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Carla Rees
MusicWeb International, March 2010

Kevin Puts’ Millennium Canons begins this disc of music for wind orchestra. The opening is a bright brass fanfare, soon joined by mellow woodwinds with chorale-style writing. The harmonies and arrangement is similar in style to Nigel Hess’s wind orchestra music; this is feel-good music. It works very well for the ensemble, making use of the timbral differences between the instruments and the rich resonance which can be created from the inner parts.

Wind ensembles are more prevalent in the United States than they are in the UK. The British Isles has some notable exceptions, such as the National Youth Wind Orchestra, and the RNCM’s wind ensemble. By contrast one has the sense that there is a strong and widespread culture of wind ensemble music in the USA, demonstrated by a number of excellent ensembles, such as this one, which commissions new repertoire and performs to a very high standard. It is difficult when listening to this disc to remember that this is a student ensemble; the intonation is mostly perfect and the discipline evident in the playing is excellent.

My Hands Are A City, by Jonathan Newman, has more of a chamber music feel, with solo lines passing around the ensemble and gentle harmonies evolving from these lines. There is a jazz influence in the harmony, as well as a use of material from one of Newman’s earlier works, The Rivers of Bowery. This music serves as a poignant tribute to the ‘Beats’: writers, musicians and poets from the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the mid-twentieth century.

Coruscating lines of falling scales feature heavily at the beginning of Kristin Kuster’s Lost Gulch Lookout, before the textures become calmer and more soloistic, with cor anglais featuring heavily. Representing the terrain of the composer’s native Colorado, the piece creates a sense of awe, expansive landscapes and eerie atmospheres. Kuster uses an imaginative range of textures and creates a dramatic work which is engaging throughout.

The calm opening of John Mackey’s Kingfishers Catch Fire is an enjoyable contrast, with simple melodic lines and static harmonies. The second movement is a burst of energy, with repeated rhythmic figures building up a momentum as the music describes a Kingfisher darting into the sunshine of a new day with bright splendour.

Two British works complete the disc. Holst’s Hammersmit, is perhaps one of the first wind ensemble works, composed in 1930, and is in the form of a Prelude and Scherzo. The Prelude suggests a foggy day overlooking the Thames, with dark harmonies and a repeating bass line underpinning the work. The mood is disrupted by fanfare-style motivic ideas, which become the basis of the material for the Scherzo, which serves as a commentary on the increasing industrialisation of London. Holst’s language is more chromatic than some of the newer works on the disc, and it is clear how his writing influenced later composers in the genre; his music is innovative, well structured and demonstrates an excellent understanding of orchestration. Adam Gorb’s Awayday is the final work, composed in 1996. This is rhythmic and energetic and is full of light-hearted spirit and influences from Broadway. There are hints of Bernstein, Gershwin and Stravinsky in this fast-paced, well written and highly entertaining piece.

This is an excellent disc, which possesses the youthful energy one would expect from talented students, combined with an overall level of professionalism that establishes the disc as a quality product. The new commissions are interesting works which are successful and deserve a chance to be heard.

Barry Kilpatrick
American Record Guide, November 2009

It seems like only yesterday that I was praising director John Lynch for his work with the University of Kansas Wind Ensemble. Now he is doing good things with this group from The University of Georgia.

Kevin Puts’s “Millennium Canons” (2002) is an attractive and attention-holding opener with fanfares in close imitation, unexpected harmonic progressions, and lyrical melodies passed between soloists. The program takes a large step back into the past with the Prelude and Scherzo from Holsts’ “Hammersmith” (1930). In its own way, this old piece is just as complex and ambitious as the new ones. The program ends with Adam Gorb’s winsome and effervescent “Awayday” (1996). Solid accounts of a challenging program. The ensemble’s sound is big and solid yet unforced. Excellent recorded sound.

Rad Bennett, September 2009

Awayday is perhaps the best known work on the CD, and it gets just the sort of high energy, demonic reading it needs to be highly successful. As indicated above, the playing is splendid and absolutely first rate, in both the ensemble and the solo passages, and the recording, produced by Bradley Genevero and Andrew Trachsel, is clean and sonorous with great presence, whether the musical passage is tinkly or tumultuous. Another benefit of this recording is the the low Naxos price!

Yannis Markopoulos (b 1939) is one of Greece’s busiest and most popular composers. His Liturgy of Orpheus, a choral cantata based on ancient Orphic poems, dates from 1992. The texts are ancient Greek, but the piece is made up of short, easy-on-the-ear, pop-inspired melodies redolent of the eastern Mediterranean. The choruses are accompanied by lush, plush orchestral sounds, with the tunes repeated many, many times. Each chorus is preceded by a narrated portion of the Orpheus myth (in English), with the lovely harp playing a major role in accompanying the speaker.

All in all, this is bright, uncomplicated fare…(Come to think of it, intelligent youngsters hooked on Greek mythology might really get a kick out of this.) Most of the melodies pass Van Dam’s way and he delivers them with gusto…The English narratives are printed in the booklet, and I’m assuming that the Greek choruses repeat those words and sentiments.

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, August 2009

Naxos is now into around 15 releases in its estimable and substantive “Wind Band Classics” series, and before all is said and done it should prove to be a formidable exercise that will stand well for many years to come. This is, I believe, the second time I have encountered it and only the first for review. For this sojourn Engineer Bruce Leek has been challenged with recording in the excellent Performing Arts Center on the University of Georgia campus, a building only about 10 years old and a wonderfully acoustic environment that captures all sorts of ensembles in resonant splendor.

The title track by Kevin Puts is a wonderfully apt opening that enables all aspects of the wind band to shine with some brilliant fanfare writing and an energetic force that almost smacks of a short concerto for band. Puts is a marvelous orchestrator, and in fact this work was originally done for orchestra, though so skilled is the transition that you would never guess it. Jonathan Newman’s My Hands are a City betrays his compositional studies with John Corigliano and David Del Tredici at Juilliard with a carefully planned and seriously developed work that finds its birth in another piece called The Rivers of Bowery, based on a verse from Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl. He thought the ideas too large for his original composition and decided to expand upon them in this present piece. The work imposes jazz sentiment and the sounds and impressions of Ginsberg’s beat generation, but not overtly so, just in a suggestive manner, a colorful and not too brash tour through a favorite time and place in history.

Kristin Kuster wrote Lost Gulch Lookout as a bold and striking impression of Colorado and its ragged and rough terrain that so inspires visitors to that part of the country. It is as if nature is translated into sound, and her sharp-edged orchestration and wistful sonorities paint quite a sonic travelogue. This piece was commissioned by the University of Georgia Wind Ensemble from the University of Michigan Assistant Professor of Composition. My favorite piece here is John Mackey’s Kingfisher’s Catch Fire, a piece that depicts the shy Kingfisher bird emerging from it nest in the morning to its flying out in the sunlight. This colorful piece is one that is immediately engaging, employing the winds in virtuosic and festive ways that complement the opening measures of relatively relaxed sonorities.

Anyone even remotely familiar with wind music knows Holst’s Hammersmith: Prelude and Scherzo. It was written in 1930 for the BBC Military Band, based on his impressions of the river and shops that lined the way where the composer bought food items for his Sunday picnics near St. Paul’s. It was transcribed for orchestra and given its premiere on the same concert as Walton’s Belshazzar's Feast in 1931, and was actually booed! However, time has proved its worth to wind ensembles and bands, and despite the fact that the original version was not performed until 1954—20 years after the death of the composer—it is a firm repertory item. Adam Gorb, at 51 years of age the oldest living composer represented on this disc (the others all born in the early 1970s), is a Welshman who heads the School of Composition at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. His Awayday celebrates the American musical theater to the mid-twentieth century. It is a bit of a barn-burner, a fun take of an Englishman on American popular culture. I can’t remember anything so attractive since John Barnes Chance wrote his Overture to a Musical Comedy in the late 1960s.

…The UGA Wind Ensemble generally plays with a lot of spunk and spirit, obviously enjoying the music and presenting us with a fine sense of collective discipline and maturity, well-done solos and a wide and spectacular dynamic range. Congratulations to Maestro Lynch and all involved. Naxos’s sound is superb, flexible and wide-reaching, and wind bands are tough to record under the best of circumstances.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2009

The seventy musicians of the University of Georgia have been honed into one of the highly regarded wind ensembles in North America, their new album offering an original and highly demanding programme. Sending out a welcome to the new century from St Louis, Kevin Puts looks back in Millennium Canons to the sounds of previous generations parcelled-up in the style of a Hollywood film score. The first of two works composed last year, My Hands Are a City, comes from Jonathan Newman, a onetime student of John Corigliano, his picture of the East Side of Manhattan integrating the popular music born there. The second offers a very different vista as viewed in the craggy landscape of Kristin Kuster’s Lost Gulch Lookout, a Georgia University commission that offers a test of wind band sonorities, the hard-hitting final section offering a brilliant display piece. John Mackey is another Corigliano pupil, his Kingfishers Catch Fire far too busy to actualise the shy birds that dart down the river at the bottom of my garden. Using the style of American music theatre, British composer, Adam Gorb, contributes the perfect ending with the effervescent, Awayday. Placed among works of our time, Gustav Holst’s Hammersmith, written almost eighty years ago, emerges as the most modern sounding score, its dark colours painting a grim picture of London’s industrialisation in the early 20th century. It is this work that points to intonation that is not squeaky clean, but throughout the disc you have the feel of young musicians enjoying themselves, and they certainly take you along with them.

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