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James A. Altena
Fanfare, May 2011

Here is the latest entry in the ongoing Sousa series by Naxos. As with similar Naxos projects, this is planned to be as complete as possible and will include unpublished items as well as the officially cataloged works.

John Philip Sousa (1854–1932) became conductor of the U.S. Marines Band in 1880, formed his own band in 1892, and went on European tours in 1900, 1901, 1903, and 1905, and a worldwide tour in 1910–11. He composed more than 200 works, including more than 130 marches plus symphonic poems, suites, operas, and operettas. Being something of a polymath, he also wrote several novels and an autobiography and organized the first national trapshooting association. The works featured here span from 1888 (Crusader March) to 1931 (The Northern Pines). The most famous piece performed here, the Washington Post march composed in 1889, made Sousa’s reputation and turned the “two-step” dance into a world-wide craze. In addition to marches both famous and obscure it includes a potpourri suite from his most successful operetta, El Capitan (1895), and an instrumental transcription of the aria “O Warrior Grim” from the same, plus the suite At the King’s Court (1904) composed for a performance before King Edward VII. On the Campus has a brief text by Sousa’s daughter, Helen Sousa Abert, sung by the band members. The text is not provided in the booklet, and I can only make out about two-thirds of the words; perhaps a reader with sharper ears than mine or access to the score can write in and supply the lyrics.

Keith Brion is one of the world’s premier Sousa scholars and conductors—he has his own New Sousa Band and has published numerous performing editions of Sousa’s music—and I have little to add to the praises heaped on him…The Royal Artillery Band, with more than 50 members, plays with great elegance and style; as is typical its pace is a little more leisurely than that of an American ensemble….these are excellent performances in their own right and should be snapped up by all Sousa lovers. Recommended.

Ira Novoselsky
BandWorld, April 2011

Calling all Sousaholics!! The latest release in this acclaimed series continues its formula of familiar and lesser known Sousa works that will delight the listener. The beauty of these recordings is how Keith Brion and the Royal Artillery Band breathe freshness into every work. The Washington Post concludes this recording yet it is treated with just as much musicality as the rarely heard Pride of Pittsburgh (some listeners may remember this march from a different recording done by Maestro Brion). Among the gems on this recording is the suite At the King’s Court and two different settings from the operetta El Capitan; O, Warrior Grim (originally a soprano aria played by cornetist Martin Hinton) and Selections from El Capitan. Another excellent collection that shouldn’t be missed., November 2010

The pleasures of John Philip Sousa are much better known and, in popular opinion, much more monochromatic. But the eighth volume in the Naxos Sousa series shows aspects of the composer that most listeners will not have heard before. Only one of the dozen items on this CD is thoroughly familiar: The Washington Post, the 1889 march that made both Sousa and the now-iconic newspaper famous. Several more of these marches get occasional hearings: The High School Cadets (1890), Boy Scouts of America (1916), Jack Tar (1893) and Comrades of the Legion (1920). But other marches here are quite obscure: the very interesting and tightly knit Crusader (1888), The Northern Pines (1931), On the Campus (1920, including words written by Sousa’s daughter), and Pride of Pittsburgh (a grand and complex march incorporating popular tunes of 1901). Nor are these the biggest surprises offered by Keith Brion and the members of the Royal Artillery Band—who, as in all these Sousa CDs, play with great authority and flair. The disc also includes O Warrior Grim, which uses a solo cornet to interpret a popular soprano aria from Sousa’s 1895 operetta, El Capitan, and some extended excerpts from the operetta itself—but not the well-known El Capitan March, which was played on Volume 7. Finally, this CD offers a three-movement suite from 1904 called At the King’s Court, and it will be a revelation to anyone who thinks of Sousa strictly as the March King. Yes, the final movement is a powerful march, but the first is an elegant tribute to British royalty and the second is a remarkably lovely and well-constructed waltz—as danceable and hummable as many Viennese examples. This CD offers a delightful chance to learn more about a composer and his music than most listeners will expect to find out—and to have great listening pleasure while doing so.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2010

Its more than a decade ago since Naxos embarked on this long haul through the complete wind band music of John Philip Sousa. He was the most famous American musician of his day, though during my lifetime I have seen his works slowly disappearing from the band repertoire outside of the States. He had grown surrounded by military music, though it was his father’s wish that his son should become a classical musician and was sent to study the violin. In hindsight it wasn’t a wise decision, for it was while playing in an orchestra that he first met Jacques Offenbach who was appearing as a guest conductor. It was to provide the stimulus to compose in the style of Johann Strauss and Sullivan, his total tally coming with fifteen operettas spanning the greater part of his life. At the age of 25 he received the unprecedented appointment, for one so young, of Director of the United States Marine Band, resigning 12 years later to form his own band which toured every part of the United States and was a frequent visitor to Europe. He was a master-craftsman in creating unforgettable melodies, and though we are now reaching the outer fringes of his output, the march High School Cadets, Crusader, Jack Tar and the famous Washington Post, soon has your foot tapping. But above all Sousa wanted to write operetta, something that just eluded him, even though El Capitan had a successful run on Broadway.The longest work coming in the suite, At the King’s Court, probably included in a visit to the UK. And it is here that the music comes home with the Royal Artillery Band, conducted by Sousa expert, Keith Brion.

Raymond J Walker
MusicWeb International, November 2010

This Sousa wind band series continues to grow. One has to admit that Sousa’s prolific output of stirring tunes is justly acknowledged by Naxos. This inventive composer has found many textural corners to turn in a march, even if some of his musical devices have become predictable.

The most interesting track for many will be the long forgotten El Capitan: in this compilation there is a generous selection covering the numbers from this Broadway show. Many forget that Sousa was an enthusiastic composer for the stage, with nine operettas to his name, written between the 1880s and early 1900s. Of them El Capitan is the most notable. A Bride Elect selection was included in Volume 4 of this series, and marches from both operettas appeared in Volume 7.

Some of the titles provide little indication of the music to follow. In The Northern Pines, the only connection happens to be the location of a national music camp in Michigan. Likewise, the Crusader March having associations with the Knights Templar, carries no aural link yet it is a good piece with an excellent sense of flow, punctuated by fanfare sections.

Sousa is always sparkling in style. His fun and humour is perhaps most apparent in his use of novel decoration for the comic cuts introduced in track 7, On the Campus, the only track to include a chorus. Up to now, the most famous of Sousa marches that had been missing from the previous volumes in this series, The Washington Post, now makes an appearance as the last track. This sturdy piece echoed round many a circus ring in Britain and on the Continent as well as America before being flung into popularity by the BBC’s Monty Python programme. In contrast the delicately phrased waltz style, O Warrior Grim is a tranquil piece with carefully balanced cornet solo (by Martin Hinton).

Keith Brion needs to be congratulated for the most successful ambience. Then there’s precision playing by the Royal Artillery Band and a recording nicely balanced by Mike Purton. In military music there is often a tendency for the percussion to mask the more delicate phrases of woodwind, yet here much sensitivity is shown to provide us with wide dynamics and colour.

The notes, in English only, are adequate yet disappointing; all the more so when the jewel case is filled with a lavish catalogue on heavy-weight paper of Naxos American Classics. This catalogue is likely to be discarded. More information about Sousa’s background and influences would have been welcomed, considering his enormous output of some two hundred pieces.

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