Thursday, October 31, 2019

Spam Roundup October 2019

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.

Imaginary conversations

Here's a new twist -- spammers commenting on my replies to them. Only I never replied...

 - It's fantastic that you are getting thoughts from this post as well as from our dialogue made here.

 - Nice answers in return of this query with firm arguments and telling all about that.

And the reviews are in!

 - What I don't understood is, in reality, you are no longer really much more smartly-favored than you might be now. [Agreed. I like to think I'm pretty smartly-favored.]

 - Such clever work and coverage! [I cover cleverness with smart favor.]

 - All the time care for it up! [?!]

The challenge: try to figure out what the vintage toy
pictured above has to do with any of these comments.
"Lumbering along" still attracts the 'bots

The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along keeps attracting the comments. This month, in particular, those comments seem about as far removed from the subject as possible. Remember, this post was about a 1960s tin friction toy car.

 - Thanks for sharing your thoughts on weight loss stevia. [!!]

 - I have got much clear idea about this piece of writing. [I have an even less clear idea thanks to your translation app.]

 - Have you ever thought about creating an ebook or guest authoring other blogs? I have a blog based on the same ideas you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information [This from the owner of a click-bait celebrity news blog.]

 - I'd keep an open heart next time because it only hurts you in the long run. [Wait -- wouldn't an open heart hurt more than a closed one?]

In conclusion

An insightful life-hack from one of my many (fake) contributors:

You do have the ability to purchase toiletries at a lower price when they are generic.

That's all for now. Next month we'll have another round of generic comments. Till then, care for it up!

Victor Rosenbaum gives mature insights into Beethoven

Victor Rosenbaum performs an engaging program of Beethoven piano music for Bridge Records. This is his third release with the label, and it's a great partnership.

Bridge knows how to record the piano to capture its natural warmth. The recordings are clean, with just enough room ambiance to make the recording sound natural, as if the listener was in the same room as the performer.

And what a performer! Rosenbaum has lived with this music for a long time. His playing has a quiet power to it. Sure, he could deliver crashing crescendos and dazzling runs, but that's not the point.

Rosenbaum's thoughtful liner notes provide some context. He's reached below the surface of the music to give us Beethoven the melodist. These are quiet, understated performances that speak volumes with simple gestures.

I don't often think of Beethoven as charming, but that was just my reaction to Rosenbaum's interpretation of the Op. 26 sonata. In fact, it was my reaction to the entire album.

Victor Rosenbaum is a mature artist. In this album, he shares insights that only maturity can bring.

Beethoven - Victor Rosenbaum, piano
Piano Sonata in A-flat major, Op. 26; Six Variations in F major, Op. 34;  Sonata in E, Op. 90; Six Bagatelles, Op. 126
Bridge Records

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Mexican composer Alexi Aranda delivers satisfying concertos

Alexis Aranda is a composer whose star is rising -- and not just in his native Mexico. Aranda's style incorporates native folk traditions into a post-tonal classical language. The blend is exciting, accessible, and yields music of real substance.

This release features three concertos by Aranda; a concerto for flute, another for piano, and a double concerto for flute and guitar.

Flutist Marisa Canales matches her performance to Aranda's language. In his flute concerto, her playing is quite breathy. The effect emulates the sound of Mexican pan pipes and accentuates the connection between Aranda and his roots.

That connection is further reinforced in the double concerto. Guitarist Jaime Marquez's performance, though classically based, leans towards flamenco.

Aranda performs his own piano concerto. He knows exactly what he wants to achieve with this music. And as the work unfolds, so does the listener. The work is quite rhythmic, with the piano delivering short, percussive bursts throughout.

And yet it's melodic structure continually pulls the listener along to its quite logical and satisfying conclusion.

Aranda may reference folk elements, but he knows his business. The harmonies are quite sophisticated. And the fugue in the flute concerto finale shows Aranda's skill as a classical composer. The counterpoint is sure-footed in a style that could only have been written in this century.

Highly recommended.

Alexis Aranda: Conciertos
Concerto for Flute and Orchestra; Concerto for Flute, Guitar, and Orchestra; Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
Marisa Canales, flute; Jaime Marquez, guitar; Alexis Aranda, piano; Camerata de Coahula, Ramon Shade, conductor
Urtext JBCC3306/7
2 CD Set

Friday, October 25, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalAutumn Week 4

In 2019 the Classics a Day team has been making its way through the seasons. We've had Classical Winter (January), Classical Spring (April), and Classical Summer (August). For October, we complete the cycle with Classical Autumn.

I tried to steer clear of the really obvious choices (like Vivaldi's "Four Seasons"). In the process, I managed to discover a few pieces and a composer that was new to me. Which, for me, is part of the fun of participating in the #ClassicsaDay feed. 

Here are my posts for the fourth week of #ClassicAutumn

10/21/19 Toru Takemitsu - Ceremonial, An Autumn Ode

Takemitsu wrote this work in 1992 for orchestra with sho. This Japanese reed instrument has several pipes and dates from the early 700s.

10/22/19 Jules Massenet - Pensée, D'Automne

Massenet's "Thoughts of Autumn" was based on a poem by Armand Silvestre. The narrator in the poem looks back to a lost love.

10/23/19 Oliver Knussen: Autumnal, Op. 14

This work for violin and piano is dedicated to the memory of Benjamin Britten. It takes its name from Britten's "Nocturne."

10/24/19 Darius Milhaud - Concertino D'Automne, Op. 309

Milhaud completed this work in 1951. It's written for two pianos and eight instruments. It was the second of four concertinos he wrote based on the seasons.

10/25/19 Thea Musgrave - The Seasons, "Autumn"

Musgrave's "The Seasons" are impressions of various paintings at the Metropolitan Musem of Art. The Autumn movement, with its wild hunt, was inspired by Picasso's "End of the Road."

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Lessons from York - Part Two: Deacquisition

Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association (TCA) Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. This is the largest such show in the United States and provides an interesting snapshot of the state of the hobby. 

It can also hint at the current state of collecting in general. As is our tradition, we spent a lot of time discussing what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and the reasons behind them.


In part one I shared some of the positive signs of a changing hobby. We saw larger selections of newer vintage toy trains than in the past.  This suggested that another generation of collectors had entered the hobby.

Looking for a good reference book?
$10 at the York meet.
There were some negative signs as well. It appeared that another generation was leaving the hobby for good. The primary cause seemed to be simply old age.

The final sale
Last April I postulated that we were seeing the last remnants of collections coming onto the market. We had already seen toy trains of the prewar years flood the market. And then we saw the same with early postwar trains.

Life of a toy train collector
I think the lifecycle of a toy train collector is something like this. You build your collection over time, starting in late middle age. At some point, you build a place for your collection, either in the basement, above the garage, or in a dedicated structure (it does happen). The walls are lined with shelves so you can display your treasures. And there's a layout in the center of the room to run your best equipment.

This was an expensive book back in the day.
At the York meet, it was $10.
After retirement comes the need to move to a smaller home. The reason may be health-related, or having to live on a fixed income, or just not needing a home with multiple bedrooms anymore.

The smaller home has less space, and so the collection has to be thinned. You keep your best items and sell the rest. Perhaps the layout has to be dissembled (or replaced with a smaller one).

At some point, you may have to move an assisted living facility, or perhaps even share a room at a nursing home. At that point, the collection has to go. But there's probably room for a few books. And so you keep your library of reference books and train history books (or at least some of them).

In the final stage of life these, too, will need to go.

Even general history books like this
were going for just $10.
At the April show, we saw a lot of books. But that was nothing compared to what we saw in October. There were stacks of books in virtually every aisle.

We saw a fair selection of reference books, such as Ron Hollander's "All Aboard." And we also saw some technical publications, such as Model Railroader's Train Cyclopedias. And there was even a substantial amount of general-interest train coffee table books.

What we didn't see, though, were price guides. That's not surprising. There's practically no value in a an outdated price guide. I'm sure most of those were sent straight to the recycle center.

But there was plenty of everything else. And the standard price was $10 a volume. For some books, that was close to the original price. But for volumes that originally sold for $50, $75, or more, that was a little sad.

And while there were some real bargains to be had, what we didn't see were a lot of people buying. I'm curious to see if this sea of vintage publications washes back for the April meet. 

Need a coffee table book about trains?
Yours for $10 at the York meet.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Lessons from York - Part One: Diversity

Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association (TCA) Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. This is the largest such show in the United States and provides an interesting snapshot of the state of the hobby. 

It can also hint at the current state of collecting in general. As is our tradition, we spent a lot of time discussing what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and the reasons behind them.


When TCA started back in the 1950s, the founders were interested in the toy trains of their youth. And that youth was ca. 1915-1928. As the organization aged, newer members were also interested in the toys of their youth. And as the demographics changed, so did collecting interests. And so did the mix of toy trains available at shows, such as the York meet.

The moving window of nostalgia
For a while, interest seemed to settle in the immediate pre- and postwar years. That included classic Lionel 0 gauge and American Flyer S gauge. Increasingly, though, other gauges have crept into the show.

Most folks join the organization in their late middle age (or older).  If you're 65 now, then your Golden Age of trains would be the from the mid-1960s. Bigger-sized trains were on their way out. H0 was on the rise. So these collectors are interested in vintage H0. And we saw many tables offering a variety of H0 sets and unassembled kits from the late 1950s through the late 1960s.

If you're in your mid-50s, then your Golden Age would be the early 1970s. That marks the appearance of N-gauge trains, with Aurora's Postage Stamp Train sets. We also saw an increased presence of N-scale rolling stock -- especially from the 1970s and 1980s.

Limited real estate for growing categories
The York train meet has a finite number of tables. Every table stocked with N-scale, H0 scale, or even S gauge American Flyer is one less table full of vintage Lionel trains. For years, the statement "I collect toy trains" was equivalent to "I collect Lionel trains." No longer.

The shifting product mixes indicate (at least to me) a shift in collector interest. And that type of shift only occurs when new collectors replace older ones.

It's a reality I've heard about from collectors in other fields. The hobby continues to mature. The real question is whether it will continue to grow. The collecting window is moving past the era when trains under the tree was a holiday tradition.

The good old days are different now
Most older collectors point to the first Lionel train they (or their family) received at Christmas as their entry into the hobby. Those trains were usually packed away and only brought out with the rest of the holiday decorations.

H0 and N scale collectors don't normally have that same association. Their first train sets may or may not have arrived at Christmas. But normally their layouts remained set up year-round. So the vintage trains they seek may have pleasant childhood associations, but probably not as strong as a childhood Christmas memory.

How will that different perception affect the hobby? I'm not sure. We'll just have to revisit the train show in April and see.

 Next: Deacquisition

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Funky Winkerbean - Death of Bull Bushka

Death in comics is rare -- but it's less rare in Funky Winkerbean. It's what keeps the comic interesting for me. Anything that could happen to someone in real life could happen to someone in  Tom Batiuk's comic -- like dying of breast cancer or being a victim of gun violence.

The character of Bull Bushka has undergone many changes in Tom Batiuk's Funky Winkerbean. He was part of the original cast of high school students when the strip launched in 1972. He was the star of the Westview High football team and often bullied the nerdy Les Moore.

In 1992, the strip moved from high school to post-college. Les Moore was an English teacher, and Bull Bushka the athletic coach at Westview. They were colleagues, and Batiuk revealed the Bull's bullying was a reaction to his own father's abuse.

Bull retired from coaching, and over the past two years has been dealing with brain damage. Damage incurred from multiple concussions while playing football. Bull's behavior became more erratic, culminating in this sequence from late September to mid-October, 2019.

Note how Batiuk skillfully weaves together three different story arcs -- the highway patrol's discovery of the wreak, why Bull was in the car, and the gradual realization by his wife that something wasn't right. And all with just three panels a day.


Monday, October 21, 2019

BBC Philharmonic give George Antheil its best

Chandos' third installment in their Antheil series features works from a variety of sources. It includes his Symphony No. 1 and several shorter works.

To my ears, Antheil's first symphony, "Zingareska," is the least successful of his six. John Storgårds and the BBC Philharmonic give it their best. Their performance is first-rate.

The underlying problem is the mix. It was the 1920s, and Antheil was fascinated with jazz. Unfortunately, the jazz elements never quite blend with their classical setting. Almost a century later, Antheil's innovative experiment just sounds dated.

Any disappointment I felt listening to the first symphony was washed away by the other works in this program.

"McConkey's Ferry Overture" (1948) was inspired by the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. Unlike the painting, Antheil's overture avoids cliches and easy patriotic references. Instead, Antheil gives us a roiling movie soundtrack, full of drama and energy.

"Capital of the World" was a 1955 ballet based on Ernest Hemingway's "Horns of the Bull." Antheil delivers a very Spanish-sounding work without going over the top. I'd characterize it as "An American in Madrid" (and that's a compliment).

"The Golden Bird: Chinoiserie" and "Nocturne in Skyrockets" both demonstrate Antheil's mastery of orchestral writing.

This release has John Storgårds and the BBC Philharmonic performing to their usual high standards. It's just the material that let them down -- a little.

George Antheil: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3
BBC Philharmonic; John Storgårds, conductor
Chandos CHAN 20080

Friday, October 18, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalAutumn Week 3

In 2019 the Classics a Day team has been making its way through the seasons. We've had Classical Winter (January), Classical Spring (April), and Classical Summer (August). For October, we complete the cycle with Classical Autumn.

I tried to steer clear of the really obvious choices (like Vivaldi's "Four Seasons"). In the process, I managed to discover a few pieces and a composer that was new to me. Which, for me, is part of the fun of participating in the #ClassicsaDay feed. 

Here are my posts for the third week of #ClassicAutumn

10/14/19 Arnold Bax - November Woods

Bax completed his tone poem in November 1917, and it was premiered in November 1920. Bax wrote the work represented "nature in the late autumn."

10/15/19 Joseph Marx -Eine Herbstsymphony

Marx's "Autumn Symphony" polarized the audience at its 1921 Vienna premiere. Fistfights broke out, delaying the performance.


Frederick Delius - "Autumn"

This is the first movement from his "North Country Sketches," depicting the Yorkshire Moorland countryside. It's subtitled "The Wind Soughs in the Trees."

10/17/19 Imogene Holst - Fall of the Leaf

Imogene was the daughter of Gustav Holst. Her 1962 "Fall of the Leaf" is a set of short pieces for solo cello.

10/18/19 Fabien Wallerand - Autumn for tuba and piano

Wallerand is a tuba virtuoso. He wrote "Autumn" for his first album of solo tuba music.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Telemann Inauguration Cantatas interesting sidelights

This release features three cantatas, Georg Philipp Telemann. All were written to mark special occasions. Two were in Hamburg, where Telemann served from 1721 to 1767. One was for the neighboring town of Altona, which didn't have a resident composer.

Altona's 1744 cantata Geschlagene Pauken, auf was inauguration music for a new school. The music is somewhat simple and direct, suggesting perhaps the skills of the musicians available. The work's an uplifting celebration that opens with brass and tympani flourishes.

Kommt, lasset uns anbeten, (Come, let us worship) marks the1745 establishment of a hospital. The Biblical text lends itself to word-painting, and Telemann doesn't disappoint. This work closely resembles Telemann's sacred cantatas, though perhaps not quite as complex.

Laetare iuvenis in iuventute tua (Happy young man in his youth!) rounds out the release. It's a graduation piece, completed in 1758. Telemann places few demands on the voices --save that they blend well.

And these voices do. Hanna Zumsande, Alon Harari, Mirko Ludwig, and Fabian Kuhnen have a remarkable blend. Their voices complement each other, making their ensemble singing sound both rich and clean.

The barockwerk hamburg has a nice sound, too. It's has a soft quality to it I think appropriate for gut-stringed instruments. Yet there's enough focus for all the notes to be clearly heard -- an asset in contrapuntal passages.

These three works are interesting sidelights to Telemann's catalog. I enjoyed hearing them.

Georg Philipp Telemann
Kommt, lasset uns anbeten
Inauguration Cantatas for Hamburg and Altona
Hanna Zumsande, soprano; Alon Harari, alto; Mirko Ludwig, tenor; Fabian Kuhnen, bass
barockwerk hamburg; Ira Hochman, director
CPO555 255–2

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Postwar masterpieces from Havergal Brian

Havergal Brian's reputation these days rests on his first symphony -- a record-breaker in size and scope. Thanks to recordings like this one, a more balanced picture of this British composer emerges.

The New Russia State Symphony Orchestra directed by Alexander Walker may be far from London, but they manage to capture the inherent Englishness in Brian's work. The orchestra has a clean ensemble sound, albeit one in a slightly soft focus.

Nevertheless, they manage to convey the emotional content of Brian's work effectively -- whether it be the high spirits of the "Tinker's Wedding" Overture, or the dark pathos of his Symphony No. 7.

I especially liked "The Tinker's Wedding" Overture. This 1948 concert overture was inspired by John M. Synge's comedy. It's a high-spirited work, full of English folk song inspired material and some light and breezy counterpoint.

Brian's Symphony No. 7, another work from 1948 marks the last of his "big" symphonies. This four-movement work runs about 40 minutes and takes the listener on quite an emotional journey.

It begins with a festive fanfare and moves along in an optimistic mood until the second movement. The middle movements are quite dark, with fragmented melodies and down-turning chromatic figures. The finale restores the hope of the opening, although ending with a quiet ambivalence.

Symphony No. 16, written twelve years later, is quite a different matter. This 15-minute work is packed tight with musical ideas. Brian develops his material logically and thoroughly, stretching his tonal harmonic style to its limits. There's a restless insistence to this work that keeps things moving right through to the final chord.

Naxos/Marco Polo hasn't recorded all of Havergal Brian's 32 symphonies -- yet. I hope they do. Brian is a master symphonist who (I think) still awaits proper evaluation.

Havergal Brian: Symphonies Nos. 7 and 16
The Tinker's Wedding Overture
New Russia State Symphony Orchestra; Alexander Walker, conductor


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Karl Weigl Symphony No. 1 a little shy of Mahler

As I listened to Symphony No. 1 by Karl Weigl, two descriptions came to mind -- post-romantic, pre-Mahler. That last impression isn't historically accurate. Weigl's symphony premiered in 1908; Mahler's Eighth Symphony was completed the year before.

And yet stylistically, that was my impression. Karl Weigl, like Gustav Mahler, was a pupil of Robert Fuchs. He also studied privately with Alexander Zemlinsky.

Weigl's first symphony is steeped in its richly chromatic and dramatically expressive language. It's a beautiful work, with dense orchestration and fluid harmonies.

It's also a somewhat conservative symphony. The material's tightly organized, and well-executed. But I never felt it break through the barriers of the form the way Mahler's works do.

To be fair, Weigl was just 27, and perhaps still feeling his way. Taken on its own merits, it's a satisfying listening experience. Even if it does seem more 19th than 20th Century.

Bilder und Geschichten (Pictures and Tales), Op. 2 rounds out the album. Written in fourteen years after the symphony, the work shows how far Weigl progress. It's written for a chamber orchestra, so the overall sound is much leaner. Weigl's harmonies are also thinner, and occasionally oblique.

The indefinite tonality and luminous quality of the music reminded me of Debussy. I don't mean that Bilder was an imitation of Debussy's music, but rather both composers seem to come from the same viewpoint (at least in this work).

Jürgen Bruns leads the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz in solid performances. His straight-forward interpretations make it easy to hear and appreciate Weigl's craftsmanship.

Weigl moved in a different creative direction than his former classmate Anton Webern. But it's one that can still bring us pleasure today.

Karl Weigl: Symphony No. 1, Op. 5 
Pictures and Tales, Op. 2 
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz: Jürgen Bruns, conductor 

Monday, October 14, 2019

Telemann Moral Cantatas uplift -- at least musically

This release combines selections from two self-published works by Georg Philipp Telemann. VI moralische Cantaten and 12 Fantaisies pour la basse de violle sold by subscription in 1735. Alternating between the two collections makes an appealing program.

The Six Moral Cantatas are just that -- music with a message. And whether the subject is luck, parsimony, time, or hope, the message seems to be the same. All things in moderation.

While the text may not be that inspiring, the music certainly is. Telemann effectively illuminates the libretto with a variety of effects. The cantata about time has sections that tick along with regularity. The cantata about hope has a wistful quality to it, and so on.

Countertenor Benno Schachtner sings with remarkable clarity. His voice has a warm, rich sound I quite liked. He's also adept at delivering the intent of the words. Following the recording with the printed text was enlightening.

The release includes all six of the Moral Cantatas, but only four of the twelve viola da gamba solo fantasias (it is only a single CD, after all). While not as complex as Bach solo cello sonatas, Telemann's fantasias are quite engaging in their own right.

Like Bach, Telemann uses double stops and quick arpeggios to suggest two or even three concurrent musical lines from a single instrument.

Simone Eckert performs flawlessly. Her attacks are quite smooth, her fingering sure. Eckert also brings out the structure of these works, letting us hear how these multiple lines weave together.

Based on this release, I'd say 1735 was a banner year for Telemann. Highly recommended.

Georg Philipp Telemann: Moralische Cantaten, TWV 20:23-28
Benno Schachtner, countertenor
Hamburger Ratsmuick; Simone Eckert, viola da gamba
CPO 555 141-2

Friday, October 11, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalAutumn Week 2

In 2019 the Classics a Day team has been making its way through the seasons. We've had Classical Winter (January), Classical Spring (April), and Classical Summer (August). For October, we complete the cycle with Classical Autumn.

I tried to steer clear of the really obvious choices (like Vivaldi's "Four Seasons"). In the process, I managed to discover a few pieces and a composer that was new to me. Which, for me, is part of the fun of participating in the #ClassicsaDay feed. 

Here are my posts for the second week of #ClassicAutumn

10/7/19 Joachim Raff - Symphony No. 10 in F minor, Zur Herbstzeit Op.213

Subtitled "In Autumn Time," this 1880 symphony was the last of four symphonies based on the seasons. Raff revised the work extensively years after its premiere.

10/8/19 Alexander Glazunov - Autumn from "The Seasons," Op. 67

Glazunov's "The Seasons" was written for an 1899 Russian ballet. The ballet represents an allegorical journey through the months of the year.

10/9/19 Roxanna Panufnik - Autumn in Albania from "Four World Seasons"

Each movement of Panufnik's work represents a season in a different part of the world. The autumn movement is her most personal, written in tribute to her father, Polish composer Andrej Panufnik, who loved the season.

10/10/18 Einojuhani Rautavaara - Autumn Gardens

Rautavaara characterized this 1999 work as, in part, being "a sarabande in honor of the dying splendor of summer."

10/11/19 Christopher Simpson - The Monthes - October

Simpson was a 17th Century viola da gamba player. He published a set of 12 fantasias for the instruments, "The Monthes."

Thursday, October 10, 2019

They Persisted - Pioneering Women Composers

I'm not usually a fan of politically-driven music programs. The works, primarily selected for their extra-musical qualities, tend to be not very good or not fit well together. Not so with this recording.

The album title references the now-famous phrase "Nevertheless, she persisted," a rallying cry for the women's movement.

And it makes sense in the context of this release. The three women featured persisted in composing music, despite cultural and personal pressures to the contrary.

Amy Beach gave up her concert career when she married, but continued composing. Her 1938 Piano Trio is a fairly late work. It's written in a late-Romantic style, with a compact and efficiently organized structure.

Ursula Cole, like Beach, was a talented pianist. She worked as an editor at Time magazine while continuing to compose. Her 1930 Sonata for Violin and Piano has a Jazz Age feel to it, overlaid with late Romantic melodies.

Ethel Smyth was an early suffragette and something of a firebrand. She studied in Leipzig and knew the Schumanns, as well as Brahms. Her 1926 Concerto for violin and horn has a Brahmsian feel to it, especially in the violin writing.

Here's the thing: to enjoy this release, you don't need to know what the album title references. You don't need to know the background of the composers. You don't even need to know the gender of the composers. Just listen to the music.

If you're like me, you'll hear enthusiastic, committed performances. You'll hear three well-crafted works that move the emotions. And that's what any program of music should do.

They Persisted: Beach, Cole, Smyth
Amy Beach: Piano Trio, Op. 150; Ulric Cole: Violin Sonata; Ethel Smyth: Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano
Joanna Goldstein, piano; Steven Moeckel, violin; Nicholas Finch, cello; Bruce Heim, horn
Centaur CRC3693

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

John Robertson: Virtuosity a bit uneven

For me, Virtuosity was something of a mixed bag. There were many things I liked about the recording (the music), and a few things I didn't (the playing).

As a composer, John Robertson created his own path. He was mostly self-taught, and never tapped into the various trends in contemporary music. As the liner notes say, "[his music is] strikingly tonal, pleasantly governed by time and key signatures."

All true. Perhaps because of his outsider status, his take on tonal music doesn't borrow from the past, nor try to imitate it. It's authentic. And that's good.

This release features three concertos; the Concerto for Clarinet and Strings, Hinemoa & Tutanekai for Flute and String Orchestra; and the Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra. "Virtuosity" may be the title, but none of the three concertos seem very demanding.

Robertson doesn't ask for an extended technique or even extreme registers from his soloists. What he does ask for is tasteful musicianship to deliver his well-crafted melodies. The soloists of the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra certainly do deliver.

The concertos are quite enjoyable. And I think there's a place for them in the repertoire. There are many levels of virtuosity, and I can see these as great choices for student and beginning professional players.

Also included is Robertson's Symphony No. 3. It shows real growth from his previous symphonies. The orchestration especially seems more adept in this outing.

One of the negatives for me were some serious intonation problems with the orchestra's string section. It was particularly noticeable in passages where the violin section was exposed.

John Robertson: Virtuosity
Mihail Zhivkov, clarinet; Kremara Acheva, flute; Fernando Serrano Montoya, trumpet
Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra; Anthony Armore, conductor
Navona Records NV6223

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Dmitri Tymoczko - Rube Goldberg Variations

There are two qualities I admire in Dmitri Tymoczko -- his sense of humor, and his craftsmanship. Tymoczko's titles are often humorous - like the title track on this release.

But his humor also extends into the music. Several of his works have a light-hearted quality to them. These works sound like they were fun to compose, and fun to play.

And that's where craftsmanship matter. Because Tymocko's music isn't written to support the gag titles.

Rather, they take an essential part of that title and develop it in interesting and imaginative ways. And that makes (in my opinion) Tymockzko's music worthy of attention -- and repeated hearing.

According to Tymoczko, "I Cannot Follow" was inspired by a line in a 16th Century madrigal. In that work, it was a lament that the narrator couldn't follow his deceased beloved. The work begins with the instruments -- saxophone, guitar, vibraphone, and piano -- echoing each other in simple imitation. But over time, the imitations begin to change, and eventually breaks off. Tymoczko's music has both a literal interpretation of the title as well as the deeper meaning of the source material.

"S Sensation Something" is a work of exceptional beauty for piano quintet. The title develops a single letter into two different words. The music develops a simple, consonant melody in a similar fashion. As the work progresses, the melody is repurposed and reharmonized with increasing dissonance. It then returns in a transformed state at the end.

The title track, "Rube Goldberg Variations" references both J.S. Bach and the cartoonist who created outlandishly useless machines. Tymoczko uses a brass quintet to keep things moving with angular, "robotic" music (that's the Rube Goldberg part).

A prepared piano plays throughout, gradually shedding its modifying accessories -- paperclips, erasers, etc. By the end of the work, the natural sound of the piano emerges in a variations-to-theme structure (that's the J.S. Bach part).

Tymoczko's music speaks to the listener on several levels. And, I think, it appeals to all kinds of listeners. In additional to classical audiences, these works should appeal to fans of progressive jazz and rock -- especially Frank Zappa fans. Tymoczko writes classical music truly relevant to today's audiences.

Dmitri Tymoczko: Rube Goldberg Variations
Flexible Music; Atlantic Brass Quintet; Amernet String Quartet
Bridge Records 9492

Monday, October 07, 2019

Symphony Orchestra of Liechtenstein marks anniversary with Rheinberger

The Symphony Orchestra of Liechtenstein marks the 300th anniversary of their country in a unique fashion. They released a recording by one of Liechtenstein's most prominent composers, Josef Rheinberger.

In the late 1800s, Rheinberger was an important composer, teacher, and organist. Today he's primarily known for his organ works, which remain in the repertoire.

His legacy as a teacher is impressive, too. Among his pupils were William Berwald, Engelbert Humperdinck, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, and Wilhelm Furtwangler. George Whitefield Chadwick, Fredrick Converse, and Horatio Parker -- some of the first American to achieve international fame -- also studied with Rheinberger.

As a composer, Rheinberger was influenced by his German contemporaries: Schumann, Brahms, and Mendelssohn. Like Mendelssohn, he had a deep appreciation of J.S. Bach's music.

Those influences -- with a dash of Schubert -- can be heard in this symphony. Rheinberger lays out his material across a four-movement structure in a logical fashion (like Brahms). His melodies flow seamlessly from one to the other (like Schubert).

The symphony was premiered in 1867 and enjoyed several performances across Northern Europe and the United States.

The Symphony Orchestra of Liechtenstein delivers an exciting performance. Director Florian Krumpock seems to have a clear vision of where the symphony's going, and how it's getting there.

If you have a chance, get the SACD version of this recording (or the highest resolution digital version you can download). Rheinberger uses a standard symphony orchestra. But some of the subtle instrumental blendings he does can get lost in low-resolution playback.

I'll concede that Rheinberger's symphony isn't quite on the level of Brahms'. But it's still a beautifully-crafted work that deserves to be heard.

Josef Rheinberger: Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 10 "Wallenstein"
Sinfoieorchestrer Lichtenstein, Florian Krumpock, conductor
Ars Production 382844

Friday, October 04, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalAutumn Week 1

In 2019 the Classics a Day team has been making its way through the seasons. We've had Classical Winter (January), Classical Spring (April), and Classical Summer (August). For October, we complete the cycle with Classical Autumn.

I tried to steer clear of the really obvious choices (like Vivaldi's "Four Seasons"). In the process, I managed to discover a few pieces and a composer that was new to me. Which, for me, is part of the fun of participating in the #ClassicsaDay feed. 

Here are my posts for the first week of #ClassicAutumn

10/1/19 Leo Sowerby - Comes Autumn Time

Sowerby originally wrote this as an organ piece in 1916. He orchestrated it a year later, and it's become one of his most popular works both in the concert hall and organ loft.

10/2/19 Franz Joseph Haydn - The Seasons

Autumn is the third movement of Haydn's secular oratorio. In the course of its depiction of country life, it depicts a thrilling hunt over field and glen.

10/3/19 Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky "October" from "The Seasons," Op. 37a

Tchaikovsky wrote this set of 12 short pieces for a monthly magazine. The October movement is subtitled "Autumn Song."

10/4/19 Fanny Mendelssohn "October" from "Das Jahr"

Fanny's cycle of 12 short pieces was published in 1846. The first reviews -- all favorable -- were just going into print when she passed away in May 1847.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer and the Recorder in the Low Countries

Baroque recorder albums are something of a crapshoot for me. Sometimes they sound harshly shrill. And sometimes they sound like this release. Erik Bosgraaf uses a variety of recorders, all of which have a warm, woody sound -- even the soprano recorder.

Equally exceptional is the recorded sound of the keyboard. on some tracks, Francesco Corti plays a harpsichord, on others a cembalo. In all cases, the keyboard has the appropriate amount of definition for the instrument. No metallic jangling here.

The release surveys (mostly) recorder music published and performed in the Netherlands around 1700. Dutch composer Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer is well-represented. Although a musical amateur, his recorder sonatas were misattributed to Pergolasi until the 1980s. I think that attests to the quality of their composition.

Johann Christian Schickhardt was a German composer and woodwind player. The E major sonata from his Op. 30 L'Alphabeth de la musique is a knockout. Bosgraaf and Corti are put to the test in the fast movements -- and they pass handily. Rapid passage zip by at a blistering pace, with every note, clearly articulated.

Another standout is the four clavecin pieces from Joseph Hector Fiocco. Fiocco was a Belgian composer active in the 1730s. These beautifully crafted works come from his 24 Pieces de clavecin, Op. 1. Corti performs these works with nuanced energy. As I listened, I wondered what Fiocco might have achieved had he not died at age 38.

I found a lot to like in this release, and nothing to dislike.

Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer and the Recorder in the Low Countries
Music by Joseph Hector Fiocco, Jean-Marie Leclair, Jean-Baptiste Loeillet de Gant, Sybrandus van Noordt, Johann Christian Schickhardt, Andreas Parcham, Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer

Erik Bosgraaf, recorder; Francesco Corti, harpsichord

Brilliant Classics 95907

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Swan Hennessy String Quartets - For the love of Ireland

Swan Hennessy (1866-1929) was born in Illinois. But this Irish-American never forgot his roots. In fact, as a composer, he embraced them. Hennessy wrote in an Impressionist style heavily influenced by Irish and Breton folk music.

Hennessy wrote six works for string quartet - four numbered quartets, plus two shorter works. The first quartet was published in 1912, the last in 1929. While there's a strong Celtic flavor to all these works, there's also clear development over time.

The first quartet borders on a pastiche of Celtic music set for string quartet. It's very appealing melodically, though rather simple in texture. The last two quartets, though, show Hennessy's full integration of his influences.

Sections of the melodies do have an Irish lilt to them. Overall, however, the music has an organic development to it not hindered by Celtic mannerisms.

The RTE Contempo Quartet was the right choice to record this material. They have a rich, warm ensemble sound that's perfectly in line with Impressionist sensibilities. Yet they also understand the Celtic elements of Hennessy's works. They successfully bring out those elements without leaning too heavily into them.

The Celtic elements of Hennessy's music might not appeal to everyone. But they certainly did to me. Hennessy once said, "it is the love of Ireland that has inspired my work." It does, indeed.

Swan Hennessy: Complete String Quartets 1-4
Sérénade & String Trio
RTE Contempo Quartet
RTE Lyric FM CD 159

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

British Tone Poems, Vol. 2 delivers on quality

This volume of British Tone Poems features outstanding works by lesser-known composers and lesser-known works by outstanding composers. Either way, it's a win-win for the listener, especially with these performances.

Rumon Gamba and the BBC Philharmonic deliver beautiful and insightful performances of a mixed bag of music.

This round features two world-premiere recordings. And the program includes works that move beyond the pastoral English countryside that inspired so many of the selections in the first volume.

"Kinder Scout" by Patrick Hadley is one of those debut recordings. It's a depiction of a Derbyshire peak and has the spaciousness and open sound of a Copland landscape.

Frederic Cowen's 1903 "Rêverie," the other recording debut work, has a decidedly old-fashioned sound. Cowen's melody is sweetly sentimental, almost bordering on salon music.

Dorothy Howell's "Lamia" was based on Greek myth. This 1918 work earned her the nickname "the English Strauss." There are parallels to "Salome," with its exotic-sounding chords and dreamy melodies with a hint of unease.

I wasn't familiar with Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Harnham Down." It's a quite early work (1904). RVW's style hadn't quite jelled, but all the elements are there.

Arthur Bliss's 1921 "Mêlée fantastique" was written in memory of a stage designer, and also seems to pay homage to the Ballets Russes scores of Stravinsky.

On the whole, this release has a more varied program than British Tone Poems, Vol. 1. It's a worthy addition to the series, and one I enjoyed on its own merits. I'm intrigued to see what Maestro Gamon uncovers for Volume 3. 

British Tone Poems, Vol. 2
Works by: Dorothy Howell, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Arthur Bliss, Frederic Cowen, Eric Fogg, Eugene Goossens, John Folds, and Patrick Hadley
BBC Philharmonic; Rumon Gamba, conductor
Chandos CHAN 10981