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.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Line Mar Match Box Construction 069 - Signal Block

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.

069. Signal Block

This is one of the few builds in quite a while that was simple and straightforward. All the dowels used fit as shown in the illustration (right). The model was fairly stable after assembly.

And that's all I have to say about this one.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Wagner Concert Overtures Delightfully Charming

Jun Märkl and the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra present a program of rarely-performed Wagner. And it's a darned appealing program.

The two concert overtures and the overture to König Enzio were all written before 1832. Wagner was in his teens, and his influences run close to the surface. The works sound like a mix of Beethoven and Weber -- with a dash of originality.

The 1836 overture to Shakespeare's Measure for Measure leans more towards Bellini. This tuneful work bustles with energy and sparkles with exotic percussion.

The "Christopher Columbus Overture" is from this same period. It sounds suitably heroic. But the overture doesn't convey the feeling of the open sea as effectively as Der fliegende Holländer, written six years later.

"Die Feen" (The Fairies), Wagner's first opera, was also written around this time. The overture seems to come from the same fantastical sonic world as Mendelssohn's "Midsummer's Night" and Weber's "Der Freischütz." The exotic harmonic progressions, though, are all Wagner's own and look to the future.

That future arrives in the final work of the release, the Siegfried Idyll. This is music by the mature Wagner, in full command of his own musical language.

Wagner's early works were seldom performed in his lifetime, and only rarely afterward. Unlike some Wagner's minor works -- like the Centennial March -- these deserve a second hearing. While the influences are easy to spot, these works aren't derivative. Wagner's personality keeps bursting through.

The MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra perform well. While the early works might not be Wagner at his best, Jun Märkl takes them seriously. His thoughtful interpretations bring out the merits and charms in these pieces.

None of these works (except for Siegfried Idyll) are on the same level as Wagner's famous operas. But as concert overtures, they work just fine. And I enjoyed hearing them performed well.

Richard Wagner: Concert Overtures
MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra; Jun Märkl, conductor
Naxos 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Cardinals' Cellos - Instrumental Music from 1690s Rome

From the 1680s through the 1710s, Rome was one of the major music centers of Europe. Corelli, Handel, and Scarlatti were all active in the city. Their presence, in turn, attracted the best musicians to the Eternal City.

Cardinals Benedetto Pamphill and Pietro Ottoboni were major patrons of this musical activity. Some of the finest cello virtuosi/composers were in their retinues. This release presents some of their music.

Originally released in 2015, "The Cardinals Cellos" presents works by eight of these virtuosi, spanning 24 years. While they wrote music for their instrument, all eight composed oratorios, operas, concerto grossi, and other forms.

Giovanni Lullier is the earliest, entering service in 1676. None of his cello works survive. He's represented by a transcribed aria "Amor di che tu viol." It's a charmingly simple work, with an appealing melody with regular phrasing.

The last composer of the line is Giovanni Costanzi, active through 1778. His Sinfonia in D major represents a dramatic change over Lullier's work. And it anticipates the style of Luigi Boccherini, one of Costanzi's star pupils.

Marco Ceccato plays with a nice, rounded tone that's somewhat unusual on a cello of the period. He performs with a very light touch and precise articulation -- particularly in the rapid passages. The Accademia Ottoboni have a clean ensemble sound that nicely showcases the solo cello.

The close-mic'd recording gives these modest chamber works an appealing intimacy.

Another fine early music rerelease from Alpha.

Il violoncello del cardinale 
Music by Boni, Amadei, Haym, Perroni, Costanzi, Bononcini, and Lulier 
Accademia Ottoboni; Marco Ceccato 
Alpha 368

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Collecting - and Collecting Information Part 29

Our story so far:

There was no brand on the traffic signs I found for the Straco Express display layout. They were made in Japan in the late 1950s-early 1960s. But that was all I knew.

Then I found them in a floor train set made by Ichimura. So the mystery was solved.
The Ichiban set. Originally, it was about the signs.

Soon after, I found them again in a penny toy car set imported by Cragstan. There was no other brand on the packaging, so it was logical to assume that it also was made by Ichimura.

The KHT train set. So who made the signs?

I then ran across another penny toy set that had the signs. This one had a train and was branded KHT, Kawahachi Toy Co. Ltd. So who made the signs? KHT or Ichimura?




Enter "NT"

I recently ran across a set that further muddies the waters. There are no signs, but this little box set has the same loco and rolling stock as the KHT set.

The surprise isn't inside -- it's on the top of this box.




The lithography has been changed, but it's definitely the same stamped metal design. Only the box bears an N with a T overlay -- the brand of Nakamura Toy of Tokyo, Japan.

The logo, an N and T inside a circle, is on the far right of the box.


Who was Nakamura Toy? I can find examples of their products, but no information about the company itself. What was the relationship between KHT and Nakamura? Who supplied the original train, and who rebranded it? Or did they both get their product from Ichimura? Or vice-versa?


The Nakamura set (top) and the loco from the KHT set (bottom).
The locos are identical, save for the lithography.

The only thing that's remained constant is the importance of the packaging. It's the only place any type of branding has appeared in relation to these toys.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Line Mar Match Box Construction 068 - Hoist

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.

068. Hoist

I have to admit I had trains on the brain when I started this project. I had just completed the series of Line Mar train builds. When I looked at this illustration (right), I assumed it was a crossing gate for the train.

Not so. It's a hoist, according to the instruction sheet.

The arm assembly went together pretty much as the illustration showed it. But as you can see in the photo below, the pillars were another story. In order to secure them to the base, the dowels had to go through the top and bottom of the pillars as well as the base.

The shorter dowels were simply too short. So I had to use the taller dowels, which were a little too long for the task.


I still think it looks like a railroad crossing gate, especially the hand-operated ones used in Britain before WWII.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Johann Mayr - Missa in C justly revived

Johann Simon Mayr wrote almost 70 operas over 600 sacred works. Only a few have been performed since his death in 1845. Based on the quality of the music in this new release, it's not the quality of the compositions.

"One recognizes the hand of the master in everything, and this work will always remain in our musical archive in the front row with the beautiful masses by outstanding composers such as Haydn, Mozart, and Hummel." That's what the Kapellmeister who first performed Mayr's Missa in wrote in 1826.

That's pretty good company. And the work bears up well in the comparison. Mayr's mass is a big choral work with more than a trace of operatic flair. Similar, I think, to Rossini's Petite messe solennelle. Mayr exploits the dramatic possibilities of the text. It results in some exciting choral and orchestral passages.

According to the liner notes, Mayr quotes both Beethoven and Donizetti in this work. They're so well-integrated into the music, you might not notice them. There's a recurring clarinet obbligato that reminded me somewhat of Weber.

The Stabat Mater dates from 1802, the year Mayr became maestro di cappella at the Cathedral of Bergamo. It's a more introspective and somber work, reflecting the text. But it also has its share of dramatic gestures, with some superb choral writing.

The recorded sound of the Orpheus Vokalensemble has a luminous beauty. The soloists are in fine form. The Concerto Köln has the transparent blend of an early 19th-century ensemble.

If these are representative samples of Mayr's catalog, then I want more.

Johann Simon Mayr: Missa in c; Stabat Mater
Katja Stuber, soprano; Marion Eckstein. alto
Fernando Guimarães, tenor; Tareq Nazmi, basso
Orpheus Vokalensemble; Concerto Köln; Florian Helgath, director
Carus 83.480

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

László Lajtha: Orchestral Works, Vol. 5 - A Revolutionary Symphony

Volume four of László Lajtha's orchestral series features but one symphony -- his seventh. In some way's the 1957 "Revolution Symphony" is one of Lajtha's most honest works (not that he was one to dissemble). Lajtha wrote it in reaction to the Soviet suppression of Hungary's revolution the year before.

It's a dissonant, turbulent work that includes some big, heroic gestures. They reminded me somewhat of Shostakovich's fifth symphony. Unlike that work, though, Lajtha's symphony seems designed to provoke rather than appease. "La Marseilles" is obliquely referenced, and the piece ends with an altered form of the Hungarian National Hymn, a mordant commentary on the New Order.

Nicolás Pasquet and the Pécs Symphony Orchestra seem to understand what Lajtha was trying to express. Their performance conveys a sense of urgency, as they breathlessly relate the birth and death of a revolution. And yet they also perform the quieter passages with restraint and sensitivity.

The emotional intensity of the Revolution Symphony is lightened by the other works on the release. Lajtha's Suite No. 3 reminded me a little of Vaughan William's "The Wasps" Overture, mixed with a dash of Prokofiev's "Love of Three Oranges." Lajtha composed the work for the 100th anniversary of the Hungarian Philharmonic, and each section gets a turn in the spotlight. It's a beautifully orchestrated, light-hearted work that should really be performed more often.

Lajtha extracted an orchestral suite from his score to "Life on the Hortobágy." This 1937 film depicts the destruction of the Hortobágy Plainsmen's traditional life by the arrival of mechanization. The suite effectively depicts that conflict by mixing traditional Hungarian folk elements with daring modern dissonances.

László Lajtha: Orchestral Works, Vol. 5
Suite No. 3, Op. 56; Hortobágy Suite, Op. 21; Symphony No. 7, Op. 63 "Revolution Symphony"
Pécs Symphony Orchestra; Nicolás Pasquet, conductor
Naxos 8.573647

Monday, October 02, 2017

Diabelli Project 164 - Chorale

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.

The last post (No. 163) was a setting of the Benedictus. I must have still had choral music on my mind when I wrote this flash composition. It's just a simple hymn tune set for SATB chorus. If I were to really work on this, I'd definitely clean up some of the weaker voice-leading sections. But for 10 minutes writing without any internal filter, I'll let it pass.



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 29, 2017

Spam Roundup, September 2017

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.

I pardon your beg?

It seldom pays to overtax your translation program. 

- Excellent issues altogether. You simply received a new reader. What would you suggest in regards to your put up that you simply made some days in the past? Any positive? [I was with you up through the middle of the third sentence. Now I'm not positive.]

 - The contents present at the web page are truly awesome for people experience, well, keep up the nice work fellows. [We'll keep that people experience going for you.]

 - Just became aware of your blog through Google, and found that it's truly informative. I am going to watch out for brussels. [Good idea -- you can never trust Brussels.]

"Lumbering along" lumbers going

The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along continues to attract the spambots. As you read the comments below, keep in mind that it was all supposedly prompted by the 3"-long tin friction toy shown at right. That, plus about a 100 words used to describe it.

 - I enjoy the art nouveau lines than me, plus the classic simplicity. [Yes, cheap Japanese toys of the 1960s tended to favor art nouveau design...]

 - You appear to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. [What there is to know about this toy wouldn't even fill a frontispiece.]

 - You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be actually something that I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me. [You've got to be kidding.]

Subliminal marketing returns... 

 - One thing I did find was that the place seemed telefonsex like a tiny garden of Eden.

...and so does "fastidiousness"

 - Hi there Dear. are you really visiting this website regularly, if so after that you will definitely get fastidious experience. My web site... hemorrhoids on Fastidiuous Spam

After that, there's nothing left to say, except: that's all for this month!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Prime Time Jazz - a WTJU special (Part 2)

I hosted a special 3-hour program as part of the 2017 Jazz Marathon/Station Fund Drive for WTJU. Jazz on TV followed up the follow-up to my program last year, Jazz on Film.

The focus was on legit jazz created (or sometimes repurposed) for TV shows. Part 1 featured music from the late 1950s and early 1960s.

While that was the heyday, there were still some jazz scores in the following decades on network TV.

Mike Post

Not everything Post wrote was jazz, but there were a few scores that qualified. He created the signature sound for Law & Order (1990-2010). Like 77 Sunset Strip, the show spawned its own spinoffs: Law & Order Special Victim’s Unit (1999 - ), Law & Order Criminal Intent (2001-2011) Law & Order, Trial by Jury (2005-2006), Law & Order LA (2010-2011). While the themes varied, all began with that "CHUNG-CHUNG" sound. Mike Post also wrote the theme to "LA Law" (1986-1994). While some may consider the sax solo smooth jazz, jazz it remains -- especially in the long version of the theme.


LA Law was another long-running program to feature a Mike Post theme. From 1986-1994 viewers heard David Sanborn's opening sax riff. My listeners got to hear the entire solo.


Late Nights

In the early days, jazz bands were the standard for late night talk shows. The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962-1992) featured Doc Severinsen and his orchestra. The band included monster players such as Tommy Newsome (sax), Conte Candoli (trumpet), and Ed Shaughnessy (drums).  Here's Johnny made a fortune for its composers -- Johnny Carson and Paul Anka.


Saturday Night Live (1975-) had an impressive number of important jazz musicians in their ranks. SNL band alumni include Paul Shaffer (keyboards), G.E. Smith (guitar), David Sanborn (sax) Michael Brecker (sax). Paul Shaffer left SNL to lead the "The World's Most Dangerous Band" for Late Night with David Letterman. (1982-1993)

Angela and Barney Miller

Keyboardist Bob James is credited with one of the most iconic themes of the early 1980s. The theme to Taxi (1978-1982) is a Bob James chart called Angela. Equally well-known was the bass solo of session musician Chuck Berghofer. It begins the theme to Barney Miller (1975-1982).


Quincy Jones

The prolific Quincy Jones wrote many movie and TV themes. Time constraints limited me to just two. Ironside holds the distinction of being the first TV theme to use a synthesizer. And Streetbeater is better known as the theme to Sanford and Son (1972-1977).


And more

I also included classics such as the theme to Route 66, Night Court, and even Seinfeld. Listeners got to hear the swinging Count Basie score to M Squad (arranged by Johnny Williams), and its parody, t Ira Newsom's Police Squad! theme.



I also aired Lalo Schifrin playing the theme to Mannix, though I didn't have time to include anything from Mission Impossible.

But I did save time to end with my favorite jazz TV score -- the theme to Jonny Quest. Hoyt Curtain wrote many swinging themes for Hanna Barbara - the Flinstones, the Jetsons, Top Cat, Wally Gator, and so on. But Jonny Quest may be the best.

Session trombone players were complaining that their parts weren't very challenging. So Curtain wrote a theme that's virtually impossible to play on the instrument and laughed as they sweated through take after take. If you listen very carefully, you'll hear them struggle through the opening bars.


It was a fun program, and we raised some money for WTJU. I had fun, and we raised some funds. That's what I call a successful radio program.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Prime Time Jazz - a WTJU special (Part 1)

I hosted a special 3-hour program as part of the 2017 Jazz Marathon/Station Fund Drive for WTJU. Jazz on TV followed up the follow-up to my program last year, Jazz on Film.

The focus was on legit jazz created (or sometimes repurposed) for TV shows. Although the bulk of jazz TV soundtracks came from the late 1950s and early 1960s, the genre continued to have outstanding contributions through the present day.

Didn't hear the program? Here's what you missed:

77 Sunset Strip - Birth of a franchise

Movie composer Max Steiner and Jack Halloran wrote the score for this LA-based detective show. During its six-year run (1958-1964), the program spawned three spin-offs. Each one was set in a relatively exotic locale, with its own musical identity.

77 Sunset Strip (starring Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and Roger Smith) featured a jive-talking valet parking attendant, "Kookie Kookson" (Edd Byrnes). The soundtrack was a mix of hep jazz with a hint of early rock n' roll. It was a winning combo - the soundtrack album made the top 100 for 1959.



Hawaiian Eye premiered a year later, with Tracy Steele, Robert Conrad, and Connie Stevens as a singer in a local club. Stevens sang somewhat traditional pop numbers, but the instrumental score was Martin Denny-style exotica.

Bourbon Street Beat only lasted one season (1959-1960). The soundtrack, while jazzy, didn't quite capture the essence of the Big Easy. But there was some street cred. In addition to Richard Long and Andrew Duggan, the show featured a jazz pianist. This recurring role was played by Eddie Cole, Nat King Cole's brother.




Surfside 6 was set in Miami, with an opening theme by Mack David and Jerry Livingston. The program ran from 1960-1962, and -- at least to the best of my research -- didn't have much in the way of music.

Henry Mancini and John Williams

Mention jazz on TV and most people immediately think of Peter Gunn. Peter Gunn (Craig Stevens) was a cool detective whose office was a table at Mother's, a jazz club. Two successful LPs of the music from "Peter Gunn" were issued during the show's three-year run (1958-1961). Musicians included jazz stalwarts such as Pete Candioli (trumpet), Red Mitchell (bass), Shelly Manne (drums), and Johnny Williams (piano).

Johnny Williams also played the jazz organ for Mancini's Mr. Lucky soundtrack. Though only lasting two seasons (1959-1960), the show also produced two popular LPs.




Johnny Staccato (1959-1960) tried top Peter Gunn by having their detective be a jazz pianist. Elmer Bernstein wrote a hard-driving West Coast jazz score, and Johnny Williams' piano playing was dubbed in for actor John Cassavetes.



In the late 1950s, TV westerns were on the decline and detective shows on the rise. Shotgun Slade (1959-1961) tried to split the difference. Though set in the west of the 1880s, this show about a private detective used a modern jazz score. Gerald Fried wrote the music, arranged by Johnny
Williams.



Williams moved from arranger to composer for Checkmate (1960-1962). Created by Eric Ambler, it featured an elite private investigator firm that specialized in blocking crimes before they happened. The soundtrack was suitably sophisticated and cool. Williams would eventually come to be known as "John" rather than "Johnny" and write soundtracks for "Star Wars," "Jaws," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and many, many other films.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Diabelli Project 163 - Benedictus for SATB

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.

One of the fun things about doing these flash composition sketches is that sometimes I surprise myself. When I started the ten-minute timer, I had no idea what I would write. Then the opening phrase of the Benedictus popped into my head, and the rest just flowed.

I've already sketched an Agnus Dei and a Kyrie in this series. Are they all part of the same mass setting? Not sure. The tonal centers these three movements are in do fit together. So perhaps there's something there.



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 22, 2017

Line Mar Match Box Construction 067 - Freight Car

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.

067. Freight Car

This is the sixth and final car in the train shown on the set's box art. It was also the simplest of the six to build. Note that there's no dowel shown sticking up through the upright piece.

I can't imagine just setting the piece on the car body. Perhaps its secured with a short dowel that would be entirely enclosed in the upright piece.



As I mentioned at the start of this miniseries, the Line Mar Construction Set only has enough pieces to build one unit of the train. One way to build the complete train is, of course, to use multiple sets. I preferred to use Photoshop.



The Line Mar Train

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Daniel Jones Symphonies 2 & 11 - Complex yet simple


Lyrita Records embarked on their Daniel Jones symphonic cycle in the 1970s. It's good to have them available again in digital form.

Early in his career, this Welsh composer devised his own musical language that served him well. Jones' Complex Metres system used asymmetrical patterns. These patterns never quite align as they repeat. That gives Jones' music a restless fluidity that provides its forward motion.

The two symphonies on this re-release make a good pair. Jones completed his second symphony in 1950. He experimented with serial techniques, which are prominent in this work. His eleventh symphony is firmly rooted in tonality, albeit an expanded one.

Both works incorporate Jones' Complex Metres, and both use large orchestras. After the second symphony, Jones pared back his scope. Symphonies three through ten use more modest-sized orchestras. Symphony No. 11, written in memoriam for a colleague and friend. It marks Jones' return to an expanded orchestra.

Though three decades separate these works, they're remarkably similar in style and sound. Both feature some imaginative melodic writing. And to my ears, they have a cosmopolitan sound. They don't sound especially Welsh, or even British. They're simply the expression of an individual with a unique perspective.

Lyrita employed some of the best musicians for this project. For this release, it was the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra and Bryden Thomson. I doubt we'll hear these works performed with deeper understanding and commitment.

Daniel Jones: Symphonies 2 & 11
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra; Bryden Thomson, conductor
Lyrita SRCD364

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Burney Sonatas for Piano Four Hands: Birth of a Genre

I learned three things from this release.
  1. Charles Burney was a composer
  2. Charles Burney was a pretty good composer
  3. Charles Burney pioneered and popularized a musical genre
Charles Burney is best remembered today as a music journalist and musicologist. He wrote in great detail of his European tours. Those volumes provide invaluable documentation about late 18th-Century performance practices.

Burney also seemed to visit just about every major and minor composer on the continent. His writing provides insightful impressions of their personalities and their music.

What's not remembered is that Burney was also a prolific composer himself. In fact, recordings of his music are practically non-existent.

In 1777 Burney self-financed the publication of four sonatas for piano four hands. He might not have been the first composer to write for this combination, but he made it popular.

Before Burney's publication, music for two keyboard players meant two instruments. After Burney, other composers, such as J.C. Bach, Clementi, and Mozart wrote for piano four hands.

The eight sonatas on this release are played on an English square piano. This early pianoforte is the instrument Burney had in mind, but it's a far cry from a modern piano. The action is noisy, and the attacks can be harsh-sounding.

And yet, as I listened, I eventually became used to the sound and could appreciate it for its own merits. Burney wrote with the capabilities of the square piano in mind. Thus, the instrument's well-suited for the music.

Anna Clemente and Susanna Piolanti perform with a lightness of touch I didn't think possible on a square piano. They bring out all the dynamics and expressive shading of the works. And they use the rough sound of the square piano to good advantage. Dissonances sound almost contemporary with their edginess and loud passage ring with authority.

If authentic instruments aren't for you, then you might want to give this a pass. But if you'd like to enjoy some fine music-making from the early Classical era, give this release a listen. I found it enlightening.

Charles Burney: Sonatas for piano four hands
Anna Clemente, Susanna Piolanti, piano four hands
Brilliant Classics


Monday, September 18, 2017

Diabelli Project 162 - Woodwind 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.

Things are a little disjointed right now. This summer I fell behind on making the fair copies of my Diabelli Project sketches (the one below's dated 6/23/17). And as I write this in September 2017 I'm working on a legitimate full-size woodwind quintet composition.

This rash of woodwind quintet flash compositions represents the germ of my inspiration.  But I'm currently much further along in the process than these posts suggest. Really.

In today's offering, the French horn has the melody, punctuated by the ensemble in eighth notes. If I were to use this sketch, I'd probably make the second measure 4/4 and change the last two beats from eighth notes to 16th notes. It makes more sense with what follows.

And had I not run out of time, I would have had all five instruments playing a descending pattern in stacked thirds and landing on a new tonal center (to be determined later).





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 15, 2017

Line Mar Match Box Construction 066 - Crane Car

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.

066. Crane Car

The fifth car in the train shown on the construction set's box art is labelled a crane car. It's not a bad model, but it promises more play value than it can deliver.

If you look at the illustration carefully, you'll see a knob sticking out of the cab. The implication is that it will turn the dowel, and thus raise or lower the hook at the end of the string.

Well, that knob is actually a wooden collar, and it doesn't grip the dowel very tightly. The "hook" appears to be four fiberboard washers around a small dowel. All of that is extremely light-weight. I think only a single strand of sewing thread would be thin enough to actually stay within the guides of the crane arm and move up and down.

If the crank worked. Which it doesn't. And how would you secure the thread to the dowel and washer assembly?

I'm using florist wire as a string/thread substitute for this project. I substituted a wooden collar for the washers, and secured it by bending the end of the wire after threading it through.

For a static shot, I think it worked just fine.


The Line Mar Train

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Graupner: Passion Cantatas Vol. 1 - Pure Baroque Goodness

This release launches a cycle of Passion Cantatas by Christoph Graupner. And it's pure German Baroque goodness.

Christoph Graupner (1683-1760) was a contemporary of Bach, Telemann, and Handel. And he was as highly regarded as his contemporaries. When Telemann turned down the Leipzig Cantorate position in 1723, Graupner was offered the job. When he was forced to decline, settled on their third choice -- Johann Sebastian Bach.

Originally, musical settings of the Passion (the suffering of Christ) were presented during Holy Week. They usually took the form of large-scale oratorios.

Lutheran musical tradition expanded settings of the Passion into Lent. These Passion cantatas were shorter, but more numerous. There were ten Sundays in Lent -- each requiring a different cantata. The three cantatas in this release all come from a cycle Graupner composed in 1741.

Graupner, like Bach, illustrated his texts subtly through music. The cantata Erzittre, toll und freche Welt, (Tremble, mad and impudent world,), opens with a hesitant and trembling ritornello. The aria Menschenfreund, ach welch Verlangen trägst du doch nach meinem Heil? (What yearning is this?) has a rising melody that always turns down just before reaching resolution.

These are just two of many examples. To fully appreciate Gaupner's artistry, I recommend following along with the printed text as the music plays.

Ex Tempore and the Barockorchester Mannheimer Hofkapelle perform admirably directed by Florian Heyerick. And no wonder -- Heyerick is one of the leading authorities on Graupner's music.

This is also one of the best-recorded early music releases I've heard in a while. The ensemble has a clean, transparent sound. The soloists sound natural with full, unforced tones.

Christoph Graupner: Das Leiden Jesu
Passion Cantatas I (1741)
Solistenensemble Ex Tempore
Barockorchester Mannheimer Hofkapelle
Florian Heyerick
CPO 555 071–2        

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

László Lajtha: Orchestral Works, Vol. 4 - Study in Contrasts

This installment of Naxos' László Lajtha symphony reissues presents three sides of the composer. Wisely, the three works aren't programmed in order.

The disc leads off with Lajtha's Symphony No. 6, completed in 1955. The imaginative orchestration gives the ensemble an open sound, especially with the brass. The outer movements crackle with high-energy rambunctiousness, encasing the sparkling middle movements.

Lajtha wrote that his Symphony No. 5 was "very tragic, epic, like a ballad." Perhaps so, but to me, it also had an elegiac quality to it. It reminded me of Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Sinfonia Antarctica," which, like Lajtha's work, was written in 1952.

It was a bad time for Lajtha. He had spent a year in London, working on the film score to "Murder in the Cathedral" (which he would turn into his fourth symphony). The Communist authorities considered him "contaminated" and stripped him of all official positions. Symphony No. 5 reflects that unsettled dread, yet its lyrical passages seem cautiously hopeful.

The final work sweeps away the gloom. Lajtha's 1933 ballet score for Lysistrata bustles with good humor, continually winking at the audience.

Nicolás Pasquet and the Pécs Symphony Orchestra perform well for the most part. The first violins strings seemed to sound a little wobbly in the upper register. It was especially obvious in exposed passages that were meant to be played delicately and softly.

László Lajtha: Orchestral Works, Vol. 4
Symphony No. 6, Op. 61; Symphony No. 5, Op. 55; Lysistrata - Ballet Op. 19
Pécs Symphony Orchestra; Nicolás Pasquet, conductor 
Naxos 8.573645

Friday, September 08, 2017

Line Mar Match Box Construction 065 - Dump Car

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.

065. Dump Car

The dump car was the fourth in the train shown on the construction set's box art. The biggest problem I had was trying to figure out just what the illustration was supposed to represent.

It looked as if the far side of the car had a covering of some kind. I couldn't quite figure out if that was the case, and if so, how to attach it.  The illustration shows the cover (if that's what it is) just resting on the upright posts.

But then, this wasn't an accurate image. I t shows a long dowel rod spanning the car, with two fiberboard washers in the middle. The dowels that came with the set didn't extend far enough to secure with washers at the end as shown. I compromised by using two dowel rods joined with a wooden collar.

Yes, the wire work isn't very good in the photo. But after wrestling with this very fragile construction for almost an hour, I finally got it to stay long enough to take a picture.

I'm still wondering what the illustration was trying to show me, though.


The Line Mar Train

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Persichetti Harpsichord Sonatas - Appealingly Modern

If you only know the harpsichord as a 18th-century instrument, Persichetti's sonatas can be a little disorienting. The harmonies, the counterpoint, and the melodies are all mid-20th century. It sounds nothing like Bach.

And yet Persichetti managed to write music that's thoroughly idiomatic to the instrument. And Christopher D. Lewis, a specialist in modern harpsichord literature, gets the most out of that music.

The album includes five of Persichetti's nine sonatas written for the instrument (plus a serenade). The first sonata was composed in 1951. The others -- nos. 3, 5, 8, and 9 -- date from the 1980s.

These works from Persichetti's final decade are finely-crafted, indeed. Persichetti uses layered textures instead of volume to add emphasis. Chromatic melodies may have a tonal base, but not necessarily triadic.

Pan-diatonic chords and polytonality create textures at odds with the harpsichord's Baroque heritage. Nevertheless, it works. Lewis' phrasing and precise execution bring out the best in these works, clearly outlining Persichetti's musical structures.

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of thoroughly modern harpsichord music.

Vincent Persichetti: Harpsichord Sonatas
Christopher D. Lewis, harpsichord
Naxos 8.559842

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Cosmography of Polyphony Surveys the Renaissance

Webster's defines cosmography as "a description of the world." In "Cosmography of Polyphony," the Royal Wind Music describe their world of renaissance music through their concert repertoire. This ensemble of twelve recorder players presents music from Johannes Ockeghem (early 1500s) through Johann Sebastian Bach (mid-1700s).

Playing polyphonic vocal works on instruments was standard practice in the renaissance (as was doubling vocal parts with instruments). So Maria Martinez Ayerz's arrangements are within the realm of early music performance practices.

The ensemble presents a nice variety of styles, too. There's a highly chromatic madrigal by Carlo Gesualdo, as well as cheerier fare by Anthony Holborne.

The Royal Wind Music performs with an astounding precision and unity of vision. At times the ensemble sounds like an organ or calliope played by a single individual. Ayerza's arrangements use many different types of recorders, and not every one gets played in every selection. It's that subtle variety that I most appreciated as I listened to this recording.

A worthy musical cosmography, indeed.

Cosmography of Polyphony: A Musical Journey through Renaissance Music with 12 recorders 
Music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Antoine Brumel, Hernando de Cabezón, Alfonso Ferrabosco, Carlo Gesualdo, Nicolas Gombert, Anthony Holborne, Alonso Lobo, Johannes Ockeghem, Osbert Parsley, Pierre Phalèse, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Adrian Willaert 
The Royal Wind Music 
Petri Arvo, Hester Groenleer, María Martínez Ayerza: artistic directors 
Pan Classics PC 10377

Friday, September 01, 2017

Line Mar Match Box Construction 064 - Lumber Car

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.

064. Lumber Car

This is the third car in the train shown on the box art. It was a pretty simple build, and has an enormous cheat.

Line Mar's building kit only came with eight long dowel rods. In this model, two are used as axles. Four provide the stakes for the load. So only two remain to serve as the lumber load itself.

Yet the picture shows a whole pile of long dowel rods. Shortly after I received this set, I made some replacement dowel rods. Over the past 80 years the original dowels had swollen and warped, and I've been using the replacement dowels for a lot of the builds.

In this case, I used both the original dowels and the replacements to provide a decent load for the lumber car. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Spam Roundup August, 2017

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.

Say What? 

 - Definitely imagine that which you stated. Your favourite reason seemed to be on the web the easiest thing to keep in mind of. I say to you, I definitely get irked whilst other people consider concerns that they plainly don't recognize about. [Yes, We must all consider concerns.]

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 - Plenty of helpful information here. I am sending it to a few buddies ans additionally sharing in delicious.  [We should all share the delicious.]

Yet, it is actually Sex Chant quite charming. Most Quakers start to talk about at work? [I'm not sure I want to imagine Quaker sex chants...]


"Lumbering along" keeps on going

Without a doubt, The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along remains a prime post for spambots. Not sure what the attraction is in this vintage 1960s Japanese tin friction toy. Even after I read the comments.

 - Thanks for a marvelous posting! I definitely enjoyed reading it, you might be a great author. [Wait -- *might be*?!]

 - I'm gone to inform my little brother, that he should also go to see this blog on regular basis to take updated from hottest gossip. [Oh yes, this post full of gossipy hotness.]

 - It's not my first time to pay a quick visit this web site. [And not your first rodeo either, I presume.]

This site was... how do you say it? Relevant!! finally, I have something which helped me. [Your comment was... how do you say it? Irrelevant!!]

Thanks for sharing 

Once you find a winning formula, why mess with success? 

Hey! Would you mind if I share your blog with my twitter group? There's a lot of folks that I think would really appreciate your content.

Howdy! Would you mind if I share your blog with my zynga group? There's a lot of people that I think would really enjoy your content.

That's all for this month. Share this post with your Twitter group, your Zynga group, or even your peer group! After all, I might be a great author.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

László Lajtha Orchestral Works, Vol. 3 - Darkness and Light

I somehow missed the original release of this László Lajtha series on Marco Polo. So I'm glad for another opportunity to discover this Hungarian composers' music through the Naxos reissues.

Volume 3 continues the traversal through Lajtha's symphonies with Nos. 3 and 4.

In 1947 Lajtha went to England to work on a British movie with Austro-Hungarian director Georg Hoellering. The production was T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. Lajtha reused much of the thematic material for his third symphony, completed in 1948.

The symphony retains much of the film's (and original story's) atmosphere. A solo clarinet opens the work with an elegiac theme. Gradually the orchestra enters with ominous foreboding, inexorably building towards the finale.

The fourth symphony, written three years later, has an entirely different character. Titled "Spring," this is a light-hearted work that's full of energy. Lajtha was an ethnomusicologist as well as a composer. Folk elements abound in this work, coming to the fore in the last movement.

Also included is Lajtha's music for a 1943 ballet. Lajtha reworked the music into his Suite No. 2 for orchestra. The ballet lampooned fascist dictators, and that sharp humor comes through in Lajtha's suite. The angular music reminds me somewhat of Janacek crossed with Prokofiev.

Nicolás Pasquet and the Pécs Symphony Orchestra have a lock on this material. The ensemble has an expansive sound that gives Lajtha's music real emotional weight. Glad I didn't miss these recordings the second time around.

László Lajtha: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3
Symphony No. 4, "Spring", Op. 52; Suite, No. 2, Op. 38; Symphony No. 3, Op. 45
Pécs Symphony Orchestra; Nicolás Pasquet, conductor 
Naxos 8.573646

Monday, August 28, 2017

Diabelli Project 161 - Woodwind 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.

This week's sketch is another for woodwind quintet. The unifying elements in this are the sixteenth/dotted eighth rhythm, and the gapped runs up and down. I also really like the tutti chords that open this sketch. If I were to expand this, I'd develop that thought further.

This is the sixth woodwind quintet sketch I'm written for this series. I think it's time to see if some of these pieces will join together.




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, August 25, 2017

Line Mar Match Box Construction 063 - Tender

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.

063. Tender

This is the second car in the train that Line Mar shows on their box. In the 1930s, when this set was sold, steam locomotives were the standard. Such locomotives carried their fuel supply behind them. The coal tender was often referred to as just the tender, as it is in this instruction sheet.

The tender was a really simple build. And it was also one where reality was at odds with the fantasy illustration. The dowels holding the bumpers are shown resting on the axles, nicely parallel to the bottom of the tender. They don't quite line up that way, causing the dowels to droop down a little.

The Line Mar Train

063 - The Tender