Friday, February 27, 2015

Spam Roundup, February, 2015

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.

When English is your second (or third) language, just running something though Google Translate doesn't always work out. For example:

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[Aware of what?]

 - I'm now not certain the place you are getting your info, however great topic. Thaks for wonderful info I used to be looking for this information for my mission.
[Using info to get info. Got it]

Great beat! I would like to apprentice while you amend your website. The account aided me a acceptable deal.
[It's not just a great beat. You can dance to it, too -- in an acceptable style.]

Your humoristic style is witty, keep doing what you're doing!
[That's me. Ralph Graves, American Humoristic]

I know this site offfers quality based articles or reviews and extra stuff, is there any other web site which provides such information in quality?
[So you're after quality, not quality?]

Pretty section of content. I simply stumbled upon your website and in accession capital to claim that I aq1uire in fact loved account your blog posts.
[I like to think of my content as cute rather than pretty.]

Magnificent items from you, man. I have take into account your stuff prior to and you're just too excellent.
[Yes, let's not look at my priors.]

The Nomura lumber truck, 3" tinplate toy, ca. 19560.
Frankly, I don't see what the attraction is for spammers.
Lumbering along and still going strong

The Straco Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering along, my post describing an inexpensive early 60's Japanese tin toy truck remains one of my most commented-on posts. Of course, the subject matter isn't often the focus of the comment.

 - Thank you for the good writup. Itin fact was a amustment account it.
[Nothing funny about vintage toys. pal!]

 -  this is thee type of information that are meant to be shared acrokss ththe web. Shame on the seek engines for no longer positioning thiks publish higher!
[Yes, shame on you, seek engines!]

 - For latest information you have to go to see internet and on web I found this website as a most excellent site for hottest updates.
[Just consider us your Action News Team.]

Fade to fastidious

The use of the word "fastidious" may be declining among spammers, but I still get a few comments that misuse the word.

 - Alas, its fastidious conversation about this article here at this weblog, I have read all that, so now me also commenting here.

 - I am sure this article has touched all the internet users, its really really fastidious piece of writing on building up new website.
[I'm sure my fastidiousness has indeed touched all.]

 - Every weekend I used to visit this website, as i want enjoyment, since this this web page conations tryly fastidious funny stuff too.
[Wait - what you mean "used to?!"]

February may be the shortest month, but there was no shortage of comments to choose from. Remember, if  you want the hottest updates, with fastidious funny stuff and pretty content -- just keep reading this blog.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Vanhall String Quartets Compare Favorably to Haydn's

Johann Baptist Vanhal was one of the most successful composers of the classical era. Although Vanhal wrote over hundreds of works, he's mostly remembered today for his concerto for contrabass.

The Lotus String Quartet helps fill out our understanding of this composer with their performances of four of his string quartets.

The earliest, (string quartet in C minor, Op. 1, No. 4) was published in 1769, and sounds similar to the contemporary quartets of Haydn.

The latest, the String Quartet in E-flat major from 1786 shows some development, but perhaps not to the same extent as Haydn's "Prussian Quartets" or Mozart's "Dissonance" quartet written the year before.

Nevertheless, these quartets are all tuneful and well-crafted works. Vanhal's quartets are true ensemble pieces, where all four players interact with each other.

The Lotus Quartet play with a light touch, and a spark of energy that make these performances quite enjoyable. At times, especially in the slow movements, the quartet's expressive playing is quite moving, without being overly emotional. An enjoyable listening experience from start to finish.

Johann Baptist Vanhal: Four String quartets
Lotus String Quartet
CPO 777 475-2

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

York Bowen String Quartets Charm and Delight

York Bowen: String Quartets Nos. 2 and 3; Phantasy-Quintet
Archaeus Quartet; Timothy Lines, bass clarinet

First off, if you're a completist, rest easy. The manuscript for York Bowen's first string quartet is lost, so this disc represents his total output in the genre. The two surviving quartets were written within a year of each other, yet show a surprising amount of differences.

String Quartet No. 2 in D minor, Op. 41 is a somewhat breezy work, written somewhere between the English pastoral style of early Vaughan Williams and the languid style of late Ravel. By contrast, the Third String Quartet, Op. 46b is more solidly English in character. Further, it has a wistful quality to it, similar to that found in Bax.

While neither quartet represents the ultimate expression of the genre, both are well-constructed. Each unfolds in an orderly fashion, with charming melodies that keep the listener engaged.

York Bowen was but one of many English composers to enter the Cobbett Phantasy Competition, submitting a single-movement work that flow freely from one section to the other. Bowen's is a little different, in that it's for bass clarinet plus string quartet. The bass clarinet isn't normally considered a solo instrument, but after hearing Bowen's Phantasy, I wonder why not. Bowen creates lines for the instrument that take advantage of its rich, mellow tone as well as its agility. A beautiful addition to the scant repertoire available to the instrument.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Straco Express Layout Part 41 - Indian Head Mystery

An unusual vehicle came available for a modest price, and so the Straco Express layout now has another vehicle. It's a beautiful little car, with a number of unusual features. The sedan was offered at such a low price because it's actually part of a set, which included a travel trailer.

The set would have been a great addition to the layout display, but all the prices I"ve seen for it are about five times the amount I paid for just the sedan.

The sedan itself is something of a puzzle. There's an Indian head logo on it, and the trailer came with one, too. There's no name, which isn't uncommon for these Japanese penny toys. One company is noted for having an Indian head logo -- Ichimura & Co., Ltd.

The original set - sedan plus trailer.

The problem is, though, that their Indian head logo looks nothing like this one! I've found other examples from this company, too. This particular sedan was also available in blue, and there's a floor train (with every piece of rolling stock logo'd with the Indian head).

Whoever my Indian head logo manufacturer was, seem to have entered the market in the early 1950's, based on their designs. The rear wheels are thin rubber discs reinforced by tin hubcaps. My King car (see Part 39 - King Me) and tri-wheeled sedan (see Part 22 - Tri Something New) also have this early type wheel design.

The mystery logo doesn't look anything
like Ichimura's Indian head logos,
either the early or the later versions.

Indian Head logo sedan (top) and
mystery tri-wheel sedan (bottom)..
I'm not convinced they're made by
the same company.
And this sedan is also a tri-wheeled vehicle. Side by side, (at left) I can see that they were made around the same time -- but not necessarily by the same manufacturer.

Regardless, they Indian head mystery logo sedan is a good addition to the layout -- especially with the expanded roadway.

Total cost for the project:

Layout construction:

  • Pegboard: $4.95
  • Flathead Screws: $0.40
  • Molding: $2.49
  • SilClear: borrowed from a friend
  • Green Paint: left over from another project
  • Wood Screws: $3.60
  • Felt Pads: $1.99
Power Pack: $5.90
Small Houses: $3.00
Testor's Gray Paint for road: $1.29

Bandai Areo Station: $8.99
2 tinplate signs: $1.00
4 tinplate signs (with train) $5.99


  • Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Haji three-wheel sedan $3.00
  • 1950's sedan $2.99
  • LineMar Pepco Truck $8.50
  • LineMar Bond Bread Van $8.00
  • LineMar Fire Engine $4.95
  • LineMar Dump Truck $12.99
  • LineMar GE Courier Car $10.98
  • Nomura Red Sedan $5.00
  • Nomura Police Car $2.52
  • Nomura lumber truck $3.48
  • 6 Namura vehicles $16.99
  • Orange Sedan $10.99
  • King Sedan $9.95
  • Indian Head logo sedan $4.99
Total Project Cost: $155.89

Monday, February 23, 2015

Diabelli Project 079 - String Quartet in C

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 is the second string quartet I've furiously scribbled out during a Diabelli Project flash composition session. And I have the feeling it won't be the last. This one's clearly in C -- although whether it's C major is something I'm not 100% sure about. One of my purposes in doing these flash compositions is to bypass my internal editor and just let the music flow -- good, bad or indifferent. I'll let you be the judge as to which this is... (click to enlarge)

As with all the Diabelli Project sketches, this one's free for any and all to use as they choose. Just share the results!

Friday, February 20, 2015

CCC 124 - Gary Kulesha

This weeks' entry in the Consonant Composer's Challenge is Canadian composer Gary Kulesha. Kulesha studied with John Corigliano, and like Corigliano, seems comfortable writing in a wide variety of styles -- including tonally-centered music. For Kulesha, I think the primary consideration is what best serves the music. His electronic compositions, for example, seem free from the constraints of the musical staff, and use clusters of sounds rather than notes for their building blocks.

Kulesha's tonal compositions don't sound hemmed in by the use of a key center, either. He makes full use of chromatic inflection and dissonances (both resolved and unresolved) to stirr the listener's emotions. While the music may have a solid tonal reference point, Kulesha takes the audience on an imaginative voyage of discovery.

The Sonata for Bassoon and Piano is highly chromatic, yet still with a clear tonal center. The first movement ends on an unresolved dissonance, which -- because the tonal center is established -- gives the work some momentum going into the second movement.

Attitudes for Clarinet and Piano is another good example of Kulesha's more tonal output. Kulesha is a clarinetist as well as a composer, so as you can imagine, this work lays well on the instrument. Kulesha opts for somewhat straight-forward melodies in this work, making it easy for the listener to follow along (or even hum along).

The Sonata for Horn, Tuba, and Piano is a good-natured work, full of catchy motifs. Kulesha seems to easily overcome the difficulties of writing for such a limited sonic palette, bringing out the full potential of the tuba as an expressive solo instrument and creating music of real substance


Trio No. 2 for violin, cello and piano is chamber work in three movements. The first and third movements sound a little jazzy, with some extended tonality/atonal sections.

Not all of Gary Kulesha's music falls into the category of "tonal," but that's OK. All of it (at least all the works I've been able to audition), are authentic musical expressions by a true artist -- not dry, academic constructions. I wish that some recordings of his music for larger forces were available. I'd love to hear some of his choral compositions, his orchestral works, and at least some extracts from his two operas.

Recommended recordings

Ryan, J.: Quantum Mechanics

Crossroads Canadian Premieres

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Louise Farrenc Piano Quintets Beguile and Delight

In her day (the mid 1800's) Louise Farrenc was renowned as a piano virtuoso, teacher, and a composer. Today, she's most likely to be performed in programs showcasing obscure women composers.

And that's a shame. As this recording of her two piano quintets demonstrates, Farrenc's music has plenty to recommend it regardless of gender. Farrenc's talent as a pianist was well-documented, and the piano part of these quintets reflects her facility at the keyboard. The piano weaves complicated textures throughout the swirl of strings, while contributing some brilliant solo passages.

Farrenc's style is similar to that of Mendelssohn, with attractive and tuneful melodies that just seem to flow one to another. The structure of the quartets is formal, but the music doesn't sound like its in a straightjacket. Her rich harmonies and third-relations keep her music moving in delightfully unexpected directions.

The Quintetto Bottesini performs these works with sensitivity and enthusiasm. Lousie Farrenc's name may not have the recognition it did in the 1840's, but recordings such as this may help remedy that situation.

Louise Farrenc: Piano Quintet No. 1in A minor, Op. 30; Piano Quintet No. 2 in E major, Op. 31
Quintetto Bottesini
Brilliant Classics 94815

Te Deum laudamus - Music from Frieberg Cathedral, 1594

Te Deum laudamus presents a fascinating collection of music from the Freiberg Latin School. The school -- and the adjoining cathedral have a long and distinguished history dating back to the early 1500's. By 1594 (the year this program is centered around) Freiberg was a thriving cultural center, attracting some of the best composers of the High Renaissance.

Included in this compilation is sacred music by Albinius Fabricius, Philippe Monte, Leonard Lechner, Rogier Michael, and Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder. Each composer, in his own way, typifies the music of the era. While counterpoint is paramount, one can hear the beginnings of major/minor harmonies supporting them.

Several of the works are sections from masses, interspersed with sacred and liturgical pieces. The chordae freybergensis, accompanied by the Ensemble Freiberger Dom-Music with authentic instruments present the music in a clear, straight-forward manner.

Although recorded in the Freiberg Cathedral, the performers are so tightly miked that there's virtually no room ambience. And that's really my only complaint about the album.

Without the spaciousness of the cathedral to reinforce the sound and soften the edges with reverberation, the music has a starkness to it. And while it helps us hear the complexity of the counterpoint, I can't help but think it also removes an element the composers factored into their work.

Te Deum laudamus
Music on the Freiberg Catherdral Angle Instruments from 1594
Ensemble Freiberger Dom-Music; Albrecht Koch, director

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Davis delivers an operatic Dream of Gerontius

Sir Andrew Davis has performed "The Dream of Gerontius" with these same forces in live performance. And that may be why this recording sounds so organic. Sarah Connolly, Stuart Skelton, and David Soar sound like they've all settled into their roles, and the duets seem sometimes almost conversational.

Davis' vision of Elgar's massive work leans towards the operatic, which makes this performance sound more like a story with forward motion rather than a series of devotional tableaux.

Davis elicits a standout performance from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and especially from the BBC Symphony Chorus. The ensemble sound is impeccable, of course, but the variety of expression he gets from them makes the chorus active characters in the drama, rather than background figures.

David Soar has a rich, full bass. He manages give the lofty pronouncements of his priestly character a sense of humanity.

As a heldentenor, Stuart Skelton brings a brightness and energy to the role of Gerontius. And it makes sense -- Gerontius isn't actually a dying old man, but a soul freed from the body of a dying old man. Skelton effectively conveys all the emotions Gerontius experiences as his soul hastens towards its final judgement.

Gerontius' guardian angel is sung by mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, who also brings welcome dramatic impetus to her role. To my ears, her voice sometimes had an edge to it that seemed at odds with the ethereal music surrounding it, but that's a minor quibble.

Connolly fares better as the soloist in the orchestral song cycle "Sea Pictures," also included with this release. That slight brassiness I heard in her voice is an asset in this work. Connolly sounds as expansive as the seascapes the music depicts, with an expressive energy that's entirely appropriate to the text.

Although available for download, I strongly suggest investing in the SACD. The additional detail I heard in the orchestra, chorus, and especially the soloists made this a much more powerful listening experience.

Sir Edward Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38; Sea Pictures, Op. 37
Sarah Connolly, mezzo-soprano; Stuart Skelton, tenor; David Soar, bass; BBC Symphony chorus; BBC Symphony Orchestra; Sir Andrew Davis, conductor
Chandos SACD 5140 2-disc set

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Love is Grimm

Mike Peters doesn't reference other comics strips in his Mother Goose and Grimm as frequently as some other creators. But when he does, it's short and sweet (see: Calvin and Grimm). The Friday and Saturday leading up to Groundhog's Day this year, Peters riffed on the event by breaking the fourth wall. Other artists might have gone a full week with this setup, but Peters just did two takes -- funny, and funnier. (click to enlarge)

Steve Pastis' Pearls Before Swine regularly brings in other characters, and his characters show up in other strips quite regularly. The punchline in Grimm's first sequence plays off that fact.

The second one goes a little deeper. The unabashed greeting-card sentimentality of Kim Casali's Love Is.. is hard for many serious comic strip readers to take. And ditto comic strip creators. Mark Tartuli's had fun with the characters in his strip Lio (see Lio's comic Cameos 3). And while Peters' humor is gentler, it still makes fun of the trite "Love Is.." formula.

I do wonder, though, what Grimm would have pulled out of the hole from the comics page a third time...

Monday, February 16, 2015

Diabelli Project 078 - Piano Piece in D

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 part of the Diabelli Project, I've sketched out two other piano pieces that are in D. One was in D minor (see Diabelli Project 045), the other in D aeolian mode (see Diabelli Project 054). In this case, though, I wasn't worried about scales or modes. D was the tonal center that I wanted to return to or play off of. But other than that, I just let the music go where it will. (click on image to enlarge)

I'll need to look at this in context with those other sketches. Perhaps they're all part of a bigger piano work in D-something? Hard to say -- but remember. As always, you're welcome to use this material as you will. Just share the results. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Dick Tracy Comes to a Head

Mike Curtis and Joe Staton have done it again. The February 12. 2015 sequence of Dick Tracy seems to be just a throwaway. Brother and sister villains Silver Nitrate and Sprocket are celebrating their good fortune. The previous day's strip showed them concluding a deal with Mrs. Flattop for the return of her son's restored car and being handsomely paid for it (to unpack all the Dick Tracy lore contained in that one sentence would take at least two posts).

Our criminal pair are dancing around and singing -- but not just any song. (click on image to enlarge)

I read the first panel and instantly knew what they were singing (the second panel confirmed it, of course). It's "The Porpoise Song," which opened the movie "Head." This was the Monkees' 1968 feature film that finished off their career. Although not successful at the box office, it has become something of a cult favorite (see: An appreciation of "Head," the Monkees movie).

Far out.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Powerful concertos from Stephen Paulus

Two concertos by the late Stephen Paulus receive their world premier recordings with this Naxos release. And both contain many rewards for the listener.

The Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra (Three Places of Enlightenment) moves from an intense, tightly-wound first movement, through a relaxed, ethereal middle movement to a rousing, emotionally satisfying conclusion. The string quartet, while coming to the fore to present the themes, often blends in with the orchestra as it amplifies the melodies.

Paulus wrote that the the Grand Concerto for Organ and Orchestra "employs full orchestra and some wide, sweeping gestures and melodic ideas." He wasn't kidding. This is big-sounding music that uses the organ to full advantage. Paulus quotes hymns "All is Well" and "Waly Waly," then builds upon them. The concerto is an engaging work that should appeal to everyone, not just organ aficionados.

Also included is the short Veil of Tears for String Orchestra. This quiet, somber work reminded me of Barber's Adagio for Strings in its character.

Giacarlo Guerrero leads the Nashville Symphony in sympathetic, authoritative performances Guerrero had a close working relationship with the composer, and brings to these works a deep understanding of what Paulus was trying to say. Kudos also to organist Nathan J. Laube for his exciting and expressive performance.

Stephen Paulus: Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra (Three Places of Enlightenment); Veil of Tears for String Orchestra; Grand Concerto for Organ and Orchestra Nathan J. Laube, organ; Nashville Symphony; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor 
Naxos 8.559740

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Louis Karchin: To the Sun and Stars

I had to listen to this collection of Louis Karchin's vocal music several times before I really felt I understand what was going on and could then evaluate it fairly. That's a shortcoming on my part, but I will say that the exercise was not without reward.

For the most part, Karchin sets his texts in a very declamatory style. The melodies tend to skip around quite a bit. My impression is that Karchin wants to avoid any hint of traditional melody to keep the listener focused on the words and their message.

There are plenty of academic composers who do the same thing, but what sets Karchin's music apart is the imaginative ways he uses the instruments that accompany the voices. Karchin has a talent for
combining instruments in unusual -- but not outre -- ways to create a sense of otherworldliness. It's most effective in his works for voice and chamber ensemble (like A Way Separate and The Gods of Winter). But it's part of what makes American visions work so well.

American Visions for baritone and orchestra, is the most ambitious work on the album. It's a 25-minute paean to the Grand Canyon that also contemplates on the nature and function of this most American natural wonder. Karchin's orchestration expresses the expansiveness of the canyon, while also underlining the poet's ambivalence about it. Baritone Thomas Megiloranze sings in a heroic fashion, his intensity never flagging throughout the long work.

Personally, I found Karchin's music to be an acquired taste. But it's one I'm glad to have developed.

Louis Karchin: to the Sun and Stars - Vocal Music (1982-2012)
Thomas Megioranza, baritone; Mary Mackenzie, soprano; Sharon Harms, soprano; Eric Sedgwick, piano; Ekmeles; Da Capo Chamber Players; Orchestra of the League of Composers, Louis Karchin, conductor
Bridge 9437

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Straco Layout, Part 40 - A New Angle

Read all the installments of the Straco Express layout project here.

This post -- and its subject -- are actually a foreshadow of the next.

Regardless of whether a person's layout is super-realistic or toy-like in appearance, a large G-gauge outdoor garden layout or a tiny Z-gauge layout stored in an attache case, one thing remains true -- it's never completely finished.

And that's turned out to be the case for the Straco Express layout. Purely by chance I ran across an amazing selection of six new old stock Nomura vehicles. I happened to win the bid, and suddenly, I had too many cars for the already overcrowded streets of the layout.

So I spent some time outlining various options with painter's tape and arrived at the solution you see in the photos. A new side street feeding into the main road. It should provide enough space for the increased traffic.

I used the same technique as before (see: Part 10 - Paving the Pegboard Paradise), and am pretty happy with the results.

When my purchase arrives, we'll see if I provided enough space, or if I need to add even more roads. A situation that strangely mirrors the challenge of many state transportation departments!

Total cost for the project:
Layout construction:
  • Pegboard: $4.95
  • Flathead Screws: $0.40
  • Molding: $2.49
  • SilClear: borrowed from a friend
  • Green Paint: left over from another project
  • Wood Screws: $3.60
  • Felt Pads: $1.99
Power Pack: $5.90
Small Houses: $3.00
Testor's Gray Paint for road: $1.29
Bandai Areo Station: $8.99
2 tinplate signs: $1.00
4 tinplate signs (with train) $5.99

  • Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Haji three-wheel sedan $3.00
  • 1950's sedan $2.99
  • Line Mar Pepco Truck $8.50
  • Line Mar Bond Bread Van $8.00 
  • Line Mar Fire Engine $4.95 
  • Line Mar Dump Truck $12.99 
  • Line Mar GE Courier Car $10.98
  • Nomura red Sedan $5.00
  • Nomura police Car $2.52
  • Nomura lumber truck $3.48
  • 6 Namura vehicles $16.99
  • Orange sedan $10.99
  • King sedan $9.95
Total Cost: $150.90

Monday, February 09, 2015

Diabelli Project 077 - Solo Marimba Piece

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.

These flash compositions have a ten-minute time limit -- so every second counts. That's why I can get a lot farther into a sketch if it's just for a solo instrument. It takes just as long to write two measures of melody as it does for one measure of melody plus one measure of harmony (or counter melody). My musical training was as a keyboard percussionist, so I already had a pretty good idea of what's possible with a marimba (beyond mariachi music).

As you can see, my original four-note idea gets worked with in some different ways as the piece progresses. (click on image to enlarge).

So what happens next? As with all the Diabelli Project sketches, that's up to you. If if inspires you, please feel free to make of it what you will. And please -- share the results.

Friday, February 06, 2015

CCC 123 - Zhu Jian'er

If the Consonant Classical Challenge has shown anything, it's not just that there are living composers writing quality music -- but they're in all corners of the globe.

Chinese composer Zhu Jina'er grew up in Shanghai and stueed at the Moscow Conservatory in the mid-1950's. Well-steeped in Western classical music, he seeks to incorporate Chinese instruments and musical traditions into his work.

In addition to his compositions for Chinese ensembles, Zhu has written five symphonies and other works for Western orchestras and chamber ensembles.

Zhu uses triadic harmonies and pentatonic melodies, which make his music immediately accessible to the listener. Unlike Western composers, Zhu doesn't seem to feel the need to use harmonic motion to drive the music. This gives his work a sense of concise stability.

In his Symphony No. 3 "Tibet" Op. 29. Zhu uses the language and structure of Western music as the framework for his compositions. Although the chords and scales are Western, the five-note motifs and how they're treated come from the Chinese tradition.

In Memory of the Martyrs for Truth, symphonic fantasia, Op. 21 is a work that shows Zhu's expressive depth. The heartfelt emotions for the subject matter come through in Zhu's orchestration, and his use of minor chords and chromatic intervals.

Days of Emancipation shows Zhu's skill in writing for Chinese instruments. Although the music is idiomatic to the instruments, there's still a sense of classical organization about it that makes it immediately understandable not only to Chinese audiences, but to Western ears as well.

While many concert-goers might find Zhu Jian'er's Chinese ensemble music a little too exotic, that shouldn't be a problem with his orchestral works. Zhu's heritage comes through in his music -- just as Dvorak's does, or Elgar's, or Ginastera's. Personally, I find Zhu's viewpoint to be both refreshing and fascinating. While his works are immediately enjoyable, they also reveal additional details on repeated listening. If only his full cycle of symphonies were available...

Recommended recordings

Symphony, No. 1 and Festival Overture

Symphonic Fantasia / Symphony 4

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Peter Sculthorpe: Complete String Quartets with Didjeridu

Peter Sculthorpe's music articulates the Australian character as completely as Aaron Copland's does the American. In his compositions for string quartet and didjeridu, Sculthorpe highlights the tensions between the indigenous aborigines of Australia and the encroachment of Western settlers.

The string quartet is a distinctively European invention, the didjeridu Australian. And yet Sculthorpe skillfully combines them to create a variety of sounds and textures that effectively convey his intended meanings.

The didjeridu is more than just a simple bamboo tube. Through it, a skilled musicians (such as Stephen Kent in this recording), can be an expressive instrument, one that transforms the human voice into something that can be ethereal, guttural, intimate, or transcendent. At times instrument sounds like a bank of electronics, other times it sound distinctively human.

The Del Sol Quartet have long embraced contemporary music, and in this recording they excel. Their performances are tight, disciplined, and blend in interesting ways with the didjeridu. Sometimes unusual instruments can sound as if they were grafted onto a standard ensemble. Not here. Sculthorpe fully integrates all the instruments in his music, and that's just how this band of five talented musicians performed it.

I highly recommend listening to the Blu-ray recording. The didjeridu is capable of very subtle inflections that aren't fully audible in the CD or download versions.

Peter Sculthorpe: Compete String Quartets with Didjeridu
Quartets Nos. 12 "From Ubirr," 14 "Quamby," 16, and 18
Del Sol Quartet
Stephen Kent, didjeridu
Sono Luminus
2CD set and Audio Blu-ray

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Martin Boykan: Music for Piano (1986-2007)

Martin Boykan's music is rigorously 12-tone, but that doesn't mean it's academic nor mechanistic. His music breathes, expanding and contracting in a naturalistic flow. While there are some abrupt changes in dynamics and tempo, often the music smoothly transitions from one emotional state to the next.

This album features four piano works by Boykan, It begins with Usurpations (five bagatelles), five music portraits based on quotes from each subject's compositions. Although the movements are short, Boykan takes the musical quote and very quickly transforms it into his own creative voice.

The composer describes Towards the Horizon as a spiritual narrative. The music does evoke spirituality. The dissonances are softer in the work, and within each movement there's more of a fluidity of texture.

The Sonata No. 3: to the memory of Edward Cohen is the most complex work on the album. I found I could penetrate the denseness of this four-movement sonata only with repeated listening. But it was worth the effort. This is a solidly constructed piece of music, and every note is indeed there for a reason.

Donald Berman's performances of these works is nothing short of amazing. This is very difficult music -- not only to perform, but to internalize. Berman shows he's in command at all times. He knows where the music's going, and his expressive playing gets us there in a clear, straight-forward manner. And does a great service both to the composer and to the listener.

Martin Boykan: Music for Piano (1986-2007)
Donald Berman, piano
Bridge Records 9434

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Dick Tracy and the Literary Double

In the sequence published January 15, 2015, Mike Curtis and Joe Staton referenced not one but two literary works -- and brought yet another newspaper comic strip into the Dick Tracy universe.

Sam Ketchem has expressed his admiration for Tom De Haven's Derby Dugan before (see: Dick Tracy and the Phony Funnys). The trilogy (Funny Papers, Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies, and Dugan Under Ground) revolves around the fictional newspaper comic strip character Derby Dugan. The Depression-era Dugan had a magic wallet with a never-ending supply of ten-spots. That's what Curtis and Staton (through Sam Ketchem) are referencing.

Honeymoon's response is even more interesting. I was familiar with Dethany Dendrobia, a popular character in Bill Holman's strip On the Fast Track. Dethany's been on some adventures in cyberspace using various avatars, including a 1940's-inspired detective, Dethany Noir. I thought Curtis and Staton were just having some fun with character.

In fact, Holman has published an interactive novella entitled "Dethany in Virtu/Noir" for smartphone and tablet. And it just happened to be released the same date as this strip was published.

So in one sequence, we have references to two literary works involving comic strips. One references a fictional comic strip in a series of novels; the other a comic strip character in a digital publication. And a little bit of character development as well (as Honeymoon tells us what she wants to be when she grows up). Nicely done!