Thursday, October 19, 2017

Draeseke Quintets - Music Whose Time Has Come?

Conductor Hans von Bülow was a champion of Felix Draeseke's works. Yet he considered Draeseke's music "a hard nut to crack." Because of that, von Bülow predicted that Draeseke would "never be popular among the ordinary".

After listening to these quintets, I don't agree with von Bülow's first assessment. Although the second's true enough.

Draeseke was a student of Franz Liszt and an early admirer of Richard Wagner. Draeseke's use of Wagner-like leitmotifs and his fondness for counterpoint may be von Bülow's "hard nut."

Wagner's music puzzled many contemporary audiences. It makes sense that Draeseke's might also.

A century later, though, it doesn't elicit the same response (unless you really hate Wagner).

Draeseke's quintets aren't slavish imitations in any way. His music builds logically, heaping line upon line in masterful polyphonic construction. While the key may not always be clear, there's still a strong sense of forward motion. And everything seems to resolve satisfyingly in the final cadences.

If you like the tried-and-true, Draeseke's works may not appeal to you. But if you want something beyond the ordinary, these quintets might be just the thing. Draeseke's music seems to flow from one idea to the next.

The performances on this release are well-executed. The ensemble has a robust, full-bodied sound that makes loud passages especially exciting. And yet the players can play with delicacy when necessary. That ability provides clarity to some of the especially thick contrapuntal sections.

Felix Draeseke: Quintets Op. 48 & 77; Scene Op. 69
Solistenensemble Berlin; Breuninger Quartet
CPO 555 107-2


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Carl Abel Op. 7 Symphonies -- Better than Mozart?

For quite a while the 6th symphony of Carl Friedrich Abel's Op. 7 was attributed to Mozart as his third. It's a logical error. Young Mozart hand-copied the work in 1764 for study while visiting London. When the manuscript was found in his papers, stylistically it matched Mozart's and was in his hand, and so...

Carl Abel's Op. 7 collection represented the current state of the still-developing symphony. In the 1760s the symphony was in transition. It was growing from being part of a Baroque suite into a self-contained four-movement work.

Abel's contribution in his 1767 publication was the development of the slow movement. They become more lyrical and song-like, pointing the way to the symphonies of the 1790s and early 1800s.

No wonder the 11-year-old Mozart wanted to study these works further.

La Stagione Frankfurt directed by Michael Schneider does Abel's symphonies justice. They play the opening movements at breakneck speed. The ensemble races up and down scales and patterns with incredible precision.

Their performances of those slow movements are beautifully executed. The long, flowing melodies seem to sing at times.

 La Stagione Frankfurt eschews a galant style interpretation. Instead, they present Abel's symphonies as substantial, full-bodied Germanic works. And in the process, do Abel's music a great service.

My impression? Abel's Op. 7 symphonies might even be better than those of pre-teen Mozart.

Carl Friedrich Abel: Symphonies, Op. 7
La Stagione Frankfurt; Michael Schneider, conductor
CPO CX 7993

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Collecting - and Collecting Information Part 30

Starting from nothing

There is very little source material about the Japanese toy manufacturers of the early postwar period. Most of it centers around the currently popular areas of collecting: space and robot toys, and large metal car models. Well-researched reference works can help you date a particular piece, and identify its Japanese manufacturer and its American importer.

No such luck for these companies' entry-level toys. There are no reference books -- just information printed on the boxes.

Nomura, the original

Most of the larger companies, such as Nomura, Alps, and Yonezawa, supplied toys to several U.S. importers. And sometimes interchangeably. These cross-currents complicate the picture -- like the examples below, made by Nomura.

The original - made by Nomura (TN), branded by Nomura.
The first example is the original box art for this Santa Fe H0 set. The Nomura logo ("TN" in a diamond) is right there on the box. The set is exactly as pictured. And note how artfully it's pictured. The last part of the second boxcar is hidden behind some trees, implying more freight cars and a long train.

Not so. One locomotive, two boxcars, that's it.

Rosko, the importer (of Nomura)

The second set is branded Rosko Tested. Rosko was a US importer of battery-operated tin toys in the late 1950s and early 1960s. As you can see, Nomura didn't go out of their way to change the cover art for Rosko. The maintenance instructions have been resized and moved over to make room for the Rosko logo. And, for some reason, a red film was laid over the front of the loco.

I don't think the color change on this box art is fooling anyone.

At this time, four-color printing involved using different plates of film - one for each for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. If you wanted to alter the image, you had to change each color plate the change affected. The black plate had to be changed, of course. And the only other color in the Rosko logo is red (which would change the magenta plate).

So why overlay the loco with extra magenta?

No idea. The set inside is still the same, with bold red, yellow, and black Santa Fe markings. Did they want the box to look different in case the two brands showed up side by side in a dime store? Perhaps, but I doubt the average customer would notice.

Whether branded Nomura or Rosko, the contents are the same.

No, this one's a mystery.