, November 2008
Here we have another entry in the excellent Naxos Wind Band Classics series. It features a fine college ensemble playing a mixed program of orchestral transcriptions, contemporary works, and a great old Sousa march. It seems unlikely that even the most ardent band devotee would be familiar with all of these works, and each is appealing on its own merits, so there is something here for everyone.
Scott Lindroth’s “Spin Cycle” is an enormously difficult piece, and while the recording does suffer in comparison to that of the United States Marine Band, most any college ensemble would. Were I not already familiar with the Marine performance, I’d likely be more than content with this very fine version. The Saint-Saëns is surprisingly effective as a transcription, and the soloists are both excellent.
Eric Whitacre’s lush “October” has quickly become standard repertoire for American wind bands, and it’s easy to understand why. It has much more in common with his appealing, unfailingly lyrical choral music than his most popular piece for wind band, the rambunctious “Ghost Train”. This performance of “October” compares favorably to any of the many I’ve heard, with a novel approach to the important wind chime part and a rubato line which is especially effective near the final climax.
The Colgrass is a strange, episodic piece, but that’s the idea. It’s all over the place, and even repeated listens don’t make it that much easier to grab onto. There is however a surplus of great musical ideas present, and it is certainly quite a showpiece for the featured saxophone quartet. The differences between this performance and the recording by the University of Minnesota are mostly matters of personal preference—for example, I prefer Youngstown’s drum-set player, but Minnesota’s tenor saxophonist. With the significant role that jazz improvisation plays in the piece, it is worth hearing more than one recording. I’m not familiar with the University of Miami version, but this is certainly an impressive reading. My only real quarrel is with the steel drum part: Minnesota has real steel drums, while here a synthesizer is used, which lessens the effect and is distracting at times.
The Shostakovich is forgettable as a piece but it’s performed extraordinarily well, especially in terms of articulation. The performance of the Sousa is adequate but unremarkable, and not perhaps the best way to close out the disc.
Sound quality varies somewhat with the recording date—both the strength of the ensemble and the quality of the recording technology seem to go up with later recording dates—but it’s fairly subtle. Overall this is a really fine disc, and as an introduction to an ensemble I’d never heard before, it’s most welcome. Kudos to the performers, and to Naxos for continuing this great series with another excellent release.