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John Quinn
MusicWeb International, June 2010

I was attracted to this disc by the inclusion of two works for concert band that can truly be described as classics of the genre, namely the pieces by Holst and Grainger. If Hindemith’s Symphony doesn’t quite fall into that category it’s probably because it’s less immediately appealing than those aforementioned masterpieces.

I find that it’s a work I admire for its contrapuntal dexterity and because it exploits very well the range of sonorities inherent in a band—Hindemith was a consummate craftsman. The Peabody Conservatory Band gives an assured and alert performance. Particularly admirable is the clarity of texture that their conductor, Harlan D. Parker, obtains at all times. This is a man who clearly understands how to get the best out of a band and he does just that.

The Holst is a work I have admired ever since I played it while at school—though I’m certain I didn’t appreciate at that time just how fine a work it is. The Peabody band invests the Chaconne with just the right degree of weight and the irresistible Intermezzo trips along very perkily indeed. The concluding March is driven along at an exhilarating pace, though I felt Mr Parker could perhaps have relaxed a bit more in the second subject.

Grainger’s title ‘A Lincolnshire Posy’ suggests an innocent, naïve work but in fact this masterpiece has a pronounced dark side at times. Grainger produced many highly original folksong-based pieces during his career but I don’t believe he ever surpassed the sheer inventiveness that he displayed in ‘A Lincolnshire Posy’. The writing is superb throughout and the Peabody players bring it off very well, bringing ‘Horkstow Grange’ to a sonorous climax, for example, while ‘Rufford Park Poachers’ often has an eerie, nocturnal ambience. Throughout the work there are unexpected shifts and deviations from the path that one might have expected the music to take—Grainger is never conventional—and time and again he surprises and delights the listener…The performances by the Peabody Conservatory Band are all of a very high standard and the recorded sound shows them off to good advantage.

Benn Martin
MusicWeb International, May 2010

The Naxos Wind Band Classics series seeks here to plug some pretty significant holes in its catalog. With nearly two dozen entries in the series, the works on this disc had yet to make an appearance. The Holst and Grainger, in particular, are the band world’s “Beethoven 5” and “Brahms 1,” or something like that, so this disc seems guaranteed to sell copies to both the curious listener who doesn’t usually listen to band music and to the devoted band fan who could use another copy of these works at the attractive Naxos price.

The Holst is an extremely well-crafted three movement work, with the opening motif unifying the whole piece. It has a special place in the band repertoire as one of the first substantial pieces of music written for wind band by an established composer. A good high school band can play the piece well, but a band of this caliber can also play it and not feel like they’re playing “easy music”—it’s got a quality of deceptive simplicity which makes it easy to enjoy for both performer and listener. The Grainger has a similar melodic appeal, at times, but is much more complex, and is regarded by many Grainger aficionados as his single finest work in any medium. It was also probably the first piece in the band repertoire to deserve being described as an unqualified masterpiece. Its six movements chart a very satisfying emotional journey, and if this disc helps bring it to a wider audience, it will have done much good.

The Hindemith and Schwantner are altogether different. Both reward repeated listens, the Hindemith in particular, as its contrapuntal ingenuity becomes clearer with time. As with the Grainger, any fan of the composer would find much to admire in this wonderful piece. The Schwantner is arguably the least essential of these four works, but that is largely because it is the most contemporary composition here and has not had as long to become a repertoire staple. The colors explored, though, are rich and affecting, and it points a way forward to the explosion in wind band repertoire of the past thirty years or so.

So, for those who don’t know these pieces, it’s a fine way to gather four cornerstones of the repertoire…these are certainly excellent performances. The band sounds great, and the straightforward interpretations and recorded sound allow the listener to hear every detail.

Barry Kilpatrick
American Record Guide, November 2009

The Schwantner [And the Mountains Rising Nowhere] shows the Peabody wind Ensemble at its best, confidently handling extended techniques and modernist harmonies and creating evocative, startling, fascinating sound worlds.

Karl Lozier
Positive Feedback Online, September 2009

The first selection, by Hindemith was a commission by the leader of the U.S. Army Band and first played in 1951. The second movement opens with a duet between cornet and alto saxophone. There are melodic passages and development and a great abundance of contrapuntal writing that Hindemith was well known for. This wind symphony supposedly helped other classical composers to compose for wind bands.

Holst’s Suite, written a hundred years ago brings back memories of popular band music. In fact the last movement is titled “March” and sounds it plus having seemingly familiar flowing melodies at the same time. Any former student band member should feel at home with this.

Schwantner, well known for chamber music writing, here dedicates this unusual titled composition to Carol Adler and to the Eastman Wind Ensemble who performed its premiere. There is a powerful passage for drums here that is clearly and powerfully recorded. In addition to the winds, scoring includes amplified contrabass, piano and forty-six percussion instruments to be played by six players. 

Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy is rather well known with a few very familiar passages and is considered to be his finest composition based on folk-music settings. Each of the six sections here are from or about folk stories, with titles and passages to be read or sung. This may be the most popular or easiest of the four selections for beginning classical music lovers. The selections were recorded over a period of ten years with expected changing of the student performers. The typical very good Naxos audio quality is revealed to be consistent over those ten years.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2009

Recorded over a period of ten years, and with differing students, the disc shows the ongoing excellence of the wind department of America’s Peabody University. I particularly welcome a disc devoted to original wind compositions, having too often endured the arrangements we hear in band concerts. It’s four composers worked with a very different image of a wind ensemble in mind, for though Hindemith composed the Symphony in B flat for the United States Army Band, the work strikes me as a normal symphonic work from which Hindemith subtracted the strings, so that you miss something from his normal sound spectrum. It must, however, be pleasing to play, and it remains a major score in the genre. Holst, on the other hand, was a professional trombone player who knew instinctively how to score for brass instruments, his First Suite in E flat, a masterful work that ends with the well-known March. Joseph Schwantner takes a third view, and the mountains rising nowhere being a pictorial landscape where wind instruments. with the help of whole array of percussion, paint scenes in music. It is a very dramatic and noisy score that grabs and holds your attention. Though by trade a pianist, Percy Grainger is the synthesis of all three of these composers in the Lincolnshire Posy, his instinctive ability to set a series of folk-songs resulting in one of the finest examples of wind band music ever achieved. Probably taken from four concert performances—which would explain some unrepaired queasy moments of intonation—the overall impression is of highly skilled playing under their conductor, Harlan Parker. It has four different recording teams who achieve a very similar acoustic, though the 2008 sound for the Grainger marks out its recent provenance.

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