This is a disc from Naxos’ Wind Band Classics
series and is a total delight from first note to last.
There is something about American music that I find quite irresistible
and it may be because it always seems so upbeat and positive in its
outlook which may in turn be explained by the fact that it is still
relatively ‘new’ in the scope of the history of music; long
may it continue.
Michael Torke’s music has been described by the UK’s Gramophone
Magazine as "some of the most optimistic, joyful and thoroughly uplifting
music to appear in recent years". I first came across him through two
pieces he wrote entitled Ecstatic Orange
which titles I found intriguing and the music itself
bore that out. Reading that Javelin
is his best known work makes
me wonder how it could have passed me by without my hearing of it -
no pun intended. It was commissioned by the Atlanta
Committee for the Olympics in celebration of the Atlanta Symphony
Orchestra's 50th anniversary season. This was in conjunction with the
1996 Summer Olympics. The music perfectly embodies the feeling of excitement
that the Olympics creates which anyone living in the UK will readily
recognise following the London 2012 Olympic Games. I’m now eager
to hear it in its original form but this transcription by Merlin Patterson
works wonderfully well for wind band. This is thought to be the first
recording of it in this version. Its effervescence has all the verve
of an opened bottle of champagne.
also exists in various forms and bearing in mind that
it was only composed in 2010 shows how successful Torke is in that ensembles
are queuing to have versions created for them as soon as the works are
published. All versions of Mojave
require a virtuosic marimba
player and in this recording they have that in spades with the University
of Kansas’ associate professor of percussion Ji Hye Jung. This
work describes the passing landscape as one travels along Interstate
15 from Las Vegas to Los Angeles with the marimba as guide and its shaker
accompaniment representing the dry plant life that struggles to survive
in the arid world that is the Mojave Desert. At times it reminded me
of John Adams’ Foxtrot for Orchestra
from his opera Nixon
. This underlines that both composers are among the best
representatives of the post-Minimalist school with its exciting mix
of the classical and minimalist styles.
An American Elegy
by Frank Ticheli is a very beautiful and poignant
piece. Its poignancy is explained by the fact that it was composed as
a tribute to those cruelly gunned down in the fearful shootings at Columbine
High School on 20 April 1999. The mixture of sadness and serenity is
perfectly captured and the music cleverly incorporates the school’s
. A solo offstage trumpet acts as a heavenly voice.
The work is a highly successful and moving musical tribute to the young
lives that were so needlessly and callously cut short.
As a starting point for his other work here Ticheli chose Shaker songs.
Several composers have found these an irresistible draw as inspiration
and they never fail to deliver. This case is no exception with Ticheli
finding new and subtle ways of reworking four of the songs while maintaining
their simple beauty.
Known as “the Dean of American Music” Aaron Copland has
a special place in the history of music in America. It was he who managed
to create a uniquely “American” voice that makes American
music so distinctive. Copland’s Quiet City
is among his
best known works and this version for wind band by Donald Hunsberger
only serves to highlight its wonderfully evocative sense of place and
atmosphere. The last work on the disc is his Variations on a Shaker
which takes the Shaker song Simple Gifts
know as Lord of the Dance
and gives it new life. Ticheli too
chose the same song for the last of his Four Shaker Songs
above) and each of the distinctive versions here shows the strength
of the basic tune.
It is a measure of the vitality expressed in the compositions on this
disc and the supreme ability of this brilliant ensemble that the absence
of so many other instruments that make up an orchestra goes almost completely
unnoticed. For these works it could be said that ‘less is more’
since these versions work so wonderfully well. It is a long time since
I have simply wallowed in a disc. The smile it engendered never left
me for the whole time I listened. It makes for a most enjoyable hour
of gorgeous music.
See also review by Dan