Friday, October 30, 2015

Spam Roundup, October 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.

Pardon my English

The next time you use an auto-translate program, consider this: if you don't speak the language, you won't really know how well the program did. For example:

 - Hello very nice web site! Guy.. Excellent.. Amazing... I will bookmark your web site and take the feeds also? {All your feed are belong to us.]

 - It is good, natural and gives you a breath of fresh hair. [I'll take your word for it.]

- Individuals that plant the wind, should certainly bring the Gears of War Game. [What about those that break the wind?]

- Finding your place in a set of tools for yourself. [Are you calling me a tool?]

Drinking and surfing don't mix

At least, that's the conclusion I draw after reading these:

- We stumbled over here by a different web address and thought I might as well check things out. [Before you passed out, I assume.]

< - I do not even know the way I ended up here, but I thought this submit used to be great.
[I love you, too, man. *hic*]

See that green lumber truck? That's what all the fuss is about.

Lumbering Along

The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along still brings in the spam -- and none of it even remotely relevant to the subject.

 - Tremendous issues here I am very glad to look at your article [Yes, cheap Japanese toys from the 1960s is a hot button topic, all right.]

;- Yes! Finally someone writes about mavic open pro wheelset. [Um, I don't get quite that technical. The toy has little rubber tires. Period.]

- >For instance, in the event the head gasket continues your car so you don't contain the available cash to hide repares, what can you do. The Family and Medial Leave Act (FMLA) require certain employers to stop to 12 weeks of unpaid leave on their employees for specific reasons. To get a job, you must have a job. [Once I figure out the connection between head gasket replacement and medical leave, I'll respond.]

Fastidiously still

An oldie but still a goodie:

- This paragraph is truly a fastidious one it assists new the web visitors, who are wishing for blogging.

That's all for this month. Until next time, keep wishing for blogging, and take time to smell the fresh hair.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Festival of Fucik

Most people have never heard of Julius Ernst Wilhelm Fucik -- although they're very familiar with his music. Fucik, sometimes called the "Bohemian Sousa" wrote a work entitled "Entrance for the Gladiators" in 1887. It was quickly adopted by circus bands, and is now known almost exclusively as the clown's entrance music.

 Neemi Jarvi and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra do an admirable job stripping away almost a century of circus music tradition to get at the heart of this work. Originally it was a slow, dignified march that (hopefully) conjured up the glory of Rome. In that, they succeed. The "Entrance of the Gladiators" sounds like a late romantic characteristic piece, more in line with the rest of Fucik's ouevre.

Fucik's musical career included stints with military bands, so it's no surprise that his marches have all the appropriate flourishes and gestures. In that regard, his music does have a superficial resemblance to Sousa's. Fucik, though, was a student of Dvorak and to my ears his music has a distinctively European sound.

This recital features several concert works by Fucik, including "The Old Grumbler," a showpiece for bassoon (an instrument Fucik played).  Also included are some of his waltzes and other short orchestral works, making for a well-balanced program. There's no question that these are light classical works. But Fucik is an imaginative composer, and these pieces sparkle and shine in an appealing way.

 If you have the choice, I recommend purchasing the SACD version of this release. The added detail SACD playback brings to the music made me fully appreciate Fucik's talents as an orchestrator -- and the performing ability of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Neemi Jarvi.

Julius Ernst Wilhelm Fucik: A Festival of Fucik 
Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Neemi Jarvi, conductor 
Chandos SACD CHSA 5158

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Franz Ignaz Beck - Symphonies from France

Franz Ignaz Beck is considered an early symphonist. His first set of symphonies was publicized in 1756, the year of Mozart's birth. The collection featured in this recording, his Opus 2 set of 6 symphonies was published in 1758 -- around the same time Haydn composed his first symphonies.

These are relatively simple works; each of the six has a compact three-movement structure, alternating fast-slow-fast. The orchestration, as was common at the time, is primarily for strings. Horns are added at times for effect, but these are basically works for string ensemble.

And that's not a bad thing. Beck's music has an elegance to it, which the French found appealing (he was to spend most of his career in France). The melodies are expressive, but restrained. It's easy to hear the roots of Mozart in this music, which perhaps give these symphonies their appeal to my modern ears.

The Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra directed by Kevin Mallon have a few more players on board for this recording (2 horns and harpsichord). Nevertheless, the ensemble has a light, transparent sound that's well-suited to this material. The recording is clean with just a hint of ambient sound.

If you like the early works of Mozart and Haydn, or indeed, classical music in general, you should find these symphonies enjoyable light listening. A nice complement to Naxos' previous release of Beck's Op. 4 symphonies with the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice.

Franz Iganz Beck: Symphonies, Op. 2
Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra; Kevin Mallon, conductor
Naxos 8.573323

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

An accidental addition to the O-Gauge Zen Garden

This jeep is three inches long. Does that make it closer to
O-scale, or HO-scale? I found out after I received it.
There's a problem with purchasing vintage items through eBay rather than antique shows or flea markets. You can't thoroughly examine the item. And while detailed photos and accurate dimensions in the listings help, surprises can still happen.

Recently I purchased a Japanese tinplate friction toy Jeep for my Straco Express display layout. The length was listed as 3 inches, which is the average length of the vehicles on the layout. The Japanese toy cars from the 1950's and 1960's with that length are approximately HO-scale, which fits with the HO-gauge track on the display.

I had forgotten about proportion, though. Even in real life, Jeeps have much shorter wheel bases than sedans, and the same is true in the toy world. This vehicle was way to large for my HO-scale Straco layout.

But it just happened to be about the right size for my O-gauge layout. And so there it went. The brush fire Jeep is parked beside the Plasticville factory, ready to respond to an industrial fire at a moment's notice.

No, it's not a realistic vehicle, but I think the jeep has a certain toy-like appeal.

And, as it turns out, this is a toy with a secret, which I'll reveal in a future post.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Seattle Symphony excels with new Dutilleux release

This is the second of three planned releases of Henri Dutilleux's music by the Seattle Symphony. The first volume demonstrated that the symphony, under the direction of Ludovic Morlot, understands Dutilleux's idiosyncratic musical world. And this release simply reconfirms that impression. The orchestra plays with precision, energy, and -- more importantly -- delicacy.

 The release opens with Métaboles. It's is a real showpiece for any orchestra, and Seattle is more than up to the challenge. Each movement features a different section of the orchestra, with the final movement bringing them all together. But, as the title suggests, change is everywhere. The music shifts and changes constantly, creating a wonderfully complex yet inviting world for the listener to enter.

Dutilleux's Violin Concerto is subtitled "L'arbre des Songes" or "Tree of Dreams." The work is sometimes atonal, but maintains a dreamlike, impressionistic quality. Like a tree, the music seems to grow organically out of the opening material, branching off in different directions, but all relating back to the source.

Symphony No. 2 "Le double" divides the standard symphony orchestra into two groups: a small chamber orchestra in front, and the rest of the orchestra in back. The two groups aren't there for simple contrast, however. While the small ensemble sometimes echoes the music of the larger, both seem to operate semi-independently, as if they were in different dimensions.

It would be fascinating, I think, to hear each ensemble independently. I suspect the music would sound like a self-contained work. But it's the combination of the two, of course, that gives the Symphony its emotive strength.

I enjoyed volume one as much as I enjoyed this release. So I'll be eagerly awaiting the conclusion of this important series.

Henri Dutilleux: Métabole; Violin Concerto; Symphony No. 2
Seattle Symphony; Ludovic Morlot, conductor; Augustin Hadelich, violin
Seattle Symphony Media
SSM 1007

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Bacewicz string quartet cycle off to good start

In their survey of string quartets by Grazyna Bacewicz, the Lutoslawski Quartet has done something interesting: they don't present them in order.

Volume 1 of the series features four of Bacewicz's seven quartets. It opens with the 1960 String Quartet No. 6, one of her more avant garde quartets. Bacewicz uses a version of 12-tone music to organize her material, but develops it in her own fashion.

Following that is her first string quartet from 1939, a mostly tonal work with its central movement built around a Lithuanian folk song.

The String Quartet No. 3, written seven years later, shows her development as a composer. Bacewicz was still writing in a mostly tonal style, but it was a much expanded tonality. Stylistically, this quartet reminds me of late Shostakovich.

The album ends with Bacewicz' final string quartet, No. 7 completed in 1965. In sound, its aggressively modernist (compared to the other quartets). The motifs are somewhat disjointed, the harmonies more dissonant. And yet there's a clear sense of structure and organization that runs throughout the work that keeps it from sounding dated.

The Lutoslawski Quartet's recorded sound isn't as clean as I would have liked it to be, but that's a minor complaint. The important thing is that these four players understand Bacewicz. So their performance of the conservative String Quartet No. 1 is just as convincing as their performance of the challenging String Quartet No. 7.

I look forward to Volume 2.

Grazyna Bacewicz: String Quartets, Vol. 1
Lutoslawksi Quartet
Naxos 8.572806

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Collecting -- and collecting information 21

In the last installment (see part 20) I wrote about the continued mystery of the small Japanese tin signs I'd purchased for the Straco Display Layout. The signs themselves have no manufacturer's mark on them. I had found some in their original packaging, but even the packaging had no identifier.

Recently I ran across a tinplate Japanese floor toy train for sale in its original box. The set is from about 1960, and -- as you can see in the photo -- it came with a set of my mystery signs.

If that box art looks familiar, it should. Ichimura "borrowed" it from Lionel's
1958 catalog (see below) -- which helps date this set as well.

There's no question these are the same signs - the markings bear the same patent numbers as mine. This time, there is a brand on the set -- the stylized Indian head of Ichimura & Co. Ltd..

Ichimura didn't consistently brand their products, especially their low-cost toys. The only appearance of the brand is on the box -- which is why original packaging is such an important source of information. So one mystery's solved.

One more thing -- all of the signs I've found were all made the same way. They were stamped out of a single sheet of tin, with the based designed to be bent at an angle to hold the sign upright. Look closely at the semaphore signal. It's made of two pieces of metal. The semaphore flag pivots on the base, giving this piece some extra play value.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Rare renaissance gems from Blue Heron

The Blue Heron Choir is on a mission: they want to bring to life music that has gone unheard since the reign of Henry VIII. The Peterhouse Partbooks (stored in Peterhouse College, Cambridge) were compiled in 1540 by Thomas Bull.

Written for liturgical use at the Canterbury Cathedral. Since these were performing copies, the music is carefully transcribed with no illuminations or distracting graphic elements.

Bull's collection contains over seventy choral works, fifty of which are unique to the partbooks. The partbooks were only in use for seven years. Under Edward II, professional church choirs were dissolved, and the books stored away and forgotten -- until now.

The center piece of the album is the Missa Spes nostra by Robert Jones. Known more for his lute songs and madrigals, this mass is a masterwork of English renaissance polyphony. Jones shifts back and forth between modes, giving the work a slightly modern sound (at least to my ears).

Also included is a work by Nicholas Ludford, and one by Robert Hunt. Hunt is something of a cipher. Only two of his works are known -- and both only from the Peterhouse Partbooks. His setting of the Stabat mater is expressive and effective, letting the words dictate the course of the music. Perhaps because of that, some of his harmonies are quite surprising, but never out of context. This is a gem that deserves to enter the sacred choral repertoire.

This fourth volume in the Peterhouse Partbooks series continues the same high standards of the previous three. Blue Heron has a smooth ensemble blend, with especially strong sopranos. That's important, as many of these works have wide leaps in the upper registers, which these singers take with apparent ease and hit with laser-like accuracy.

The recording's cleanly recorded, with just the right amount of ambiance to carry the cadences into the following phrases. Yet I never had trouble discerning the various lines as the weave contrapuntally in and out of each other.

Robert Jones: Missa Spes nostra; Nicholas Ludford: Ave cujus conceptio; Robert Hunt: Stabat mater
Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks, Vol. 4
Blue Heron Renaissance Choir; Scott Metcalfe, director
BHCD 1005

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Bizet: Roma -- More than just Carmen

There's more to Bizet than "Carmen." And while the works on this new collection aren't likely to replace Bizet's greatest hit, they do provide insight into the composer's style and make for some enjoyable light listening.

 The disc starts with the Marche funébre in B minor. It's not quite the downer you might think. Bizet's funeral march reminded me of Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" with its harmonic motions and richly scored stentorian chords.

Bizet's "Overture in A minor" is one of the stronger works on the album (in my opinion). It seems to have a little more emotional depth to it -- in additional to some gorgeous melodies.

The Patrie Overture bustles with energy. This is one curtain-raiser that delivers! Bizet's 1871 "Petite Suite" is a charming set of miniatures that show Bizet's skill as an orchestrator.

The "Roma" symphony, composed in the 1860's as part of Bizet's the Prix de Rome requirements. The symphony isn't a tightly organized work; some of it was recycled from an earlier Prix composition. Bizet tinkered with it throughout his life, but the work never really jelled. Still, it has its moments (especially in the scherzo) and overall makes for some pleasant listening.

The RTE National Symphony Orchestra directed by Jean-Luc Tingaud performs well, although the ensemble sound seems a little lightweight, as if the orchestra was holding back a little. But then, this is lightweight material to begin with.

Georges Bizet: Roma - Symphony 
RTE National Symphony Orchestra; Jean-Luc Tingaud, conductor 
Naxos 8.573344

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Barney and Clyde in Perspective

The creative team behind Barney and Clyde (Gene Weingarten, Dan Weingarten & David Clark) often have fun with the conventions of the genre. The sequence published June 6, 2015 doesn't quite break the fourth wall, but it's still a clever pun (I think). (click on image to enlarge)

The idea of taking a single scene and breaking it up into panels to show motion isn't new, of course. And because it isn't, the reader doesn't immediately notice the careful arrangements of the tombstones. At least, not until the third panel. And even then, the wording is such that for many (myself included), the reference to perspective in the visual arts doesn't immediately register. It's only while reading the fourth panel that the joke hits.

And I think that's why Clyde's shown looking back to the third panel, to refer back to the location of the actual punchline. It's a subtle gag -- but a good one.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Powerhouse Pianists Return

I haven't heard the original Powerhouse Pianists album, but after listening to this release, I'll be searching it out. This release features the same type of programming as the first Powerhouse Pianists, although it can be enjoyed on its own merits.

Pianists Stephen Gosling and Blair McMillen present a collection of contemporary works that push the boundaries the piano duo -- and not always in the way one might expect.

Robert Paterson's Deep Blue Ocean, for example, is an extended work that I can only describe as impressionistic minimalism. It's impressionistic in terms of its harmonic coloration and the way it evokes the motion of the water a la Debussy's La Mer. It's minimalist in terms of its driving -- and sometimes -- unrelenting rhythm.

Some major composers are represented. John Corigliano's quarter-tone work Chiaroscuoro, and John Adam's ground-breaking Hallelujah Junction are both present.

Frederic Rzewski utilizes the rumbling, intense power of two concert grands hammering away in the lower register to represent factory machinery in his "Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues" (before momentarily desolving into some languid blues).

Also included are engaging works from Mary Ellen Childs, Doug Opel, and Amanda Harberg -- all equal in quality to the aforementioned compositions.

Stephen Gosling and Blair McMillen are young performers, and they bring a take-no-prisoners attitude and youthful energy to this music. While the styles are widely different, the duo seems to bring out the best in each.

As I said -- I'll be looking for the first volume of this series.

Powerhouse Pianists II
Stephen Gosling and Blair McMillen, piano duo
Robert Paterson: Deep Blue Ocean; Doug Opel: Dilukkenjon; Amanda Harberg: Subway; Mary Ellen Childs: Kilter; John Corigliano:  Chiaroscuro; John Adams: Hallelujah Junction; Frederic Rzewski: Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues
American Modern Recordings, AMR 1039

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Joan Tower - Violin Concerto bold and colorful

This new release serves up three outstanding orchestral works by American composer Joan Tower.

Stroke is a 2010 musical portrait of a stroke, and the disruptive effect it has on the victim. Tower's music upends itself early on, and over the course of the piece moves through several violent emotions before settling on serene acceptance of the new norm.

The earliest work on the album is the 1991 Violin Concerto. This single-movement piece was originally composed for violinist Elmar Oliveria. In this recording, Cho-Liang Lin is the featured soloist. Lin has an intense style that imbues his performance with a frantic energy that gives the entire work a sense of urgency -- and to good effect. While Lin's style may differ from Oliveria's his interpretation is no less valid.

The Chamber Dance, to my ears, seems like a kind of a concerto for orchestra. Over the course of the 16-minute work, each instrument (and instrumental combination) is showcased. Originally written in 2006 for the Orpheus Ensemble, the work betrays its origin as a piece for leaderless orchestra. In such an organization, all players are equal -- and the Chamber Dance gives everyone equal time to shine. The piece moves through various orchestral textures and colors in kaleidoscopic fashion. Underneath it all is a thematic framework with a clear sense of direction, giving the work substance as well as glitter.

A colleague of mine calls Joan Tower one of the greatest living composers. After hearing this release, I can't argue with him.

Joan Tower: Violin Concerto; Stroke; Chamber Dance
Cho-Liang Lin, violin; Nashville Symphony; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor
Naxos 8.559775

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Straco Express Layout, Part 47 - Serving District No. 7

The Line Mar School Bus, ca. 1959
Read all the installments of the Straco Express layout project here.

At this point, I really didn't expect to acquire any more of the Line Mar 3" vehicles. Out of that set of ten, the three remaining are all pretty rare and/or pretty expensive.

Nevertheless, I did run across an example of the Line Mar school bus at a reasonable price, and although the condition wasn't perfect, it was good enough for the Straco Display Layout.

Comparing it to the other vehicles in the Line Mar set, I discovered it used the later, cheaper chassis construction.  The body, though, seems closest to the coal truck, which has the earlier crimped chassis. Perhaps the school bus was a transition piece? (click on images to enlarge)

Of the eight vehicles I own in this Line Mar series, five have the inexpensive
tab-connected chassis (the bus is lower right). Note how the materials
used varied over time.

Line Mar was the Japanese subsidiary of Louis Marx, Co. Unlike other Japanese firms making toys for the American market, Line Mar seems to have received some input from Marx that let them (sometimes) model US prototypes more accurately.

The current Line Mar roster for the Straco Display Layout

Compare the Line Mar school bus with the Nomura model. Line Mar's is orange, the standard color of school buses in the late 1950's. The Nomura bus, on the other hand, is fancifully colored in primary colors. The Linemar vehilce is labeled "County School District No. 7," something fairly close to what many children would have seen (albeit with the county or township explicitly stated). The Nomura vehicle just has a generic "school bus" label.

Line Mar bus (left) vs. Nomura bus (right)

I have no problem with both being on the display layout . Perhaps the Nomura bus, which is newer and in better condition -- is owned by a private school...

The eight Line Mar vehicles on the display layout, with the school bus
in the lead. The original Straco Express rounds the bend.

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
Cragstan HO Light Tower $20.49

  • 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
  • Haji three-wheel tanker $5.00
  • 1950's sedan $2.99
  • LineMar Police Car $9.00
  • 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
  • LineMar County School Bus $9.99
  • 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
  • Indian Head (?) convertible $18.00
  • Yellow/red Express truck $9.99
Total Project Cost: $228.36

Monday, October 05, 2015

Diabelli Project 103 - Marimba Solo

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.

It's a sad state of affairs when one can't even snatch ten minutes out of a day to jot down some musical ideas, but that's where I've been these past few weeks. This week's sketch is just something for a single line instrument. It would work for violin, but I had a marimba in mind when I wrote it. Perhaps its a continuation of the last installment's sketch? (click to enlarge)

As always, this sketch is freely offered to any and all who'd like to use it. Just let me know of the results.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Max Kowalski Lieder - Unusual music, unusual presentation

I was not familiar with the music of Max Kowalski before listening to this new release. Kowalski was a mainly self-taught singer and composer (primarily of lieder), though professionally he was a lawyer. He survived Buchenwald, and died in London in 1956, a well-respected singing teacher and composer.

Kowalski's output is almost exclusively lieder, and stylistically remains grounded in the early post-romantic aesthetic of the early 20th Century.

This new release from Bridge doesn't just feature a Kowalski program; it's a recording of a concert baritone Wolfgang Holzmair performed in 2011 for a Max Kowalski symposium.

As he explains in the liner notes, the selection and sequencing of the lieder is of paramount importance, grouping similar works together. The emotional center of the concert (and this recording) is Pierrot Lunaire, which Kowalski completed the same year as Schoenberg's settings.

While Schoenberg set the unsettling imagery of the text to equally unsettled music, Kowalski remains firmly within tonal limits. And yet his version of Pierrot Lunaire is also exotic and unsettling in its own way.

Wolfgang Holzmair has a warm, rich baritone that seems well-suited to the repertoire. Kowalski was an intuitive melodist, and Holzmair's fluid delivery retains some of the spontaneous nature of the music.

Highly recommended for aficionados of lieder.

Max Kowalski: Lieder
Wolfgang Holzmair, baritone; Thérèse Lindquist, piano
Bridge Records 9431