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 outline 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. 

The Line Mar Train