Friday, August 29, 2014

Spam Roundup, August 2014

There's spam, and then there's spam so oddly written it's somewhat amusing. Here's a roundup of some of the "best" comments I received this month from spambots around the world.

File under sequitur, non
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[electric pig?!]

"Lumbering along " gets more love
 The Straco Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering along, a short post about small vintage Japanese tinplate toy remains one of my most commented-on posts -- by spambots.

Not really seeing the sexiness here.
- WOW just what I was searching for. Came here by searching for erotic arts on The Straco Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering along
[I'm hoping that search wasn't successful.]

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[Oh, well, if you're normal visitor, that's just fine then.]

- Generally I do not learn article on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very compelled me to try and do so! Your writing taste has been surprised me. Thank you, quite great article.
[Thanks. I like to think my writing taste is quite great, also.]

A Flurry of Fastidiousness
Spambots still seem to think the word "fastidious" is the way to appear more human. See if any of these fool you:

- Every weekend i used to pay a quick visit this website, because i wish for enjoyment, for the reason that this this web page conations really fastidious funny stuff too.

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And that's just a sampling of the over 5,000 spams this blog received this month. Until next time, I fastidiously urge you to keep your arguments real, your writing taste quite great, and stop looking for erotic arts in all the wrong places!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Poul Ruders, Vol. 9 -- Amiable Atonal Chamber Works

Poul Ruders, Vol. 9
David Starobin, guitar; Daniel Druckman, percussion; David Holzman, piano; Amalia Hall, violin; Hsin-Yun Huang, viola, Sara Rothenberg, piano
Bridge Records

The two words that sprang to mind as I listened to this collection of Poul Ruder's chamber music was "amiable atonality." These chambers works move well beyond tonality, without a hint of academic dryness. Every work had real personality, often full of warmth and gentle humor.

Guitarist David Starobin and Poul Ruders have enjoyed a long and fruitful collaborative relationship, and Starobin brings his deep understanding of Ruders' music to two works. The "New Rochelle Suite" for guitar and percussion is a witty composition, and Starobin and percussionist Daniel Druckman perform it with a sometimes wink at the audience. Ruders scores imaginatively for percussion, making non-tonal instruments such as the castanets and tom-toms (among many other) add nuanced shading to the guitar's wide-ranging melodies.

"Schrödinger's Cat" is a set of 12 canons for violin and guitar that reflect the ambivalence of the title. In quantum mechanics, Schrödinger's cat is a thought experiment illustrating the paradoxical concept that particles can be in two states simultaneously until observed. So, too, these canons seem to shift back and forth until they suddenly collapse into a final cadence. Starobin and Amalia Hall perform these canons in an unadorned fashion, just presenting the facts -- which seem to change before our ears.

"Romances for viola and piano" is romantic in nature, but the expressive yearnings of the melody get their poignancy from decidedly post-tonal chromatic inflections. Violist Hsin-Yun Huang and pianist Sarah Rothenberg make a great team, though, bring out the emotion in the music without being too emotive.

David Holzman performs "Twinkle Bells - Piano Etude No. 2" with a light, deft touch. He makes the cascading thirds that make up the bulk of the etude shimmer and tinkle like tiny bells. He also brings the album to a close with Ruders' "13 Postludes." These are wonderfully-crafted short little works that evoke the spirit of Chopin -- in an amiably atonal way.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Meyerbeer: Overtures and Entr'actes - light entertainment from grand opera

Meyerbeer: Overtures and Entr'actes from the French Operas
New Zealand symphony Orchestra
Darrell Ang, conductor

When I mentioned I was reviewing this new Meyerbeer recording, I discovered just how low my colleagues held his music. Robert Schumann didn't care much for it, but I think he -- and others -- miss the point. Giacomo Meyerbeer wasn't out to make pronouncements from God (like Wagner) -- he wanted to write entertaining, successful operas. He achieved his goals, and the music in the collection demonstrates why.

Included are instrumental works from Meyerbeer's biggest hits -- "Robert le Diable," "Les Huguenots," and "L'Africaine" -- along with selections from "Dianorah and Le Prophete. Meyerbeer wrote almost exclusively for the stage, and his works are unfailingly catchy and tuneful.

Darrel Ang conducts the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra with a certain amount of brio, never failing to bring out the drama of the music (without overplaying it), and keeping the energy level high. To me, this was a great collection of classical music for casual listening and I enjoyed it. I just need to be careful who I play it for.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kenner Sky Rail Project Part 10 - Anchor Stone Blocks, Stanlo, et al.

The Kenner Sky Rail Restoration Project is technically over. the Capital Miniature Auto Collectors Club held their July meeting. The program featuring building sets used with toy cars was well-researched -- and well-received. For those who are interested, below are the sets that were presented and discussed. Parts 7 and 8 feature the sets my dad, er, volunteered me to bring in, assemble, and give a brief history of. Parts 9 and 10 feature sets other members brought in. It was quite a night! (click on images to enlarge)

Read all the posts about this project here.

Other members brought vintage building sets to the meeting. (click on images to enlarge)

Anchor Stone Blocks

Anchor Stone Blocks were introduced in the 1880's and are still in production today. The blocks were made from limestone, sand, and linseed oil and made very convincing-looking brick, marble, and concrete blocks. A variety of sets have been offered through the years (centuries?) with a limited range of block shapes and colors. The set brought to the meeting was made around the turn of the century, and included metal parts for the bridge construction.

Bilt EZ
In the 1920's, the Scott Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Il. came out with the Bilt EZ metal construction sets. The sets consisted of metal wall panels connected by tabbed metal floor plates. In theory, one could build impressive-looking Art Deco skyscrapers. In practice, the metal was a little thin and tended to bend when forcing the tabs together. Nevertheless, the finished models built for the meeting looked pretty impressive.

In the 1920's, the Stanley Tool Company had an idea. They were making a variety of hinges. Would it be possible to make a building toy with them. Thus Stanlo was born. The sets were basically triangular hinges joined by pins. The pins were difficult to insert without hammering, and even harder to remove. In the end, Stanley returned to their forte, and still make tools (and hinges) to this day.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Diabelli Project 054 - Piano Piece in D Aeolian Mode

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

This week's offering is a little more adventurous than the other piano piece sketches I've posted of late. Of course, it was only a matter of time before I returned to my favorite meter (5/8). I experimented with tone clusters this time around, and when I played this on the piano, I liked what I heard. So consider this experiment a success. (click to enlarge)

So where does the piece go from here? That's up to you -- if you choose to continue it. As with all the Diabelli Project sketches, this is offered freely to all. If you do happen to complete this piece, though -- please share. I'd love to know how it turns out.

Friday, August 22, 2014

CCC 113 - Andrea Ramsey

American composer and educator Andrea Ramsey is the focus of this week's Consonant Classical Challenge. Dr. Ramsey has a long and distinguished career working with children's choirs. She's taught at public schools and now is on the faculty of Ohio State University.

Most of her compositions are for choral groups. Writing music for the limited range and abilities of children and student choirs can be somewhat restrictive. Ramsey's talent is creating works that are substantial works of art within those confines. Almost by necessity her works are tonal. Yet there's nothing trite or cliche about them. She uses the relaxed relationships of post-romanticism to create fluid harmonies that move in response to the text.

As Dr. Ramsey explains in her guidelines to commissioning works from her, "As the text is typically the starting point, the composer's ability to creatively connect with the text is paramount."

"Heaven unfolding" is neo-romantic in style, with an elegiac cello obbligato.

"Through the Dark" is a setting of text by Helen Keller. This simple and beautiful music has hints of atonality, but there's never any real question of its tonal foundation.

Not all of Ramsey's works are quiet and delicate. "I See the Heaven's Glories Shine" is heroic music that illuminates the text effectively. In this performance, the acoustics of the church help fill out the sound of the choir.

I like to think that Andrea Ramsey not only disproves the cliche that contemporary music is ugly and unlistenable (the purpose of this series), but also that classical music is dying and irrelevant. Virtually all of her commissions come from student and youth choirs. Her music is being premiered by young people who clearly enjoy singing it (judging from the many YouTube concert videos available).

So to them, classical music isn't just something created by dead white Europeans of the last century -- it's music created for them by living composers that (in some cases) have visited them and worked with them to create new sounds for a new generation.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Stephen Isserlis energizes Martinu Cello Sonatas

Martinu: Cello Sonatas 1-3
Works by Sibelius and Mustonen
Steven Isserlis, cello
Olli Mostonen, piano

Steven Isserlis turns in an attractive program of cello music with this new SACD. Bohuslav Martinu wrote in a very distinctive style; one that was remarkably consistent throughout his long and prolific career. Martinu wrote tonal works, but they were his own version of tonality.

Dancing syncopation and shimmering chords are Martinu trademarks, and they're here in abundance. Playing two or more of Martinu compositions back-to-back -- especially ones using the same forces can have the effect of blurring them together. Isserlis avoids this by interspersing works by two composers whose styles complement Martinu's, simultaneously providing contrast and creating a coherent program.

Jean Sibelius' Malinconia, Op. 20 is a dark work, written after the death of the composer's infant daughter. Isserlis convincingly brings out the pathos of the work, while at the same time savoring the beauty of Sibelius' extended melodic lines.

Pianinst Olli Mustonen not only partners with Isserlis in these performances; he also provides a sonata as well. Mustonen's post-romantic composition fits in nicely with the Martinu and Sibelius works, with plenty of rich sonorities and juicy melodic tidbits.

Isserlis has recorded the Martinu sonatas before, and this time he doesn't hold back. Martinu's music has a certain lightness to it, but Isserlis makes it more compelling by really digging into the notes. The urgent character his technique brings to these works makes them, in my opinion, some of the best recorded versions of Martinu's cello sonatas to date. And if you have an opportunity, listen to this release through an SACD player. The intimate nature of this chamber music becomes all the more vivid with the additional sonic details the format provides.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Marianna Shirinyan Performs Admirably in Mozart Series

Mozart: Piano Concertos Volume 4
Piano Concertos Nos. 12 and 23
Marianna Shirinyan, piano
Odense Symphony Orchestra
Scott Yoo, conductor
Bridge Records

Although this is the fourth volume of Bridge Records' survey of the Mozart piano concertos, it's actually the first to feature pianist Mariann Shirinyan.

She replaces the previous soloist (who has since left the label) to continue the series with Scott Yoo and the Odense Symphony Orchestra.

Not to worry, though. Shirinyan is more than capable of continuing the series. She performs with a light touch and subtle phrasing that sometimes is only apparent after repeated listening.

The liner notes suggest that Shirinyan wrote her own cadenzas. Whether she did or not, Shirinyan seems to take the opportunity to delve deeper into the music. She makes the cadenzas sound like organic parts of the movement, rather than the showstoppers they can sometimes become.

All in all, a pleasurable listening experience from start to finish. I look forward to volume five!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Kenner Sky Rail Project Part 9 - Girder and Panel, Block City

The Kenner Sky Rail Restoration Project is technically over. the Capital Miniature Auto Collectors Club held their July meeting. The program featuring building sets used with toy cars was well-researched -- and well-received. For those who are interested, below are the sets that were presented and discussed. Parts 7 and 8 feature the sets my dad, er, volunteered me to bring in, assemble, and give a brief history of. Parts 9 and 10 feature sets other members brought in. It was quite a night! (click on images to enlarge)

Read all the posts about this project here.

Other members brought vintage building sets to the meeting. (click on images to enlarge)

Girder and Panel

The Hydromatic Building Set was first introduced by Kenner in 1961. It featured a battery-powered pump and various types of pipes, valves and joints that you could pump water through. The plumbing was supported by the same girder frames as the other sets.

The example below is the current iteration of this toy. Kenner Toys passed through many hands. First to General Mills (1974-1979), then to Irwin Toys (1979-2004), and now Bridge Street Toys (2004 - ). Bridge Street wisely modified the base of the Hydromatic Set so that it now is molded into a tub to ensure the water stays in the system and not all over the floor!

Block City

I had brought an early example of Tri-State Plastic Molding's Block City. Another member had some of the later iterations. By the late 1960's the sets were shipped in boxes rather than tubes (which meant the roofing material could finally lay flat when used). Color was added to the door and window frame pieces. And the doors and windows were updated from a late 1940's style to a more modern look.

Tri-State also made an unusual set that created an entire downtown area. This set had storefronts, signs and other unique pieces for these structures. Below is the supermarket (without its sign) from that set.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Diabelli Project 053 - Piano Piece in C minor

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.

As you can see, this week I ran out of time just when things were getting interesting. Perhaps I shouldn't have had that running bass line -- it takes time to write out all those notes, even in sketch form! (click on image to enlarge)

Still, there's enough there to suggest to me what comes next. But what about you? All the Diabelli Project sketches can be used freely by any and all. No fees, no licensing -- just have fun. Oh. And let me know how it turns out.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Gilbert Kalish performs Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert

Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert
Gilbert Kalish, piano
Bridge Records

In this recording, Gilbert Kalish presents an appealing program of works he knows well. The opening and closing works are the final piano sonatas of their respective composers -- Haydn and Schubert, with a selection of short works by Beethoven in the middle.

Haydn's Sonata No. 62 in E-flat (Hob.XVI:52)  was composed for a gifted performer, and is one of Haydn's more complex piano works. Nonetheless, Kalish keeps things light and elegant. His well-rounded phrasing and subtle emphasis captures Haydn's reserved elegance perfectly.

Kalish also plays Franz Schubert's Piano Sonata No. 21 in B-flat, D. 960 in a slightly reserved fashion -- but it works. Rather than overwhelming the listener with emotion, Kalish's performance reveals the beautiful construction of the work. One hears the intricate patterns and lines of the sonata, rather than a furious rush of notes.

The Bagatelles, Op. 119 by Beethoven balance nicely with the two sonatas. These are short, relatively simple works (by Beethoven standards). Each bagatelle is lovingly performed by Kalish, turned into miniature gems by his musicianship.

Kalish plays with the fluid assurance that comes from a lifetime of music-making. He isn't trying to prove anything, or even assert his personality. He just plays, and it sounds like he's enjoying every moment. As did I.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Weinberg's Symphony 18 Contemplates War and Loss

Weinberg: Symphony No. 18; Trumpet Concerto
Andrew Balio, trumpet
St. Petersburg Chamber Choir
St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra
Vladimir Lande, conductor

Mieczyslaw Weinberg's 18th symphony is the middle part of a symphonic trilogy, On the Threshold of War. Symphony No. 18, subtitled "War -- there is no word more cruel" isn't so much an anti-war statement as it is an honest portrayal of the emotional depletion felt by the survivors of conflict -- even in their victory. Overall, the work is quiet, expressing deeply felt sorrow and loss; elegiac rather than maudlin.

Mieczyslaw's symphony uses Russian poetry quite effectively. "He was buried in the Earth," the text of the third movement is set as a simple chorale, very Russian in character -- appropriate for this poem about the death of a common foot soldier. The third movement adapts a Russian folksong that carries an undertone of disquiet before splintering into a kaleidoscopic fugue. In the final movement, the chorus sings the poem "War -- there is no word more cruel," and the work ends with not a bang, nor whimper, but rather a calm acceptance of war's cost.

The Trumpet Concerto provides welcome emotional balance to the album. To my ears, the work uses some of Prokofiev's "wrong-note" technique, with seemingly simple melodies and harmonies not going quite the direction one expects. Trumpet soloist Andrew Balio plays with clear, full sound. Attacks are consistently clean, and the phrasing smooth and expressive. This concerto imbues the trumpet with a little bit of attitude, and Balio delivers.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kenner Sky Rail Project Part 8 - American Bricks, Lino, and Block City

The Kenner Sky Rail Restoration Project is technically over. the Capital Miniature Auto Collectors Club held their July meeting. The program featuring building sets used with toy cars was well-researched -- and well-received. For those who are interested, below are the sets that were presented and discussed. Parts 7 and 8 feature the sets my dad, er, volunteered me to bring in, assemble, and give a brief history of. Parts 9 and 10 feature sets other members brought in. It was quite a night! (click on images to enlarge)

Read all the posts about this project here.

American Bricks

American Bricks were building toys originally made by Halsam, beginning in the 1950's. Each brick was made of pressed wood, with six pegs on the top, and six corresponding holes on the bottom. The bricks look like flattened Lego bricks (which they predate). The bricks had almost the same dimensions as a domino -- and that's no accident. Halsam was one of the premier manufacturers of dominoes, using the same pressed wood technique.

Included in the sets were embossed cardboard roofs and embossed window and door inserts. These inserts had small tabs that fit into slots in the bricks. Needless to say, with continual play, the tabs eventually gave out. In the model I built, I had to prop up the panels from behind to keep them from blowing in every time someone passed the display!

There were only a few different types of brick: long bricks in red, with a smaller number in yellow for accent, half-sized red bricks, and triangular pieces for the roof line. Nevertheless, the scored sides of the bricks made for a very realistic finish to the structures.

Lino, not Lego 

Lino bricks were made by the Deluxe Game Corp in the early 1960's. Although they were basically a Lego knock-off, there were some unusual features with their sets. The church I built, for example, was with Lino bricks and accessories. The steeple originally had a blue rubber cross (now missing), matching the blue plastic arched windows, arched wooden door inserts, and town clock. The roof pieces remind me of terracotta tiles. And while Deluxe Game may have been in the US, the distinctively European look to this structure suggests Lino was imported rather than developed here.

Lino was offered through the major department stores, along with the more expensive Lego sets. I believe mine came from Montgomery Wards. In the process of building this structure, I discovered that there were slight differences between the Lino and Lego bricks. Although they looked the same, the Lino bricks were slightly smaller, making the two systems incompatible.

Block City

The history of Block City is long and varied. The Tri-State Plastic Molding Company started with Block City in the early 1950's. My set comes from that era, and you can see the post-war styling in the structure, especially with the window treatments. Over time, Block City would evolve into Brick Town (more on that in part 9). Block City sets originally came in long tubes, with roofing paper rolled up inside. One cut the roofs to size for each model, which meant unless you built the same thing over and over, you soon ran out of material. For our display I substituted an old file folder.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Diabelli Project 052 - Chorale in C major

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

This week's offering is fairly straight-forward. It's a four-part chorale; something most church choirs could handle, I imagine. Of course, there's no text, and I only took it to the first cadence, but still -- I think this one has a lot of potential. (click on image to enlarge)

Perhaps you see some potential, too. Remember -- all the Diabelli Project sketches are offered freely to all. If you see something you like, go ahead and use it. No need to ask permission. Just let me know how your version turned out!

Friday, August 08, 2014

CCC 112 - Mikis Theodorakis

Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis is the subject of this week's Consonant Classical Challenge. The state purpose of the challenge is to identify living composers writing tonally-based music of quality. If there's one thing that collectively the series has shown, it's that there are many ways for a composer to use tonality. In the case of Mikis Theodorakis, his harmonic structures can be very simple or extremely complex, depending on the purpose.

Theodorakis studied with Olivier Messiaen, from whom he learned an expanded view of tonality. Theodorakis is also vitally interested in the traditional music of Greece, which (like most folk music) relies on triadic harmonies with much repetition.

Theodorakis is best known for his film scores, which include "Zorba, the Greek," "Z," "State of Siege," and "Serpico." Those who only know him through this body might be surprised as the more thickly textured sounds of his concert music.

His Symphony No. 3 is a large work for chorus and orchestra. While based on Byzantine hymns (part of Greece's musical heritage), one can also hear some jazz elements. This is a somewhat dark work, and bears some resemblance to the orchestral music of Messiaen., but mostly toanl and dark. Personally, I hear the influence of Messiaen.

Theodorakis has strong ideals, which has lead to conflict. During the Regime of the Colonels, he was first imprisoned and then exiled for his outspoken opposition to tyranny. After the fall of the Colonels, he returned and resumed acting on his beliefs. Theodorakis has served as a member of the Greek parliament several times, and is a champion of education and social justice.

His piano concerto articulates these larger-than-life conflicts. It's expansive, and although tonal, the music's not locked into major/minor. In some sections there's a Stravinsky-like leanness to the score. To my ears, there's a continual contest of wills between the soloist and the orchestra. It's not pretty music, but it's thrilling.

The Fantasia in G minor, by contrast, uses more traditional, albeit thickly textured chords. Somewhat formal in structure, the work sounds almost neo-classical with folk elements cleverly woven in.

Despite Theodorakis' large catalog of first-rate compositions, he'll always be best known for his score to "Zorba the Greek." Although many think Zorba's dance a simple folk tune, it's actually an original work by Theodorakis.

When I researched Mikis Theodorakis for this series, I wasn't sure I would find anything of value. Would it all be as simple and folk-like as "Zorba, the Greek?" Not at all. Theodorakis' classical works are not only well-constructed compositions, but his strong passions imbue them with authenticity of expression and a restless energy. I would love to hear a complete cycle of his symphonies -- and much more besides.

Recommended Recordings

The Classic Collection

Mikis Theodorakis - Symphonic Works III / Symphony No 2

The Symphonies - The Moscow Symphony Orchestra

Mikis Theodorakis - Symphonic Works Iv / Symphony No 3

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Julia Wolfe: Steel Hammer - John Henry Redux

Julia Wolfe
Steel Hammer
Bang on a Can All-Stars
Trio Mediaeval
Cantaloupe Music

The legend of John Henry has grown and changed over the years. Was John Henry real or fictional, black or white, short or tall? Virtually every detail of the story has multiple answers -- and that's the point of Julia Wolfe's work, "Steel Hammer." Wolfe ingeniously presents the multiplicity of the story with layers of sound that simultaneously obscure the text and make transparent its interpretations.

This is high-energy, complex material, and as with many of Wolfe's compositions, the music demands your attention in an insistent and aggressive manner. But it's only when you give "Steel Hammer" your full attention that the music can convey its meaning.

Trio Mediaeval sing with pure, unwavering tones, providing an unemotional narrative to the work. Wolfe incorporates a number of folk instruments and sounds into her ensemble to provide color and context. Hearing the banjo, dulcimer, or the sound of clogging deep in the mix give the listener a hint of Appalachia without being overtly folk-like.

As always, the Bang on a Can All-Stars hold nothing back in their performances. This is difficult, demanding music, but these musicians don't just play the material -- they own it.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Transparent performances of Respighi

Respighi: The Birds
Kyler Brown, organ
Chamber Orchestra of New York
Salvatore di Vittorio, conductor

Ottorino Respighi is known for his brilliant orchestrations -- but for most listeners, that knowledge is based on his Roman trilogy of tone poems. Salvatore Di Vittorio and the Chamber Orchestra of New York dig a little deeper into the composer's catalog. Their discoveries reaffirm Respighi's reputation, while providing an enjoyable listening experience.

The Suite in G for strings and organ is an early work, yet Respighi's genius for orchestration is already in place. This would be an excellent companion piece to Saint-Saën's Third Symphony, although Respighi's neo-classical work might sound a little understated in comparison.

The Seranta is a short, simple work that still manages to dazzle with its imaginative orchestration over the course of its five-minute playing time.

Gli uccelli (The Birds), like Respighi's more famous tone poems, show the composer's skill at painting with music. Respighi incorporates bird calls into the music, but in this performance their recognizable, but not overdone. Rather, the calls were fully integrated into the music presenting impressions -- rather than literal interpretations of -- the birds depicted in each movement.

The Trittico botticelliano is (in my opinion) the strongest work on the album. Maestro di Vittorio and his ensemble deliver a spirited performance of "Spring," the first movement. "The Adoration of the Magi," the middle movement is played with sensitivity and delicacy, and the finale, "The Birth of Venus" fairly shimmers in places.

The chamber orchestra is a group of young players, and sometimes that shows. Sometimes the strings lacked precision in more active passages, and there seemed to my ears to be some slight intonation problems in the Seranata. Still, they play with a very rich and warm sound, which is especially gorgeous in the slow movements. Performing these works with a chamber -- rather than full -- orchestra gives the music a feeling of transparency. It was a sound that seemed perfectly suited to these works.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Kenner Sky Rail Project Part 7 - Girder and Panel

The Kenner Sky Rail Restoration Project is technically over. the Capital Miniature Auto Collectors Club held their July meeting. The program featuring building sets used with toy cars was well-researched -- and well-received. For those who are interested, below are the sets that were presented and discussed. Parts 7 and 8 feature the sets my dad, er, volunteered me to bring in, assemble, and give a brief history of. Parts 9 and 10 feature sets other members brought in. It was quite a night! (click on images to enlarge)

Read all the posts about this project here.

Kenner Girder and Panel Sets

The "girder and panel" building system was developed by Kenner, and they used it in over thirty different sets between 1957 to 1965. I brought three of the four I owned to the meeting. What I left out was the No. 4 Bridge and Turnpike set. This set constructed bridges, cloverleafs, and other raised roadways for use with 1/87 diecast vehicles. Later this year the club will be having a presentation on roadway sets used with toy cars, which is when I'll display the No. 4.

The No. 3 Girder and Panel Building Set (1957) had side panels and roof panels. When placed on the girder frame, one could easily make modern-looking (for 1960) skyscrapers and office building. I built one of the models pictured in the instruction book and was taken with how convincing the finished model looked. My set had almost all the pieces, including the accent signs. Note the "Space to Let" sign on the building front.

The No. 16 Build-A-Home Subdivision Set (1962) introduced a diagonal I-beam for the pitched roofs of homes. New roof panels were included, and the wall panels simulated either wood or brick facades with colonial-style window and door treatments. Again, I made one of the models from the instruction book, but it occurred to me I could have easily built a row of overpriced modern townhouses. The set included a variety of accessories, including two pools, several Styrofoam trees, barbeque pits, and climbing vines. Perhaps I should have built a gated community!

And of course, I presented the No. 18 Sky Rail set. Which did indeed work during the presentation.

And here's the instruction sheet I used.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Diabelli Project 051 - Piano Piece in F

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.

Last week I posted a piano piece in F, and I'm doing so again this week. Perhaps they're part of the same larger work? Hard to say. When I sit down to do this weekly flash composition I don't look at any previous sketches, I just start fresh with a blank stave in front of me. This could be part of last week's entry, or not. (click on image to enlarge)

What happens next is totally up to you. If you feel inspired, you're welcome to use this sketch (or indeed, any or all in the series) as the basis for your own composition. It's all free of charge and legal tangles -- just let me know how the piece turned out!

Friday, August 01, 2014

CCC 111 - Arturo Márquez

This week Mexican composer Arturo Márquez is the focus of the Consonant Classical Challenge. Márquez incorporates the traditional and popular music of Mexico and Central America into his works. He uses tonality in much the same way as his sources, supporting his melodies with simple triads. His harmonies don't move in textbook fashion, but they do conform to popular usage, which makes his music immediately understandable to just about anyone.

That's not to say Márquez writes pop tunes for orchestra. His melodies are often quite intricate, and carefully orchestrated to give a variety of expressions and texture to the music. Márquez's use of the folk and pop traditions of his country might be compared to the ways Brahms and Dvorak used similar materials for their shorter works.

Márquez has composed a series of eight Danzons using the traditional form for this genre. Danzon No. 2 is the most-performed of the set. It begins with a soft, gentle bossa nova rhythm. Márquez's imaginative orchestration and solid motivic development make this more than just light background music, though.

Another popular work by Márquez is the Conga del fuego. This work has all the fire and excitement of a dance hall conga, though with far more sophisticated musical development.

Zarabandeo is a work for clarinet and piano. Folk elements are farther in the background in this work, which feature odd-meter rhythms. In this stripped-down setting of just two instruments, it's easier to hear the complexity of Marquez's melodies.

The Homenaje a Gismonti is an interesting work for string quartet. Egberto Gismonti is a Brazilian composer and multi-instrumentalist. In this composition, Márquez uses idioms and rhythms from Brazilian music to pay tribute to Gismonti's style.

Arturo Márquez is a major figure in Mexican classical music, and thanks to champions like Gustavo Dudamel, he's becoming better known in America, too. Since most of his works are quite short, Marquez's music is often recorded for compilations. The Recommended Recordings listings reflect that. I, for one, would be interested in hearing all eight Danzons performed as a group, and would really like to hear some of his more cerebral compositions.

Recommended recordings

Four, For Tango


Conga Line in Hell: Modern Class Latin America

Mi Alma Mexicana (My Mexican Soul)