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John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, January 2011

My first thought before listening to this disc was how the already rowdy Carmina Burana by Carl Orff (1895–1982) would sound played by an all-wind band, the vocal parts revised for instruments (arranged for concert band by John Krance). I mean, Orff’s twentieth-century updating of medieval songs normally requires a full orchestra, several choruses, and a host of soloists. Would a wind ensemble do it justice or just inflate its coarseness? I’m pleased to report that Harlan Parker and his seventy-odd Peabody Conservatory players do no harm to the piece and in most ways create a new and engaging rendition of an old favorite.

This is by way of saying that you’ll recognize the music instantly and find each movement in the twenty-seven-minute suite revealing something you perhaps hadn’t thought of before. The Peabody Wind Ensemble of John Hopkins University play with precision, if not with the complete zest and joy that I have heard from some major orchestras; in other words, they sound like they are maybe a little reticent about committing too much enthusiasm to a set of songs that requires a bit more earthiness. They are not stuffy, by any means, but they don’t have the robust, unaffected air I find in, say, Previn’s EMI recording, Blomstedt’s Decca, or Jochum’s DG.

Anyway, the Orff piece is just the most-familiar item on the disc; the album also contains a small-scale chamber work, Arthur Bird’s Serenade for Wind Instruments (1898), which is quite charming, if forgettable; and Herbert Owen Reed’s La Fiesta Mexicana (1954), a wonderfully varied and robust piece of music that has a little something in it for everybody, including a striking opening movement with trumpets and simulated fireworks.

It took a moment or two for me to adjust to the Naxos sound. At first, I thought it was a bit boisterous. A couple of minutes later, it seemed to fit the music. About halfway through the Orff, I realized it was not only appropriate, it was almost perfect. And by the beginning of Reed’s La Fiesta, I thought it was downright spectacular. There is a picture of the ensemble in the booklet insert, and that’s almost exactly what the sonic image sounds like: eight-to-ten players per row and about six rows deep, recorded at a modest distance. Depth of field is excellent; dynamics are strong; and clarity is more than acceptable. It’s a topflight recording to complement a set of splendid performances.

Ira Novoselsky
BandWorld, May 2008

John Krance’s pure instrumental setting of the Carmina Burana Suite serves as the recording’s powerful opening work. H. Owen Reed’s beloved La Fiesta Mexicana is given a sparkling performance to conclude the program. The delightful Serenade for Wind Instruments Op. 40 (Bird/Schuller) is the centerpiece; this chamber work provides ideal contrast for the listener. I am impressed with the high quality of this recording and it certainly merits your attention.

Tim Perry
MusicWeb International, May 2007

Bird’s serenade is simply delightful, and the Peabody winds—no brass or percussion here—play with a winning lightness of touch. The piece won its composer the Paderewski Prize for the best chamber work by an American in 1901, and it is easy to hear why. It is tuneful without being facile, rhythmically alive, and boasts bright fugal finale. The cor anglais solo in the slow movement is also lovely in a gentle, bucolic way.

The final piece on the disc, Reed’s La Fiesta Mexicana, is subtitled “A Mexican Folk Song Symphony for Concert Band”. More than that, it is a three movement tone poem, in the Respighi mode, which depicts a religious festival in Mexico dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary…This is colourful and joyous music, and well played too.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, February 2007

The Peabody Conservatory Wind Ensemble has to be rated among the very top wind bands in the US, right up there with the estimable Eastman Wind Ensemble.

I believe it was a Fanfare contributor who once wrote that if he ever had to listen to Orffs Carmina burana again he would throw up. While the piece is not exactly an emetic for me, it’s not one I find to have many redeeming features. This arrangement for concert band by John Krance strikes me as the equivalent of a divide by zero error. It’s too bad that much brilliant playing has been spent on it, when there are so many wonderful pieces, both original and arranged, for concert band.

Bird’s Serenade is one of them. Arthur A. Bird (1856–1923) you will not learn from the enclosed booklet note-was born in Belmont, Massachusetts. In 1875, he was sent to Germany to study at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik; and except for brief visits home, he remained abroad for the rest of his life. He became a chess partner and close triend of Liszt, and wrote over 100 works. He was considered a “composer of promise” up until his marriage in 1888 to a wealthy widow, after which he apparently preferred to live the lazy life of the idle rich. Bird’s Serenade, here edited by Gunther Schuller, is a beautiful piece in late Romantic style that won the Paderewski Prize for best chamber work by an American composer in 1901. It was first performed in Boston by Georges Longy and his Woodwind Club in 1902. If you are familiar with and like the wind works of Richard Strauss, you will find much to enjoy here.

Herbert Owen Reed (b. 1910) in Odessa, Missouri, has quite an impressive calling card. Earning his baccalaureate and graduate degrees in music composition from Louisiana State University, he went on to the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Howard Hanson, among others, earning his Ph.D. in 1939. At Tanglewood, he met and furthered his studies with Martinu, Copland, and Bernstein. Then, in Colorado Springs, he continued to study under Roy Harris, and eventually he took lessons trom Schoenberg. That’s quite a diverse background, a lot of which, except for the Schoenberg, is reflected in his La fiesta mexicana, Reed’s best-known work. Reed has made a serious study of the Native American musics of Taos, New Mexico, and his scores derive much of their material, not just trom Native North American cultures, but trom Mexican and Aztec sources as well. La fiesta is a major composition that embraces a number of musical styles and evokes an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colors and moods. Particularly moving is the movement titled Mass. It is the centerpiece of this Mexican folk song symphony that depicts a religious festival dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Bird and Reed items are more than worth the price of this budget Naxos disc. And you are not likely to hear these pieces better played. Recommended.

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