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The Complete National Anthems of the World
Eight CD Box: [9:36:40]
Slovak Radio SO/Peter Breiner
rec. Slovak Radio Concert Hall, Bratislava, Slovakia, 1996-2004. DDD
MARCO POLO 8.208009 [8 CDs: 73:31 + 73:37 + 69:57 + 70:47 + 66:24 + 72:59 + 71:43 + 77:42]



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Yes, that's about 360 national anthems across nine hours and almost forty minutes! There are between 44 and 50 anthems on each disc. Each is separately tracked of course.

The music is presented in the form of arrangements for full orchestra. There's no choral element; no singing.

A 36 page booklet gives a miniature entry for each anthem - name and status of country, a line from the anthem, a line from the chorus where applicable, name and dates for the author of the words, ditto for the music and an indication of when the anthem was adopted. The flag and coat of arms is reproduced for each country.

In addition to those for various states and regions, anthems are also included for the Olympic Movement and the United Nations. Intriguingly the anthems for Bavaria, the Basque Country and Catalonia are given but there's nothing for other German länder or Spanish regions.

No, I haven't played them all; I couldn't face it. But I have sampled across the eight CDs and while there is much that is predictable, there were a few agreeable surprises too. Here are my notes:-

American Virgin Islands - in three versions - Broadway and Sousa - bumptious.

Argentina - Brahmsian pomp.

Benin - confident and modest.

Bosnia Herzegovina - like a Mozart harmoniemusik - quite the opposite of the usual vainglory.

Brazil - in three versions: full, short, Olympic. Bel canto fusion of Bellini, Donizetti and Ponchielli.

Catalonia - surprisingly modest and thoughtful. Made me want to visit while many others had quite the opposite effect. Not a march in sight.

Cuba - Verdian march, a trace of bombast (few escape that element).

Czech Republic - kindly musing theme given dreamy treatment with harp glints.

Denmark - grandeur of a royal heritage and a broad Brahmsian theme.

Falklands - whirring drums and prominent horns, dignified.

Flanders - defiance and dignity.

France - one of the world's best National Anthems. Maybe a little lightweight in these hands.

Guernsey - more of a Lehár waltz underpinning a long melody

Iceland - lies in style between the tropics of Brahms and Dvořák. Some interesting marmoreal moments at 00.43 and 00.53.

Kazakhstan - all-purpose Brahmsian grandeur with drums and trumpets to the fore as well as a searching theme. Why isn't it more exotic? Presumably the Soviet hand in evidence.

North Korea - more Brahmsianisms with thunderous trumpets and drums

South Korea - yet more Brahms but not quite as densely thunderous as North Korea's and with a fleeting Dvořákian pensive moment

Laos - gentleness contrasted with an accented march idea. Bright and some oriental flavour.

Macedonia - a thunderous stepping-out cortege.

Mayotte; also Saint-Pierre and Miquelon - the French National Anthem

Mongolia - an oriental theme paced out at slow march rate. The theme has a strangely Scottish flavour.

Nagorno-Karabakh - whirring side drum, thunderous bass drum and a central quasi-Dvořákian pastoral trio.

Newfoundland and Labrador - prominent cornet taking the long theme with a tactful side drum and string underpinning. Again invites a visit.

Pakistan - carries an imperial Elgarian splendour although the trio seems to mix Purcell and Dvořák.

Poland - confident quick step with a paraph of rolling sweet horns in background.

Quebec - serene and suave, confident, glints of the stahlspiel and a sweetened oboe, harp also. Again the sort of anthem that proclaims welcome and amity.

San Marino - subdued to the point of dull but redeems itself in the gentle trio where a peaceful church-like treatment holds good until the dull grand theme returns.

Senegal - opens with a John Williams style flourish - in fact this sounds like a film music special. Like the music by John Williams for Saving Private Ryan and with exotic drumming in the foreground.

Somalia - rather echoing the French National Anthem.

Switzerland - Brahmsian heavy sweetness and dignity.

Tibet - definitely oriental in effect with all that plangent timpani and a tune that has that distinctive oriental curve.

United Arab Emirates - brash quick-pulsed stamping confidence and a jaunty contrasting trio. Drum and brass quotient high.

Wallonia - one of the best - grandeur and defiance. I actually felt the need to play it again immediately.

Yemen - thunderous bragging drums nicely contrasted with a gentle, even Dvořákian theme. 

Zanzibar - incredibly good - surely in my top ten of the ones I have sampled and written by none other than Donald Francis Tovey. It is here given a Malcolm Arnold style orchestration.

Peter Breiner and the orchestra take on the unforgiving task of presenting these ikonic symbols of nationhood. They do this fervently

I soon learnt that some are singable (after all they are anthems) and some are marchable and some have a bit of each. A few (not many) operate as miniature tone poems.

This is a highly admirable enterprise. I have only two reservations or questions.

The first is that I am unsure if the arrangements reflect what we might hear if we visited these countries. In each case how far is Mr Breiner's arrangement from what we might hear if we paid a visit to a state occasion in the relevant country.

Secondly the eight discs, each in its own jewel case, are handsomely packaged in a stiff card fold-out case (now typical of Brilliant Classics' boxes). The set would have been less profligate of precious shelf space if each disc had been in its own card pocket. These are small quibbles, of course.

Peter Breiner: a familiar name in the Marco Polo and Naxos catalogues. He was born in 1957, a Canadian Slovak. He studied with composer Alexander Moyzes in Bratislava. He has written two symphonies (let's hear them!) and much else. You're most likely to remember him as the arranger and conductor of flocks of Naxos and Marco Polo light music CDs. His Beatles ŕ la baroque and Elvis arrangements are notable and make him a steady earner for the label. His anthem arrangements were used during the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004.

A set not for the generalist collector. A mandatory purchase for the nationality/sovereignty anorak. Indispensable for bandmasters, state musicians, Mastermind contestants, Tovey experts and organisers of diplomatic events and international visits. Also any self-respecting major or regional library will want to have this on the shelves.

Rob Barnett




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