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Experiments on a MARCH
Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Country Band March (c.1903) [4:24]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Funeral Music for Queen Mary (1695) [8:36]
Mauricio KAGEL (b.1931)
Zehn Märsche um den Sieg zu verfehlen (1978-79) (Marsch 1-4) [6:56]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Huldigungsmarsch, WWV 97 (1864) [5:42]
Mauricio KAGEL
Zehn Märsche um den Sieg zu verfehlen (Marsch 5-8) [5:53]
Richard WAGNER
Trauermusik, WWV 73 (1844) [5:14]
Mauricio KAGEL
Zehn Märsche um den Sieg zu verfehlen (Marsch 9 & 10) [4:12]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
March in E flat major, WAB 116 (1865) [2:53]
Kurt WEILL (1900-1950)
Berlin im Licht (1928) [1:26]
Marcel WENGLER (b.1946)
Versuche über einen Marsch (1981) [16:01]
Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra/Clark Rundell
rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 6-7 May 2005. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10367 [62:17]

“ I can’t bear martial music ...” says Blofeld under his breath, after he and James Bond have finished mucking around swapping dodgy cassette tapes on a converted oil rig. Readers will point out my misquote, but the simple fact that we have two feet gives the march an inevitable two-in-a-bar feel, and listeners may fear monotony. Nothing could be further from the truth, as so many of the pieces on this disc are so anti-heroic that any aspiring martinet will find himself either constantly wrong-footed, or weeping at the side of the road – his feet in search of a regular beat.
The opening Country Band March by Charles Ives sees the Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra at their very excellent best – themes and rhythms flying around in a shocking rural mêlée which still sounds as modern and fresh as the day it was written.
Purcell’s Funeral Music for Queen Mary has of course been quite heavily enhanced from its original four trumpets, and the ‘drum unbraced’ will become one of those Hi-Fi toppers for testing your woofers – a series of spectacularly resonant thwacks caught in full 24-bit glory. Some of the movements were ‘transcribed and elaborated’ in 1992 by Steven Stuckey, and the effect of the variations is nicely chilling, with added tuned percussion and some polytonal overlapping. With his arrangements we go further into Purcell’s ‘Funeral’ to beyond the grave, into spooky film music territory. It is a nice idea in its own right, but sits a little strangely with the ‘straight’ movements, turning the whole thing into neither six of one nor half a dozen of the other.
I do love Kagel’s Zehn Märsche um den Sieg zu verfehlen (Ten Marches to Miss the Victory), and they are very well played here. I often find Clark Rundell’s approach a little leaden however, just missing that final topping of wit. Kagel’s scores are wide open to differing interpretation, and there is always a danger of allowing one’s own affection for remembered performances to become too significant. So, taking my comments with the appropriate pinch of salt, I find the opening Allegro of Marsch 1 lacking the last ounce of ‘schwung’ it needs to become its fleeting, almost non-existent self. The same is true of the second March, which doesn’t sound Allegro at all – more like rehearsal tempo. The tragic, filmic finale feel of three is a little flat as well, but accents and dynamics are always impeccable. I would have preferred the percussion to have been just a little lighter and more understated as well. Marsch 4 is well portrayed, with the off-beat accompaniment which dominates the banal tune having all the bounce and bitterness which Kagel appears to be seeking in his comment on the ‘dubious’ effect of the march as a musical form. This is carried forward in the drunken trumpet fanfare which opens no.5, whose march treads heavily, closing with an equally ‘incompetent’ piccolo. Marsch 6 is Ivesean polyrhythm without the excuse of clashing bands – all great and seriously sardonic fun. The most extended of the pieces is no.9, which is a funeral march. This is also one of the sparest and most deconstructivist – full of open or dissonant held notes and grunting bass tubas.
Kagel’s Zehn Märsche um den Sieg zu verfehlen are split up by other pieces, but this is appropriate to the composer’s own recommendation that they should not all be played in a continuous sequence. The only problem is that the marches in between and immediately afterwards are tainted by that satirical aftertaste – but not to worry, it’s only Wagner and Bruckner! I’m sure Kagel would appreciate the context more than those two musical giants, but they’ve done well enough so far – I’m sure they’ll survive this little dig. Wagner’s Huldigungsmarsch or ‘Homage March’ is his only original work for wind orchestra, and was written for the nineteenth Birthday of his patron King Ludwig of Bavaria. It is more of a concert piece than a march, with its elaborate development of themes which echo Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, on which Wagner was working at the time. His Trauermusik was, like Purcell’s work, conceived for a funeral procession. In this case it was for the return of the remains of Carl Maria von Weber to Dresden in 1844 - Weber died in London in 1826 - and again it is much more elaborate than a straight military march, being in fact arranged from parts of Weber’s own Euryanthe.
Bruckner’s March in E flat major is the only march on this disc written specifically for the parade ground, and is a well constructed piece which seems to anticipate Sousa in character. Kurt Weill’s Berlin im Licht was written for a festival in 1928 which promoted the German capital as ‘Europe’s new city of light.’ It is typical Weill, having his characteristic syncopated rhythms and being multi-functional in nature: useful as a military march, as a concert piece and as a song for a late-night review.
Marcel Wengler is a name no doubt unfamiliar to many, but he is a leading composer and conductor in Luxembourg. Versuche über einen Marsch (‘Experiments on a March’) receives its premiere recording here, and proves to be an intriguing and effective piece. It begins with what sounds like a traditional German style march (subtitled Die Versuchung or ‘Temptation’), but with rhythmic quirks which imitate a needle jumping or getting stuck on a worn or dirty gramophone record: what my daughter calls my ‘big CDs’. The following six movements explore the march in a variety of ways, with some distinct winks in Stravinsky’s direction here and there. The last ‘Versuche’ seems to begin with a strange amalgam of Sibelius and J. Strauss, building to a rich feast of themes layered like rock strata. If Wenglers’ work shows little or no progression in the deconstructivist genre since Ives’ wild and wonderful experiments then it is at least approachable and entertaining. With its concept as useful for country town and village bands, it carries on the socially aware tradition of gebrauchsmusik.
Chandos provide their expected rich, deep, demonstration quality recorded sound, without the rumbling tubas and sparkling percussion being too ‘in your face’. The warmly resonant acoustic is entirely appropriate for this type of orchestra. The ensemble is extremely proficient and professional, with any moments of slightly questionable intonation being entirely and negligibly fleeting and transient – they sound consummately professional and musical, a combination which makes this disc more listenable than some ‘prize-winning band’ discs I could name.
Dominy Clements


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