Friday, June 28, 2013

CCC 077 - Eurico Carrapatoso

This installment of the Consonant Classical Challenge features Portuguese composer Eurico Carrapatoso. Carrapatoso has a well-rounded catalog of works, ranging from orchestral compositions, through chamber and vocal music. Stylistically, Carrapatoso reminds me a little of Franz Schimdt (without the intensity).

Carrapatso's music is quite lyrical, and flows effortlessly over top rich, warm harmonies. His style is especially well-suited to choral composition, as this exceprt from his "Magnificat em talha dourada" demonstrates. Carrapatoso builds on choral traditions to create works of great beauty.

Carrapatoso's orchestral writing is also linear in motion. In his work "Little Lyric Music" for string orchestra, one can hear the individual lines develop and come together to create the harmony.

Carrapatoso also uses the folk traditions of his native land, which gives his music a fresh sound. This short work for soloists, children's choir and orchestra, "O Lobo Diogo e o Mosquito Valentim" is a good example.

Carrapotoso has a real affinity for sacred choral music. The video below for his a capella work "Sombras" follows the music with the score, letting you see as well as hear Carrapoto's artistry.

Eurico Carrapatoso has found a way to take classical and sacred music traditions and create something new. There's a deep spirituality to his work, one that audiences should immediately respond to. For choirs -- and orchestra -- looking to expand their repertoire, Eurico Carrapatoso's music might be a good place to start.

Recommended Recordings

Eurico Carrapatoso: Caminhos De Orfeu / Rosa, Moody, Oliveira, Grupo De Musica Contemporanea De Lisboa

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Elliot Carter: Volume 9 - A strong addition to Bridge's survey

Elliott Carter: Volume 9
 Steven Beck, piano
Tony Arnold, soprano
Colorado College Festival Orchestra; Scott Yoo, conductor
et al. 

In the 9th volume of Bridge Record's Elliot Carter series is an interesting collection of old and the new.

The old is represented by some of Carter's works from the 1940's - two works for soprano and orchestra, plus the intimate "Tell Me Where is Fancy Bred" for soprano and guitar. All three works have the tonal American sound of Aaron Copland and Roy Harris, but the harmonies are slightly more adventuresome.

The new consists of three piano works, all composed between 2005 and 2009. This is Carter at his most advanced and complex. The temporal modulations, the advanced atonal structure, and the incredibly technical challenges are all there -- and admirably handled by pianist Steven Beck.

Linking these two groups is Carter's 1964 Piano Concerto, performed by Charles Rosen. When heard in order, the works on this release reveals insights about Carter, and his growth as a composer. As pleasant as they sound, one can hear the seeds of his highly personal style in the 1940's works. The piano concerto still has echoes of that earlier tonal style, and look forward to the final three piano works on the album.

This is an album that rewards careful listening, and is an important addition to Elliot Carter's musical legacy.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge - 4

In a sequence that began on April 9, 2013, Gasoline Alley centenarian Walt Wallet receives an invitation to the Old Comics Home dinner. Walt has reminisced before about his fellow characters from discontinued comic strips. And since Gasoline Alley began in 1918, there are quite a few of his contemporaries who have been retired. (Read the whole series here)

It's taken longer than I thought to research these pages (see When Facial Recognition Fails) Now that I've checked all my resources both on- and off-line, it's time to continue with this quixotic project. 

Day 4 of the sequence took a while to figure out -- and it's just one character! (click on image to enlarge).

It turns out that the old man Walt's talking to was a major character in a very minor comic strip. And Her Name Was Maud was a strip about a battle of will between Maud (a mule) and Si Slocum, the farmer who owned her. The strip started in 1916 and ran off an on for over 15 years. Creator Frederick Burr Opper incorporated the characters into his other strip, Happy Hooligan (who also makes an appearance in this Gasoline Alley sequence).

1. Si Slocum - And Her Name Was Maud (1916 - 1932) by Frederick Burr Opper

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tymoczko: Crackpot Hymnal - Great Music, Great Fun

Dmitri Tymoczko: Crackpot Hymnal 
Corigliano Quartet
Amernet Quartet
Illinois Modern Ensemble, Stephen Taylor, conductor
Bridge Records

If I had to sum up Dmitri Tymoczko's music in a phrase, I'd say it's serious music that doesn't take itself seriously. At least, that's the impression this new release of Tymoczko's chamber music left with me.

All the works on Crackpot Hymnal are carefully constructed, with plenty of substance and depth. But the basic building blocks borrowed from rock, jazz, blues, gospel, and even movie soundtracks. It's all blended together in a heady mixture of high-energy gravitas that I found irresistable.

And then there are the titles: "Crackpot Hymnal," "This One was Supposed to be Atonal.. "(from Typecase Treasury), "A Roiling Worm of Sound" (from Eggman Variations)... Great stuff!

Each of the four works are musical gems. Another Fantastic Voyage, for chamber orchestra and piano, captures the essence of 50's sci-fi movie scores without resorting to either parody or quotations. Typecase Treasury, written for string quartet plus bass, is a compendium of styles, each movement exploring a different subgenre of music. The piano quintet Eggman Variations begins with a simple diatonic pattern and ends in, well, a roiling worm of sound.

Crackpot Hymnal is serious fun.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Diabelli Project 001 - Canon at the Octave

The Diabelli Project is about offering my flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli,'s music these sketches aren't great. But perhaps there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

The first sketch I attempted was a simple canon at the octave. One thing to remember -- for each of these sketches, the entire amount of time spent on them was no more than five minutes. And that includes drawing the staff lines. Creatively, I was overthinking things, and I was not happy at all with the music I was writing.

So, just like flash fiction, this was just dashed off, completely bypassing my internal editor and going straight from thought to paper. For a first effort, I think it's OK. If you see something more, please help yourself. (click on image to enlarge)

Friday, June 21, 2013

CCC 076 - Salvatore Di Vittorio

This week's subject of the Consonant Classical Challenge is Italian composer and conductor Salvatore Di Vittorio. Vittorio's most-performed works are his tone poems, and show the influence of countryman Ottorino Respighi. Like Respighi, Vittorio doesn't seem especially concerned about following the latest trends, but rather creating deeply personal -- and beautiful -- music of substance.

Di Vittorio is the music director of the Chamber Orchestra of New York, and has a first-hand knowledge of orchestral instruments. That knowledge of the capability of the instruments, and the many ways they can be effectively combined play an important role in Di Vittorio's compositions.

The Sinfonia No. 1 is one of Di Vittorio's programmatic works. Listen to the artful turn of phrase and the lush harmonies used.

Di Vittorio has help prepare critical editions of Respighi's orchestral works. Di Vittorio uses similar orchestration techniques in his own compositions. His Sinfonia No. 2 is a good example.

The connection between Italy's foremost 20th Century symphonist and Di Vittorio -- a 21st Century Italian symphonist -- is made even clearer in his composition "Overture Respighiana."

Salvatore Di Vittorio has composed operas, chamber works, and and several other major compositions for orchestra., all in an appealing neo-romantic style. As popular as Respighi is in the concert hall, it's somewhat surprising that Di Vittorio's music isn't better known. With Di Vittorio, an orchestra could program a contemporary work that both newcomers and traditionalists could enjoy. Fortunately, Di Vittorio has access to an ansemble well-suited to performing his works. All I have to do is make the trip to New York City.

Recommended Recordings

Di Vittorio: Sinfonias Nos. 1 and 2

Le Prime Sinfonie Di Salvatore Di Vittorio

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Jennifer Higdon: An Exaltation of Larks

Jennifer Higdon: An Exaltation Of Larks
The Lark Quartet
Gary Graffman, piano
Todd Palmer, clarniet
Blair McMillen, piano
Bridge Records

From a marketing standpoint, it's a natural -- the all-female Lark Quartet performs music by female composer Jennifer Higdon, including her Lark Quartet. But this release is more than that. It's actually about a very talented string quartet performing music by a very talented composer. Period. And on that level, An Exaltation of Larks succeeds admirably.

The title work is flowing, modal composition. According to the liner notes, Higdon's intent was to mimic a group of birds, and the music does just that. It swoops and spins, the four instruments coming together and moving apart, just like flocking birds. Motifs twitter and trill like bird calls to. An Exultation of Larks is an appealing work, even if you don't know the program.

Scenes from the Poet's Dreams is an engaging and most unusual-sounding piano quintet. The work was ommissioned by the Lark Quartet and Gary Graffman, who lost the use of his right hand. The piano part is for left hand only, thinning the texture somewhat. Higdon uses the restriction as a resource. the piano becomes a fifth single-line instrument, completely integrated into the ensemble.

Light Refacted -- as befitting the title -- is a somewhat angular work for string quartet, clarinet and piano, The ensemble gives Higdon a lot of textures to play with, and she does. The first movement "Inward" turns slowly like a prism in the sunlight, the various instruments coming together and moving apart, creating subtle permutations of sound. It all comes coalesces in the last movement "Outward." All the players are united, and the united ensemble races ahead to an exciting climax.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Lio and the Comics Commentary

I've commented on legacy strips before. Those comic strips whose creators have passed on, while they live on -- sort of. Mark Tatulli has mordantly commented on these space-wasters (see: Lio and the Walking Dead for one example). His 6/11/13 sequence in Lio says it again -- and brilliantly. (click on image to enlarge)

There was a time when Hagar the Horrible was moderately innovative and funny. The original creator Mort Walker had no problem bringing in new characters, and had a clear idea of where the medieval setting and modern topical humor should intersect. But Mort Walker retired in 1989, and his son Chris Browne took over.

It seems to me that Chris is doing little more than protecting his father's legacy. The strip is frozen in time -- and that time is the late 1980's. Are there really no talented young cartoonists with fresh ideas anymore? Of course there are, but Hagar's taking up the space.

Worse is Peanuts. Charles Schultz died in 2000, and the strip has been in reruns for the past 13 years. Even though every single Peanuts strip has remained in print, newspapers are still recycling it rather than take a chance on a new comic.

Tatulli nailed it with this sequence. Want to capture a new generation of readers? Let them see strips drawn by artists who are excited to be creating them -- not ones carefully going through the motions, or worse yet dead and not even here at all.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Helmut Rilling Personal Selection: Indeed the best of the best

Helmuth Rilling Personal Selection 
10 CD Set
Hänssler Classic

Conductor Helmuth Rilling has enjoyed a long and productive relationship with the Hänssler Classic. To celebrate Rilling's 70th birthday, Hänssler released this 10-CD set, Rilling's hand-picked favorites from the over 240 recordings he's made with the label. With that much material to choose from, it's safe to say this set is indeed the best of the best.

Rilling is perhaps best known for his traversal of Johann Sebastian Bach cantatas and oratorios. That cycle is well-represented in this collection. In addition to the St. John Passion and the "Peasant" Cantata, there are also some shorter works by Bach in the set.

Rilling takes a straight-forward approach to Bach. He tends to keep things moving briskly along, with tight, clean ensembles that make the counterpoint easy to follow. Rilling lets the music speak for itself, and in these recordings, it has a lot to say.

That same type of unadorned, no-nonsense direction is equally effective in Rilling's recording of the War Requiem by Benjamin Britten.

The collection includes many works by romantic masters, and Rilling adjusts his style appropriately. César Frank's Les Béatitudes shimmers with a soft glow. Rilling lingers lovingly over each beautiful turn of phrase in Schubert's Gesang der Geister. His performance of Bruckner's Te Deum is emotive, with just the right amount of gravitas and portent.

Also featured in the collection is Haydn's Harmoniemess in B-flat. Rilling's precise interpretation captures the classical era's ideal: the perfect balance between form and emotion. Mendelssohns' Heimkerh aus der Fremde is full of good humor. The work was written for private performance (to celebrate an anniversary), and Rilling maintains a light hearted and casual mood throughout this seldom-heard work.

Hänssler's crystal-clear recording techniques perfectly match the style of this remarkable conductor. If you're not familiar with Helmuth Rilling, this collection is an excellent place to start. It spans a good portion of his time with Hänssler, and shows a remarkable consistency of quality throughout.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Introducing The Diabelli Project

Even composers can have writer's block -- and that's exactly where I was a few years ago. After a long dry spell, I decided to do something about it. Ira Glass' talk on the Creative Process inspired me to get over my writer's block and start posting to this blog daily (that month-long experiment started in 2011 continues to this day). (click on images to enlarge)

 My first flash composition from 2011. You'll see a legible version
of this in next Monday's post.
I always enjoy attending our church services; the time before the service invites contemplative thought. One Sunday I had a modicum of inspiration, and scribbled the opening to a canon on the bulletin. It was the first thing I'd written in quite a while. The next Sunday I did it again, and over time it's become part of my Sunday worship routine.

It's starting to work. Without the pressures of needing to complete a work, or even worry overmuch about the quality of the piece, I find I can dash off little ideas on a regular basis. It's sort of the equivalent of flash fiction -- save that I don't complete the work because I don't want to limit myself to a 4-bar composition week after week.

Over the past 2 years, I've accumulated a lot of church bulletins with these little musical sketches on them. And it's been interesting to see how they've developed over time.

My most current offering. I went from pencil to pen
as I gained confidence.

The Diabelli Project

In 1819 the publisher and composer Anton Diabelli wrote a short theme that he sent out to all the leading composers of the day -- Franz Schubert, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, et al. -- to write a variation to be published in a collection. Ludwig van Beethoven took the idea and ran with it. His 33 Variations on a waltz by Anton Diabelli, Op. 120 is considered one of his masterworks.

So here's the deal. I'll be Diabelli, and you can be Beethoven (or Hummel, if you prefer). Each Monday I'll post one of my Sunday sketches. And you can use them as you wish. Write your own theme and variations, or fugue, or whatever. It doesn't have to be a classical work. Think there's a catchy melodic hook buried in there somewhere? Use it.

I just ask a few things:

1) If you use any of these sketches, just let me know.
2) If possible, please send me a recording or notated score.
3) Please credit me appropriately if you offer your work to the public

That's it! I'll post the first excerpt next Monday. And there's another personal challenge in this for me. I used to be a professional music copyist -- another skill I've neglected over the years. I'll be writing these sketches out by hand to bring back those chops. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

CCC 075 - Pascal Bentoiu

Romanian composer Pascal Bentoiu is this week's subject of the Consonant Classical Challenge. Bentoiu (b. 1927) has had a long and successful career as a conductor, educator, and a composer. Among his accomplishments, he has created performing editions of Georges Enescu's symphonies. And it seems he's absorbed some of Enescu's style as well.

Bentoiu is a modernist. The forms he casts his music in are only loosely based on earlier models. His music can be highly chromatic, with some strong dissonances and aggressive sounds. Bentoiu has collected Romanian folk music, and composed a number of art songs, choral works and operas. His affinity for lyrical melody extends to his instrumental works as well.

The Prelude to his opera Hamlet is a good example of his compositional style. The wordless chorus effectively sets the scene for the drama to follow.

Bentoiu has an impressive catalog of major works. He's written eight symphonies, six string quartets, and two piano concertos. His second piano concerto may appear somewhat thorny, but there's a strong tonal underpinning that keeps the work on track.

Te slavesc pe Tine is a setting by Bentoiu of  a traditional Romanian chant. It shows how effectively  Bentoiu can work creatively within the constraints of tradition.

Within Romania, and throughout Eastern Europe, Pascal Bentoiu is a well-respected and influential composer.  I wish he were better-known in this country. I'd especially like to hear his symphonic output. Unfortunately, there are no recordings available of his music (at least that I could find). So for now, Romanian concert-goers have the advantage over us. Based on the few examples here, I would say that our concert programs are much the poorer for the omission.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Phantom Insider 3

Tony DePaul and Paul Ryan have been subtly making Lee Falk, the creator of the The Phantom, a recurring character. Over the past few years, Lee Falk has appeared in the strip as a narrator. He always talks directly to the reader (see: The Phantom Insider -- Revealed!) either summing up what's happened in the current story arc, or introducing a new storyline.

In a recent sequence, Falk's New York City address was cited. (click on image to enlarge)

And now Mr. Falk stands outside his residence to summarize the action. He looks quite dapper with his skull head cane (referencing the Phantom's skull ring) and amulet (the same skull symbol as on the Phantom's belt buckle).

It's a sequence that works on three levels:

1) Those with little knowledge of the strip get a synopsis.
2) Those who have been reading the strip will recognize the background as one of the story locations, and will get added meaning from the sequence.
3) Those who are comics scholars will recognize Lee Falk and get the full flavor of the homage.

Sure, you can read a comic strip in a few seconds. But see what you're missing?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Come Again: John Dowland and his Contemporaries

John Dowland & His Contemporaries
Come Again
Jan Kobow, tenor
Hamburger Ratsmusik
Simone Eckert, director

John Dowland's music usually shows up in recordings in one of two ways; either as a release of all-Dowland compositions, or as part of a compilation of English renaissance masters. But unlike many of his colleagues, Dowland traveled extensively (if not always voluntarily) throughout Europe.

In doing so, he was exposed to the courtly music of France, Italy, Denmark, and Sweden -- all of which influenced his own writing. Come Again programs Dowland's music alongside contemporary works by Samuel Scheidt, Orlando Gibbons, Michael Praetorius and others. The results are illuminating.

In one grouping, for example, we hear Dowland's 1597 song Can She Excuse My Wrongs, followed by Johann Schop's 1642 Sollt' ich, oBild der Tugend nicht preisen, an anonymous dauant Gagliard, and Gabriel Voigtländler's 1642 Weibernehmen ist kein Pferdekauf -- all sharing the same distinctive opening motif.

Not only are variety of composers presented, but the texture is varied as well. Some selections are sung with ensemble, others with lute accompaniment, and the exclusively instrumental tracks don't all have the same line up of instruments. All of this combines to create an engaging and fresh-sounding listening experience.

Simone Eckert and the Hamburger Ratsmusik perform on instruments of the period, and they do impeccably. Jan Kobow's clear tenor voice has a slightly soft and warm tone that's perfectly suited to Dowland's delicate compositions.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Fernando Lopes-Garça Piano Concertos: Portuguese Gold

Lopes-Graca: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2
Eldar Nebolsin, piano
Orchestra Sinfonica do Porto - Casa da Musica
Matthias Bamert, conductor

Fernando Lopes-Garça (1906-1994) was passionate about the folk music of his native Portugal. And like his contemporary Bela Bartok, he collected it, studied it, absorbed it, and synthesized it into his own music.

His two piano concertos reflect that passion. Both have strong folk rhythms to them. The first piano concerto even has a folk ensemble-like passage lead by an out-of-tune violin. But that roughness soon gives way to some sophisticated music-making. In Lopes-Garcia's first piano concerto from 1940 I hear echoes of Khachaturian and Stravinsky (specifically "The Firebird"), but blended in a unique fashion. Lopes-Garça may have several influences, but he's his own man with his own voice.

Lopes-Garça started his second piano concerto a few years after the first, although it was not published until 1950. Here the music seems more influenced by Bartok and Shostakovich. The second concerto sounds more lyrical and expansive (especially in the second movement) than the first.

Highly recommended.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Gergiev and LSO shine with Szymanowski symphonies

Szymanowski: Symphonies Nos.1 & 2
London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev, conductor
SACD Recording

 Symphony No. 1 was composed when Szymanowski was only 24, and he seemed to have considered it a youthful indiscretion. Yes, parts sound derivative of Richard Strauss' tone poems, and the structure isn't very tight in places.

But the symphony's a work with a lush, romantic sound and that's the work's strength. Gergiev understands that and presents the work with unbridled enthusiasm. These may be the exaggerated passions of youth, but they're genuine -- and in this recording, they're taken seriously.

In some ways, Szymanowski's second symphony No. 2 is proto-concerto, with solo violin playing off the orchestra. The influences of Richard Strauss and Max Reger are evident; the former in the first movement, the latter in the intricate second movement's fugue. Gergiev shapes the music to make these relationships more apparent.

Szymanowski at 27 was a much more confident composer than he was three years earlier, and Gregiev artfully articulates the structure of the music -- especially in the theme, variations, and fugue of the second movement.

I strongly recommend the SACD version if you have an SACD player. Although a live recording, the performances by the London Symphony Orchestra are immaculate. Subtle details of the sound of the instruments and the acoustics of the hall really make the music come alive. An excellent addition to LSO's self-released catalog.

Friday, June 07, 2013

CCC 074 - Jean-Claude Amiot

Sometimes it seems like the real challenge of the Consonant Classical Challenge is to find composers that fit the criteria -- and have enough music available to share. The former isn't that difficult. The whole point of the CCC is to demonstrate that there are living composers still writing original, interesting music that should appeal to both traditional and newer classical audiences.

The latter, though, has sometimes forced me to forgo adding a composer to the list. For this series I like to have at least three selections I can embed into the post. After all, hearing the music is the whole point. The samples let you determine how accurately I've characterized the composer's work. I also like offer recording recommendations, so if you like the composer, you can explore their catalog more thoroughly on your own. And those record/download sales can help the composer.

Jean-Claude Amiot (b. 1939) is right on the borderline. This French composer has enjoyed a long career, working with Dimitris Mitropoulos, Leonard Bernstein and Leopold Stokowski. He's composed two operas, plus works for orchestra, chamber groups, and even brass orchestra. But there are no recordings of his music available in the U.S., and to follow are all the examples I could find of his work.

Amiot writes in a clean, modern style similar (to my ears) to that of Leonard Bernstein's. His rhythms sometimes borrow from popular music, but at no time does Amiot write in a pop style. His melodies use dissonance and resolution to great effect.

Tour Eiffel (Paris des Lumières) is a good example of Amiot's style. The music has a cosmopolitan sound to it (like Bernstein's Broadway scores), with strikingly original orchestration. There's also a pronounced jazz influence in this score, though more Bernstein than Gershwin in character.


Tékédé is a ballet score that offers Amiot the opportunity to present many different moods and instrumental combinations. It's a work I'd certainly enjoy hearing live -- his use of open fourths and fifths is clever and effective.

Based on the few works I've heard by Jean-Claude Amiot, I'd like to hear more. There are no recordings or downloads available that I could find, unfortunately. His brass orchestra works are called out in his biographies -- an unusual ensemble, indeed. Will more Amiot be available in time? I certainly hope so.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Carlos Chavez Piano Concerto: Muscular Music from Mexico

Carlos Chavez: Piano Concerto
Jorge Federico Osorio. piano
Sinfonica National de Mexico
Carlos Miguel Prietro, conductor

Cedille presents pianist Jorge Federico Osorio in an exciting program of Mexican composers. The centerpiece is Carlos Chavez's sole piano concerto. This massive work presents serious challenges to both soloist and ensemble, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

The work fairly crackles with energy, with mercurial changes in moods and timbres. Chavez had a unique compositional voice, one that doesn't neatly fit into the pigeonholes of 20th Century schools. So there are some spiky, atonal sections as well as some modernist tonality -- and running throughout (very subtly) the rhythm and pulse of Mexican traditional music.

This is a live performance by Osorio and the Sinfonica National de Mexico, and an extraordinarily clean one at that. The ensemble plays with pin-point accuracy, a must given the sudden changes and the percussive nature of the score. Osorio is in full command of the material. His phrasing gives logic and shape to the sea of notes before him, Osorio's restrained but heartfelt expressiveness in the slow movement is particularly moving.

The albums is filled out with solo piano works. Meditacion, an early work by Chavez, shows surprising maturity for such a young composer. Jose Pablo Moncayo's Muros Verdes is a spacious-sounding work that blends Mexican musical traditions with a Hindemith-like neo-classicism. Samuel Zyman's 16-minute Variations on an Original Theme is most contemporary work on the album -- both by creation date and sound.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Calvin and Lio

Yesterday I talked about how Mike Peters paid homage to Calvin and Hobbes in his comic strip Mother Goose and Grimm (see: Calvin and Grimm). Around the same time, Mark Tatulli, creator of Lio, launched a week-long sequence that also paid tribute to Bill Watterson's characters, but in an entirely different way. (click on images to enlarge).

Tatulli captures the maniac energy of Calvin, and even touches on one of the strip's tropes -- the  Transmogrifier Gun. Notice how Tatulli, even in this flight of fancy, remains true to Watterson's vision. When only Calvin is sharing the panel with his tiger companion Hobbes, the latter is always a talking, moving creature of independent thought. Whenever anyone else enters the scene, Hobbes is depicted as a much smaller, inanimate stuffed toy.

Note how Tatulli plays out the sequence. Brought back to life, Calvin immediately sets out to rescue his friend from the zoo. But Hobbes isn't behind a cage -- he's in the gift shop with the other toys. And because the story is always told for Lio's point of view, Hobbes never comes to life.

One can admire Watterson's skillful command of the pen, or his witty dialogues. But Tatulli shows he understands the core of what makes "Calvin and Hobbes" work -- the friction between mundane reality and exciting imaginary worlds. "Lio" is a very different type of comic strip with a very different sense of humor. To do such a tribute in a way that's true to both comics is masterful, indeed.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Calvin and Grimm

The comic strip Calvin and Hobbes may be gone, but its certainly not forgotten. Bill Watterson's brilliant work was beloved by comics aficionados and admired by comics creators. Calvin and Hobbes book collections remain in print and still sell briskly, though the strip finished its run eighteen years ago on December 31, 1995.

In a May 20, 2013 sequence, Mike Peters, in his strip Mother Goose and Grimm captures an essential part of the strip -- while making a very contemporary cultural reference. (click on image to enlarge)

Although Watterson seldom depicted the pair in such a static fashion, in my opinion the final panel is a lovingly rendered tribute to two great characters and their talented creator. Well done.

And yeah, I'd pay to see that movie.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Holmboe: Concertos -- Unabashed neo-classical richness

Holmboe: Concertos
Norrkoping Symphony Orchestra
Dima Sloboderiouk, conductor
Erik Heide, violin
Lars Anders Tomter, viola

Danish composer Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)  remained true to himself, throughout his career, writing the music he wanted to with little regard for academic fashion. While generally neo-classical in style, his music has a distinctive individuality to it -- as this collection proves. These three concerti span a half-century, yet they collectively form a homogeneous program.

Holmboe's Concerto for Viola is a two movement work written in 1992. Holmboe relishes the rich warmth of the viola's lower register. Sprightly and spiky passages alternate with bursts of long, lyrical melodies. Lars Tomter's expressive playing adds tremendously to the emotional content of this work.

Holmboe takes a different tack with his 1929 Concerto for Orchestra than Bartok does. Unlike Bartok, Holmboe doesn't isolate the various sections of the orchestra. This is big, heroic music that revels in the blended sound of the ensemble. While there are some quiet sections that use just parts of the orchestra, they're not showcased. Rather, the focus remains on the virtuosity of the collective whole.

The Violin Concerto No. 2 (1979) is more aggressively modern than the other works on this release. It's not quite atonal. Rather, it's highly chromatic music with the violin leaping and skipping about in the opening and closing sections. But the heart of the work is in the slow sections, where Holmboe lets the violin sing -- and Erik Heide does indeed make his instrument do so.

While this release is available as a download, I highly recommend the SACD version -- especially if you have an SACD player. These performances were lovingly recorded by DaCapo, and the fullness of the sound adds an extra dimension to these appealing works.