Lone Star Wind Orchestra,
Eugene Migliaro Corporon, conductor
Star Spangled Banner, arranged by John Williams
American Overture, Joseph Willcox Jenkins
Suite from the opera Merry Mount, Howard Hanson
Rhapsody in Blue, George Gershwin (with Richard Shuster, piano)
Ceremonial Fanfare, Christopher Tucker
Radiant Joy, Steven Bryant
Suite of Old American Dances, Robert Russell Bennett
The Washington Post March, John Philip Sousa
I am glad to see the diverse offerings on Naxos’ fairly recent series “Wind Band Classics.” With this country’s strong tradition of music for winds I am constantly surprised at how underground some of the recordings can be. There are many great discs out there of band music but they never seem to merit the same marketing attention of orchestral discs. When you consider how many people in this country, and in the world, have played in a band at some point in their lives as opposed to the number of people who have played in an orchestra, I would have expected band discs to sell like hotcakes. Joan Tower’s Made in America was noteworthy for the number of performances it received, yet if she had score the piece for wind band that number of performance would probably have tripled. I hope to see higher profile band recordings now that the über-colossus-mega-giant Naxos has been churning out the goods.
This disc in particular is a strong representation of quality music for winds. The Lone Star Wind Orchestra has a deep, rich sound that works well on each piece. When you see that Corporon is conducting, you have a pretty good idea of how the group is going to sound: thick and meaty with an overall glaze of perfection. Some artistic choices might rub some listeners the wrong way, but these choices are never made haphazardly by the Maestro.
You might think the last thing you need is a recording of our national anthem, especially since we’ve all been playing the same tired version for the past three decades or so. The William’s arrangement is bold, colorful, energetic, and entertaining. He makes the music something you like listening to, instead of something you have to sit through until kickoff. Jenkins’s American Overture is peppy and quasi-hoe-downish, but in a good way. It sounds like a missing movement of Rodeo. Christopher Tucker’s Ceremonial Fanfare is spiky and full of pyramid chord stacks. Bryant’s Radiant Joy flirts with the coloristic trends in wind music, relying a lot on timbral gestures, grooves, and long noodly melodic shapes. The piece, apropos of the title, is not much more than fun and enjoying.
The Hanson suite gives the ensemble a much-needed chance to be lyrical and tender. Hanson’s orchestration is masterful in the way that choirs of instruments blend and shift to create a single over-arching musical line. The dances are bright and shiny in contrast and the whole piece is probably the most mature sounding work on the disc. Bennett’s ubiquitous suite gets the same mature treatment. Having performed in the piece in my distant past, I managed to shake off my PTSD and say “Oh, so this is what it is supposed to sound like.”
Rhapsody in Blue has been firmly claimed by the wind ensemble community since the original piece was written for a lot more winds than strings. The lean and mean original version has been played a lot (really, a lot) by various wind ensembles and quite effectively as well. This recording is solid but I find the tempo selections are too slow in spots. In full disclosure, the recording of Rhapsody in Blue that I have been raised on and memorized over my life is the hyper-kinetic performance done by MTT and the Gershwin piano roll. That recording is a full 4 minutes shorter than the Lone Star’s. If you like a slower tempo, you will like this recording. If you like your Rhapsody in Blue sounding like it came from a meth lab, you may be disappointed.
In true Texas fashion, a Sousa march closes things off. The sound of the ensemble is simply iconic. This is how a Sousa march should sound. It will make you want to jump to your feet, push aside the drum major, and march them down a blind alley. And I mean that in the best possible way. It might make you want to do this, too.
This is a great disc and I look forward to hearing many others on this series.