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Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, November 2009

This isn’t exactly warm-breezy-night-on-the-square band fare, though it would certainly make an exciting concert if the municipal ensemble were up to the considerable virtuosic demands.

The title work of the album starts the proceedings with a swagger. With high energy and high spirited, it lies stylistically somewhere between Copland’s An Outdoor Overture and Bernstein’s more manic moments. Inspired by the Emily Dickenson poem of the same name, it is more about the joy and ecstasy in that work than anything of the poet’s repressed sexual desires. In any case, jazzy and full of surprises, it is the perfect program opener.

Vince Gnojek, professor of saxophone at the University of Kansas, may not have the sweetest tone—more a reedy American jazz sound than a French quality—but his technical skill is staggering and he is matched by the band members who get an amazing workout. © 2009 Fanfare Read complete review

Benn Martin
MusicWeb International, October 2009

As the Naxos Wind Band Classics series continues to expand, it’s interesting to watch how each new ensemble finds ways to distinguish itself from its peers. Here, the University of Kansas opts for a program of music all written within the last five years, by predominantly young composers.

The heart of the disc is unquestionably John Mackey’s Soprano Sax Concerto, a work of extraordinary color, excellently performed.  This is the premiere recording; two other recordings—with two more soloists—are apparently in the works.  To have such a long, difficult work recorded so many times within two years of its premiere is certainly a strong endorsement, and the piece deserves it.  There are a few quirks with this performance, but the band in particular sounds excellent, and it’s nice to have a recording so carefully prepared…I’m a big fan of the music of Frank Ticheli, and “Wild Nights!” has some effective moments…First listens of the Dzubay and Etezady gave me similar hesitation, but they felt more compelling with repeated listens, especially the Dzubay.  Steven Bryant’s “Dusk” is a gentle meditation, a graceful arch…The Kansas group was one of the first bands to record for Naxos, and it’s been great for the band community to watch this Wind Band Classics series develop ever since.  It’s particularly gratifying to hear how this band has become stronger, playing a more difficult and intriguing program this time around.  The new director may be part of it?  Whatever and whoever’s responsible—keep it up!

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, October 2009

Yet another fine entry in Naxos’s Wind Band Classics series. The University of Kansas Wind Ensemble under director Scott Weiss gives us a nice program of very colorful and enchanting music that is guaranteed to brighten any dark day. Wild Nights! is a piece by Frank Ticheli based on Emily Dickinson’s poem of the same name, though I dare say that Ms Dickinson would find her flaps a-flutter hearing this delightful roller-coaster of a piece. Likewise another great band writer, David Dzubay, whose topsy-turvy emotive piece Shadow Dance cleverly disguises the organum that the work is based on.

From the shadows Steven Bryant takes us to Dusk, a short and effective chorale-like piece of shifting colors and couched intensity. Roshanne Etezady’s Anahita was inspired by photographs of a large mural in the Assembly Chamber of the State Capitol Building in Albany New York by painter William Morris Hunt depicting the Zoroastrian goddess of the night Anahita in “The Flight of Night”. The original mural was destroyed, but we can have an effective substitute in Etezady’s pictorial and highly provocative music in this three-movement work.

The longest and best piece on this disc is John Mackey’s Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Wind Ensemble. This is a major work by a composer whose star is definitely on the ascent, recently winning the prestigious Ostwald Award from the American Bandmaster’s Association for his Redline Tango (on Naxos 8.570074 with this same ensemble). The three inner movements of this five-movement work are titled “Felt”, “Metal”, and “Wood” based on the physical elements that make up a modern saxophone, and scored according to the composer’s sense of the keys of the instrument (virtuosity), its sound, and lyricism. The outside movements are scored for the full ensemble. This work is a devil to negotiate, and Mr Gnojek—Professor of the instrument at the U of K—does a great job. I can’t think of a better work for the saxophone—and the soprano at that—that I have heard in the last few years, tonal, brilliant, beautiful, and engaging. Thanks to all for bringing this one to light.

The sound is very good and exceptionally clear, the Kansas-kids on top of the multiplicity of challenges. There’s no reason not to buy this one, and about a hundred to get it. Enjoy.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2009

The Kansas University is regarded as having one of the outstanding American college wind ensembles, a fact proven in this hard-hitting new release. They offer a program from five living American composers, opening with Frank Ticheli’s Wild Nights!, a vigorous seven-minute whirlwind journey through a piece of band virtuosity, with plenty of solo spots, a central sleazily section, and use your imagination for some real live action. Shadow Dance by David Dzubay takes its inspiration from French religious chant. Maybe some will find it in there, others may not, but its enjoyable. Peace comes with Steven Bryant’s Dusk, a quiet work and in contrast with the three-movements of Anahita from Roshanne Etezady. Opening with the frenzied The Flight of Night, where the goddess of night, Anahita, flees from the onset of day; Night Mares, with its swirling winds as three monstrous horses pull the chariot across the skies, both preceding the gentle side of night in Sleep and Repose/The coming of Light. The final work is a brilliant Soprano Saxophone Concerto written two years ago by John Mackey. Framed by a Prelude and Finale, the three central movements reflect the materials that make up the instrument—felt, metal and wood (the reed). Those components are represented in the accompaniment, the solo, often of considerable difficulty, ending in a frenetic dash to the finishing post. The professor of saxophone at Kansas, Vince Gnojek, has all the technical credentials required. It is difficult to believe we are listening to students, the whole package so professionally performed.

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