the type of information that are supposed to be shared across the net. Shame on the search engines for no longer positioning this post here! [For shame, Google!]


[your comment here]

I despair for the future of spam comments. This one looks like the spambot isn't even trying anymore. 

 - Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Keyword.

That's all for this month. Don't worry -- my comments box is approximately filling up with goodies to share next month. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Collegium 1704 Joyfully Performs Myslivecek Concertos and Symphonies

One of the most prominent composers in 18th Century Italy was Czech composer Josef Myslivecek. From about 1763 through 1781 he produced 26 operas, several oratorios, over 50 symphonies, and several violin concertos.

He was also a close family friend to the Mozarts -- Leopold and Wolfgang. The younger Mozart admired Myslivecek's music. Some scholars suggest that Mozart's first violin concerto was modeled closely on Myslivecek's.

That lineage is easy to hear in the program of Myslivecek orchestral music. It features three of his violin concertos, and two of his symphonies.

Solo violinist Leila Shayegh writes, "Our main goal was to show Myslivecek’s music for what it is: still unbound by strict classical form but profound at every moment. I hope our élan and the joy of playing will be audible and will help enrich our present-day understanding of the Classical era."

It is, and it does. The concerti have a lightness and clarity that makes them seem buoyant at times. The solo violin spends a good deal of time in the upper register, with some rather challenging double stops. Shayegh performs with breathtaking dexterity.

Collegium 1704 matches Shayegh in her enthusiasm for these works and carries it forward with the Sinfonia and Ouverture. The 1777 Sinfonia in E-flat major receives its world premiere recording. It and the 1772 Ouverture No. 2 in A major are both three-movement works.

Both show Myslivecek's gift for melody and organization. These works develop their material in true classical style.

The recording quality is exceptional, further adding to the luminosity of the concertos. If you think Haydn and Mozart came out of nowhere, give this album a listen. As Shayegh says, your understanding of the Classical era will be enriched.

Josef Myslivecek
Violin Concertos, Sinfonia & Ouverture
Leila Schayegh, violin
Collegiumn 1704; Václav Luks, conductor
Accent 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Baroque Wind Quartets - Come for the Telemann, stay for the Molter

This release brings together music by two Kapellmeisters of Johann Wilhelm of Saxe-Eisenach. Georg Philip Telemann held the post first in 1709 and was succeeded by Johann Melchior Molter.

The works presented on this release provide an interesting contrast in style between the two. The release features three of Telemann's 1752 "Paris" quartets. These are fairly substantial works, with plenty of complexity woven into the scores.

Molter's two Sonata a Quadros, by contrast, have much lighter characters. Molter's melodies are simple and tuneful, and the accompanying figures buoyant and sometimes playful.

The Camerata Bachensis delivers competently solid performances. The recorded sound is quite clean, with the wind soloist and violin right in front of the ensemble. The placement gives melody and countermelody equal prominence, which (in my opinion) adds to the interest of these works.

You might come for the Telemann but stay for the Molter. The more of his music I hear, the more I appreciate his compositional skill.

Telemann & Molter: Flute and Oboe Quartets
Camerata Bachiensis
Roberto De Franceschi, conductor
Brilliant Classics 95621

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Villa-Lobos Symphonic Cycle Ends at Beginning

Naxos completes their cycle of Villa-Lobos symphonies by starting at the beginning. This final installment features Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2. Both are early works, and both are strongly influenced by Vincent d'Indy.

Villa-Lobos studied in France and used d'Indy's book on composition as a guide. His first symphony, completed in 1916 bears a strong resemblance to d'Indy's symphonic writing. And yet there's something unique here.

Villa-Lobos was trying to express something cosmic with this work. As he wrote, "the soul of the artist, with the blaze of his own light that emanates from him - glimpses, through a subtle and ethereal crystal, a vast landscape."

He mostly succeeds in expressing this vision. The music has a light, ethereal quality to it. The third movement actually reminded me a little of Holst's "Mercury" movement from "The Planets" with its quick splashes of orchestral color.

Villa-Lobos composed his second symphony before hearing his first performed. Nevertheless, the style of the work seems more mature. There's still a French element to the work, but Villa-Lobos's own voice is stronger. The title "Ascensão" (Ascending) refers to the opening four-note upward-pointing motif. Villa-Lobos builds the entire work on that motif. The symphony is a tightly-woven whole, a work that logically progresses from start to finish.

Great music knows no borders. I think, though, that the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra brings something special to the music of their countryman. That shared heritage gives these symphonies an extra lift.

With this release, all of Villa-Lobos' surviving symphonies are available in first-rate performances. Collect them all.

Heitor Villa-Lobos
Symphony No. 1 ‘O Imprevisto’; Symphony No. 2 ‘Ascensão’
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra; Isaac Karabtchevsky, conductor
Naxos

Friday, October 26, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #FamousLastWorks Week 4

october Famous last Works For the month of October, the #ClassicsaDay team (of which I'm a part), decided to go with a Halloween theme. The idea is to share works marked in some way with the composer's demise. It can be the last piece a composer completed before death, or one left incomplete at death.



For my part, I chose to narrow the focus a little bit. Not all incomplete works were deathbed projects. Schubert, for example, abandoned his "Unfinished" symphony six years before his death. For my contributions, I focussed on the last piece a composer wrote -- whether it was completed or not.  

From famous last words to #FamousLastWorks. Here are my posts for week 4.


Felix Mendelssohn - Die Lorelei

Mendelssohn began work on the Die Lorelei in 1847. He had sketched out the first act when his sister died. Distraught, Mendelssohn lost interest in the project. Little more was done to the score. Six months later, Mendelssohn died following a stroke.



Maurice Ravel - Don Quichotte à Dulcinée

A head injury in 1932 triggered the onset of aphasia in Ravel. In 1933 he was working on a film score for Don Quixote. As his condition worsened, he lost the ability to compose music. His songs written for the film are his last works, although he was to live another four years.




Claude Debussy - Violin Sonata

Debussy had embarked on a cycle of six sonatas, each one written for a different instrument or instrumental combination. The violin sonata was the last one he was able to complete before his death. It was the third of the series.



Aaron Copland - Proclamation

Copland's final work, Proclamation was based on an earlier sketch. IN his last years, Copland suffered from Alzheimer's and found it difficult to compose. Proclamation was completed in 1982, eight years before the composer's death.



Ernest John Moeran - Symphony No. 2 in E-flat major

Moeran was a slow and careful composer. Moeran began work on his second symphony in 1945. It was incomplete when he died suddenly five years later. Initially, it was thought that much of the work had either been lost or destroyed by Moeran. Eventually, enough was recovered to allow a reasonable realization to be made.

#ClassicsaDay #FamousLastWorks Week 4

october Famous last Works For the month of October, the #ClassicsaDay team (of which I'm a part), decided to go with a Halloween theme. The idea is to share works marked in some way with the composer's demise. It can be the last piece a composer completed before death, or one left incomplete at death.



For my part, I chose to narrow the focus a little bit. Not all incomplete works were deathbed projects. Schubert, for example, abandoned his "Unfinished" symphony six years before his death. For my contributions, I focussed on the last piece a composer wrote -- whether it was completed or not.  

From famous last words to #FamousLastWorks. Here are my posts for week 4 (and the final day of the month).


Ernest John Moeran - Symphony No. 2 in E-flat major

Moeran was a slow and careful composer. Moeran began work on his second symphony in 1945. It was incomplete when he died suddenly five years later. Initially, it was thought that much of the work had either been lost or destroyed by Moeran. Eventually, enough was recovered to allow a reasonable realization to be made.




Giuseppe Verdi - Falstaff

Verdi completed his 28th opera -- Falstaff -- as he approached his eighth birthday. The work took three years to write, and Verdi worked on revisions up until his death. Initially, Falstaff received a lukewarm reception. Toscanini championed the opera, helping Falstaff to become part of the accepted operatic canon.



Giacomo Puccini - Turandot

Puccini was very close to finishing Turandot when he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He had composed all but the final duet, which he was never satisfied with. When he died, the first two acts were completed and orchestrated, as was most of the last act. Franco Alfano completed the opera, reprising "Nessun dorma" for the finale.



Hugo Wolf - Manuel Venegas

Wolf suffered from syphilis and by 1897 it was triggering bouts of insanity. Wolf began work on the opera Manuel Venegas, hoping to complete the work in his decreasing moments of lucidity. He was unsuccessful and died with only the first act sketched out.




Sergei Rachmanoniff - Piano Concerto to No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40 (two-piano reduction).

Rachmaninoff was working on a two-piano version of his fourth piano concerto when his health gave out. His last original composition was the 1940 Symphonic Dances. The piano reduction was left incomplete at the time of his death. Richard Rodney Bennett completed the two-piano version at the request of Rachmaninoff's widow.



Frederick Chopin - Mazurka in F minor, Op. 68, No. 4

There's some question as to whether this Mazurka is indeed Chopin's final composition. The work exists only a single-page sketch. It may have been written as early as 1846. Chopin was in the process of making clean copies of his manuscripts when he died, and the supposition was that he wasn't able to get to this one. Auguste Franchomme and Julian Fontana made a performance version of the work, but it's not complete -- some of the middle section is virtually illegible and was left it out.



Frederick Delius - Idyll

By 1923 Delius was paralyzed and blind -- and unable to compose. An admirer, Eric Fenby, offered his services as an amanuensis. From 1928 until Delius' death in 1934, the two worked together. "Idyll" was the final composition completed by Delius.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Halsam American Bring Build - Two-Story Residence

In the mid-1950s' Halsam offered interlocking brick building toys made from pressed wood. I'm assembling each of the models shown in the instruction booklet for their 60/1 and 60/2 building sets. I'm calling it the Halsam American Brick Build.




The ninth build is a two-story residence -- not to be confused with the two-story house. IThat was a more modest structure. This house features two entrances with brick borders, and a front foyer.


The actual construction was quite simple. The cantilevered arch spanning the foyer isn't a new concept -- it's been part of previous structures. 


The only unusual part of this build was the roof. Several different sizes of roof panels came with the set. None of them are long enough to span the length of the house. The solution is to take two that are the right width and overlap them. You can see where I did so in the photo below. 




Halsam American Brick Build - The Little Theatre

In the mid-1950s' Halsam offered interlocking brick building toys made from pressed wood. I'm assembling each of the models shown in the instruction booklet for their 60/1 and 60/2 building sets. I'm calling it the Halsam American Brick Build.



The ninth build is The Little Theatre. This is another structure that looks like it belongs in a small town. I can image such a theater showing movies in the 1930s, and then falling into disrepair before being rescued in the 1970s for community theater.

The build itself was very simple. The walls just go straight up, with no gaps to span.


There were two unusual features to the theatre, though. The first is the use of offset brick. This left small openings in the upper rows. It's a good concept to remember if you want to build for height. The offset pattern uses less bricks than a solid course, letting you build more courses. 


The second concept was the ornamentation for the flat roof. In this case, it's just the triangle pieces used for roofing turned face-down. Still, they give the appearance of an ornate cornice. And they also help hold the flat roof panels in place.



Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Rosa Das Rosas - Chominciamento di Gioia explore Christian symbolism

The subtitle for this release (in English) is "the symbol of the Rose in the Middle Ages." The flower was a major part of Christian symbolism, and thus for Christian-inspired music.

The thorns represented the sins of Man. The red petals of the rose symbolized the blood of Christ and the martyrs, shed in sacrifice. The spotless -- or thornless -- rose represented the Virgin Mary.

This collection presents those views with material that spans the Middle Ages. The ensemble performs works by Guillaume de Machaut, Hildegard von Bingen, and Chatelain de Coucy. Also included are selections from the Cantigas de Santa Maria, the Montpellier Codex, the Bamberg Codex and others.

The Ensemble Chominciamento di Gioia delivers committed performances. These are accurate musicological realizations and darned good music-making. The sopranos have a clear, crystalline sound that transports the listener to into the realm of Medieval mysticism. Instrumentalists perform with sensitivity. There's no harshness that so often is a part of early music performances.

This is a beautifully realized program. I highly recommend it -- especially to those who are just beginning to explore the Medieval repertoire.

Rosa das Rosas
Il Simbolo del la Rosa nel Medioveo
Chominciamento di Gioia 
III Millenio 144

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Lessons from York - We Saw It All (sort of)

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

Since I started writing about this show in 2008, we've seen various trends cycle through the hobby. For the most part, toy collectors try to recapture their youth. So that means either replacing what they had or getting those items that Santa never brought. When Dad first joined the Train Collectors Association in the early 1970s, most of the membership was interested in toy trains of the 1910-1920s.

Over time, that focus shifted to those of the 1930s and pre-WWII. Then post-war trains increased in demand, and finally the trains of my youth -- the mid-1960s. As I've mentioned in other posts about this, time has marched on, and later eras are gaining in popularity.

Gauging the demand

But the focus has remained primarily on either standard gauge trains (popular through the early 1930s), or 0-gauge trains (slightly smaller, and popular from the 1930s-onward). S-gauge (smaller still), American Flyer's post-war choice was always a distant third. But the smaller post-war gauges -- H0, N, and Z -- weren't to be found at the show.


That's because most of the people using those gauges were considered modelers as opposed to toy train collectors.

 Off the shelf and onto the layout

With the inevitable demographic shift in the hobby, there's also been a change in focus. Lionel (or American Flyer) trains at Christmas ceased being a thing in the late 1960s. Smaller H0 and N scale trains replaced them. And increasingly, year-round layouts became the norm.

So current TCA members are more likely to be interested in running trains, rather than having them sit on shelves (as I discussed in 2014). And vintage H0 and N scale trains started to show up at the York meet.

True equilibrium?

So what did we see this show? Unlike previous shows, there wasn't one particular thing (or category of thing) that stood out. Formerly under-represented gauges were there in abundance -- American Flyer S gauge, early H0 and N scale sets of the 1960s and so on.

There were lots of examples of late pre-war trains, but nothing much earlier than 1932. Lots of vintage Lionel, but plenty from later years as well.


The hardware chain Menards has entered the toy train market in a big way.
Their products were not only on sale at their booth but at several others
throughout the halls.  

It was easy to find something to fit whatever scale layout you happened to have. But there was something missing, too.

No standouts

As mentioned, the really old pieces weren't there -- but then again, neither were their primary buyers. Mainstays like the Lionel/MPC Coke Set were missing (I only saw one this time). Ditto Industrial Rail rolling stock. While there was some of everything, there wasn't much that was very remarkable -- or that I hadn't seen many times before.

I've never seen this Industrial Rail tank car at the York meet.
This time, I didn't see any Industrial Rail tank cars at all. 

Are the (relatively) younger collectors holding on to what they have, and only releasing the less interesting (and valuable) items back into the market? Hard to say. We'll see what happen in the spring.


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Dussek Complete Piano Sonatas Volume 3 - Better Than They Sound

Brilliant's traversal of Dussek piano sonatas continues with two major compositions. The Op. 44 Sonata "Farewell" was completed in 1799 and marks the end of an era. The 1812 Op. 77 sonata "L'Invocation" looks forward to the next era.

The Sonata in E-flat major, Op. 44 is large, four-movement work. It runs about 30 minutes. It's about the same length as Beethoven's Op. 14 piano sonatas, published around the same time. Dussek's sonata differs in that it seems to look backward, rather than forwards.

The sonata is carefully structured, reflecting the classical balance of Haydn. There is drama, but it's somewhat understated. Above all, the "Farewell" sonata is elegant and refined.

The Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 77 is quite a contrast. "L'Invocation" has roiling left-hand figures that give the work an urgent energy. Here the drama is front and center, with plenty of pianistic fireworks. There were sections that seemed to anticipate Chopin and a few where I could almost hear Liszt.

Alexei Lubimov performs both sonatas as appropriate. His performance of the Op. 44 sonata is light and understated. For the Op. 77 sonata, he lets loose, delivering crashing crescendos and highly emotive passages.

I'd say that Lubimov's performance is outstanding despite his instrument. Brilliant chose to record these sonatas using instruments of the period. A 1799 Longment Clementi fortepiano was used for this recording. According to the liner notes, it was restored in 2002. Still, to my ears, it sounded tinny and muffled. The action, although not especially noisy, seemed a little slow.

If you're interested in the music (and you should be), invest in this recording. But if the sound of the early pianoforte interferes with your listening experience, I'd recommend the Frederick Marvin modern piano recordings on Sono Luminus.

Jan Ladislav Dussek
Complete Piano Sonatas, Vol. 3
Sonatas Op. 44 & Op. 77
Alexei Lubimov, piano
Brilliant 95607

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Kalevi Aho Concertos - Contemporary Masterworks from Finland

Finnish composer Kalevi Aho is best known for his large-scale works. This release has two excellent examples: the Tympani Concerto, and the Piano Concerto No. 1.

The Turku Philharmonic Orchestra commissioned the Tympani Concerto for its timpanist, Ari-Pekka Mäenpää. Speaking as a percussionist, I think it's a masterwork. Aho worked with Mäenpää to create a work that makes the tympani a truly melodic instrument.

Aho takes full advantage of pedal tuning, which let the player rapidly change notes. And there are plenty of glissandi, making the player change the note's pitch on the fly. Aho also expands the setup to five drums (as opposed to the traditional four), which gives him even more resources to work with.

The timpani has some long, lyric passages that are quite beautiful. But Aho hasn't forgotten its role in the orchestra. The finale is a rollicking rhythmic tour-de-force. Ari-Pekka Mäenpää is an exceptional performer. Other tympanists looking to perform this work will find it quite a challenge. 

Aho's Piano Concerto No. 1 is a heady mix of styles. I heard goodly portions of Alfred Schnittke and Sergei Prokofiev with a dash of Edgar Varése, all served up in a totally original style. Aho uses strongly tonal elements -- such as diatonic scales, and simple triads -- in a decidedly non-tonal fashion. The concerto has a sarcastic swagger to it I quite liked.

There are also some quiet and contemplative passages, too. The work has a satisfying emotional flow to it. Pianist Sonja Fräki knows Aho's works intimately. Her doctoral dissertation was on Aho's piano music, and she's recorded them for BIS. This is an artist who truly understands the composer's intentions, and her performance demonstrates that.

Heartily recommended -- and not just to lovers of contemporary classical music.

Kalevi Aho: Tympani Concerto, Piano Concerto No. 1
Ari-Pekka Mäenpää, timpani; Sonja Fräki, piano; 
Turku Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Erkki Lasonpalo (Timpani Concerto) Eva Ollikainen (Piano Concerto)
BIS 2306 SACD

Friday, October 19, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #FamousLastWorks Week 3

For the month of October, the #ClassicsaDay team (of which I'm a part), decided to go with a Halloween theme. The idea is to share works marked in some way with the composer's demise. It can be the last piece a composer completed before death, or one left incomplete at death.



For my part, I chose to narrow the focus a little bit. Not all incomplete works were deathbed projects. Schubert, for example, abandoned his "Unfinished" symphony six years before his death. For my contributions, I focussed on the last piece a composer wrote -- whether it was completed or not.  

From famous last words to #FamousLastWorks. Here are my posts for week 3.


Johann Sebastian Bach - Vor Deinen Thron Tret, BWV 668

The final days of Bach are shrouded in myth. The final fugue of his monumental "Art of the Fugue" was left unfinished -- but it wasn't the piece he was working on when he died. Rather, it was a setting of the chorale "Vor Deinen Thron Tret’ Ich Hiermit." Bach had previously set the chorale in the 1717 Orgelbüchlein. The "deathbed" chorale represents a revision of that earlier work.



Richard Strauss - Vier letzte Lieder, Op. posth

The Four Last Songs (with the exception of the song "Malven") the final works completed by Richard Strauss. And they make a fitting end to a life in music. The texts all deal with death and the acceptance of death and had special meaning for the terminally ill Strauss. The final song, "Im Abendtrot" (At Sunset) quotes from his 1888 tone poem "Tod und Verklärung," (Death and Transfiguration) bringing his creative output full circle.




Edward Elgar - Spanish Lady

In his final years, Elgar worked on two projects in parallel -- an opera "The Spanish Lady" and his third symphony. Both remain unfinished. The "Spanish Lady" is based on a Ben Johnson satire, and recycled a lot of Elgar's earlier music. After his death, Percy Young arranged the surviving sketches into an orchestral suite.



Sergei Prokofiev - Piano Sonata No. 10 in E minor, Op. 137

Prokofiev was working on two piano sonatas at the time of his death. The eleventh piano sonata only exists in text notes. The tenth has two pages of manuscript, leaving about one minute's worth of music, and making it the last playable piece of music by Prokofiev.



Dmitri Shostakovich - Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 147

Shostakovich wrote the sonata for Fyodor Druzhihinin, violist with the Beethoven quartet. He completed the three-movement sonata weeks before his death in July 1975. Druzhinin premiered the work four months later.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Halsam American Brick Build - Tower Building

In the mid-1950s' Halsam offered interlocking brick building toys made from pressed wood. I'm assembling each of the models shown in the instruction booklet for their 60/1 and 60/2 building sets. I'm calling it the Halsam American Brick Build.


The eighth build is a tower building. I've seen modest buildings such as this in the older sections of small cities. The instructions were quite clear, but I was puzzled by that white space over the door frame. It might be a panel insert, but I've never found one in any of the Halsam sets I've seen. I simply left it out.



Almost every building in the instruction book offers a different way to use the bricks. For this build, the new concept was offset patterns. As you can see in the photo below, using such a pattern creates a foundation that's only one peg row smaller. It provides a stable base set above an open space.


It was fun to build a structure with a little bit of height to it. 


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Harald Genzmer Concertos - Zestful, Artful, and Comprehensible

German composer Harald Genzmer had a philosophy. "Music should be zestful, artful and comprehensible. As practicable, it may win over the interpreter, and then the listener as graspable." The three concertos in this release, spanning 60 years, show Grenzmer remained true to his ideal.

In 1938 Genzmer had just completed his studies with Paul Hindemith. His Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 bears traces of Hindemith. It's written in a post-romantic style that still leans towards tonality.

The concerto an elegantly structured work that's easy to follow. In this work, Genmzer seems more playful than his teacher. There are some jazz elements woven into the piano part. The work has a jazzy, light-hearted feel to it. Perhaps Genzmer would call it zestful.

The Concerto for Cello and Orchestra was completed in 1950. And while the tenets of Genzmer's philosophy are still there, they're expressed in a more mature fashion. The work is darker and more serious than the pre-war piano concerto. Genzmer's language, though still tonal, has more chromatic elements in it. At times I was reminded of Stravinsky and Bartok.

Genzmer wrote the Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra when he was 90. His musical language is stripped down to its bare essentials. The work has a tight focus to it. I sensed that every note is there for a reason, and it's doing double duty. Still, it is a tonal composition, and is both "artful and comprehensible."

The Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin, directed by Ariane Matiakh, deliver straightforward, no-nonsense performances. In a way, the performers let Genzmer's music speak for itself. And it does just fine.

Genzmer's music is always listener-friendly, but never pandering. He's a composer that has something to say, and want to make sure what he says is understood. Did he succeed? I think "graspable" may be an understatement.

Harald Genzmer: Piano Concerto, Cello Concerto, Trombone Concerto
Oliver Triendl, piano; Patrick Demenga, cello, Jorgen van Rijen, trombone
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin; Ariane Matiakh, conductor
Capriccio C5330

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Viola Concertos by Amanda Harberg and Max Wolpert - Refreshingly Modern


I'd like to have a copy of this release readily available at all times. I would shove it into the hands of every person I heard complain about "unlistenable" modern music and demand they listen to it.

Amanda Harberg is a thoroughly modern composer who is unafraid of a beautiful melody. Her 2012 Concerto for Viola and Orchestra was commissioned by violist Brett Deubner (who performs it here).

Harberg doubles down on the expressive quality of the viola, and it pays off. This lyrical work is astonishingly beautiful.

Her 2007 Elegy is a heartfelt memorial to a former teacher. It's a quieter, more personal work. The warmth of the viola in the middle and lower registers gives the music an introspective, intimate feel.

Max Wolpert has a somewhat eclectic background, equally at home with traditional folk music as with classical. His 2015 Viola Concerto, "Giants" is as accessible and engaging as Harberg's music, but in a different way.

Wolpert's meters are more complex -- sometimes almost jittery in their rapid changes. (And that's fine with me.) His melodies seem more open-ended and develop in interesting ways.

The second and third movements borrow from various folk traditions, blended together in a fascinating melange that continually surprises and delights.

Brett Deubner performs with fire and passion. His playing often has a grittiness to it I really liked. Halberg and Wolpert write very accessible music - Deubner's earthy playing keeps it from sounding pretty (which its not) and superficial (which it is definitely not).

Thanks to Naxos for releasing this music. It brought two more contemporary composers to my attention whose music I want to explore.

Amanda Harberg: Viola Concerto; Elegy
Max Wolpert: Viola Concerto No. 1 "Giants"
Brett Deubner, viola; Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra; Linus Lerner, conductor
Naxos 8.559840



Sunday, October 14, 2018

Johannes de Lublin Tablature - A snapshot of 16th Century keyboard music

The 1540 "Tablature of Jan de Lubin" is one of the largest collections of 16th Century keyboard music. It's possible that a good portion of it was written, transcribed, and/or arranged by Johann de Lublin. The bound collection includes many other pieces that added after the fact (and possibly after de Lublin's death).

Corina Marti sorts through it all, presenting a well-balanced selection of thirty-nine works from the book. Marti plays a Renaissance harpsichord, which has a substantially different sound than its Baroque descendant.

The range is smaller, and the sound much more robust. There's a roughness to the instrument that goes quite well with the modal harmonies of the music. (Not the best description, but that's my reaction to it.)

The album includes works from a variety of sources. There are settings of music by Antoine Brumel, Josquin des Prez, and Ludwig Senfl, just to name a few. Music from French, Italian and German sources are included, but to me, the most interesting pieces are the Polish ones. There's a folk-like vitality to these pieces that make them especially appealing.

If you're at all interested in early music, this disc should be in your library. It's a nice complement to other historic collections, such as the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. A thoughtful program of historically important music well-performed -- of course I recommend it.

Johannes de Lublin: Tablature
Keyboard music from Renaissance Poland
Corina Marti, Renaissance harpsichord
Brilliant Classics 95556

Saturday, October 13, 2018

São Paulo Symphony and Karabtchevsky Deliver with Villa-Lobos Symphonies

Volume five of Naxos' Villa-Lobos Symphonies features three works written for American premieres. Symphony No. 8 was completed in 1950, No. 9 in 1952, and No. 11 in 1955.

Despite the five-year span, the three works share several similarities. All three are relatively short. Villa-Lobos' motifs are almost epigrams, and yet these are densely-compact works.

The symphonies are all neo-classical in general style, with just a trace of Stravinsky occasionally popping through.

The 8th Symphony was premiered at Carnegie Hall, with Villa-Lobos conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. The 9th Symphony was also premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra, this time under the direction of Eugene Ormandy. The 11th Symphony marked the 75th Anniversary of the Boston Symphony and was premiered with Charles Munch.

Of the three, the 11th is probably the most challenging. Villa-Lobos wrote to the strengths of the ensemble. To properly perform this work, an orchestra has to be nimble. The BSO was one such ensemble -- the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra is another.

At this point in their cycle, Isaac Karabtchevsky and the São Paulo Symphony have become Villa-Lobos experts. They manage to capture the essential Brazilian essence of his work that gives it such vitality.

Another solid addition to this important series from Naxos. I anticipate the next volume will maintain the same high quality set forth in the first four.

Heitor Villa-Lobos: Symphonies Nos. 8, 9, 11
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra; Isaac Karabtchevsky, conductor
Naxos


Friday, October 12, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #FamousLastWorks Week 2

For the month of October, the #ClassicsaDay team (of which I'm a part), decided to go with a Halloween theme. The idea is to share works marked in some way with the composer's demise. It can be the last piece a composer completed before death, or one left incomplete at death.



For my part, I chose to narrow the focus a little bit. Not all incomplete works were deathbed projects. Schubert, for example, abandoned his "Unfinished" symphony six years before his death. For my contributions, I focussed on the last piece a composer wrote -- whether it was completed or not.  

From famous last words to #FamousLastWorks. Here are my posts for week 2.


Alban Berg - Violin Concerto

Berg was working on his opera "Lulu" in 1935. He interrupted the work to accept a rush commission from violinist Louis Krasner. The violin concerto was written in just a few months, and dedicated to the memory of Manon Gropius. The score was delivered in August of 1935, and Berg returned to work on "Lulu." He died in December 1935, leaving the opera uncompleted.




Johannes Brahms - Eleven Chorale Preludes for organ, Op. 122

Brahms' final completed works were written for his friend, Clara Schumann. In 1896 Clara died, and Brahms was diagnosed with liver cancer. Facing death (and the death of his friend), Brahms wrote a set of chorale preludes. The set was the final composition Brahms worked on.




Bela Bartok - Piano Concerto No. 3 in E major

Bartok's third piano concerto was to be a birthday surprise for his wife, pianist Ditta Pásztory-Bartók. Bartok worked on the piece as often as his health permitted. When he died, all but 17 measures had been completed. His friend Tibor Serly completed the work based on Bartok's sketches so it could be performed.


Giovanni Battista Pergolesi - Stabat mater

Italian composer Pergolesi was a brilliant composer of operas, some of which are still performed. He died at the age of 26 from tuberculosis. The final weeks of his life were devoted to composing the Stabat Mater. He was able to complete the work just before he died.





Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 10

Mahler began work on his tenth symphony in May, 1910. By September, he had sketched out the entire symphony and had completed most of the orchestration of the first movement. And that's where he left it. Mahler left for New York in October to conduct the New York Philharmonic. He returned to Europe in April, 1911, and he died May, 11 without doing any more work on the symphony. Other composers have attempted to complete the work, with varying amounts of success.