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John CORIGLIANO (b. 1938)
Circus Maximus: Symphony No. 3 for large wind ensemble (2004) [35:43]
Gazebo Dances for band (1972) [17:06]
The University of Texas Wind Ensemble/Jerry Junkin
rec. Bass Concert Hall, Austin, Texas, USA, 25-27 November 2006
NAXOS 8.559601 [52:54] 
Experience Classicsonline

John Corigliano is widely known either for his score for the movie “The Red Violin”, or for his First Symphony, inspired by the AIDS crisis. His Second Symphony - for which he won the Pulitzer Prize - was for strings alone, so he “answers” it here with his rather grand third symphony for winds and percussion.

In eight movements that are played without pause, Circus Maximus takes as its inspiration the similarities between the high decadence of the final days of the Roman empire and the present time. The piece “was built both to embody and to comment on this massive and glamorous barbarity,” according to the composer, and it does so in part by surrounding the audience with not only the large concert band on stage but almost as many other musicians placed carefully around the hall. The liner-notes include the composer’s map which precisely places each of the musicians, including what tier of the seats they are to stand in! The sixth movement even features a small marching band marching through the aisles of the concert hall, and the piece ends with an actual gunshot – was there ever a band piece more deserving of a surround-sound recording? Better still, paired with a carefully-produced video so we can see all the inherent theater in the piece at the same time? Sadly, what we have here is a traditional stereo recording – but it appears to be the first time the work has ever been recorded, so something is certainly better than nothing. The piece is brutal, in a quasi-Shostakovich vein in its louder passages, but, as with Mahler, there are longer stretches of quieter motion which make the full ensemble passages feel that much more intense. This is, without question, one of the most important pieces written for band in some time, but from a few listens, I’m not positive that it’s a “masterpiece”, though this recording sure does make me want to experience the piece in concert. Fans of band music need to hear it at least once, and the University of Texas makes it hard to believe that it’s a college group performing. 

The CD is nicely rounded out by Corigliano’s transcription of his own Gazebo Dances – originally written for four-hand piano, but reminiscent of American outdoor band concerts and thereby ideally suited for the medium. It’s a delightful work, anchored by a long, gorgeous slow movement. There are several other recordings of this work, and this is the best I’ve heard. 

It’s nice to see this recording on the Naxos American Classics Series instead of the Wind Band Classics series. Perhaps those drawn to new American music will dip their toe in this and like what they hear. For a contemporary band recording, though, I’d recommend Junkin’s recent Grainger disc with the Dallas Wind Symphony first.

Benn Martin



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