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Chris Shull
The Wichita Eagle, May 2006

The international classical music label Naxos is known for its wide-ranging catalog and mid-line pricing. The label recently launched a new series of CDs, Wind Band Classics, which will feature music for wind ensemble. The series’ first release features the University of Kansas Wind Ensemble.

The band recorded music of recent vintage, subtle and sophisticated pieces propelled by fiery rhythms and an exciting, tangled interplay between instruments.

The program includes “Redline Tango,” an award-winning piece by John Mackey from 2004; a Concerto for Flute and Wind Band by Michael Mower written in 2004; and the energetic and infectious “Slalom” by Carter Pann, commissioned by KU in 2003.

Also on the CD is “Were You There?”, a tone poem based on the traditional hymn by John P. Lynch, the ensemble’s director; and “The Alcotts,” a setting from Charles Ives’ “Concord Sonata.”

Mower’s three-movement concerto is lively and inviting, full of jazzy licks and happy inflections. The concerto soloist is David Fedele, professor of flute at KU, who negotiates the convoluted melodies with swagger and a real feeling of improvisation.

In Mackey’s “Redline Tango,” the familiar tango rhythm is at first brashly manhandled before woodwinds assert the traditional sultry sway. Nervous, pointed rhythms intrude, though, and carry the piece to a boisterous conclusion.

The band’s performances, led throughout by Lynch, are neatly balanced, full of color and vigor.

Scott Morrison, May 2006

One of the areas of classical music composition that tends not to get much attention is that for the wind ensemble. Here we have five such works, each with its own particular merits, and all of them written (or arranged) within the past five years or so. Most immediately attractive is ‘Slalom’ by Carter Pann, a young composer whose Piano Concerto and Dance Partita I raved about when they were released by Naxos six years ago. This ten-minute piece attempts, successfully, to recreate in sound the sensation of downhill skiing. It is filled with whirling winds, exciting brass, and brazen percussion—Pann is an extraordinary orchestrator—and has an extremely virtuosic piano obbligato part played to a fare-thee-well by Avguste Antonov, a piano major at KU. This is followed by a really quite wonderful orchestration for wind ensemble of the ‘Alcotts’ movement of Charles Ives’s beloved piano sonata, the ‘Concord.’ The Alcotts movement is most lyrical and harmonically the tamest of the sonata’s movements. I had my doubts going in, but I was immediately won over by Jonathan Elkus’s orchestration. I suppose the most complimentary thing I could say about it is that it sounds as if the music truly was conceived by Ives for this combination of instruments. The KU ensemble, already having shown themselves capable of playing with pizzazz in the Pann piece, show that they can be tenderly lyrical and convey the right sense of nostalgia that Ives’s music requires.

The centerpiece of the CD is Michael Mower’s ‘Concerto for Flute and Wind Band’ with KU flute professor David Fedele as the extraordinary soloist. The three-movement work uses everything from jazz, rock and salsa to baroque counterpoint to make its effects and it does so easily. I particularly liked the expressive middle movement and the almost demented jazziness of the finale. I suspect there isn’t anything that flutist Fedele can’t do; he simply flies in the outer movements and sings lyrically in the middle section. I could easily imagine this work entering the flute concerto repertoire.

The ensemble’s conductor, John P. Lynch, wrote a tone poem based on the Negro spiritual ‘Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?’ and the ensemble plays it here. In his notes he writes that his intention was to portray ‘a philosophical rhetorical question examining various contemporary view of the message of religion.’ Frankly, without the composer’s notes on the piece, it never would have occurred to me that this was what he was doing. But as an extended tone poem based on the spiritual it works, and that’s really all should ask of absolute music.

The final work, the winner of the 2005 American Bandmasters’ Association Ostwald Composition Contest, is John Mackey’s ‘Redline Tango.’ The tango is in three sections. The title ‘Redline Tango’ refers to the practice of pushing an engine to its limits, ‘redlining’ it. Certainly in terms of wind band virtuosity, this work definitely accomplishes that. The middle section is the tango in its lowdown and ‘sleazy’ form (using the composer’s own term for it) and the outer sections have moto perpetuo sixteenth notes that call for extreme virtuosity on the part of the musicians. The University of Kansas ensemble meets all expectations skillfuly in that regard.

Sound is excellent. Timing is a little short—50:56 minutes. And for those of us who love the Lawrence campus of Kansas University there is a magnificent aerial autumn picture of the campus that makes this recently transplanted Kansan a little nostalgic.

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