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

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

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.

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)

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

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.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Halsam American Brick Build - Country Villa

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 seventh build is a country villa. It looks sort of like a weekend home. This build introduced a couple of new concepts.

The first involved the roof over the "entrance hall" (looks more like a foyer to me). The roof consists of two bricks cantilevered over the opening, held in place by a few courses of brick. But to get there, I also had to span the interior doorway of the entrance hall. By studying the instructions carefully, I was able to puzzle out the configuration. A close-up would have been more helpful, though. 

The second new concept involved the chimney. Again, by studying the instructions, I determined that the bricks needed to alternate directions in each rows. This was definitely more stable than simply stacking up a tower of 8-peg bricks and sliding it up to the back of the house. 

The alternation of direction bound interlaced the chimney with the back wall, making it a stable structure that could be extended beyond the roof line. 

All in all a nice little structure. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Edmund Rubbra BBC Broadcasts - Flawed Musical Treasures

This release features three live performances broadcast by the BBC in the 1960s. the recordings are from the Richard Itter collection; professional-grade recordings of radio broadcasts.

Some of the Lyrita releases of this material have had amazing sound quality. In these performances, though, the sound seems somewhat lo-fi and closed in.

But the quality of the performances more than makes up for any deficiencies of the audio. Edmund Rubbra gives authoritative performances in two of the three works on this release.

Rubbra performs his Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Cyril Scott and one of Scott's own compositions in a 1967 broadcast. His playing clearly delineates each line of counterpoint, while keeping all the strands together in a cohesive whole.

Rubbra's Sinfonia Concertante for piano and orchestra was written in 1934-36, and revised six years later. The work isn't about technical fireworks, but rather lyrical expressiveness. Rubbra performances with both delicacy and power as the music demands. And in the process provides a model for how this work should be performed (and why it should be more often).

The recorded broadcast of the Violin Concerto is from 1960, a year after Rubbra completed the work. Ednré Wolf's interpretation infuses the music with his Hungarian heritage. And it works. This is a thrilling performance that brings out the melodic strengths of Rubbra's music.

Edmund Rubbra
Sinfonia Concertante - Edmund Rubbra, piano; City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Hugo Rignold, conductor
Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Cyril Scott, Op. 69 - Edmund Rubbra, piano
Violin Concerto, Op. 103 - EdnréWolf, violin; BBC Symphony Orchestra; Rudolf Schwarz, conductor

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Paul Lansky - Idle Fancies Keep Gwendolyn Dease Busy

Paul Lansky has been creating an impressive catalog of percussion music since the 1990s. This release features three exceptional works for solo marimba, written for some exceptional performers.

"Three Moves" (1998) is the earliest (and most difficult) of the three works. Written for Nancy Zeltsman, the music hops across the broad expanse of a five-octave marimba in an easy-going fashion. These wide leaps are challenging to perform, but the end result is worth it. "Three Moves" is a jazzy tonal number that should appeal to most any listener.

In 2008 a consortium of percussionists commissioned "Idle Fancies," a set of six preludes. Each of the short preludes focusses on a different aspect of marimba technique. Four of the preludes have the performer playing additional percussion instruments. Sonically, those preludes almost sound like there are two performers. There's nothing pedantic about the music, though. Whatever the technical problems set forth, Lanksy's most concerned about the flow of the melody.

"Spirals" was commissioned by Lin chin Cheng in 2012. Lansky starts with a chromatic descending pattern that he expands and develops continually. The marimba is a naturally resonant instrument. The overlapping harmonies give the marimba a luminous quality.

Marimbist Gwendolyn Dease may not have commissioned any of these works, but she makes them her own. Dease's playing has a fluid quality that makes these pieces come alive. She brings phrases and themes that might otherwise get buried in a flurry of notes. And she seems to get the essence of Lanksy's music. Dease makes these works sound like they're as fun to play as they are to listen to.

As a marimbist I appreciate her artistry. As a listener, I apprecitate Lansky's compositional skill.

Paul Lansky: Idle Fancies
Gwendolyn Dease, marimba
Bridge Records 9454

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Stanford String Quartets Nos. 3, 4, & 7 - Welcome additions to the canon

This new release continues the Dante Quartet's cycle of Charles Villiers Stanford string quartets. It features one published and two unpublished quartets.

The String Quartet No. 3 in D minor was written in 1896, five full years after the first two quartets. Stanford wrote it for his friend,  violinist Joseph Joachim, and his quartet. I've often characterized Stanford's music as Brahms with an Irish lilt. That very much applies in this case.

The quartet follows the classical pure music model laid out by Brahms in his own quartet. The music challenges the performers technically. But the music is well-crafted. Each motif is fully developed, logically expanding outward to create an inviting soundscape. This is a work that can yield additional insights with each hearing.

String Quartet No. 4 in G minor (1907) was also composed for a specific ensemble -- the Kruse Quartet. Johann Kruse was a student of Joachim and was extraordinarily agile across the range of the violin. The quartet exploits that talent, which makes it quite demanding for most violinists.

Structurally, the work seems less complex than the third quartet. To my ears, it seemed more akin to Middle Period Beethoven than Brahms.

String Quartet No. 7 in C minor is a late work, written for a student ensemble. The technical demands are lighter, and the work seems to have a thinner texture than the other two quartets. Nevertheless, Stanford thoroughly works through his material, creating work with plenty of melodic and harmonic inventiveness.

I was a little disappointed by the performance of the Dante Quartet. There seemed to be some minor pitch problems, particularly in the opening movement of Quartet No. 3. And sometimes the ensemble's blend seemed a little wobbly to me. Nevertheless, their interpretations were thoughtful and insightful, which served the music very well.

They've now recorded five of Stanford's eight quartets. In spite of my quibbles, I'm very much looking forward to the next installment in this series.

Charles Villiers Stanford: String Quartets Nos. 3, 4 & 7
Dante Quartet
Somm SOMMCD 0185
World premiere recordings

Friday, October 05, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #FamousLastWorks Week 1

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 1.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Requiem in D minor, K. 626

Mozart only fully completed the first movement, Requiem aeternum, before his death, although he sketched out the entire work. His student Franz Xaver Süssmayr completed the Requiem so it could be delivered to its commissioner.

Ludwig van Beethoven - Op. 130 string quartet new finale

Beethoven completed his 13th string quartet in 1827. The final movement, the Große Fuge completely overshadows the rest of the work. Contemporaries called the finale "incomprehensible," "inaccessible" and even "Armaggedon."

Beethoven bowed to pressure from his publisher and wrote a new, lighter finale for the quartet. It was the last work completed by Beethoven before his death. The Große Fuge was then published as a separate, stand-alone work.

Franz Schubert - Winterreise, Op. 89 D.911

Schubert wrote the first part of this song cycle in 1827, and the second in October 1828 - a month before his death. He was making final revisions and correcting proofs on his deathbed. The final song, "Der Leiermann" was the last he worked on. "Curious old fellow, shall I go with you? When I sing my songs, will you play your hurdy-gurdy too?"

Franz Joseph Haydn - String Quartet in D minor, Op. 103, Hob.III:83

The Op. 103 quartet was the last piece Haydn worked on. Though he died in 1809, Haydn's health had so deteriorated that after 1803 he could no longer concentrate to compose. He had completed only the first two movements of the D minor quartet when his strength gave out.

Arnold Schoenberg - Modern Psalms, Op. 50c

In 1951 Schoednberg drafted his own texts based on the Psalms. The intent was to write a series of short, sacred works. Only the "Modern Psalm" was completed at the time of his death.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Halsam American Brick Build - Monument

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 fifth build is a monument. After World War II, there was a change in the style of public art. Imposing Art Nouveau figures, either real or allegorical, seemed passe. Instead, monuments became abstract in design.

The one shown in the instruction book would have been a fairly typical early 1950s example.

And this build also introduces another important concept. Note the instructions so how the bricks intersect in the middle. By off-setting the bricks, the rows weave together, creating a strong center to the structure. 

I like to think of this as the Memorial to the Unknown Halsam American Brick Architect. 

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Franz Krommer Symphonies Inspired by Beethoven

This is the second volume of Krommer symphonies from Griffiths and the Orchestra della Svizzera italiana. The first volume covered Krommer's first three symphonies.

This release features three symphonies; only two of which were published.

Franz Krommer was based in Vienna, a younger contemporary of Ludwig van Beethoven. Krommer's 1819 Symphony No. 4 in C minor seems an attempt to meet the standards set by Beethoven. And in some ways, he succeeds.

The symphony is full of energy that threatens to break loose at any moment. Krommer marks sections with big orchestral gestures and dramatic contrasts. All in all, it's a well-crafted work.

The 1821 Symphony No. 5 in E-flat major also shows some Beethoven influence. It has some similarities to the "Eroica" symphony -- especially in the opening movement. But it's more festive and upbeat work. So add a dash of Haydn to the mix.

Krommer's Symphony No. 7 in G minor was never published. Only the first movement was given a reading during Krommer's lifetime. This 1824 work is the most ambitious of the three.

Krommer more fully explores the possibilities of motivic development. The final movement has a wonderful fugal section that leads to a rousing and satisfying finish.

Under Howard Griffiths, the Orchestra della Svizzera italiana delivers some high-energy performances. Even if you missed the first volume, this release is worth a listen. Franz Krommer may have worked in Beethoven's shadow, but he had something original to say in each of his symphonies.

Franz Krommer: Symphonies Nos. 4, 5, and 7
Orchestra della Svizzera italiana; Howard Griffiths, conductor

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Dussek Complete Piano Sonatas Volume 2 - Quality Performances

Brilliant Classics is using eight pianists for their traversal of Dussek piano sonatas. It's a, well, brilliant idea. It allows each pianist to dive deep into the works they're going to record.

Volume 2 of the series features pianist Piet Kuijken. His thoughtful liner notes show the amount of research he's applied to these sonatas -- and they clearly inform his performance.

Dussek's Op. 39 piano sonatas were published in 1799, while he was in London. They reflect the style preferred by English audiences -- light and elegant. Two of the three only have two movements.

Kuijken chose to record these works on a 1790s Longman and Clementi pianoforte -- which would have been in many London homes and venues at the time. It's a great choice. The music was written with the timbre and technical possibilities of this type of pianoforte.

The tone of the instrument is full. At the same time, in the forte passages, the chords sounded (to my ears) a little thin. But then these sonatas aren' t Beethoven. Dussek was writing pleasant, diverting music, and he succeeds.

As Kuijken points out though, these may be light works, but they're not slight. Dussek works with his melodies in some fairly sophisticated ways.

Also included is “La Matinée," the Piano Sonata in D, Op. 25 No. 2. This is also a London work, written in 1795. it seems to lean more towards the gallant style than the Op. 39 set. Still, there's a lot to enjoy in this modest little sonata.

Oh yes. I'm definitely looking forward to volume three.

Jan Ladislav Dussek: Complete Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2
Sonatas Op. 39. 1-3 & Op. 25, No. 2
Piet Kuijken, fortepiano
Brilliant Classics, 95599