Friday, September 30, 2016

Spam Roundup: September, 2016

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. 

How's that again?

 - I believe that is among the such a lot significant information for me. The web site taste is wonderful. The articles is actually nice. [You seem surprised.]

 - When some one searches for his required thing, therefore he/she desires to be available that in detail, thus that thing is maintained over here. [So... is this a thing?]

 - Grade national strawberry mark Month this May with men out On that point who Have got beehelped to achiever their optimum appela with a bit of my pham operation  [Optimal beehelped?]

Those two green lumber trucks? They're what all the excitement's about.

Lumbering through the spam

It was a short post in a series about vintage Japanese tin toys. There are probably only about 10 people on the planet who were legitimately interested in what I had to say. 

And yet, The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along continues to be one my most heavily-trafficked posts -- by spambots, that is. 

 - Pretty element of content. [Yes, it is a nice-looking toy, isn't it?]

 - Lucky me I came across your blog by accident (stumbleupon) [Ah, so that's what "by accident" means!]

 - Is there any other web page with offers these stuff in quality [I can't imagine there would be.]

Fastidious Spam

And finally, my post on Fastidious Spam is generating its own collection of, um, fan mail. 

 - thanks for any other fantastic post. [Why, what's wrong with this one?]

 - It's hard to find experienced people in this particular subject. [Experienced? Well, more.. fastidious, I think.]

Ahaa, its fastidious discussion concerning this article here at this blog. I have read all that, so at this time me also commenting at this place. [Me am pleased.]

That's all for this month If I find more of these gems by accident (you know, stumbleupon), I'll share them next month. There's no other web page that offers these stuff in quality!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Thomas Tomkins - Anthems and Canticles

Daniel Hyde and the Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford, along with the early music ensemble Phantasm, present an interesting program of music by Thomas Tomkins.

Five anthems for choir and viols (as opposed to just an organ) are the showpieces here, and rightly so. Tomkins' use  of the consort is more imaginative than just simply mimicking keyboard accompaniment.

Tomkins adds and subtracts instruments to subtly shade the ensemble sound as it sometimes supports and sometimes plays in opposition to the choir. Also included are various consort works, showing Tomkins' consummate skill at instrumental composition.

The Choir of Magdalen College sings in a straightforward fashion. The soloists have a rough quality to their delivery, which sounds completely authentic to me. Phantasm plays with precision and authority. Viols tend to have a wispy sound (compared to modern stringed instruments), but there's nothing anemic about Phantasm.

That solid instrumental work coupled with the not-quite-polished sound of the choir really brings these works to life. These gritty performances have a beauty all their own. And  that earthy beauty I found thoroughly appealing.

Thomas Tomkins: Anthems and Canticles
Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford; Phantasm; Daniel Hyde, conductor
Opus Arte OACD9040D

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Gustav Helsted: Decet and String Quartet

Just how progressive was Danish composer Gustav Helsted? Well, he founded a musical society that was playing Bruckner and Mahler symphonies in 1896. And while he studied with Niels Gade, Helsted was vitally interested pushing beyond Gade's concept of romanticism -- as his heroes Bruckner and Mahler had.

Helsted’s Decet, Op. 18 for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn and strings is a good example of that boundary-pushing. Composed in 1891, it was still considered far too modern-sounding twenty-five years later (according to critics).

While the harmonic progressions might not seem quite outre a century later, the Decet is still an unusual work. Its instrumentation allows for some unconventional timbres. At times it sounds like a chamber orchestra, and other times an intimate trio or quartet.

To my ears, Helsted sounds superficially similar to Grieg in this work, but that might just be the Scandinavian character coming through. The odd instrumentation will naturally limit performances, but the quality of the writing makes this a work that should be heard often.

Helsted's String Quartet is, I think, a truly remarkable work. Possibly written as early as 1917, it strongly reminded me of Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 8 -- composed in 1960. Although it lacks the urgency and angst of Shostakovich's work, Helsted's quartet does outline its motifs in sharp relief, with stark, dramatic contrasts driving the music.

If these two works are any indication of the quality of his output, then Gustav Helsted is a composer I would like to know better. Members of the Danish Sinfonietta, under the direction of David Riddell, turn in unapologetic performances of these obscure masterworks that bring the music to life. If you're interested in Bruckner, Mahler, or Shostakovich, then Helsted's works are worthy of your attention.

Gustav Helsted: Decet and String Quartet
The Danish Sinfonietta, David Riddell, conductor
Dacapo 8.226111

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Sally Forth's Metadate

Sally Forth began in 1982 as a simple domestic comic strip, humorously showing the ups and downs of a working mother. In 1999 original creator Greg Howard turned the scripting duties over to Francesco Marciuliano things got interesting. Marciuliano occasionally had the characters break the fourth wall and directly address the reader. More often, though, it's more subtle. Buried in the gag-a-day dialog are indications that the characters know they're in a comic strip.

Look at these examples from an extended sequence from April, 2016.

This sequence is full of meta references. As Ted notes, the strip used to be just a gag-a-day comic. Sally comments on how Marciuliano more fully develops the characters and situations. In the final panel, Ted almost seems aware of the reader, but Sally defuses it with the punchline.

In the first panel, Ted says it's been almost 24 years since their first date (which took place while they were in college) -- 1992. Sally remarks that their timeline doesn't bear close examination. Which is true. When the strip started in 1982, their daughter Hillary was 12 years old (and still is). That pushes that first date back to 1970 at the earliest.

Ted's right -- Hillary's last name is in the title of the strip.

And yes, Sally's final observation, while seemingly comic exaggeration, isn't. The sequence at the restaurant did indeed take two weeks of strips to tell. 

Personally, I enjoy the extra dimension Marciuliano gives to the strip with these meta-observations. It's made Greg Howard's original creation even better -- and certainly more rewarding to read on a daily basis.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Diabelli Project 127 - A Work for Chamber Orchestra

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 I think I got a litter over-ambitious and sketched out something for chamber orchestra all in the space of the allotted 10 minutes. I think it turned out rather well, considering. The basic idea was to have a burbling energy generator in the strings that slowly changed over time. On top of it, the winds and brass would provide three motifs that would gradually come together to form the opening theme (or they would, given enough time).

As you can see, the three motifs are a whole-note slide (mm 2-3, oboe and clarinet), syncopated fifths (mm 3-4, trombone and tuba), and a sweeping arpeggio (mm 4-5, flute and bassoon). This is another sketch I'll place in the "possibilities" folder to revisit later, I think.

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 021 Stamper

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

021 Stamper

Normally, I post the image of the toy from the instruction sheet at right. For the next three posts, you'll be seing the same image. Although these are all separate toys, on the instruction sheet, the stamper (21), wind wheel (22), and the fork (23) were all jammed together. So rather than spend time Photoshopping the images, I just cropped the grouping. The toy we're focues on this time is the one at the far left.

The stamper was a simple toy to construct. The only difficult part was connecting the two dowels with the wooden collar. The handle is most secure when the collar is centered over the two dowels. Making that happen though took some trial and error. Eventually I was able to position the collar to provide support for both dowels. Eventually.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

László Lajtha Orchestral Works, Vol. 1 - A Great Start

László Lajtha, along with colleagues Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály collected folk music in his native Hungary. Their aim was to not only preserve their cultural heritage but incorporate it into their own music. Lajtha may be the least famous of the three, but his music can be just as rewarding to listen to.

Lajtha retained a neo-classic style throughout his career. His 1933 Suite for Orchestra is an intriguing mixture of lush harmonies, restless syncopations and sometimes spiky melodies. The suite is comprised of music from his ballet Lysistrata. Dynamic and dramatic contrasts abound in the score. It's a great opener -- I'm surprised the Suite isn't regularly programmed by orchestras.

The 1941 In memoriam was written to honor the victims of the Second World War. While it has a more somber cast than the Suite, the work effectively conveys the complexity of emotion war and loss can bring. There are quiet moments for contemplation and heavily chromatic passages that suggest anxiety and uncertainty. And throughout there's a slow, inexorable pulse that, like an army, keeps moving forward until, at the climax, it fades off into the distance.

The first of Lajtha's nine symphonies was completed in 1936. To my ears, it has more in common with Martinu's music than it does with Bartók's or Kodály's. There is similar syncopation that gives the themes a dancing quality, and Lajtha's use of the harp to punctuate parallels Martinu's use of the piano for the same purpose.

The influence of folk music is closer to the surface of this work. The harmonies have a modal sound to them, and the melodic turns -- especially in some of the fast passages -- sound very close to Hungarian folk dances. Lajtha studied with Vincent d'Indy, and to my ears, his influence can be heard in Lajtha's orchestrations.

László Lajtha ran afoul of Hungary's communist regime in 1956, and his music ceased to be performed. Recordings such as this should help rectify this wrong. In his native land, Lajtha is considered one Hungary's most important composers. With this release, it's easy to hear why.

László Lajtha: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1
Symphony No. 1; Suite pour orchestra; In memoriam
Pécs Symphony Orchestra; Nicolás Pasquet, conductor
Naxos 8.573643 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Michael Haydn's Serenade

Johann Michael Haydn was the younger brother of the much more successful and famous Franz Joseph Haydn. It's not surprising that Michael's work is seldom performed. Who could compete with the father of the symphony and the string quartet?

But during their lifetimes, that fame didn't matter. Michael Haydn was able to have a successful career, and was well-thought of by his contemporaries. And it's not that his music is bad. It's really very good -- it's just that brother Franz's is great.

The 1768 Serenade in D major is one of Michael's more frequently recorded compositions (his trumpet concerto holds the record). And in this case, it's the only work on the record.

Serenades were designed for light listening, and this one is no exception. It compares favorably to those of Mozart and brother Franz; short movements with simple and appealing melodies.

Michael's Serenade showcases various instruments, adding variety and interest to the proceedings. Violin, cello, flute, horn, and trombone all get some time in the spotlight. The Virtuosi Saxoniae perform in a slightly reserved fashion appropriate to the style. This was music designed to pass the time with pleasant listening, and in that it succeeds.

I wouldn't recommend the Serenade as an introduction to Michael Haydn. If, however, you're already familiar with his work, this will make a nice addition to your collection.

Johann Michael Haydn: Serenade in D major, P.87 
Virtuosi Saxoniae; Ludwig Güttler, conductor
Capriccio Encore, C8003

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Lio's Word Balloons

At the heart of the Lio strip that ran on 4/28/16 is a simple bit of word play. Mark Tatulli's gag uses two different meanings of the word " balloon" for the humorous payoff.

It works. But there's a little bit more to unpack here, because that's what makes this sequence even more enjoyable for serious comics fans.

First, understand that Lio is a strip in which no one talks. Or rather, a strip with no word balloons. so of course his word balloons are for sale -- they're useless in his strip.

Second, note that the customer contemplating Lio's wares is Nancy -- a character whose strip is dialogue-heavy. Nancy would definitely have a use for extra word balloons.

Third, note the variety of Lio's wares. And take a step back to realize that we intuitively know what these conventions mean. There are the traditional round balloons, with tails pointing in different directions. If two people are talking in the same panel, each balloon would have a tail going to a different speaker -- hence, you'd need both a right-pointing and a left-pointing word balloon.

See the spikey one? That indicates shouting, or a loud noise. The square one at the end is often used to depict emotionless or mechanical voice, like a robot, speakerphone, or computer navigation.

Comic readers know what these indicate, without ever consciously noticing the word balloon  at all. In this case, though, there are no words to distract us, and we're left to contemplate the shapes.

Well done!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Diabelli Project 126 - Piece for Solo Marimba

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 I returned to something I've been toying with for a while: a solo marimba piece (14 different flash composition sketches so far). As I've done before, I wrote independent lines for the right and left hands. This week I'll be revisiting those sketches and start looking for connections.

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 020 Obelisk

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

020 Obelisk

The obelisk was the first construction to really give me trouble. Remember, this set is a new/old stock, and I was the first person to open it. I did a careful inventory of the parts, and based on the instruction sheet, I'm confident there are no missing pieces.

So I was quite surprised to find I was one piece short when I was building this. If you look very carefully, you'll see that the two pieces on either side of the big piece don't quite line up. That's because I really needed one more three-hole piece (like the one on the top) to use for the base.

The instructions clearly show that side piece resting on a small piece, and the four-hole part standing in the front. That left the two three-hole pieces, one of which had to be placed on top. So I balanced the big piece on the remaining three-hole piece, and just let the side piece rest on the surface rather than a metal piece.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Hermann Goetz Piano Concertos - more Mendelssohn than Brahms

According to George Bernard Shaw, "Hermann Goetz alone among the modern symphonists is easily and unaffectedly successful from beginning to end. He has the charm of Schubert... the refinement and inspiration of Mendelssohn... Schumann's sense of harmonic expression... Brahms, who alone touches [Goetz] in mere brute musical faculty, is a dolt in comparison to him."

That last sentence may be overreaching, but in the 1870s Goetz's star was on the rise. Unfortunately, he died in 1876 at the age of 36, leaving the promise unfulfilled (and Brahms unchallenged). While Shaw may have been overenthusiastic about Goetz's music, he did articulate the essence of his style. Goetz's music has a warmth to it that owes more to Schubert than Beethoven.

Goetz completed his Piano Concerto No. 1 in 1860, just two years after Brahms' first. Goetz's concerto is lighter and more transparent in sound, compared to Brahms'. To me, it did indeed sound Mendelssohnian, with a gorgeous middle movement that wouldn't be out of place in a Schubert work. That's not to say Goetz is derivative. It's just that he leans more towards the aesthetic of the early romantic composers than Brahms did.

The second concerto, premiered in 1867, came out a year after Grieg's. While it's a brawnier composition than Goetz's first concerto, there's still a lightness to it when compared to Grieg's.

Also included on this release is the 1864 Spring Overture. If you like Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony, this overture is for you. Goetz may not have lived up to Shaw's assessment, but his music is still well-constructed and purposeful -- and worth listening to.

His melodies are beautiful, and they're set over some rich harmonies, but none of its just for show. There are structure and purpose in Goetz's writing which provides a solid underpinning to the pretty surface.

Davide Cabassi delivers committed performances, giving the music some emotional weight. The Magdeburg Philharmonic Orchestra directed by Kimbo Ishii have a good ensemble blend that balances lushness and clarity.

Hermann Goetz: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2; Spring Overture
Davide Cabassi, piano
Magdeburg Philharmonic Orchestra; Kimbo Ishii, conductor
Naxos 8.573327

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Viva Italia - Sacred music of the 17th Century beautifully recorded

This release focuses on the composers who trained, taught, or influenced the music at the Vatican's Collegio Germanico during the 17th Century. It was a top-tier institution -- Tomàs Luis de Victoria and Giacomo Carissimi taught at the college, and their sacred music is well-represented in this program. The 17th Century was a time of transition stylistically, from the rich modal polyphony of the late renaissance to the major/minor tonality of the early Baroque.

The program shows that transition, with high renaissance music from Palestrina and Victoria, and baroque works by Charpentier and Carissimi. The real discovery for me was the music of Giovanni Felice Sances (1600-1679) who eventually moved to Vienna and became the Imperial Kapellmeister for Ferdinand III.

Three short sacred works by Sances are included, as well as his Missa Sancta Maria Magdalenae. Sances began his career as an opera singer, and the supple expressiveness of the human voice is at the forefront of his works. This is music that borders on the sensual and provides plenty of opportunities for the soloists to shine.

The massed forces for this recording also provide variety. There are some a capella works, some that used sackbut (early trombones) to double the choirs, and some with instrumental ensembles that act independently (yet in conjunction with) the choirs. It's a well-thought-out program that keeps the listener continually engaged.

Viva Italia is a live recording, and while there are no audience sounds, there are occasional pitch and intonation problems. But they're minor and transient. Grammy®-winning producer Blanton Alspaugh is at the helm, and the sound of the recording is near-perfect. It captures not only the performances but the ambiance of the space they're in -- an essential component for this style of music.

And of course, full credits should go to Brian Schmidt and his performers. The Duke Vespers Ensemble has a warm, seamless blend, the Mallarmé Chamber Players and Washington Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble play cleanly and expressively.

Bottom line: Beautiful music beautifully performed and beautifully recorded.

Viva Italia: Sacred Music in 17th Century Rome 
Duke Vespers Ensemble; Mallarmé Chamber Players; Washington Cornett & Sacbut Ensemble; Brian Schmidt, conductor 
MSR Classics MSR 1580

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Lio's Thin Black Line

There are many ways to play with the understood (and therefore unexamined) conventions of the comic strip genre. And it seems like Mark Tatulli is going to explore them all in his strip Lio.

In this 4/14/16 sequence, the gag depends on something the reader knows intuitively, but never thinks about:

Lio isn't a real person, and neither is his world. He's just a two-dimensional drawing. That's the punchline delivered by the final panel. We know it -- but we're seldom reminded of it.

Note what Tatulli does to get maximum effect out of his gag. In the first panel, Lio's stepping cautiously; the second, he's walking and happy; the third he's running and joyful. In emotion and motion, Lio's building momentum. So when in the fourth panel, he's not just motionless, he's been stopped cold and all that energy slams us into the panel.

And note that there is no fourth panel. Not really. Nothing exists in the infinite blankness of the page until the hand draws it. The end of the branch has been drawn, but the ground, and indeed the borders of the fourth panel haven't. So Lio's arrived in an area of the comic that's still under construction.

The gag is brilliant -- and it's the delivery that makes it so. And that's why I write these appreciations of the creator's artistry. Because like the conventions of the medium, they're often invisible.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Diabelli Project 125 - Brass Quintet

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.

To me, a small chamber composition -- such as a trio, quartet, or quintet, should really be a conversation among equals. That's no to say everyone has the melody all the time, but there should be an equitable division of labor. The first violin shouldn't get all the juicy parts in a string quartet -- nor the first trumpet in a brass quintet.

When I started this sketch, I decided to give the tuba its due, as well as the trombone and let the other instruments support the low-register brass for a change.

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 019 - Depot

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

019 Depot

The first twenty toys in this series just involved placing the metal pieces next or on top of each other. The other building materials don't get used. But have patience -- their time is coming. Construction of the depot was mostly simple.

Those two thin pieces in the front had to be worked with to stand perfectly perpendicular and close to the big piece. But in time, I got them to stand up long enough to get the shot.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Dick Tracy's Dark and Stormy Night

Last week I wrote about Mike Curtis and Joe Staton's homage to Sherlock Holmes (see: Dick Tracy's Final Problem). As in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original story, both the detective and his arch enemy were locked in a mortal struggle at the Reichenbach Falls, and both apparently tumbled to their doom.

Tracy, of course, survived and was nursed back to health by a mysterious figure.

Of course, I thought perhaps the figure was Dr. Watson. But that wasn't quite true.

Dr. Bulwer Lytton was a little delusional, but otherwise harmless (and by tending to Tracy's wounds quite helpful, actually). And if that name sounds somewhat familiar, it should.

Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) was a well-known British novelist, playwright, poet, and politician of the Victorian Era. Some of his stories were used for operas -- Wagner's "Rienzi" is one of them. He's credited with coining phrases still in use, such as "the pen is mightier than the sword."

 But today he's remembered for the opening sentence from just one of his novels, "Paul Clifford" (1830) -- because it was used in Peanuts (first appearing in 1971, I believe).

From there, the phrase and the author became something of a joke. And now the creator of phrases like "the almighty dollar" and "the great unwashed," is memorialized by the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. The goal is to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.

Kudos once again to Curtis and Staton for having a walk-on character with such rich connotations and associations.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Barbara Harbach: Chamber Music V

For me, the two works on this collection of Barbara Harbach's chamber music I most enjoyed were the longest and the shortest. The longest was "The Birth, Life, and Death of Christ" for chamber orchestra. It was written as a musical accompaniment to Alice Guy's 1906 silent film of the same name.

The movie is a series of tableaux and the music follows the same structure, presenting a series of short, interrelated movements. This is quiet, understated music whose slow pacing (matching that of the film), invites contemplation.

Harbach is an accomplished pianist as well as a composer. Her "Nocturne Noir" packs a lot of technical challenges into a five-minute work. Her accessible, tonal-based style keeps the music from just being a jumble of notes, but rather provides an engaging listen.

Also included are two song cycles for soprano, violin, and piano. "Terezin Children's Songs" sets a selection of poems and letters of the youngest concentration camp victims. The music seems superficially simple with a dark undercurrent of sadness that gives the words their emotional power.

The second cycle is "Dorothy Parker Love Songs." Parker's acerbic wit drips from every line -- like this one: "My one dear love, he is all my heart -- and I wish somebody'd shoot him." Harbach successfully captures the mood of these writings. While the soprano sometimes sounds sentimental, the violin seems to be making mordant (if wordless) commentary throughout to remind us how Parker really feels about all this.

This is MSR Classics tenth volume of Barbara Harbach's music, and it holds up well in comparison to the others I've heard. This is honest music-making.

The Music of Barbara Harbach, Volume 10: Chamber Music V
Stella Markou, Marlissa Hudson, soprano; Julia Sakharova, John McGrosso, violin; Alla Voskoboynikova, piano; St. Louis Chamber Orchestra; James Richards, conductor
MSR Classics MS 1544

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Straco and the Mystery Train

Recently three pieces became available on eBay. There was no real description for them -- they were just three seemingly random vintage Japanese tinplate toys. But they caught my attention.

All three were offered by the same seller. It's clear that they're the remnants of a train set, although the seller elected to sell them separately. Unfortunately, they were individually priced way beyond what I was willing to pay for all three. So all I have are the photos.

At almost $50 each, I had to pass on these.

The dimensions provided for the rolling stock were consistent with the pieces I already owned. So I know they're the same size as the Nomura, Straco, and Bandai trains I have. And they looked familiar. So I did some comparisons and discovered that the rolling stock was identical to that of the Straco Express.

First, look at the box cars. The frame is identical for both, as are the construction of the trucks and the couplers.

Second, look at the cabooses. The embossing isn't aligned properly on the mystery caboose, but it's there -- as it is on the Straco caboose.

Was there a second Straco train set? I don't know. The locomotive is missing a tender, so the set isn't complete. The Straco Express had a gondola car -- did this set, also?

And one thing more -- although I'm confident in saying that the maker of this mystery set was the same as the Straco Express, I still don't know what company that was. Yet.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 018 - Mausoleum

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

018. Mausoleum

At this point, I've become pretty adept at stacking up these flimsy metal pieces. Although I post once a week, I usually complete and photograph 4 to 5 toy assemblies in a single one-hour session. This one was pretty simple to build, as most of the low-slung buildings (pardon me -- I mean toys) are.

This is another of the toys whose description seemed at odds with its appearance. To me, it looked like a skyscraper on the East River, or perhaps an exotic chair of some kind (depending on the scale). This is not the structure that springs to mind when I think of a mausoleum. And besides -- a mausoleum seems an odd choice for a building project for a young child.

Maybe those two blocks out front are meant to hold Eternal Flames?

018. Mausoleum

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Dick Tracy's Final Problem

One of the most rewarding things about reading Mike Curtis and Joe Staton's Dick Tracy is that each story is packed with literary, cultural, and comic strip references that can be very rewarding for the careful reader. In this case, from August-September 2016, it's the final showdown between assassin Abner Kadaver and Dick Tracy. 

For mystery readers, the location has meaning. The Swiss Reichenbach Falls was where Sherlock Holmes confronted his greatest adversary, Professor Moriarty. Not only does the setting harken back to that 1893 story, but Kadaver's top hat and cloak also seem to echo the Victorian era.

Although we never get to see what's left of Kadaver's face, we do know one thing -- it's not as bad as Pruneface's. That's a nice reference to Tracy's own canon. Pruneface was a Fifth Columnist who first appeared in a 1942 story line. Although apparently dead, he reappeared in 1983 after being cryogenically frozen. But Kadaver's right -- he was a spy, not a hired assassin, so technically an amateur at death-dealing.

As with Doyle's original tale, both detective and criminal plunge over the falls. And only one (apparently) survives. Which leads to a very curious cameo...

Atterberg Symphonies Vol. 5: romantic and visionary

The fifth and final installment of Neeme Järvi's traversal of Kurt Atterberg symphonies is out. And it presents two works that stand in stark contrast. Atterberg's 1942 "Sinfonia romantica," is sunny, lyrical, and light-hearted, while the "Sinfonia visionaria" is a thickly-textured study of Nordic gloom.

Atterberg's Symphony No. 7 was written in reaction to what he saw as an anti-romantic trend in music. The "Sinfonia romantica" is unabashedly romantic, with richly-voiced harmonies and beautiful melodies that occasionally border on sweetness.

The 1942 premier was not well-received, and afterwards, Atterberg dropped the final movement. I have to admit the three-movement version Järvi presents works just fine. The new last movement brings the symphony to a rollicking close, and reminds me of the last movement of Mendelssohn's "Italian Symphony."

Symphony No. 9, the "Sinfonia visionaira" couldn't be more different. This 1955 work is based on the prophecies of the Völva, a 10th-century Icelandic text. In it, the Völva, or seer, answers the questions of the Bard (Odin in disguise), revealing the future, and the end of the gods. Yes, she's talking about Gotterdammerung.

Atterberg's music is highly chromatic, and in some places dodecaphonic, although still leaning heavily towards tonality. This is a choral symphony, with two soloists representing the Bard and the Seer in conversation. To me, the structure and the sound more resembled that of an extended opera scene. It's a moving work, but one that offers little relief from its overall darkness.

Neeme Järvi and the Gothenburg Symphony deliver committed performances. If you have an opportunity, listen to this played back on an SACD player as opposed to a downloaded file (even a high-resolution one). There are some nuances in Atterberg's orchestrations that become more evident with SACD playback.

A great finale to an excellent series.

Kurt Atterberg: Orchestral Works, Volume 5 
Symphony No. 7, Op. 45 "Sinfonia romantica" 
Symphony No. 9, Op. 54 "Sinfonia visionaria" 
Gothenburg Symphony Chorus and Orchestra; Neeme Järvi, conductor 
Anna Larsson: mezzo-soprano; Olle Persson, baritone 
Chandos CHSA 5166 SACD