Friday, August 31, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #Bernsteinat100 Week 5

August 2018 is the centennial of Leonard Bernstein's birth. Many classical radio stations, performance groups, and writers marked the occasion. And so did #ClassicsaDay.

Bernstein was known as a composer, conductor, performer and an educator. Since #ClassicsaDay is primarily a music feed, I concentrated on the first two of those roles (and occasionally the third).


My contributions alternated between Bernstein the composer and Bernstein the conductor. And I tried to steer away from the more obvious choices for Bernstein compositions. His catalog is quite extensive, and I found it interesting to explore some of the lesser-known (and in some cases, less-successful) works.

Here are my posts for the fifth and final week:

Leonard Bernstein - Chichester Psalms (1965)

This work was commisioned for the Southern Cathedrals Festival at Chichester Cathedral (hence the name). Berstein recorded it with the New York Philharmonic in 1965, and again in 1977 with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.



Bela Bartok - Concerto for Orchestra

Bernstein programmed this work for the New York Philharmonic's 1959/60 season. He first conducted movements of it in a Young People's Concert on March 28, 1959. He later conducted it November 26-28, as part of the orchestra's subscription series. Bernstein and the NYP recorded the work November 30. Bernstein and the orchestra also performed the concerto in two runout performances in early December 1959.



Leonard Bernstein - Concerto for Orchestra (1986)

This was one of Bernstein's last completed compositions. He reworked a previous composition, "Jubilee Games," adding two new movements. Bernstein dedicated the work to the Israel Philharmonic. The orchestra, conducted by Bernstein, recorded the concerto in 1989 for Deutsches Grammophon.

i


Johannes Brahms - Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15

Glenn Gould performed the concerto with the New York Philharmonic in 1982. Bernstein created a minor scandal with a speech before the performance, seemingly distancing himself from Gould's interpretation.




Leonard Berstein - Overture to "Candide" (1956)

Lilliam Hellman suggested to Bernstein that they adapt Voltaire's novella as an operetta. The work underwent continual script and musical revision, with numbers being added, dropped, and reshuffled. At one point Hellman withdrew her adaptation. The Overture, though, has remained virtually unchanged since its debut.

Spam Roundup August, 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.


Say what?

 - You may be missing out on the commercialize. Houses that hold had the trump tools for selling lemons and grapefruits you design end up fitness your put down properly. [Tell me more about how I can commercialize my designer lemons and grapefruits!]

- You are expiration to consider court game in effect. [Consider me expired, then.]

 - If you aren't precisely gifted when it comes to goals is to maintain to welfare from the oral cavity and some its edges. [I must not be precisely gifted, then.]

"Lumbering along" continues along

This month's challenge: try to find any way this toy
is even remotely relevant to the comments left about it.
The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along remains a popular post for spam. It's just a brief post about a 1960s Japanese friction toy. And yet...

- You appear to know a lot about this like you wrote the book or something. [That would be about the shortest book ever.]

- After reading this awesome post I am as well happy to share my experience here with my friends. [And then he links to a George Foreman indoor grill review. Some experience.]

- You may be missing out on the commercialize. [Yes. I'm sure there's big money in writing about antique friction toys.]

 - Great that you are getting ideas from this piece of writing as well as our argument made here. [I disagree.]


A word of advice

 - If you acquire a Facebook diplomat, but be genuinely innovational fill make their own videos. This offers a superfluous bonus.

If I could find a Facebook diplomat for sale, I assure you my offer would not be superfluous! 

That's all for this month. Remember, if your oral cavity still has some edges, work on lowering your golf score. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Halsam American Brick Build - Blocked!

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.

My first surprise with the Halsam Brick Build happened before I had even started. I wasn't sure I had enough bricks to complete some of the larger structures. So I went shopping on eBay. Halsam wooden bricks are easy to find. They're sometimes pricey, though. That's not because they're collectible -- they're heavy.

The bricks are made of pressed wood. Get a bunch of them together and you've got a package that weighs a few pounds! I found a set that was within my price range (including shipping) and awaited its arrival.

To store the bricks, I stacked them in small groups. It was then I noticed that some of the bricks didn't fit precisely together. When I looked closely, I saw the reason.

The bricks in my old set had slightly different dimensions than my new purchase. Specifically, the new ones were 1/16" shorter and narrower than the old.
Top: 1-11/16"W x 1/4"H x 13/16"D
Botton: 1-3/4"W x 1/4"H x 7/8"D

My suspicion is that a running change was made, possibly during the Second World War. Decrease the dimensions slightly, and you can get more bricks from the same amount of wood.

That 1/16" difference matters. It's just enough to offset the knobs
so they don't line up properly with the holes.

And it means I need to be careful not to mix the two sets.

It's a surprise, but not necessarily an unpleasant one. I learned a little bit more about the history of this vintage toy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Alec Frank-Gemmill Shows the Merit of Horn Concertos Before Mozart

Alec Frank-Gemmill is making a point with this recording. For many horn soloists, Mozart's concertos are the earliest works in their repertoire. Frank-Gemmill contends that there was plenty of good material that predates them.

Frank-Gemmill opens with a 1740 concerto by Christoph Förster. Although primarily an organist, Förster wrote about 50 concertos. Forster was a younger colleague of Telemann, and his music is similar in style.

The Horn Concerto in D major by Telemann follows. Compared to Forster's light and breezy work, it seems somewhat more formal and elegant.

 Also included is a Sinfonia da Camera by Leopold Mozart. It features an interesting interplay between the horn and the first violin. Frank-Gemmill's trills are immaculately executed, beautifully ornamenting the melody.

The Horn Concerto No. 1 by Haydn is technically "before Mozart," as it dates from 1762. And yet stylistically it's closer to Mozart than any of the other works. The extreme dynamic shifts of Sturm und Drang are in play. That, plus the expanded range of the horn makes this an ideal work to end the program. Frank-Gemmill's codas are impressive -- check out the harmonics at the end of the first movement!

Yes, none of these horn concertos is by Mozart. But as Frank-Gemmill demonstrates, they hold up quite well on their own merits.

Before Mozart: Early Horn Concertos
Christoph Förster: Horn Concerto [No. 1] in E flat major
Georg Philipp Telemann: Horn Concerto in D major, TWV 51:D8
Johann Baptist Georg Neruda: Horn Concerto in E flat major
Leopold Mozart: Sinfonia da camera (Sinfonie in D major, VII:D5)
Joseph Haydn: Horn Concerto No. 1 in D major, Hob. VIId:3
Alec Frank-Gemmill, horn
Swedish Chamber Orchestra; Nicholas McGegan, conductor<
BIS Records 2315

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Judge Parker - The Wurst Story

I've written before about the imaginative ways writer Francesco Marciuliano and artist Mike Manley approach a daily adventure strip. They've taken Judge Parker from a somewhat staid dramatic strip into the realm of international intrigue -- and then some.

Most recently I wrote about the sequence surrounding the off-stage death of a supporting character, Godiva Danube. It's revealed that the purpose of Danube's death was to lure April Parker and her father (both ex-CIA agents) back into the country. Their former employers, a rogue branch of the Agency, wanted them eliminated.

And you thought the daily funnies were just for kids.

It's revealed that April and her father's handler, Wurst, set them up. But not by choice. What happens next is the subject of this sequence from August, 2018,










It's a sequence that would have worked in any current spy movie. Once he knows his sister is safe, Wurst takes his revenge. And it turns out his sister is in the business, too.

Two people die violently in this sequence, but it's implied rather than shown. And, given that only one strip is revealed each day, Marciuliano and Manley artfully keep the tension high and the pacing tight.

Artistry such as this is why I keep reading the daily comics page.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Jaroslav Krcek - Instrumental Music from a Czech Master

Jaroslav Krcek is an important musical figure in the Czech Republic. He's an authority on Czech folk music, as well as Medieval and Renaissance music. He's a classical composer and has written "an electronic opera." Krcek has been a music editor for Supraphon. And he's also invented an instrument or two.

Listening to this release of Krcek's instrumental music, I could easily hear the influence of Czech music traditions.

The 1981 Oboe Concerto is full of the highly syncopated rhythms of Czech dances. Krcek treats the oboe almost like a cross between a bock and shepherd's pipe. The melody lightly skips around, playing with simple figures that evolve over the course of the work.

By contrast, the Violin Concerto seems inspired by Stravinsky and Bartok, rather than folk music. Written just a year before the Oboe Concerto, the work has an other-worldly character. Long, suspended melodies are interrupted by sharply dissonant chords. And yet this is also music of great originality. Krcek's orchestrations have an unusual sound, especially his writing for winds.

Music to the Lusatian Sorb fable "The Secret of the Old Mill" is a suite from the film score. Here, Krcek the musicologist is in his element. The work is almost a  parallel to Respighi's "Ancient Aires and Dances." We're treated to Renaissance-style dance numbers, coupled with evocative folk tunes and a dash of 20th-Century polytonality.

The Three Dances in the Old Style is equally appealing -- and for the same reasons. These dances are highly rhythmic, blending modal harmonies with short, folk-like melodies.

All in all, a delightful album. And one that makes me want to explore Jaroslav Krcek's catalog further.

Jaroslav Krcek: Instrumental Music
Concerto for Oboe; Three Dances in Old Style; Music to "Secret of the Old Mill"
Gabriela Krckova, oboe; Kenka Kouhkova Torensen, violin; Musica Bohemia Prague, Jaroslav Krcek conductor; Slovak Chamber Orchestra, Bohdan Warchal, conductor

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Rautavaara Works for Cello -- Crystalline Masterworks

If you're only familiar with Rautavaara's orchestral works and love them as much as I do, you should listen to this release. With only one or two instruments to work with, the essence of Rautavaara's music is laid bare.

As the artists write in the liner notes, "Rautavaara’s music surprised us with how violently it struck us. We were both enormously attracted to its mysterious melancholy and its sustained and relentless pain and anger, combined with a feather-light beauty and caressing sensuality."

The works on this release cover most of his career. Rautavaara's style evolved over time, yet the emotional content remained a constant.

The Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1 sets the tone. It was originally written in 1972 when Rautavaara leaned toward the neo-romantic. The long, lyrical melodies are often supported by modal harmonies. And yet there's an edge to this music. Perhaps it comes from Rautavaara' revisions in 2001. Or perhaps they were there all along.

The second sonata for cello and piano, completed in 1991 is even edgier. It sounds almost experimental. The material sounds fragmented as if broken apart and jumbled back together. And yet there are moments of icy calm, a hallmark of Rautavaara.

Rautavaara's music is demanding. Cellist Tanja Tetzlaff and pianist Gunilla Süssmann are more than equal to the task. I was especially impressed with Tetzlaff's performance of the Sonata for Solo Cello. Her command of the extreme upper register -- in harmonics -- was astounding.

Also included are the Two Preludes and Fugues, student pieces from 1955. These are simpler, less introspective works. And even in these lighter, more conventional pieces, there's a hint of something darker just below the surface.

If you know Rautavaara's music, this release belongs in your collection. If you don't, give this a listen.

Einojuhani Rautavaara: Works for Cello
Tanja Tetzlaff, cello; Gunilla Süssmann, piano
Ondine
ODE 1310-2

Friday, August 24, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #Bernsteinat100 Week 4

August 2018 is the centennial of Leonard Bernstein's birth. Many classical radio stations, performance groups, and writers marked the occasion. And so did #ClassicsaDay.

Bernstein was known as a composer, conductor, performer and an educator. Since #ClassicsaDay is primarily a music feed, I concentrated on the first two of those roles (and occasionally the third).


My contributions alternated between Bernstein the composer and Bernstein the conductor. And I tried to steer away from the more obvious choices for Bernstein compositions. His catalog is quite extensive, and I found it interesting to explore some of the lesser-known (and in some cases, less-successful) works.

Here are my posts for the fourth week:

Ludwig van Beethoven - Egmont Overture, Op. 84

Berstein and the New York Philharmonic performed this overture in 1959. Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic recorded it for CBS in 1970. Bernstein would do another recording of the work with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1981 for Deutsches Grammophon.



Leonard Bernstein - Trouble in Tahiti (1951)

Bernstein wrote this one-act opera about consumerism during his honeymoon. It was rushed to completion for its premiere. Bernstein was not happy with either the performance nor the finale. He revised the work and it was presented in a TV broadcast later that year. "A Quiet Place" (1983) was conceived as a sequel. It was later revised to incorporate parts of "Trouble" as a flashback.



Franz Joseph Haydn - Symphony No. 88 in G major

Bernstein recorded Haydn's "Paris" and "London" symphonies. He recorded Symphony No. 88 with the New York Philharmonic in 1963, and with the Vienna Philharmonic 20 years later.



Leonard Berstein - Symphonic Suite from "On the Waterfront" 1955

Berstein won an Oscar for his original score to "On the Waterfront." He didn't just string themes together to create his concert version. Bernstein reworked the material to create a single movement tone poem. He wrote, "the main materials.. undergo numerous metamorphoses, following as much as possible the chronological flow of the film."



Larry Austin - Improvisations for Orchestra and Jazz Soloists (1961)

Austin built-in places for free improvisation. Bernstein conducted it in a 1964 New York Philharmonic concerto with Don Ellis, Barre Phillips, Joe Cocuzzo. According to music critic Harold C. Schonberg, "Mr. Austin really had little to say, though he said it most fashionably." He did have high praise for the jazz soloists, noting that Don Ellis "had the whole horn section of the Philharmonic hanging over their stands to see how he achieved his effects."

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Introducing the Halsam American Brick Build

Halsam American Bricks only had three different shapes.

Introduction

I had so much fun doing the 100 Toys Build that I decided to start another vintage toy build project. This time the subject is Halsam American Bricks. Its a building toy with a somewhat convoluted history.

Early days

Halsom Products Co. was established in 1917. Their specialty was wooden toys. Early on they perfected a method of making pressed wood shapes. From the 1920s through the sale of the company in 1962 Halsam was best known for their dominos. In fact, that fame continued on after the sale. Playskool, which had acquired the company, continued to make Halsam-branded dominos. Halsam dominoes were also offered briefly by Hasbro, who bought Playskool in the 1970s.

The pressed wood process Halsam used for their dominos was used for their building sets. In 1938 they introduced American Bricks. These rectangular bricks interlock like Legos.

The Simplicity of American Bricks

The Halsam system was very simple: there were only three types of blocks: a rectangle with eight pegs, a square with four pegs, an angled piece with four holes. All the blocks were painted red. Some eight-peg bricks were painted yellow for accent pieces.

This sheet shows everything you need to know about constructing houses
with Halsam bricks. The inset box notes that the bricks are
scored so that each rectangular brick appears to have three bricks
on its facade. When the bricks are interlocked properly, these brick
lines are staggered, just as they are in real structures.


Windows and doors were embossed cardstock. Each brick had small slots between their pegs. The windows and doors had tabs that fit those slots to secure them in place. As you can imagine, once those tabs started to wear, keeping windows in place became a problem.

The set was meant for building small structures. The windows and doors represent 1930s prototypes. The building plans included with the sets have models that look very much like Craftsman-style homes and small-town buildings.

From Wood to Plastic

In the late 1950s the company moved American Bricks to Elgen, its plastics division. The bricks were completely redesigned and were made with injection molded plastic. Colors were still basic. Bricks were red. Capstones, doors, and windows (now plastic instead of paper) were white.


The American Brick Build

For this project, I'm using the Halsam wooden American Bricks. They're not as well-known as the Elgo bricks. Elgo often gets mentioned as a precursor to Lego bricks. According to ToyHistory.com, Lego met with Halsam when they entered the U.S. market so they could co-exist peacefully. The bricks were of different design, but Elgo can be an anagram of Lego.

Personally, I like the way Halsam's wooden bricks resemble real ones in their proportions. And while they don't snap together the way plastic bricks do, when interlocked,  the Halsam bricks make a pretty sturdy structure.

As with the 100 Toys build, I'll just be going through the instruction book.



I don't anticipate any of the challenges I experienced with the Line Mar set. But I am curious to see how closely my builds will resemble the carefully photographed and heavily processed examples in the instruction book.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre Complete Harpsichord Works - Très Bon

Though barely known today, Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre was hailed as "the wonder of our century" in the 1690s. At age five De La Guerre sang for Louis XIV and remained at court until her marriage.

She was a keyboard virtuoso, with impressive improvisational skills. Contemporaries judged her on par with Marci-Antoine Charmpenie, François Couperin, Jean-Féry Rebel and just slightly below Jean-Baptiste Lully.

Her solo harpsichord works are very much in like with Couperin's and Rebel's. They're collections of short dances grouped by key. The melodies are fairly simple, providing ample opportunities for ornamentation.

De La Guerre published her first collection in 1687, and her last in 1707. One can hear the development of her style. Her final suite sounds more tightly organized It also seems a little closer to the Italianate style that was gaining popularity at the time.

Francesca Lanfranco performs in a straightforward manner. Her delicate touch makes the ornamentations sound organic rather than fussy. The harpsichord recording is exceptional. There's virtually no sound of the instrument's action to detract from the music.

Lanfranco's readings helped me understand why contemporary audiences thought so highly of de La Guerre's work.

Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre: Complete Harpsichord Works
Franchesca Lanfranco, harpsicord
Brilliant Classics 95555
2 CD SET

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

CPO Revives Anton Urspruch, Contemporary of Brahms

Anton Urspruch (1850-1907) is hardly a household name -- even among classical music aficionados. In the 1880s, though, he was a rising star. Urspruch studied composition with Joachim Raff and Ignaz Lachner. He was a star piano pupil of Franz Liszt. As a scholar, he's credited with the revival of Gregorian Chant.

Urspruch enjoyed an international reputation during his lifetime as a pianist, musicologist, and composer. After his death at the age of 56, though, Urspruch virtually vanished from the music scene.

CPO hopes to correct that with a 2-CD set of Ursprurch's major instrumental works -- his piano concerto and symphony.

Urspruch's 1878 piano concerto is filled with technical challenges worthy of Liszt. Yet Urspruch's music seemed more reserved than that of his teacher. The concerto is carefully constructed, more in keeping with the ideals of Beethoven and Brahms (whom Urspruch knew well).

Oliver Triendl delivers an excellent performance. His playing brings out the beauty of Urspruch's melodies. Triendl has clearly mastered the difficulties of the concerto, making them sound almost effortless (while still quite impressive).

Urspruch's Symphony, written just three years later, reminded me quite strongly of Raff's symphonies. There's the same clarity of form. Urspruch, like Raff, is a masterful orchestrator and knows exactly what he wants to do with his material.

A critic of the day wrote after a performance, "Brahms is the only other composer who could have written it!" I wouldn't go that far. Urspruch's voice isn't quite the same as his colleague's. But I understand the sentiment.

Like Brahms, Urspruch constructed his works without extra-musical considerations. Urspruch, like Brahms, seems comfortable to use the symphonic form to develop his musical ideas. And the end result is a work well worth hearing.

Will Anton Urspruch's symphony and piano concerto replace one of the late Romantic repertoire standards? Probably not. But they are well-crafted works that do deserve to be heard again.

Anton Urspruch: Piano Concerto Op. 9 in E-flat major; Symphony No. 14 in E-flat major
Oliver Triendl, piano
Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie
Georg Fritzsch, Marcus Bosch, conductors
CPO
2 CD Set


Monday, August 20, 2018

Diabelli Project (200-203) Piece for Violin and Piano

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.

To mark my 200th flash composition, I'm expanding the concept a little bit. I've still limited myself to a 10-minute session. But this time each sketch will pick up where the last one left off over the course of the month.

Here's the result. I was able to complete the first section of the piece, and get a good start on the second. Even though it wasn't written in a single session, the piece holds together pretty well. Although there are some surprises -- which is the point of this exercise. I bypass my internal editor to just let the ideas flow.





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.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Vasks - Laudate Dominum "strengthens faith, love, and soul"

This is the third release by the Latvian Radio Choir of Peteris Vasks's music. The choir has long collaborated with the composer. And what a fruitful partnership. Several of his works they premiered appear in this release.

The music of Latvian-born Peteris Vasks shares some qualities with that of other regional composers, such as Arvo Pärt, Veljo Tormis, and Einojuhani Rautavaara. There's a strong spiritual element in his music. Time seems suspended in clouds of sound. Vasks's music isn't about drama; rather, it's about contemplation and serenity.

In the program notes for his "Da Pacem, Domine," the composer wrote the "I believe that music strengthens our faith, love, and soul." That belief is strong in this wonderfully crafted choral work. Director Sigvards Klava and the Latvian Radio Choir premiered the work, and they know it intimately. Klava brings out every subtle detail in Vasks music, weaving together a beautiful tapestry of sound.

The ensemble also premiered "Mein Herr und mein Gott," based on a meditation by 15th Century mystic Nicholas of Flüe. Like "Da Pacem," it's an introspective work that invites the listener in.

"Laudate Dominum" is contemplative in a different way. Solo organ passages alternate with the choir singing just a single line. For me, the listening experience was similar to watching a slowly revolving mobile. The relationship between the elements gradually changes, continually (albeit slowly) yielding fresh insights.

This is sacred music most profound, performed by artists who understand the composer's intent. Highly recommended without reservation.

Peteris Vasks: Laudate Dominum
Latvian Radio Choir; Sinfonietta Riga
Sigvards Klava, conductor
Ilze Reine Organ
Ondine

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Funiculus Triplex: Franz Xaver Hassl Rediscovered

The title of this release comes from a collection of trio sonatas by Franz Xaver Hassl (1708-1757). Funiculus Triplex is the only known surviving work of

Fleshing out the program are three sacred arias by Johann Ludwig Steiner (1688-1761). Also included are canzonettas by Johann Friedrich Agricola (1722-1744) -- not to be confused with the Flemish Renaissance composer Alexander Agricla.

The release is a nice collection of Style Galant music. Style Galant gained popularity with the generation following J.S. Bach. It favored simple, song-like melodies over complex polyphonic textures.

Agricola's Canzonettas are excellent examples of the genre. These miniatures charm with their tuneful melodies. Soprano Ulrike Hofbauer sings with delicacy and an unaffected delivery that's immediately appealing.

Steiner's sacred arias may be more serious in their subject matter, but they invite the listener in with their straight-forward harmonies and four-square phrases. Hofbauer seems to be singing with a smile. This is the music of joyful worship and praise.

The centerpieces of the album are Hassl's trio sonatas. It's a shame not more of his music survived. (The Funiculus Triplex is his Opus 2, so I'm assuming there was an Opus 1 at least.) If I had to describe these works, I'd say they resemble Handel's trio sonatas -- if Handel had lightened up a little.

The Galant style is all about lightness -- and Hassl delivers. These are featherweight trios, with the transverse flute and violin trading melodies with delightful abandon. And yet they're also tightly constructed. Hassl's building blocks may be simple, but he uses them in some imaginative ways. These works retained my interest from beginning to end.

L'Arcadia deftly performs this material to perfection. The playing is airy without being frivolous. The ensemble demonstrates the appeal of STyle Galant after the heaviness of the late Baroque.

Funiculus Triplex: Rediscovered "Style Galant" for Chamber and Church
Franz Xaver Hassl, Johann Friedrich Agricola, Johann Ludwig Steiner
L'Arcadia; Ulrike Hofbauer, soprano
Guild GMCD 7806

Friday, August 17, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #Bernsteinat100 Week 3

August 2018 is the centennial of Leonard Bernstein's birth. Many classical radio stations, performance groups, and writers marked the occasion. And so did #ClassicsaDay.

Bernstein was known as a composer, conductor, performer and an educator. Since #ClassicsaDay is primarily a music feed, I concentrated on the first two of those roles (and occasionally the third).


My contributions alternated between Bernstein the composer and Bernstein the conductor. And I tried to steer away from the more obvious choices for Bernstein compositions. His catalog is quite extensive, and I found it interesting to explore some of the lesser-known (and in some cases, less-successful) works.

Here are my posts for the third week:

Leonard Bernstein - Slava! A Political Overture, for Orchestra (1977)

Bernstein wrote "Slava!" for Mstislav Rostropovich's inaugural concert as conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC. In the original version, a tape with snippets of Presidential political speeches is played in the background.




Richard Wagner - Liebestod from "Tristan und Isolde"

Bernstein conducted many of Wagner's big orchestral hits. He recorded "Liebestod" with the New York Philharmonic in 1968. He also recorded it with the Bavarian Radio Symphony for Philips in 1981.




Leonard Bernstein - Piano Trio (1937)

The piano trio is a student piece, written while Bernstein was at Harvard. Ever the recycler, he reused part of the second movement seven years later in his score for "On the Town."




Samuel Barber - Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14

Bernstein first conducted Barber's concerto with the New York Philharmonic in 1960. Aaron Rosand was the soloist. He recorded it with the orchestra four years later with violinist Isaac Stern.




Leonard Bernstein - Three Meditations from "Mass", for Orchestra (1972)

"Mass" was written for the inauguration of the Kennedy Center, and involved over 200 performers. Two instrumental interludes were arranged for cello and piano for Mstislav Rostropovich. Bernstein later added a third, and the orchestral arrangement was premiered at the Kennedy Center in 1977 - with Berstein conducting and Rostropovich as the soloist.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Line Mar Match Box Construction 100 - Regulator

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.

100. Regulator

The final toy in this series proved relatively easy to build. And I could build it with the pieces that came with the set. If you've been following the series, you know that was not always a given. 

Although it's called a regulator, it looks more like a governor to me. The idea's the same, of course. If this were a working model the assembly with the two hanging dowels would spin around. The dowels would pivot outward, siphoning excess energy out of the system. 


Final Thoughts

This building set was very much of its time. As such, it gave me some insights into that time.

I had always thought cheap Japanese imports a post-WWII phenomenon. The U.S. actively encouraged Japanese manufacturing to rebuild the economy. America was the primary market for the goods produced.

This set was produced by Line Mar, the Japanese subsidiary of Louis Marx Co. in 1936. So even before the war, Japan was a source of inexpensive toys and goods. 

This Line Mar construction set simply couldn't be sold today. In 1963 the United State began enacting child safety regulation for toys. This one has too many small parts that can be easily swallowed. The corners those bent metal boxes could scratch the skin.

The toys illustrated reflect the world of the 1930s. The buildings echo the modernist city structures of the 1920s and early 1930s. Many of toys are hand-cranked machines. These machines -- or ones like them -- were common in small shops and factories throughout the country. 

And one more thing. This building set would be considered inappropriate for children today. Yet it is very much a child's toy. My fingers were often too big to manipulate the pieces. I often used jeweler's tools to slide collars into place or hold a dowel steady as I added pieces to it. 

Overall, it was a satisfying project. This set had never been used. It had sat forgotten in a stock room until it was found and put on eBay. It's a toy. And it was meant to be played with. I'm glad I did. 


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Fresh Performances Enliven Praetorius Choral Concerts

Would the Protestant Reformation have been as successful without the genius of Michael Praetorius? Fortunately, we'll never know.

Praetorius adopted the Lutheran principles of simplicity and clarity into his music. The result was an impressive -- and impressively varied -- the body of sacred music that's still found in hymnals today.

This release features settings of hymn tunes by Martin Luther and Johnn Micheel Nicolai. while Praetorius' harmonizations are still used, his rhythms aren't. Many hymnals present his music in stolid, even meter.

Jochen Arnold recaptures the original vitality of these works. He leads his ensemble the Gli Scarlattisti, and the Capella Principale in spirited performances.

These tunes have a lightness, and almost dance-like quality to them. Two examples: "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott "moves along briskly with transparent two-part counterpoint. 

The mixed meters of "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" echo those found in Praetorius' "Terpsichore."

These performances strip away centuries of staid tradition and make these hymns sound fresh and exciting. As (I like to think) they were when first performed. 

Michael Praetorius: Gloria sei dir gesungen
Chorale concerts after hymns by Luther and Nicolai
Gli Scarlattisti, Capella Principale
Jochen Arnold, director
Carus 83.482 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Pizzetti Symphony in A, Harp Concerto - Neo-classical or Pre-classical?

Pizzetti's sprawling 43-minute symphony was written to commemorate the 2600th Anniversary of the Japanese Imperial Dynasty. This 1940 Symphony doesn't have a particularly Japanese feel to it. Rather, the work has a strong modal flavor -- in some places, it reminded me of Vaughan Williams.

Pizzetti was a contemporary of Ottorino Respighi and shared his love of Renaissance Italian music. Like Respighi, Pizzetti lets his ideas flow from one to another in a fairly loose structure. This symphony isn't one of high drama but rather a series of beautiful set pieces.

The Harp Concerto was completed in 1960. Here the modality is even more pronounced. It presents an Arcadian setting for the harp, casting it the role of a shepherd's lyre. In a year that saw the premiere of Berio's "Circles" and Penderecki's "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" this work probably sounded quite comforting.

Harpist Margherita Bassani gives the concerto a sympathetic reading. This is a work that celebrates beauty, and Bassani brings out the full potential of the music.

I was less enamored of the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale dell Rai. In both works, there were times when the strings sounded a little ragged. And in the first movement of the symphony, there were also some minor intonation problems. They weren't pronounced enough to be jarring, just distracting.

Still, these are interesting compositions. Pizzetti wasn't so much a neo-classicist as a pre-classicist. I'm glad these works are available. 

Ildebrando Pizzetti: Symphony in A; Harp Concerto in E-flat
Margherita Bassani, harp
Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale dell Ari; Damian Iorio, conductor
Naxos 8.573613

Diabelli Project 203 - Piece for Violin and Piano 4

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.

To mark my 200th flash composition, I'm expanding the concept a little bit. I've still limited myself to a 10-minute session. But this time each sketch will pick up where the last one left off over the course of the month.

This is the final installment. The sketch starts at the beginning of the second system. As I noted before, the more notes in the measures, the fewer measures I can write in the time limit. The A in the violin serves as a pivot. It has a different relationship with each chord the piano plays (although always a consonant one).

If I were to continue, I think the piece would move to either a B-flat or A-flat tonal center.




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.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Szymon Laks Chamber Music - Music of a Survivor

Volume 3 of the Chandos "Music in Exile" series features works by Szymon Laks. Laks was born in Warsaw, interred in a concentration camp during World War II. After the war, he couldn't return to Soviet-occupied Poland, so he settled in Paris (in exile).

It was a logical choice. Laks was greatly influenced by French music. His 1927 Sonatina for piano has a Ravel-like quality to it. And yet it also has a bit of an edge to it as well.

Interestingly, the two war-years works here don't have that edge. The Passacaille is an introspective and quiet work. Its long smooth melodies sound simple and poignant.

The 1967 Quintet for piano and strings is an arrangement of Laks' 1945 third string quartet. The subtitle notes the work's based on popular Polish themes. The tunes are lively, and for the most part, good-natured. In many ways, it reminded me of Smetana.

Laks' post-war works -- the String Quartet No. 4 (1962) and the Divertimento (1967) -- sound modern and tonal. Some of the melodic shapes reminded me of Stravinsky, and the injection of jazz in the quartet seemed to borrow from Bernstein.

The ARC Ensemble turns in some fine performances. Although I've mentioned several composers as similes, Laks was not derivative. He was a strong personality and he imbued his music with it. The performances of the ensemble (in various combinations) bring that character to the fore. This release presents a fascinating and intimate portrait of Symon Laks through his chamber music.

Szymon Laks: Chamber Music
Music in Exile, Vol. 3
Divertimento for violin, clarinet, bassoon, and piano; Concertino for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon; Passacaille for clarinet and piano; String Quartet No. 4; 
Quintet for piano and strings on Popular Polish Themes; Sonatina for piano
ARC Ensemble
Chandos 10983

Friday, August 10, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #Bernsteinat100 Week 2

August 2018 is the centennial of Leonard Bernstein's birth. Many classical radio stations, performance groups, and writers marked the occasion. And so did #ClassicsaDay.

Bernstein was known as a composer, conductor, performer and an educator. Since #ClassicsaDay is primarily a music feed, I concentrated on the first two of those roles (and occasionally the third).


My contributions alternated between Bernstein the composer and Bernstein the conductor. And I tried to steer away from the more obvious choices for Bernstein compositions. His catalog is quite extensive, and I found it interesting to explore some of the lesser-known (and in some cases, less-successful) works.

Here are my posts for the second week:

Franz Schubert - Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D.759 "Unfinished"

Bernstein recorded Schubert's Unfinished Symphony twice. The first was in 1963 with the New York Philharmonic, the second in 1987 with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.



Leonard Bernstein - I Hate Music: A cycle of Five Kid Songs for Soprano and Piano

Bernstein wrote this cycle in 1943, inspired by -- and dedicated to -- his then apartment mate Edys Merrill. When his music-making in their close quarters became excessive, she would shout "I hate music!"



George Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue

Bernstein was an accomplished pianist. In a 1976 performance at the Royal Albert Hall, he conducted Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" from the keyboard.




Bernstein - Olympic Hymn, for Mixed Chorus and Orchestra

Bernstein was commissioned to write an Olympic Hymn for the 1981 Olympics in Baden-Baden. These were the first games after the disasterous Moscow games.



Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64

Bernstein conducted all six of Tchaikovsky's symphonies with the New York Philharmonic. He recorded Symphony No. 5 twice with them - for Columbia in 1960 and for Deutsche Grammophon in 1988.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Line Mar Match Box Construction 099 - Pump

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.

099. Pump

This toy didn't take a long time to build. But it did take a long time to puzzle out. As always, the illustrator took some liberties. The 3-hole girder that serves as an eccentric crank doesn't fit as drawn. 

I'm still not entirely sure I have the string positioned properly, but it's as close as I could come. 


Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Powerful Post-Romantic Concertos by Sergei Bortkiewicz

If you're not familiar with the music of Sergei Bortkiewicz this release is a great place to start. Russian pianist and composer Bortkiewicz was a contemporary of Sergei Rachmaninoff and Nicolai Medtner.

Like them, he fully embraced the Romantic aesthetic throughout his life. Bortkiewicz seems to have just ignored Stravinsky, Bartok, and Schoenberg.

His Second Piano Concerto was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, the left-handed pianist. It's an astonishing difficult work for a one-handed player. And it's one of breathtaking beauty.

Bortkiewicz had an innate gift of melody. The entire composition just seems to sing.

The Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor is titled "Per Aspera ad Astra" (through hardship to the stars). Bortkiewicz and his wife fled Russia in  1919 and after a series of struggles were finally granted Austrian citizenship in 1925.

The concerto was completed the following year, and it's easy to hear that struggle in the work. It begins very darkly in C minor, and gradually transitions to a radiant C major by the fifth and final movement.

Pianist Stefan Doniga plays with power and authority. These are powerfully emotional works, especially as performed here. The Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra under David Porcelijn also does an exceptional job.

Bortkiewicz's full-bodied concertos have roaring climaxes, but they also have quiet moments of delicate lyricism. Both are present in these exceptional performances.

Bortkiewicz never quite got his due during his lifetime. Recordings like this may help to correct that.

Sergei Bortkiewicz: Piano Concertos 2 & 3
Stefan Doniga, piano
Janacek Philharmonic Orhcestra; David Porcelijn, conductor
Piano Classics PCL10146

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Heinrich Schütz: Symphoniae Sacrae II - Beautifully Performed

This release features the second of three volumes of Schütz's Symphoniae Sacrae. Schütz published his first volume in Venice in 1629. Volume II was completed 18 years later in Dresden, where Schütz was a major musical figure.

Like the first volume, these works show some influence of Monteverdi and Gabrieli. But that influence seems much less than it did in the previous volume.

At this point in his career, Schütz had completely integrated the polyphony he so admired in Italy with the need for simplicity and directness in Protestant Northern Germany.

The majority of the texts are from Psalms, although other Old and New Testament passages are used. Theologians such as Martin Luther (Verleih uns Frieden) and Johann Walter (Gib unsern Fürsten) are also present.

As with the first volume, there's plenty of variety in these sacred symphonies. Schütz is a master of word-painting as well as counterpoint. The text flow in an almost conversational manner, the rise and fall of the melodies mimicking natural speech patterns.

Hans-Christoph Rademann varies the forces from track to track, maintaining listener interest throughout the program. The small cadre of singers blends well in all their configurations, performing with clarity and warmth.

The makeup of the instrumental ensemble also varies from work to work. And there are a few surprises. For example, Lobet den Herrn in seinem Heiligtum SWV 350 says "praise Hime with the timbrel and dance." And by golly, we hear a drum playing a dance rhythm in the background. Surprising, but entirely appropriate.

Another fine addition to Carus' on-going series.

Heinrich Schütz: Symphoniae Sacrae II
Complete Recordings, Vol. 18
Dorothee Mields; Isabel Jantschek; David Erler Georg Poplutzl; Tobias Mäthger; Felix Schwandtke
Hans-Christoph Rademann, director
Carus 83.274


Monday, August 06, 2018

Diabelli Project 202 - Piece for Violin and Piano 3

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.

To mark my 200th flash composition, I'm expanding the concept a little bit. I've still limited myself to a 10-minute session. But this time each sketch will pick up where the last one left off.

This is the third installment in this series. I finished the transition to the next section. I also got a start on said section. No question -- with only 10 minutes on the clock, writing a piano part with chords really slows me down!




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.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Intimate Chamber Music by Johann Molter and Colleagues

The liner notes for this release note that the Karlsruhe court "for reasons of cost" eschewed foreign soloists. This implies Johann Molter and other court composers had to keep their vocal writing relatively simple for the local talent. Perhaps so, but the end results were anything but second-tier.

Molter has three solo cantatas on this release. All three charmed me with their simple, direct melodies and tastefully restrained ornamentation. They very strongly reminded me of Handel's vocal writing.

Soprano Julia Mende is well-suited to this music. She has a clean, clear tone that complements the simplicity of the melodies. Her ornamentations are well-executed, and never fussy-sounding.

The Hof-Capelle Carlsruhe fills out the program with instrumental music from Molter and his contemporaries. Giacinto Schiatti, Friedrich Schwindle, and Sebastian Bodinus may not be household names, but they were competent craftsmen who knew how to put music together.

The ensemble has a clean, transparent sound. The instruments are close-mic'd, so there's not a lot of room ambiance. And that's OK. These are modest works. The intimacy of the recordings makes them all the more attractive.

Molters Miniatur-Opern und Kammermusik vom Kalsruher Hof Johann Melchior Molter, Sebastian Bodinus, Giacinto Schiatti, Friedrich Schwindl, Joseph Aloys Schmittbaur Hof-Capelle Carlsruhe; Julia Mende, soprano Profil PH17050

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Louis Glass Complete Symphonies Vol. 2 - Insightful Performances

Volume 2 of CPO's series present two Louis Glass works with a common theme. Both the works have strong theosophist elements. Glass found inspiration in the movement's mystical imagery.

The 1912 Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra bears this motto: "From the spirit’s eternal canopy tones calling man sound down. And man turns away from the world and remains alone in order to find peace."

That quote pretty much sums up the organization for the work. The Fantasy unfolds gradually, as an eternal canopy should. Glass uses very simple elements -- open fifths, diatonic arpeggios, repeated notes --  to set the stage. These building blocks pile up in increasing complexity, suggesting the busyness of the world. The piano finally takes control, resolving the work in calm, peaceful beauty.

Glass subtitled his Symphony No. 5, completed in 1919, "The Wheel of Life," after a key theophosit symbol. Each movement follows the progress of that wheel: Daily Life, Rest, Shades, Dawn. Bruckner and Franck are often cited as inspirations for Glass. In this work, I'm reminded of a few composers, too -- Arnold Bax, Carl Nielsen, and perhaps a little Richard Strauss.

As with the Fantasy, the musical elements Glass works with are quite simple. And yet he uses them in such imaginative ways! Even without known the program, the symphony works. The first movement (Daily Life) is tightly constructed, bustling allegro energico with a satisfying resolution. The second movement (Rest) is a restful andante tranquillo, and so on.

The Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie have a warm, clean sound I find quite appealing (especially with this material). Glass was an exceptional pianist, and Marianna Shirinyan does justice to his writing in the Fantasy. Her performance is wonderfully expressive, without being overly so. It's the right tone for Glass, I think.

CPO isn't the first label to record Glass's symphonies. Danacord has a cycle with Nayden Todorov and the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra. Marco Polo released the 5th and 6th symphonies with Peter Marchbanka and the South African Broadcasting Corporation National. These performances compare quite favorably with those, I think and offer slightly different insights into Glass' music.

Louis Glass: Complete Symphonies, Vol. 2
Symphony No. 5 in C major, Op. 57
Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 47
Marianna Shirinyan, piano; Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie
Daniel Raiskin, conductor
CPO 777 494-2

Friday, August 03, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #Bernsteinat100 Week 1

August 2018 is the centennial of Leonard Bernstein's birth. Many classical radio stations, performance groups, and writers marked the occasion. And so did #ClassicsaDay.

Bernstein was known as a composer, conductor, performer and an educator. Since #ClassicsaDay is primarily a music feed, I concentrated on the first two of those roles (and occasionally the third).


My contributions alternated between Bernstein the composer and Bernstein the conductor. And I tried to steer away from the more obvious choices for Bernstein compositions. His catalog is quite extensive, and I found it interesting to explore some of the lesser-known (and in some cases, less-successful) works.

Here are my posts for the first week:

Leonard Berstein - Facsimile - Choreographic Essay for Orchestra

Berstein finished Facsimile in 1944 and recorded it for RCA three years later. He would reuse some of its material in "On the Town" and "West Side Story"




Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 5

Leonard Bernstein did two complete recording cycles of Mahler symphonies. They brought Mahler's symphonies from the fringe into the core repertoire. Bernstein felt the strongest connection with the 5th symphony. He was buried with a copy of the score. "

"


Leonard Bernstein - Psalm 148, for Voice and Piano (1935)

Berstein completed this work the same year he entered Harvard. He studied composition there with Walter Piston and Edward Burlingame Hill, two composers with distinctly American styles.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Line Mar Match Box Construction 098 - Thrasher

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.

098. Thrasher

The thrasher went together pretty easily. The only issue was with the original illustration. If you look closely, it appears that the long girder has six holes. It only has five. 

Plus, it looks like there's a fiberboard washer at a hole that lines up with the edge of the base. Well, that's not possible. So the braces aren't positioned exactly as shown. But they still lift the bin high enough to clear ear the cross brace.  



Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Quattro Mani Restructure Piano Duo Concept


The new release from the Quattro Mani is aptly titled "Re-Structures." Steven Beck and Susan Grace restructure the concept of a piano duo, making it more of a keyboard duo. And that's an important distinction.

The program features works for two pianos as bookends. Paul Lanksy's brisk and brief "Out of the Blue" opens the set, while Ofer Ben-Amots' "Tango for the Road" closes it. Both are refreshingly original works for a traditional piano duo.

Poul Ruder's "Cembal D'more" is a dialogue for harpsichord and piano. This set of eight miniatures explores the sonic differences between these two instruments. Beck and Grace are each playing different types of keyboard instruments, both with slightly different technical demands.

Tod Machover's work "Re-Structures" pays homage to Pierre Boulez. Machover reworked music from his two pianos series, "Structures," and added live electronics. The resulting piece is an exciting journey that moves past the sonic world of just two pianos.

The oldest work on the album is also the most challenging (and not just for the listener). Lebenslauf (Életút), op. 32 by György Kurtág is for two pianos and two basset horns. The pianos are tuned a quarter-tone apart. The tension between the two instruments gives the work its energy.

Susan Grace and Steven Beck are not just accomplished performers. Their chemistry makes the Quattro Mani work -- and work well. "Re-Structures" is an adventurous program. And I think it succeeds in expanding the scope of what two pianists can do.

Quattro Mani: Re-Structures
Steven Beck, Susan Grace, duo piano 
Works by Paul Lanksy, Poul Ruders, Tod Machover, György Kurtág, and Ofer Ben-Amots
Bridge Records 9496