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John Philip SOUSA (1854-1932)
A Sousa Celebration
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Kristjan Järvi
rec. Royal Concert Hall, RSNO Centre, Glasgow, Scotland, 22-23 September 2016
Stereo/multichannel 5.0, reviewed in surround
CHANDOS CHSA5182 SACD [68.26]

The justly named 'American March King' is represented on this disc by considerably more than just marches, though seven of the above pieces are so-named.

As a composer, performer, band leader and writer, Sousa was successful and prolific. His biographical sketch on Wikipedia makes for exhausting reading, simply because he seems never to have stopped. Fortunately for us he was also very good at what he did and even some of his operettas are still performed in the USA, let alone all those marches. One can hear why in the tuneful extracts on this disc. Chandos have given us a wide cross-section of his output, and for that reason this SACD is not really comparable with the many other recordings available, which focus more tightly on just the marches. The one obvious comparison is the now classic recording by the Eastman Wind Ensemble conducted by Frederick Fennell , on a three-channel Mercury SACD, still available at some expense and with some difficulty, but also as a plain stereo CD (much more easily obtained). Comparing the handful of duplicate pieces shows how magnificent the old Mercury still sounds and how vital those 1961 performances are. If one adopts that issue as the standard, then Järvi and his Scottish orchestra stand up to it remarkably well in all respects.

On Chandos many (most) of these pieces are expert arrangements, because by-and-large Sousa scored his music for other forces than a symphony orchestra. Since he himself arranged huge quantities of his music for alternative instrumental groupings, this can be safely ignored; you can treat this disc as simply a varied collection of Sousa in all his guises. The quality is very high, indeed light music gets little better than this. There are tunes galore, many of them familiar, and most importantly the RSNO treat them all seriously. They are wholly on top of this genre and Kristjan Järvi proves again that he can climb inside this sort of thing and give it all the panache it needs (I well remember his remarkable direction of Bernstein's Candide at the Barbican some years ago).

Chandos have provided a typically excellent recording and the notes by American academic and Sousa specialist Patrick Warfield are well detailed. I wish he had been given more space to write about Sousa more generally, in addition to the music on the disc, but the Web is not short of information.

Dave Billinge

Previous review: Dan Morgan

Disc contents
Washington Post; March [2.51]
Sandalphon Waltzes [8.25]
The Irish Dragoon: Overture [3.25]
The Irish Dragoon: Circus Galop [1.26]
The Thunderer: March [2.22]
Humoresque on George Gershwin's Swanee [5.08]
The Invincible Eagle: March [3.20]
Nymphalin [3.12]
On the wings of lightning [2.04]
Humoresque on Kern’s Look for the Silver Lining [4.56]
Semper Fidelis: March [2.22]
The Dwellers of the Western World: Suite [12.31]
The Liberty Bell: March [3.15]
El Capitan: waltzes [3.46]
El Capitan March [2.03]
The Gliding Girl: Tango [2.48]
The Stars and Stripes Forever: March [3.20]

 




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