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Symphonic wind ensembles - bands or orchestras - mostly inhabit North America, with only a dribble in Europe. The repertory is predominantly American. I recall a symphony by British composer Wilfrid Josephs for the leading UK band, but very little else. Blue Dawn into White Heat. Copyright (c) 1998 American Composers ForumFrom this double CD set one gains a clearer perspective of the variety of music within this repertory, and notes its musical merit is as uncertain as any genre.

The University of Minnesota Symphonic Wind Ensemble is clearly an expert and enterprising company of young musicians. The composer list includes both Gunther Schuller and Elliott Schwartz, neither of whom are ever guilty of pastiche. Other names are unfamiliar, probably because they are active and skilled in this specialised field of writing for wind bands.

A truly unusual find in this programme is an arrangement of Purcell's Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary (by Stephen Stucky). To spot this wonderfully noble music arranged for wind band almost suggests a foolish act. It is not, and the arranger clearly values the qualities in applying his own skill to set a dramatic scene, which at one point becomes dreamlike, as though slipping back through time. [Click to listen.]

Of the fifteen works on this double CD set I would not hastily brand any as dreary. Each of us could have a favourites list unique in pecking order. Elliott Schwartz has three separate works, all requiring a delicate ear to comfortably accommodate his filigree style. [Click to listen to 'Reflections'.] Such music challenges our concentration and on record gives the chance to persevere. Schuller's piece takes the jazz route, highly professional with material shaped and well developed. [Click to listen.]

As for the other works, I would prefer to leave listeners to the records a choice of what appeals to them. My choice is personal; all the music is professional and aptly scored; none of it tied to an outdated style. And the ensemble is always meticulous, which must give a joyride to all the composers.


Copyright © Basil Ramsey, December 1st 1999 


More sound extracts can be heard on the Amazon page for this CD

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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular Wednesday series of shorter CD reviews