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John Sheppard
MusicWeb International, May 2009

I have been collecting this series from the start and the earlier volumes have given me considerable pleasure. It would be unreasonable to expect that every piece will give equal pleasure, or that there are not one or two on each disc which are frankly routine, but the surprising thing is how much pleasure each new disc brings. This is no exception, and even if it lacks any of Sousa’s out and out masterpieces that does not mean that the listener will not get innocent enjoyment from it.

Innocent enjoyment is indeed an appropriate term for the most unexpected item here—“Sounds from the Revivals”, a pot-pourri of revivalist hymns including “Hold the fort” and “Sweet bye and bye”. According to Keith Brion’s notes—as usual one of the best aspects of the issue—this may have been written originally for Offenbach’s orchestra, in which Sousa played in the violin section, and later transcribed for wind band. The idea of Offenbach conducting revivalist hymns is irresistible, probably more so than the reality of a pleasant but not really musically interesting piece.

In contrast, “Sheridan’s Ride” is a battle piece, depicting General Philip Sheridan’s ride to rejoin his troops in the Civil War and then to lead them to victory in the Battle of Cedar Creek. It has all the expected features of a battle piece including the inevitable cannon effects. Like “Sounds from the Revivals” it may be of limited musical interest, but for anyone who can enjoy “Wellington’s Victory” or even Ketèlbey’s “In a Camp of the Ancient Britons” it is not to be missed.

All of the rest are marches apart from the two longer dance pieces—“The Presidential Polonaise” and the “Intaglio Waltzes”. The former was intended as an alternative to “Hail to the Chief” but unfortunately was not used as such, and the latter is a set of waltzes which does not show the composer at his best. As you might expect, that comes in the marches. These are varied but consistently rousing, with three drawing on music from Sousa’s operettas and each of the rest having a distinct character within the constraints of the form.

Once again Keith Brion manages to obtain playing constantly full of life and which sounds thoroughly idiomatic. If you have not bought any of this series already this is perhaps not the best to start with, but if you have already enjoyed any of the earlier discs I can only urge you to add this also to your collection. I see that Sousa wrote 136 marches as well as many other wind band pieces; long may Naxos continue their exploration of this rich seam.

Ronald E Grames
Fanfare, May 2009

Keith Brion, one of the foremost authorities on the music of Sousa, has been building an extensive library of Sousa’s music for Naxos since 1998, beginning with the first release…This seventh volume is as good a place to start as any, as it continues the series pattern of presenting a satisfying mix of the familiar (El capitan and The Black Horse Troop) and the unfamiliar (Congress Hall and The Naval Reserve), of marches derived from Sousa’s stage works (El capitan, again, The Bride Elect and The Charlatan), of Strauss-inspired waltzes (Intaglio Waltzes), of historical scenarios à la Wellington’s Victory, complete with battle sounds, racing horse hooves, and cheering (Sheridan’s Ride), and novelty numbers like Sounds from the Revivals, an arrangement of late-19th-century hymns which may have been written for Offenbach’s orchestra when they appeared at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition…Brion’s performances…are not so fast as to make them overbearing or cheaply exciting, but rather taken at a comfortable march tempo that allows the music to unfold naturally. The Royal Artillery Band, formed before the American colonies declared independence, plays with style and verve. Those who have learned their Sousa with (or in) larger concert bands may initially be surprised by the somewhat smaller sound of this ensemble, but in fact, this is the instrumentation that Sousa used in his own touring band. Sousa-lovers will want the whole series. The uncertain risk little, at Naxos’s bargain prices, by diving in here.

Uncle Dave Lewis, March 2009

In this, the seventh installment in Naxos’ outstanding Sousa: Music for Wind Band series, Keith Brion and the Royal Artillery Band take on some of the lesser investigated aspects of John Philip Sousa’s activity, mainly concentrating on works Sousa composed in the 1880s and 1890s. While much of the most popular music of Sousa is concentrated into works written between 1889 and 1901, Sousa: Music for Wind Band, Vol. 7, demonstrates that the decade before that wasn’t half bad, either, with such fine entries as The Rifle Regiment March and The Presidential Polonaise (both 1886), the latter written at the request of American President Chester A. Arthur as an alternative to “Hail to the Chief,” a ditty Arthur felt was less than dignified. The Presidential Polonaise carries with it an appropriate amount of pomp and sense of occasion and is just as catchy as “Hail to the Chief,” so one wonders why it didn’t stick. Among great marches drawn from Sousa’s operettas, one may find El Capitan (1896) and The Bride-Elect (1897) here, along with fine late works such as America First (1916) and The Black Horse Troop (1924). Among non-marches included are two extended topical fantasies, and both of these appear to be new to recordings. Sounds from the Revivals (1896) is a medley of hymn tunes popular in revival services such as “Nearer My God to Thee” and “Hold the Fort” featuring a generous amount of soloing for the cornet, whereas Sheridan’s Ride (1891) is a gallant and electrifying Civil War tone poem, complete cannon shots, numerous bugle calls, and a scored cheer for the boys in the band. Sheridan’s Ride is perfect fodder to wow one’s guests at a Fourth of July picnic or other summertime event; Naxos doesn’t usually trumpet the inherent audiophile qualities of its discs, but this one certainly has them.

As is his usual wont, Keith Brion realizes Sousa with an absolutely serious sense of purpose, and the Royal Artillery Band is very well-drilled, proving once again that complete surveys of the work of a composer needn’t consist of uneven or make-work styled performances; Sheridan’s Ride palpitates with excitement, whereas the Intaglio Waltzes (1884) glide with assured grace and lightness of step. It’s great that Naxos has gotten this out well in time for the summer; don’t get those hot dogs, brats, and beef patties ready without having this along for the barbecue as well., January 2009

On the face of it, the seventh volume in Naxos’ series of the wind-band music of John Philip Sousa offers a straightforward collection of the short pieces, primarily marches, for which the composer is best known. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but in fact this volume bears a closer look, for some of the works here are unusual and not what they might at first seem to be. The best-known piece on the CD, El Capitan March (1896), turns out to be made up of a series of popular songs from a Broadway show that Sousa composed. America First (1916) was also composed for a Broadway show—called Hip Hip Hooray. And The Bride-Elect March (1897) comes from a show as well. President Chester Arthur was the inspiration behind The Presidential Polonaise (1886), which was intended for ceremonial White House affairs and was in fact used for that purpose during Arthur’s administration. And then there are the non-march works here, including Intaglio Waltzes (1884), in the style of Johann Strauss Jr.; Sheridan’s Ride (1891), a bombastic musical representation, complete with gunfire and cheers, of a fast 20-mile horseback ride by General Philip Sheridan before the Battle of Cedar Creek during the Civil War; and Sounds from the Revivals (1896), a collection of hymn tunes with a nice part for solo cornet (Martin Hinton in this recording). All these works exude patriotism and uplift, perhaps rather naïvely; yet the current mood of the United States, as the inauguration of a new president approaches, may be a particularly auspicious time for a CD such as this—even though the excellent performances are by a British rather than American band.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2008

Around the turn-of-the-century John Philip Sousa placed America’s military band music on the world map, though it was a career that he never intended. Born in Washington DC in 1854, his father, a trombonist with the United States Marine Band, realised his son’s musical potential, and mapped out his future as a classically trained violinist and composer. But things were to change at the age of 25 when, rather surprisingly for his young years, he received the appointment of Director of the United States Marine Band. It was to engender the composition of a series of marches and other music for wind band that is now recorded for the first time in its entirety. The present disc containing the charming Intaglio Waltzes, inspired by Sousa’s affection for Johann Strauss, being one example of his wide use of the wind band idiom, though elsewhere Sousa did often fall into the well-tried march formula without any strong thematic material, The Rifle Regiment March and Congress Hall March being typical examples. But when inspired, as in the El Capitanand Golden Jubilee marches, he was unequalled in this genre. There is also some entertaining scene painting in Sheridan’s Ride, a extended concert work that relates the story of General Philip Sheridan and his famous ride to lead his troops to battle in the American Civil War. The disc opens with America First from the 1916 Broadway show, Hip, Hip Hooray, and also includes The Presidential Polonaise, together with a score probably intended for Offenbach’s orchestra, Sounds from the Revivals. Under the direction of the Sousa specialist, Keith Brion, The Royal Artillery Band from the UK is in fine form, their experience as a symphonic wind orchestra giving the ideal background for this diverse programme. Sound quality is a little dry, but it adds clarity.

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