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Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, March 2012

The Jericho Rhapsody is another piece that has established itself among bands across the world for its colorful, vibrant, and forceful presentations of the walls gone tumbling down. The eight sections and twelve-minute timing make it perfect for concerts, and it is truly astonishing that there are only a handful of recordings current available, making this one all the more valuable. But the most appealing discovery for me is the clarinet-inspired Derivations, a brilliantly conceived piece that is jazzy and blues-filled (it was written for Benny Goodman) that just oozes atmosphere. U of K faculty member Stephanie Zelnick is fabulous in the piece, bringing her considerable all to focus in a most rewarding performance—hopefully one that will inspire other clarinetists to take it up.

For the Symphony…the Kansans do a wonderful job. But the addition of these other pieces, recorded superbly and played with technical acumen and a lot of fire, just might make this disc the premier introductory recording to the music of Morton Gould. Great job! © 2012 Audiophile Audition Read complete review

David Hurwitz, October 2011

Morton Gould’s compositions for wind ensemble are masterly, and uniformly attractive. Derivations, written for Benny Goodman, effortlessly pays loving homage to jazz and popular music, just as the Jericho Rhapsody recalls the spiritual “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”…

Gould might best be characterized as a sort of American Prokofiev, with his own special brand of “wrong note Romanticism” that involves spicing up traditional melodies and harmonies with a contemporary dose of characterful dissonance and rhythmic sophistication. It works wonderfully well, and these fine performances do him full justice. Clarinetist Stephanie Zelnick plays Derivations with plenty of verve and swagger, though the engineers have placed her too close to the microphones to flatter her tone ideally. In all other respects, however, Scott Weiss and his University of Kansas forces do themselves proud, and as a program of important wind band repertoire, this disc is self-recommending.

Barry Kilpatrick
American Record Guide, September 2011

Scott Weiss, director of bands at the University of Kansas since 2007, has his ensemble operating at a high level. I hear lots of great moments and no weaknesses. Fine playing and music-making!

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, July 2011

This fine disc represents, to my mind, one of the most important in the continuing Naxos Wind Band Classics series. It brings together exciting and convincing performances of one of the best American composers for this genre—Morton Gould. Gould still labours under the impression of being at heart a light music composer who wants to be taken seriously. In part this is because he had a very successful career as an arranger/conductor of a large number of light orchestral—what might be termed today—‘cross-over’ albums. Additionally, his most famous works make use of popular tunes; American Salute based on ‘When Johnny comes marching home’ being the prime example. As ever with easy generalisations like this, scratch the surface of this complex and fascinating composer and a body of work of enormous breadth and individuality comes to light.

What is clear is that pre-eminent amongst his generation of American composers Gould had an abiding fascination for what might be termed ‘Americana’. Whereas Copland skated around the edge of this with his famous cowboy ballets, Gould time and again returns to themes—both emotionally and literally musically—that lie at the essential heart of what it is to be American. The quickest skim through his catalogue produces titles like Spirituals or Foster Gallery, Fall River Legend, Columbia: Broadsides for Orchestra and Classical Variations on Colonial themes. Dig a little deeper into the actual movement titles or markings and the preference for the vernacular continues; sections on this disc alone called Quickstep, Rag, Ride-Out and Epitaphs. His great skill is the fusion of the simple and the sophisticated, the earthy and the elevated without compromising either extreme. Every piece on this disc represents a different facet of this identification with his home country. Not surprisingly, the University of Kansas Wind Ensemble play it to the manner born. Anyone concerned that the sound of a wind ensemble might become unrelenting need have no concerns on that front here.

The disc opens with the Fanfare for Freedom. This is one of the twenty or so pieces commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and its conductor Eugene Goossens as patriotic pieces in wartime. Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man is the most famous of these. Properly speaking this is scored for orchestral wind and brass. The four movement St Lawrence Suite was written to celebrate the opening of the St Lawrence power project. Gould manages in his superbly crafted ten minute suite to weave together four perfect little miniature encapsulations of quite distinct moods. It is the kind of thing Malcolm Arnold was able to do to perfection. From the very opening the intertwining trumpets create a mood that is both nostalgic and strangely evocative. I like the way that although the commission was for something grand and epic in nature Gould chooses a path initially reflective and lyrical. Yet at the same time the hymnic feel of the melody suggests a latent power and emotion. Very often you find Gould using fragments and wisps of familiar or traditional melodies yet the way these are woven into the music you are never quite sure where tradition ends and Gould begins. After a gawky entertaining and brief Quickstep the return to a simple folk-like melody in Chansonette displays how well the single-reeds of the Kansas players blend. The closing Commemoration March is another Arnold-esque swaggeringly good-natured affair with the various instrumental sections chasing each other in close canon before expanding into another hymn-like passage. This is a perfect example of Gould’s sophistication at work below the surface of something superficially simple. The tune could feature in a John Williams score but the sliding harmonies and shifting accompaniment imply more than simple heroics.

A fascination with the act of singing spirituals and their function within communities is another recurring theme in Gould’s work. My introduction to his music was the—still unsurpassed—recording of his Spirituals for String Choir and Orchestra conducted by Walter Susskind on Everest. Gould’s brilliant yet simple concept there was to make the string section the ‘choir’ singing the spirituals around which the remainder of the orchestra interjected. Elsewhere in his catalogue you will see a Symphony of Spirituals, Spirituals for Strings and Harp. The Jericho Rhapsody tells the biblical story of the siege of the eponymous city and the destruction of its walls by the Israelite’s trumpets. Gould divides this twelve-minute work into eight brief sections which clearly narrate the whole story. The narrative is knitted together with themes and motifs that are more or less spiritual-based. Time and again with his music I come back to the impression of a woven tapestry, a sampler in sound; intricate and beautiful. All of the other works recorded here seem to have been the result of direct commissions. Conductor Scott Weiss, who provides the liner-note, makes no mention of any such impulse for the Jericho Rhapsody. In its almost cartoonic literal telling of the story it sounds like enormous fun to play from the March & Battle section to the final Hallelujah. The recording is able to cope well with the fifty or so members of the ensemble when playing at full tilt. As is the nature of many wind band recordings the sound is a little closer than one associates with orchestral discs but this does suit the technicolor feel to this work in particular.

The next work takes its title—Derivations—again from the origin of various American musical forms. So we have a Blues, a Ragtime and a nervously energised be-bop influenced closing Ride-Out. The soloist here is the ultra-cool Stephanie Zelnick. Her playing is superbly poised and very objective but for my taste where does cool end and detached start? Gould wrote of the closing Ride Out that “[it] is a galvanising movement meant to go like a shot.” Zelnick in Kansas just glides along—still fun and exciting and very well played but less of the zeitgeist half a century down the line, one can’t help but feel. This is the only instance on the disc where you feel the University ensemble lack their professional counterparts, not on a technical level but for sassy knowing panache.

Patriotism was central to Gould’s outlook—to the country if not the state but the latter too is implied in the final work Symphony No.4 West Point. This is Gould’s actual 4th Symphony not his fourth in this genre. By taking its place in his canon of works you get a sense of the equal validity he gives his wind band works. This is the longest piece on the disc and is divided into two movements; Epitaphs and Marches. Again I have nothing but admiration for the way Gould steers the path between his obvious pride in his heritage and the jingoistic. You could imagine this type of piece becoming a somewhat hectoring paean to all things American. Not at all; Epitaphs emerges from a subterranean half-light (which reminded me in passing of the opening of Holst’s Hammersmith)—as the liner says, the overall mood of this movement is elegiac and noble in a restrained and impressive way. There are several Gould fingerprints on display here—in all his music he likes to toss fanfare-like figures across the instruments chasing or imitating each other in close canon. Gould gives his players some pretty tricky bare chords to tune and just occasionally I found myself thinking that the upper wind and brass were not in perfect unanimity. The second half of Epitaphs develops a passacaglia on hymn-like bass line. This allows Gould’s penchant for variation form to develop—I love the way he creates a stamping military march [track 11 from about 9:00] that gradually approaches encapsulating excitement and menace at the same time. The Kansas players capture the energy and power of this passage well before the movement dies back into the mist over quiet fanfares and drum-taps. The closing barnstorming Marches is the kind of piece that Gould perfected—I bet it is rousing to play as it is to listen to. Again his ability to write good tunes bound up with a sense of bubbling energy and humour prove central to his success. Here, after a positive opening, he allows the march to fragment into something far more uncertain before the forces are rallied and with the aid of that marching band favourite—the glockenspiel—the symphony moves resolutely to its end. There seem to be echoes or shreds of well-known marches, less than quotes but deliberate nonetheless I’m sure. The very ending broadens out into another hymn-like peroration which then becomes a riot of fanfares and flourishes. This makes for an exciting end to both the piece and the disc.

By focusing on his wind-band compositions this disc places admirers of Gould’s work in Naxos’s debt. This is an excellent disc of some very fine music, well played if lacking the very last drop of flair and finesse. Occasionally I have felt that the soubriquet ‘American Classics’ used by Naxos for another of their series is ill-deserved. Most certainly that is not the case with Gould’s compositions and I hope that Naxos will continue to expand their catalogue of his works.

Steve Schwartz, July 2011

At least two classics. Morton Gould wrote a lot of music for band and wind ensemble, mostly because patrons commissioned him, but sometimes out of personal desire. At least one of his children played in the Florida State University marching band. His work in this area spans a wide range, both in ambition and in style, and a lot of it has entered the American band repertory. This disc represents only a small proportion of his output in the genre, and two items on the program—Jericho Rhapsody and the Saint Lawrence Suite—were previously unknown to me.

Gould was one of the most prodigious musicians since Mozart. He published his first piece of music at the age of six. By his mid-teens (it was the Depression), he found a lucrative career as a musical director at Radio City Music Hall in New York and as a composer, arranger, and conductor on the radio. The pressures of radio increased his natural facility. He wrote some of his most popular works in a single night, directly into full score. People have stuck him with the label of “light composer,” but he could do many other things. He wrote for Toscanini, Balanchine, Robbins, and DeMille. He early on beat the drum for Charles Ives and, to some extent, absorbed the older man’s influence. He was Leonard Bernstein before Bernstein was out of high school. Incidentally, the two feuded from the Forties on, and Bernstein effectively kept Gould’s music out of the main venues in New York. Gould usually recorded his concert works in Chicago. Despite the fact that through his popular work (he helped developed the instrumental “concept” LP) he earned an income most other composers could only sigh over, he had the respect and friendship of a good many of his peers. He currently awaits major critical reassessment.

During World War II, conductor and composer Eugene Goossens commissioned major American composers for fanfares. Most of these have been totally forgotten, although one—Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man—is one of that man’s biggest hits. Jorge Mester recorded the complete set on Koch once upon a time (deleted, but still available through Amazon). Almost every fanfare was dedicated either to an ally (Virgil Thomson’s Fanfare for France) or to some branch of the service (Hanson’s Fanfare for the Signal Corps). Copland and Gould were the only two who chose to celebrate the values we fought for. The Copland, of course, has long become a deserved classic. It re-imagines the fanfare in a way that fits brass and percussion like a Saville-Row suit. The Gould doesn’t soar quite so high. Instead, it steps quick and lively, putting out brilliant variations on simple triads (do-mi-sol; C-E-G, for example). Harmonically, one hears some Prokofieff side-slipping, but the rhythm is pure American.

Gould wrote the Saint Lawrence Suite on commission from the U.S.-Canadian regional power authorities near Niagara Falls (the work premiered on the Canadian side). It features for half of its four movements two “dueling” solo trumpets—that is, placed antiphonally left and right of the orchestra, which some have seen as the separation of the two countries calling to one another. The last movement symbolically joins them. In the evocative first, the trumpets trade phrases from either shore of the orchestra. In the second, “Quickstep,” they rattle off quasi-military fanfares. Reeds come to the forefront in “Chansonette.” The “Ceremonial March” finale raises the marching band to a whole other level. It’s not a particularly profound work, but it’s pretty as hell. “Prettiness” is a strong part of Gould’s music, which leads many to dismiss it, as if a pretty girl can’t also be smart or deep.

Jericho Rhapsody exemplifies Gould’s fascination with jazz and spirituals. He has written many pieces that take off from the music of African-Americans. This one, essentially a program piece, portrays Joshua’s victory at Jericho. If you know other works by Gould inspired by these sources, you may recognize little bits. Motives from the Spirituals for Orchestra, perhaps his greatest work in this genre and written in the same year as the rhapsody, dominate the opening sections. The piece overflows with amazing counterpoint and brilliant orchestration and rhythms.

Gould wrote Derivations as a mini-concerto for Benny Goodman. Along with Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs, this concert gem comes closer to the improvisatory spirit of jazz than any other I can think of. I call it a Perfect Piece: every note necessary and no note out of place. It’s also a lesson in spectacular counterpoint. Solo clarinet and a “ten-tet” of instruments (various saxes, two trumpets, bass, piano, and two percussionists) play mainly as soloists or in pairs. The sound is mostly sparse, which emphasizes the counterpoint. The work consists of four movements: “Warm-up,” “Contrapuntal Blues,” “Rag,” and “Ride-Out.” The composer provides a note on the character of each movement, but this piece deserves a heavier analysis, more than what I can do here. Throughout the entire work, players just seem to blow whatever comes to mind, influenced by what they’ve already heard. This reaches its peak in the slow and smoky “Contrapuntal Blues”—more counterpoint than blues, although the lines are based on different blues modes. “Ride-Out” evokes the “killer-diller” arrangement (think the Goodman Orchestra’s “Sing, Sing, Sing”) and an evening of inspired soloing. To me, one of the best works by an American, it makes me think of Stravinsky with a jazz beat.

Impressed by William Revelli’s University of Michigan band, Gould began to think of a more sophisticated band music. He wrote two symphonies for this type of ensemble (Scott Weiss’s liner notes claim only one; Grove mentions two): the “West Point” and the “Centennial” (1983). The work has two movements: “Epitaphs” and “Marches.” For its first two-thirds, “Epitaphs” moves like an Elizabethan fantasia, although he does contrast two main ideas, as in a conventional symphony. Nevertheless, lines weave in and out, and “Taps” seems never very far away. The argument then moves to an unusually quick passacaglia, with the tuba taking up the bass line. Gould kicks the counterpoint into even higher gear and raises the level of pure animal spirit. Also in this section, one of Gould’s most controversial orchestral effects appears. He specifies a “marching machine,” usually rendered by the instrumentalists stamping their feet while they play. I think it cheapens the music, turns it laughable. He would have done far better with snare and bass drum. At any rate, the passacaglia breaks up for the return of the opening material, and we end on a fragment of “Taps.” This would have been a highly poetic movement, if only we didn’t have to hear Those Marchin’ Feet.

The modest title, “Marches,” sells the second movement short. Gould starts out with a pert march that evokes a smart 19th-century parade ground, and then you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a complicated fugue. The fugue settles into a “fife-and-drum” section featuring canon (rather than cannon). Gould then gives us the most conventional march music yet, but he’s just setting us up. Suddenly, the march pulls itself up short, and we plunge into one of the most breathless finales I’ve ever heard, based on the movement’s opening material. Brilliant.

Some of these works have received previous recordings, including those led by Gould himself, by no means a shabby conductor. In the Fanfare for Freedom, I can’t find a ha’penny’s-worth of difference between Weiss and the kids from Kansas and the composer leading the London Symphony. The Saint Lawrence Suite comes across as capable and Jericho as brilliant, if a trifle loose (to me inherent in the score). On the other hand, Derivations is available on a classic Sony recording with Goodman as soloist and Gould leading the “Columbia Jazz Band,” obviously a group of superb, anonymous studio guys. The LP, titled “Jazz at the Summit,” presented Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs, Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto, Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, the Gould, all with Goodman and all conducted by the composers. The CD (Sony 42227) adds Bartók’s Contrasts, with Goodman, Szigeti, and Bartók—the original performers in, necessarily, a mono account.

The Columbians offer a slicker Derivations than the Kansans. They’re rhythmically sharper, and they have a stronger jazz “feel.” On the other hand, the Kansans (by the way, almost always slower), emphasize the contrapuntal basis of the work, which Gould’s own performance often slights and takes for granted. In both cases, the soloists—Goodman and Zelnick—seem way too reticent, Goodman more so. I don’t know whether this is bad microphone placement, Gould’s miscalculation (I doubt it), or soloist jitters. Naxos has recorded the piece much more clearly than Sony.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2011

Of all the 20th century American composers, Morton Gould still remains obstinately neglected on the world stage. It is doubly strange as he wrote such easily enjoyable scores, as this excellent disc so readily conveys. Maybe, like Bernstein, he was such a multi-talented musician that he seems to have fallen between so many proverbial ‘stools’. Symphonic music, ballets, musicals, background for films and television all flowed readily from him, and among this profusion were a number of scores for wind band including the Saint Lawrence Suite, the only score for band ever nominated for a GRAMMY® award. The Symphony for band was composed in 1952 for the West Point Sesquicentennial celebration, its two movements very different, the first being contemplative and sonorous, the second a series of outgoing marches. The other substantial score, Derevations for solo clarinet and band, comes from much the same time, and was composed for Benny Goodman with his work in the world of popular music colouring the score. Maybe Scott Weiss’s tempo’s a little too cautious in the Symphony, and a little more of the gusto shown in the opening Fanfare for Freedom would not have been amiss. My favourite track is the Jerecho Suite, depicting the Biblical battle. Tuneful, rhythmically attractive and offering the performers a chance to show their brilliance. Both as a soloist and orchestral musician, Stephanie Zelnick is a much travelled clarinettist. She enters into Gould’s jazzy world with brio. As recorded the Kansas band sound a very small group, the close microphones probably adding to that impression.

James Manheim, June 2011

This Naxos release provides a productive meeting point between two underrated musical phenomena: the compositions of Morton Gould and the performance tradition of the American university wind band, in which even groups far from the centers of American concert music offer musicianship that would be enviable in any country. The University of Kansas Wind Ensemble under Scott Weiss is consistently smooth and lively here, and the contribution of clarinetist Stephanie Zelnick in the album’s title work, a sort of clarinet rhapsody with band, are compelling indeed. The title Derivations may put one in mind of the dubious quasi-scientific concepts of high modernism, but the program offers prime examples of Gould’s vernacular-oriented but rigorous style, one that ought to provide a model for more composers than it does. Much of the music takes the march as a point of departure, with just enough of a shading-off into jazz to provide general audiences with a point of reference. The opening Fanfare for Freedom was written for the same occasion (a 1942 patriotic concert by the Cincinnati Symphony) that inspired Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, and it holds up quite well in comparison with that more famous work. The Jericho Rhapsody is inspired by the sound image of priests carrying trumpets in front of the Ark of the Covenant during the biblical siege of Jericho, and this motif is beautifully worked into the longer structure. The Saint Lawrence Suite (1958) was composed for a less exalted occasion than the Fanfare: the opening of a pair of power stations, one of which was the large complex that still appears to visitors traversing the roadway leading to Niagara Falls; it is a tightly constructed but entertaining quartet of marches and dances. And the Symphony No. 4, “West Point,” marks a more elaborate exploitation of marches and ceremonial themes; this little-performed work deserves more frequent revival for military-related occasions. Strongly recommended, with only the cardboard-box sound that plagues so many band recordings as a substantial negative.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group