Thursday, November 16, 2017

Wenzel Heinrich Veit String Quartets, Vol. 1 - an individual voice

Robert Schumann had this to say of Wenzel Heinrich Veit's music:

The form of this quartet contains nothing unusual, there is no boldness or originality, but it is proper and shows a well-trained hand. Both the harmony and the individual voices are worthy of high praise.

I think the first part of that assessment's a little harsh, but I do agree with the second.

This initial installment of Veit string quartet recordings starts at the beginning, with quartets Nos. 1 and 2.

Wenzel Heinrich Weit (1806-1864) was a Czech composer heavily influenced by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Schubert. His music laid the foundation for the next generation of Czech composers, which would include Dvorak and Smetana.

The 1834 String Quartet No. 1 in D minor was completed when Veit was 28 and is a relatively early work. Stylistically, it reminded me of the Op. 18 quartets of Beethoven with a dash of Schubertian harmonies. The third movement features the melody "God Save the Tzar.;" a nod, perhaps, to Russia's alliance with Czechoslovakia during the Napoleonic Wars.

Veit's second string quartet completed a year later, shows some growth. This is a much more dramatic work, with a thicker texture and darker character. To me, it sounds somewhat closer to Schumann's quartets. Perhaps that's what appealed to Schumann in his review.

I wouldn't say these works aren't original. True, Veit doesn't stray far from Haydn's string quartet model. But his melodies are interesting and the overall sound of the quartets is quite appealing.

Also appealing are the performances by the Kertész String Quartet. This period-instrument quartet has a wonderfully rich, warm ensemble sound. I am very much looking forward to volume two.

Wenzel Heinrich Veit: Complete String Quartets, Volume One
String Quartet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 3; String Quartet No. 2 in E major, Op. 5
Kertész String Quartet
Toccata Classics TOCC 0335

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Clementi Monferrinas offer a selection of galant confections

A monferrina is an uptempo Italian folk dance in 6/8 time. Two collections of them are featured in this collection of Clementi piano music.

Clementi's monferrinas are lively little diversions, each less than two minutes long. Nevertheless, within the confines of the form, Clementi manages a great deal of variety. That's good since this album has eighteen of them.

In addition to the monferrinas and several other short works, the album includes Clementi's unpublished 1765 keyboard sonata in A flat. The sonata owes much to the galant style of Johann Christian Bach, though it hints at the more substantial sonatas to come. There's a lot going on in this work -- pretty impressive output for a thirteen-year-old boy.

Domenic Cheli is a young pianist who performs these works with an easy assurance. These are not major works, but Cheli gives them the attention they deserve. His light touch at times seems light-hearted as well.

You don't have to be a Clementi completist to enjoy this release. It's simply a pleasant listening experience for anyone who enjoys piano music.

Muzio Clementi
Harpsichord Sonata in A flat major, WoO 13, Allegro and Finale in E flat major, WoO 22-23; Rondo in B flat major, WoO 8; Canon ad diapason in C major, WoO11; Tarantella in A minor, WoO 21; Six Monferrinas, WoO 15-20; Twelve Monferrinas, Op. 49; Fourteen Melodies of Different Nations, WoO 9: No. 5, Air russe
Dominic Cheli, piano
Naxos 8.573711

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Collecting -- and Collecting Information Part 31

Shioji and Coke

A new offering came available on eBay recently. It was yet another variation of the Shioji friction toy truck.

This one was a Coca-Cola delivery truck. And as often happens with items that appeal to more than one collecting interest, the bidding soon sailed past my maximum offer. Those Coke collectors can be ruthless!

Sometimes photos are enough

Still, the photos provided were detailed enough for me to place this vehicle in the evolution of Shioji's line. (See Part 28 for more details).

I own five of the known variations. Here they're arranged in chronological order.
The basic time line goes like this:
  • First generation: Rivet head hubcaps, flat chassis bottom, six securing tabs.
  • Second generation: Solid hubcaps (cheaper to make and install), rounded chassis bottom
  • Third generation: Four securing tabs instead of six

Dialing in the date

The Coke truck has solid hubcaps and a rounded chassis. That makes it either second or third generation. 

The solid hubcaps help date the vehicle.

The use of just four tabs to secure the truck bed mark this a third generation vehicle.

It also has four tabs securing the truck body to the frame. And that makes it third generation. So I'm guessing this vehicle was probably made around 1961-63. 

An unusual work-around

I also found the overall construction interesting. Coke trucks have payloads that sit low over the wheels. Rather than create a new chassis for their version, Shioji simply worked with what they had.

The tabs in the middle of the chassis secure a flat bracket. The ones in the back hold an extension. It's those pieces that the truck body is secured to.

All of the previous examples of this Shioji truck I've found have
 the truck bed resting on top of the chassis.

Otherwise, the truck bed would sit too high, as it does on Shioji's express van and cattle truck (above).

Are there more variations out there? Perhaps. I'll only know if they come onto the market. 

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Praetorius Lutherische Choralkonzerte - Models of Clarity

This release is part of CPO's "Music from Wolfenbüttel Castle" series. And in this case, it's especially fitting.

It was at Wolfenbüttel that Michael Praetorius served Henry Julius, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. Praetorius served as court organist and composer. When Frederick Ulrich succeeded Julius, Praetorius remained. He was buried Wolfenbüttel.

Julius and Ulrich were staunch Lutherans, as was Praetorius (his father had studied with Luther). This release presents a selection of Praetorius' Lutheran chorales. Praetorius was familiar with Giuseppe Gabrieli's compositions. These works show that influence.

Like Gabrieli's canzonas, these chorales rely on contrast. They often separate the chorus into two smaller antiphonal ensembles. Some of the chorales also use cantus firmus, following the technique of Johann Walter for Lutheran choral music.

Clarity of the message was the overriding priority in early Lutheran church music. Praetorius holds to that ideal in these work. Though the settings are engaging, imaginative, and sometimes complex, the texts remain clear and easy to understand.

The Weser-Renaissance Bremen maintains that tradition. They perform these works in a straightforward manner that sounds absolutely authentic. The recording space in Wolfenbüttel Castle has an intimate ambiance that adds warmth to the ensemble's sound. The sound and performances seemed to transport me back to the early 1600s when these works were new.

Michael Praetorius: Lutherische Choralkonzerte
Weser-Renaissance Bremen; Manfred Cordes, director
CPO 555 064-2

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Tishchenko Symphony No. 8 transforms Schubert

In order to fully appreciate this release, you need to have another one cued up. Boris Tishchenko continually pushed the boundaries of Soviet music. His compositions, even when they stayed on the right side of the Soviet authorities, sounded like no one else's.

Listening to this release was my first encounter with Tishchenko's 8th Symphony. It strongly reminded me of late Shostakovich. Not surprising -- Tishchenko studied with him in the 1960s. But it wasn't until I listened to the work the way Tishchenko intended that I fully understood what the piece was about.

Tishchenko's 8th Symphony picks up where Schubert's ends. The themes of the closing movement start Tishchenko's work, and initially, it continues in Schubert's harmonic language. But then things begin to change. The music seems to slowly break apart. Harmonies dissolve, motifs become distorted. By the end of the work, the music has completely transformed into something wonderfully unique, and yet closely tied to Schubert's work.

The other major work on this release is the Concerto for Violin, Piano, and String Orchestra. This 2006 work features shimmering chord clusters and vast sweeping gestures. The violin and piano function more as a duo than two solo instruments. Violinist Chingiz Osmanov and pianist Nikolai Mazhara achieve that effect, performing as if in a conversation between old friends.

Yuri Serov leads the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra in solid performances. Tishchenko's music can be somewhat quirky, moving from one style to another -- sometimes quickly.

I just have one complaint. They really should have included a recording of Schubert's 8th with this release. Hearing the same orchestra move from one symphony to the other would have been an ideal way to experience Tishchenko's artistic vision.

Boris Tischenko: Symphony No. 8
Concerto for Violin, Piano, and String Orchestra; Three Songs to Poems of Marina Tsvetayeva 
Mila Shkirtil, mezzo-soprano; Chingiz Osmanov, violin; Nikolai Mazhara, piano
St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra; Yuri Serov, conductor 
Naxos 83.573343

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Think globally, vote locally

This off-cycle is on!

Normally, a non-Presidential election is considered unimportant. The turnout's proportional to the level of the candidates. Senate races bring out more voters than Board of Supervisor elections; gubernatorial contests have more participants than a sheriff's race. But it's all a fraction of the turnout for a national election.

This year (at least in Virginia), the state-wide races are being framed as a referendum. The President has personally endorsed some of the candidates running in the state. So if you vote for that candidate, it can be seen as a vote of support for the President, and vice-versa.

A matter of scale

That referendum concept might motivate some folks who have strong feelings for or against the President -- especially those who normally pass on the "unimportant" races.

But really -- every election is important. Because the results of every election affect your daily life. The county board of supervisors won't change what's happening in Washington. But they can approve that new strip mall to be built next to your house.

A town council won't influence State Department policy, but they could drain your community's coffers through cronyism.

Everyone rails against the IRS. But meal taxes, utility taxes, property taxes, vehicle taxes, business license fees, and many other such costs are determined at the local, regional and state levels. The people you help to elect to all levels of local government have a big say in your daily life through laws, ordinances, taxes, and fees.

Deciding not to choose is still a decision

If you choose to sit out this election? Then you help the side you're against. You've deprived the side you agree with of your support.

Don't like either side? Sure, I get that. It's not a perfect world. But remember, you're not voting black or white, but rather light gray vs. dark gray. You can sit this one out if you like, but know that you're going to get gray, regardless. Would you like it lighter or darker?

I choose to choose

There's another reason why every election is important. The results are what politicians use to gauge the will of the people. And that determines their actions going forward.

If 10% of the eligible voters turn out, and 85% vote the same way, it's considered a landslide. Clearly, everybody wants this candidate and his/her policies.

So policy is set on feedback from 85% of 10%. To plug in some numbers, if a district has 1,000 voters on the rolls, only 100 show up to vote, and 85 vote the same way. That Mandate of the People comes from 85 individuals out of a group of 1,000.

Do the other 900 agree with those 85 or do they think more like the 15? Doesn't matter. They didn't vote.

Every election is important. I consider it my civic duty to participate -- every time.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Line Mar Match Box Construction 072 - Conveyer with Poles

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.

072. Conveyer with Poles

The illustration for this toy wasn't especially helpful. The assembly for the base and the poles was pretty simple. I decided to go with the wooden discs instead of the fiber collars for additional stability.

The problem was the conveyor basket. It was difficult to see how the pully was put together. In the end, I managed, but it doesn't look nearly as neat as the illustration. The short arm isn't as short as the picture suggests. And since I had used the wooden discs with the poles, I had to create flanges with the fiber collars.

It sort of worked, but this was definitely a stationary model.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Boccherini Op. 6 String Trios - Classic performances

The name Lubotsky may ring a bell. Russian violinist Mark Lubotsky recorded Benjamin Britten's Violin Concerto under the direction of the composer.

While this release is not likely to become as legendary as that Decca recording, there's still some fine music-making going on here.

Mark Lubotsky, along with violinist Katarina Andreasson and cellist Olga Dowbusch-Lubotsky deliver sensitive, yet full-blooded performances of Luigi Boccherini's Op. 6 string trios.

The 1769 trios were the third of seven such sets that Boccherini wrote, and aren't recorded or as frequently performed as the later sets. Personally, I thought the works quite attractive and well-written (in other words: typical Boccherini).

The articulation of the Lubostky Trio is impeccable, making it easy to hear the structure of music. My only complaint is with the recording itself. The strings seem to have an edge to their sound, that can sometimes sound a little harsh. A minor EQ adjustment on my system seemed to remedy the problem, though.

Luigi Boccherini: String Trios Op. 6
Lubotsky Trio
Brilliant Classics

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Boccherini Op. 5 - Robust Works for Pianoforte and Violin

This release has me a little conflicted.

Luigi Boccherini published his Op. 5 pianoforte and violin sonatas in 1768. The works were dedicated to one of the premiere keyboard players of the day, Mme. Brillon de Jouy. She was a champion of the then-new pianoforte, and Boccherini's sonatas were his first compositions for keyboard.

My conflict? I love Boccherini, but I'm no fan of the early pianoforte. These works were also published in a harpsichord/violin version. But the pianoforte was the instrument the composer had in mind.

Boccherini titled the works "Sei sonate per fortepiano, con accompagnamento di un violino." In other words, the violin has a secondary role compared to the fortepiano. And that puts the keyboard instrument front and center.

In this recording, that also makes the faults of the pianoforte easy to hear. The action's noisy, there's a hollow quality to the sound, and it doesn't always stay precisely in tune throughout the work.

If you can't get past those distractions, best to give this release a pass.

But, if you can, there's something of value in these performances. Boccherini exploited the pianoforte's ability to play at various dynamic levels and respond to the force of the player's touch. Pianist Pierre Goy and violinist Liana Mosca deliver animated, expressive performances.

Goy and Mosca seem to have an informal conversation as they hand the melodies back and forth. The violin may be the accompanying instrument but it still has plenty to do.

I still don't like the sound of the pianoforte. But I understand why it was used. These sonatas show us the skill of the young Boccherini. His keyboard writing gives us a foretaste to the expressive works to come. I wouldn't have that same insight had I heard the harpsichord version.

Luigi Boccherin: 6 Sonate di Cembalo e Violino Obbligato, Op. 5
Liana Mosca, violin; Pierre Goy, pianoforte
Stradivarius 2 CD Set

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Spam Roundup October, 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.

Unambiguously preservedness

- I think this is one of the most information for me. And I am glad reading your article. But wanna remark on few general things. The site style is wonderful, the articles is really nice. [After the "but" I was waiting for the ax to fall.]

 - I am taking a look forward to your next post. I'll try to get the cling of it! [I strive for electrifying prose. Static's just the byproduct.]

 - Hi there colleagues, how is all, and what you want to say concerning this article, in my view its in fact awesome support of me. [It's not about you.]

 - What a material of un-ambiguity and preservedness of precious familiarity regarding unpredicted feelings. [I feel this is somewhat ambiguous.]

We continue to "Lumbering along"

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 left. The post itself just describes the car and how it fits with the display. 

 - You actually make it appear so easy along with your presentation however I find this topic to be actually something which I believe I might never understand. It sort to feels too complicated and extremely vast for me. [100 words. Too vast. Riiiiight.]

 - If they know they cannot get a rise out of you they will continue until they do, but if you change the subject they will get the hing that you are not interested in debating. [Not to change the subject, but did ever I tell you about the vintage Japanese toy lumber truck I picked up?]

 - 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.]

Fastidious content

The usage of the word "fastidious" has tapered off in the spam comments. But spambots still have a lot to say in the comment field of the article itself

 - Pretty oration of content.[?!]

 - I know this web page offers quality dependent articles or reviews and additional stuff, is there any other website which gives such things in quality? [Nope. When it comes to commentary about fastidious spam, I'm in a class by myself.]

 - Everything composed was actually very reasonable. But, what about this? What if you wrote a catchier title? I mean "Fastidious Spam" is kinda lame. [It got you to click through, didn't it?]

That's it for this month. But not to worry -- the oration of content (both pretty and ugly) continues apace. We're sure to have more than enough material for a November roundup. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Diabelli Project 168 - String Trio

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.

I feel I need to apologize for the look of this score. My regular technical pens were about out of ink, so I tried some with angled nibs.

As for the music itself, it's sort of a continuation of last week's project. In that sketch, I used an ascending intervals pattern: a second, a third, and a fourth. This time, it's the same intervals in a descending pattern.

Plus, I just came off of a month of posting viola works (and jokes) on Twitter as part of the #ClassicsaDay feed. So even before I started I thought I'd be sketching out something for some type of string chamber piece.

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, October 27, 2017

Line Mar Match Box Construction 071 - Turn Stile

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.

071. Turn Stile

Yes, a "turn stile" is the same as a turnstile. This construction set was made in Japan, and sometimes the translation doesn't quite work.

The build was pretty easy for the turnstile. The nub at the top of the capstan isn't as pronounced as it appears in the illustration. The dowel simply wasn't long enough to make that happen.

Otherwise, the complete toy looks like the image. And it does rotate. That makes it one of the few toys in this series that a kid could actually play with!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Gregory Mertl Piano Concerto - music with a strong narrative

How to best to describe the music of Gregory Mertl? According to the composer, it "often enfolds as a narrative generated from its opening ideas." The three works on this release all have a forward-moving narrative.

Yet each work achieves that in a different fashion. "Afterglow of a Kiss" for flute proceeds in fits and starts. While sometimes prickly, I'd call it non-tonal rather than atonal. The piece sounds grounded -- just not in a traditional dominant-tonic sense. In this narrative, there's a gradual move from chaos to calm. That calm only arrives towards the end of the 7-minute work (and it's not all that calm).

The solo flute part is challenging -- but not too challenging for Immanuel Davis. Despite the demands on her instrument, she maintains a beautiful, well-rounded tone.

"Empress" is as calm as "Afterglow" is agitated. The work proceeds through a series of long, drawn-out chords that gradually mutate. As the work progresses, the music gains momentum. Here the narrative seems to be that of awakening. The harmonies increase in dissonance and the mood moves from lethargic to energetic.

According to Mertl, his piano concerto is a journey of discovery for the soloist. It reminded me a little of late Bartok -- but only a little. In the first movement, the piano's fragmentary themes slowly coalesce. It comes together in the second movement. The piano and orchestra take turns with the melodic material as separate -- but equal -- partners.

The final movement brings both forces together. The piano and orchestra fit together in an interconnected whole. If you follow the narrative thread, the work can take you on an exciting journey of exploration. And one worth the time investment.

The University of Minnesota Wind Ensemble performs on par with professional ensembles. Long, sustained chords were rock-solid, never wavering in tone. The ensemble has a strong, full-bodied sound. Kudos to Craig Kirchhoff for leading them in such exciting performances.

Also of merit is pianist Solungga Liu's performance. Her playing in the first movement showed great sensitivity and power and dexterity in the third.

Gregory Mertl
Afterglow of a Kiss, Empress, Piano Concerto
The University of Minnesota Wind Ensemble; Craig Kirchhoff, conductor
Solungga Liu, piano; Immanuel Davis, flute
Bridge Records 9489

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

CPE Bach Violin Sonatas - Transparent and lively masterworks

This reissue from 2005 features four violin and piano sonatas by Carl Philipp Emanual Bach. He wrote three while serving at the court of Frederick the Great. The other was an early work, miscredited to his father.

CPE Bach composed the three 1763 sonatas while employed by King Frederick II, They reflect the atmosphere of Frederick the Great's cosmopolitan court. Frederick was a talented amateur musician, greatly interested in French culture.

Bach's sonatas have the lightness of the French style galante. Violin and piano nimbly trade melodic motifs, keeping the texture light. Amandine Beyer and Edna Stern play in simpatico. Phrasing and infections remain consistent as the music moves from one instrument to the other.

It's easy to hear how the 1738 Sonata in G major, H.545 (BWV 1031) could be attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach rather than his son. CPE wrote it when he was 20, and still developing his own voice. The textures are thick, and there's a lot of baroque busy-ness going on -- especially with the keyboard.

But after hearing the other sonatas, it's also easier to hear CPE's traits in this music, too.

I've stated before I don't care for the sound of the early fortepiano. But I have no complaints about the sound of it in this recording. The instrument does sounds a little blocky compared to a modern piano. But the action is quiet, and the keyboard seems very responsive to Stern's touch.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Sonatas for Violin and Fortepiano, WQ 76-78; H.545 (formerly BWV 1031)
Amadine Beyer, violin; Edna Stern, piano
Alpha 329

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Lessons from York: What We Saw - Clearing out the clutter

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 more importantly, the reasons behind them.

There were three things that we saw in abundance this time, and I think they were there due to an aging market and shifting tastes.

Victims of the Aging Market

Toy collecting is a nostalgic endeavor, and most collectors focus on the objects of their youth. For the founding members of the TCA, that golden age would be the early 1920s. For the second generation to join, it was the late 1930s-early 1940s. For the third generation (of which I'm a part), it's postwar. 

And then there's a break. Because the third generation -- late Baby Boomers -- are really the last to grow up with toy trains. When the organization was founded, early trains commanded top dollar. That remained so during the second generation but started to decline by the third. And the slide continues.

1. Blue Comet and State Sets

Right before the Great Depression Lionel's top of the line train sets were indeed non plus ultra. The State set (each passenger car bore the name of a state) was a massive standard gauge (bigger than 0-gauge) train. Next in desirability was the Blue Comet.

These sets were made of high-quality metal, with detailed interiors, hinged doors and illumination. But in the early 1930s few families could afford such luxuries, and not many were sold.

An original 1930s Lionel standard gauge Blue Comet. Looks nice on a shelf.
For many, these sets remain the pinnacle of collecting. Even those who weren't especially interested in prewar trains would have a Blue Comet or a State Set if their pockets were deep enough.

At this show we saw an unusually high number of these vintage sets for sale. And while there weren't any real bargains, prices were $500-$1000 below average.

Why? The hobby is shifting from collectors who put trains on shelves to collectors who run trains on layouts. Reproduction Blue Comets and State Sets have hit the market. They cost a little less than the originals, run more reliably, and have modern operating features (like remote control).

The MTH 2014 reproduction. More features (like smoke and sound), and even more cars!

I think the vintage set we saw were the result of down-sizing and estate liquidations.

2. Postwar American Flyer

We noticed the abundance of American Flyer trains at the last show. This time there were even more tables offering postwar American Flyer trains. This Lionel competitor went out of business in 1967.

Original locomotives and rolling stock were scarce. But then in the early 1990s both Lionel and a new company S-Helper began offering new equipment. For the collector/operator, there was no longer a need for the vintage 1950s stuff.

This show I think we saw an acceleration of the change from collector to operator. There's less of a market for vintage Flyer, and plenty of demand for the new.


Last show we saw a lot of vintage ZW transformers. This time, we saw even more for sale.
For layout operators, the Lionel ZW transformer was the Holy Grail. It was the most powerful of Lionel's transformers, rated at 275 watts. It had independent controls for two trains, plus terminals to power accessories and lights.

That ZW (right) may have been powerful, but if you're one from the
late 1940s-early 1950s, it can get real hot real fast.

Lionel offered the ZW from 1948 to 1966. The first generation of collector/operators created a huge demand for refurbished ZWs. But as locomotives acquired on-board electronics, these became less satisfactory.

The Z4000 has more features, plus it's UL-rated.
In the late 1990s MTH offered their own line of transformers for modern 0-gauge locomotives. Their top-of-the-line Z-4000 transformer delivers 400 watts of power, has an internal cooling fan and is UL-rated. If your an operator, it just makes sense to replace that vintage ZW with something that's not only more powerful, but less likely to burn your house down.

What we didn't see

What we didn't see at York supports the theory that toy train operators are now driving the marketplace. What we didn't see are the very things most operators would want on their layouts:

1) Operating accessories, both pre- and postwar (such as coal loaders, beacon lights, etc.). They're right at home on the modern collector/operators' layouts.

2) Post 1990 locomotives and rolling stock from Lionel, Atlas, MTH, and Bachman. If you're running it, you're not going to sell it.

3) Modern reproductions from Weaver, Williams, MTH, and others. Those are the products that are pushing the vintage originals off the shelves and into the market place.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Diabelli Project 167 - Piano Piece

he 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.

Even a cursory look at my piano sketches will tell you I don't play very well. But the purpose of these flash compositions is to let the music flow unedited, and sometimes untrammeled by reality. There's been a recurring motif in these sketches recently. It's a series of ever-expanding intervals; a second, a third, a fourth. In other words, C-D-F-B. Or it could be C-D-F#-B, or even C-D-F-Bb.

That's really all that's going on here. Just building on that four-note idea.

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, October 20, 2017

Line Mar Match Box Construction 070 - Signal

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.

070. Signal

Although the instruction sheet calls this model a signal, I'd consider it more of a semaphore. The picture shows a signal arm and lever linked by a taut piece of string (or thread). 

Well, compromises needed to be made. There's no way the fragile construction below could stay assembled if there was any stress added to it. So I went with wire instead of a string. 

 The cool thing about this build was that it possibly could have worked. At left is a detail of the lever. The original illustration is a little blurred, but it was possible to have a lever that rotated on an axle.

And it was also possible to build the signal arm so that it, too, would rotate. The problem was that there was nothing to hold back either the arm or the lever.

The fiberboard collars didn't grip the pieces tight enough to offer any resistance to the wire.

If you look closely, you'll see that only the top of the base is preventing the level from being pulled all the way up.

That wire is also keeping the signal arm in place.

When I tried, ever-so-gently to push down on the arm, the support post gave way. It's built of two long dowels joined together by a wooden collar. And the collar doesn't hold them together very well.

If you look closely at the photo, you'll see where I used clear tape to thicken the diameter of the dowels. It did prevent the collar from sliding down, but it was never a very solid joint.

I used wooden discs on the top and bottom of the dowels to add additional support, but it still wasn't enough. This toy works as a static display. But the first time I tried to signal with it, it signaled the end of the piece.

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.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Diabelli Project 166 - Piece for Solo Violin

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 isn't the first sketch for solo violin in this series. When I went through the records, though, I was surprised at how long it's bee since the previous ones. The sketch below is only the third I've done in this flash composition exercise. The first was in 2014, the second over a year ago.

I knew when I started my 10-minute dash that I wanted to write without a set meter. That suggested a solo instrument, and the rest just flowed.

Is this part of the same piece as the other two sketches? I'm not sure. One thing that struck me was how much further I got on this piece before time ran out. The other two sketches run just three staves each. This has seven.

Of course, quantity isn't the same as quality. But I think I like this sketch better than the other two.

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, 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

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.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Diabelli Project 165 - 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 my subconscious sketched out another woodwind quintet. I'm currently working on expanding previous Diabelli Project quintet sketches, so that's not too surprising.

Originally, I thought they might be all part of some larger piece. But when I look at them collectively, I think rather I have two different quintets going on. The sketch below looks like it belongs with No. 162 (same key signature) and No.160 (near-related key).

In the sketch below, the goal was to break up the ensemble with shifting combinations instruments providing the melody and harmonic support.

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.