Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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JOHN PHILIP SOUSA (1854-1932) Vol. 2 Sousa at the Symphony Orchestral Music for the concert hall and bandstand Rasumovsky Orchestra/Keith Brion rec Bratislava 1996 NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559013 [62.12]

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Sousa's fame as a 'march merchant' is secure. That fame is part reflected in the present collection. In addition we are reminded of his work in other concert-hall spheres.

Many of his marches now have a rather absurd air hanging about them. The Irish Dragoons (1915) contrives to be simultaneously dashing and loopy. Bullets and Bayonets (1918) is a pugnacious skirlinskirling effort peppered with gunshots and echoing with the fife and drum - all rather incongruous in the face of the contemporaneous slaughter on the fields of France. That incongruity seems to be objectionable only now. Perhaps, at the time, contemporary sensibility had no difficulty squaring tragedy and escapist absurdity.

Jack Tar (1903) reeks of a sea-green queazy absurdity. Power and Glory is a pompous stamping affair. Invincible Eagle (1901) and Semper Fidelis (1888) are part of Sousa's formula for fame; a recipe rounded out by Stars and Stripes with its hallmark horns crying out over the symmetry of the music. Those billowing horns seem to be tracing the contours of far horizons. The lesser-known quick-time march Daughters of Texas is the usual potage of silliness and pomp.

The marches can be contrasted with a series of genre pieces and suites paralleling the work of the hundreds of light music purveyors active in England and documented through Phil Scowcroft's series of Garlands. Nymphaline Reverie (1880) is a Gallic-style balletic delight. Profane pleasures are put away in Grace and Songs of Glory - A Sacred Selection (1892). In this Sousa adroitly apes the required sanctimonious manner. The Suite: Dwellers of the Western World portrays the three American races: The Red Man comes to us courtesy of Smetana's Vltava!, while The White Man takes us to Dvorák's New World. The final movement, The Black Man has just enough of the flashing white teeth and street-corner tap dancing to make you shift uneasily in your seat. However, for its time, the portrayal was no doubt acceptable. The silvery and glinting Humoresque is based on Gershwin's song Swannee.

The disc is well documented. The arrangements are by the conductor who has made a speciality (or should I say specialty) of this repertoire. There is much that is undemandingly enjoyable here. It will appeal to all lovers of light music though I cannot pretend that, as music, it is especially distinguished.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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