The Scarlet Letter Project

It took me several weeks to complete these watercolors. The drawings are based on the illustrations which William Addison Dwiggins completed for Heritage Press in 1930 for an edition of The Scarlet Letter. To teach myself something about book illustration and watercolors, I set about to reproduce the Dwiggins drawings as faithfully as my modicum of ability would allow. I think I did a pretty good job in the sense that I feel more confident in my draftsmanship and color choices. Here are a couple of the pictures.



Two Watercolors

I painted Bill the Barman in an opaque watercolor similar to gouache, and the taxis I painted in Holbein watercolors, the good stuff. Smears and drips are apparent in the finished work, so I have more to learn about how to handle this wonderful medium.



Three Acrylic Studies

Some acrylic paintings I recently completed. These were quick studies done on board with the goal of suggesting human forms in paint.




My Backyard

Here’s an acrylic painting of my backyard. In the middle is a dying fig tree trying to survive the southern California drought.



This is the first self-portrait I’ve ever attempted. A little primitive and expressionistic, it meets with my approval.

Self Portrait

Morgan the Flower Girl

My friend David sent me a photo he took of his daughter, Morgan, standing in front of a trellis hanging with flowers. I was a bit inspired and did an acrylic painting on paper of it, impressionistic and a little abstract.


Hendrik Andriessen – Great But Neglected Composer

Entwürfe cpo-Cover 04-2015_cover.indd

This is the third release in CPO’s series of the symphonic works of Hendrik Andriessen (1892–1981), who was better known in his lifetime as a musicologist and church organist.

In 1942 the Nazis held Andriessen hostage for five months, and upon his release he began composing his Symphony No. 3, the premiere of which he conducted with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1946. The symphony is a tonal work, certainly in comparison with his previous two symphonies — tuneful and lyrical, at once involving, with an airy, open quality, more a showpiece than his usual contemplative work. Still, this is music that broods on every page. Sadly, this is one of those neglected treasures that collectors enjoy unearthing from time to time. I know I did.

In structure, the Overture serves as a lengthy introduction to the second movement, Sonata. The following Saraband evokes Renaissance dance themes and is the emotional center of the work. The final movement, Fuga, sums up themes from the preceding movements, its main subject full of dervish energy and gnarled thematic material. It’s in this movement that Andriessen shows genuine compositional chops with his deft use of counterpoint, broad orchestral coloring, and multiple themes and variations. Dutch conductor David Porcelijn turns in a very detailed and penetrating reading of this symphony.

Andriessen composed his Symphonic Concertante in 1962 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Noord-Hollands Philharmonisch Orkest. The title of the piece describes the composer’s way of playing one instrumental group against another, deliberately contrasting tonalities and overlaying groups of themes. In keeping with Andriessen’s usual style, the outer first (Andante – Allegro) and third (Andante – Allegro energico) movements are in the composer’s Neoclassical manner. Genuine experimentation takes place in the central slow movement (Tema con variazione), which is a series of Baroque dance variations on a theme by Adrianus Valerius, an early 17-century Dutch poet and composer. The variations are spins on separate dance forms: gavotte, sarabande, bourée, pavane, aria, menuetto, perspired, and polonaise. Each variation is presented with almost no modernization; and unlike at least one reviewer, I find that as a whole the variations mesh quite well. They could have been somewhat detached and academic, but these variations are served well by Andriessen’s laconic approach — with the result that the movement is delightful from beginning to end. The first and third movements are akin to 18-cnetury symphonic movements, where the theme and variations are in the middle, especially the third movement with its robust dance themes rising to a rollicking finale. The addition of “Concertante” to the title is well earned: the woodwinds and the brass have prominent roles, as do the solo violin and harp in the enticing aria.

The program ends with Chantecler Overture, which is based on a once-popular theater play of the same name by the 19th-century French playwright Edmond Rostand, about a humanlike rooster who dislikes the pretensions of city life and prefers the simple life of the country. He particularly delights in the idea of awakening people at dawn. The piece begins with a tonally edgy depiction of night. The appearance of Chantecler is announced with the addition of a short horn motif. The chickens are heard in the pecking pizzicato strings. For me, this piece is a disappointment and left little impression. Perhaps Porcelijn could have been less placid in his approach and amped the pace up a bit.

This disc is a pleasant surprise from a composer whose work deserves to be more often heard. For listeners unfamiliar with Andriessen’s work, the Third Symphony is the best introduction to his symphonic world, while the Symphonic Concertante gives a good sense of his typical icy, Nordic style.

Anthony Burgess’s Journalism

One of the wonders of the Internet is that if someone has something you want, you can probably get it. For example, I have been trying to secure a copy of Anthony Burgess’s journalism and collected essays, a volume entitled Homage to Qwert Yuiop. The book is way too expensive through US sites such as Amazon, being long out of print and not easily available. I did find a seller in Sweden who had the British edition (the one I wanted) for sale for less than a dollar. So I snagged it. The American edition of this book, for some reason, is called But Do Blondes Prefer Gentlemen? — a thoroughly ridiculous title which I did not want gracing my bookshelves.

2016-03-31 21.16.46The Abacus paperback

The mailing label from Maimo, SwedenThe mailing label from Maimo, Sweden

A Woodstock Christmas Letter



23759144235_f27dc1fa66_oFiguring out how to fix the ribbon advance is in my future.

Post-Script: It’s been a few years since Sandy and I wrote a Christmas letter to friends and family. This year, since I’ve rekindled my interest in typewriters, I decided to type what she wrote on my Woodstock No. 5, a typewriter I was introduced to via a short film about the British astronomer Patrick Moore, who had a fondness for this old machine.

Beethoven Piano Concertos: Nos. 1–5 • Richard Goode, Iván Fischer


Iván Fischer’s Budapest Festival Orchestra plays with all the energy and power necessary to turn in spectacular performances of these Beethoven concertos. Richard Goode’s playing suits Fischer’s approach, and these two gifted musicians give us one of the most lyrical and powerful interpretations of the five piano concertos in the current catalogue. What separates the artistry of these recordings from that of other interpretations I admire (Rudolf Serkin’s clarity and precision; Murray Perahia’s thoughtful probity) is their unadulterated brio.

It’s surprising that this is Richard Goode’s first recording of the Beethoven piano concertos, all the more so when one recalls that in 1993 Goode released a complete set of Beethoven sonatas. It was this set that established the pianist as one of the great Beethoven interpreters of our time. Because the concertos are public display works and not so technically or intellectually challenging as the sonatas, most pianists come to the concertos first, reserving for later the trilogy of late sonatas. There’s no doubt that Goode’s delay in recording these works led to the refined and nuanced readings by him and Fischer.

Goode’s keyboard technique and the clarity and balanced richness he draws from his instrument are astonishing. But these renditions are not simply about technique; they are about brilliant playing in service to Fischer’s vision of the music. Artistic vision guides the pianist, not the other way around as Goode demonstrates that he can shape a phrase as well or better than Arrau, Brendel, or Pollini, all of whose recordings of these concertos offer their own rewards.

Conductor Fischer doesn’t force the music but lets it move along at its own pace, allowing us to hear the detailed inner-part writing. Fischer’s stock-in-trade as a conductor lies in matters of orchestral detail, a trait on full display throughout these recordings, which are beautifully captured in spacious sound, the mics perfectly placed.

These remarkable performances are neither underpowered nor underplayed, but relaxed throughout. As a soloist, Goode is adept at engaging the orchestra rather than fighting it; as a conductor, Fischer has a knack for finding the beauty of the music and transforming these warhorses from rollicking, heavy-handed showpieces to music more lighthearted and genteel.

At least one reviewer states that the tempos of the first four slow movements are too fast. I disagree. Pianists have been playing these movements too slowly for too many years. Fischer’s tempos are refreshing.

These are essential recordings that won’t so much fill out a CD collection as stand as a cornerstone. This three-CD set will go a long way toward completing your understanding of the Beethoven concertos. Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2007 Classical Guy. All rights reserved.