one who lives in Philadelphia,
Vincent Persichetti is a local composer. Not in the sense of
being unworthy of national or international fame, but because
his life is so closely associated with this city and its institutions
and because reminders of him abound here. Within half a mile
of where I am writing this are two of the schools where he studied,
two of the schools where he taught, the location of his first
musical position and the musical venues where so many of his
works were premiered. There are many here who can still tell
stories about him. His choral music especially is frequently
in evidence here.
area of composition that Persichetti was especially associated
with was music for symphonic band. With the possible exception
of Paul Creston, no American concert composer has made such
a substantial contribution to this field. Altogether he wrote
fourteen significant works in this medium (not counting works
for smaller brass groups) and a number of them occupy a permanent
place in the American symphonic band repertoire. On this record
we hear about half of his band output, including the famous
Divertimento for Band and the Parable IX, but
not the well-known Symphony for Band or Serenade #11.
choice of music played here shows the range of complexity of
the composer’s symphonic band works, f rom the relatively easy
high school simplicity of the Psalm and Pageant
to the Parable, one of the composer’s most challenging
works in any medium and certainly one of the two major works
of his band output.
first band work was the Divertimento of 1950. This exemplifies
one of the major tendencies in this composer’s work - his preference
for works or movements in small epigrammatic sections (see Parables).
Overall I found this a good performance, but two or three of
the sections, especially the Soliloquy, made me reach
for the old LP of the Eastman Wind Ensemble under Frederick
Fennell. This old version will remain the standard for this
Psalm and Pageant were written within a year of each other and both
feature chorale style, although in different ways. The Psalm
is basically a large chorale showing off the lower brass and
later clarinets and saxophones and is a beautiful example of
the composer’s ability in scoring for winds. Pageant
was a piece that was unknown to me and I greatly enjoyed it.
It is based on a three-note motif - another epigram - with an
excellent chorale section followed by a quicker, march section.
liked to borrow motifs from one work to use in another. His textbook
Twentieth Century Harmony from 1961 provides the theme
used in Masquerade’s ten clever and winning variations.
This piece has a larger range of instrumental color and emotional
intensity than most of the works on this disc. It is also one
of the more advanced items in terms of idiom, providing quite
a contrast to the Psalm and Pageant. Masquerade
deserves to be as well known as those works. Another “borrowed”
piece is the Chorale Prelude: O God Unseen, based on a
hymn that the composer wrote for his Hymns and Responses for
the Church Year. The hymn is not so
interesting in itself, but Persichetti weaves around it to create
an exemplar of the chorale prelude form, one that demonstrates
his contrapuntal abilities to the full. The “Poem for Band” O
Cool is the Valley betrays a rather 1930s American-Midwest
approach to Joyce, but also features some of the best woodwind
playing on this disc, especially from the flutes and oboes. The
last two minutes are thrilling.
Parable is the ninth is Persichetti’s series of 25
and with the possible exception of the Symphony for
Band, the magnum opus of Persichetti’s symphonic band music.
It is a single-movement work, almost twenty minutes long and
is in an idiom that is more dissonant, with hard-edged chords,
than one would expect from the other pieces here. Persichetti
takes a single idea and develops it in a linear fashion, but
according to no specific form. This time the clarinets and English
horn are prominent and again the London Symphony Winds are equal
to the challenges. The saxophones also get a workout and the
percussionist in charge of the tubular bells seems to appear
in almost every section of the piece. I found that the basic
material did not lend itself to a work of this length, but there
are still many exciting moments.
playing on this CD is excellent. I have mentioned various individual
groups within the orchestra, but the ensemble playing is equally
good. Conductor David Amos is to be praised for the concept
of a whole disc of Persichetti’s band music. It is shame he
did not make another disc to record the seven remaining pieces
in the Persichetti repertoire. His leadership here is usually
complete and very effective, although occasionally he seemed
to lose control. This is only one of many records of unusual
repertoire that he has produced through the years and one hopes
that more are on the way.
the same program was recorded by the Ohio State University Band
under the leadership of the estimable Donald McGinnis, but this
record has been out of print for a while. There is also a disc
by Eugene Migliaro Corporon on
the Gia label that covers four of the pieces on the Naxos disc. The Gia is quite good, but for
an all-round anthology of Persichetti band works, this re-release
by Naxos is to be preferred.
see also Review
by Rob Barnett