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John Philip SOUSA (1854-1932)

Sound Off
Nobles of the Mystic Shrine
Sabre and Spurs
The Picadore
Our Flirtation
The High School Cadets
The Invincible Eagle
Bullets and Bayonets
The Liberty Bell
Riders for the Flag
Solid Men to the Front
The Gallant Seventh
The Rifle Regiment
The Pride of the Wolverines
Golden Jubilee
The Gridiron Club
New Mexico
Seagull Centennial Exposition
The Black Horse Troop
The Kansas Wildcats
Manhattan Beach
Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company
The National Game
The Glory of the Yankee Navy

Eastman Wind Ensemble
Rec 2 May 1960; 5 May 1961, Eastman Theatre, Rochester, New York


Sousa was an eclectic musician who gained experience as an apprentice in the US Marine Band and in theatre orchestras before turning to conducting. In 1892 he formed an ensemble he called Sousa's Band. This proved so successful it continued for nearly forty years. As a composer he is, of course, best known for his marches, which rightly gained him international fame and brought a new identity to national music. The vigorously distinctive melodic lines of his marches have turned Sousa into a veritable celebration of America.

It is hard to think of these marches being treated to more vigorous and colourful performances than they receive from the Eastman Wind Ensemble and Frederick Fennell. To some extent the famously vivid Mercury recording should get the credit for this enthusiasm; the more so because despite the forty-year-old vintage the sound is good enough to merit transfer to the SACD format. It is a tribute to the present generation of engineers as well as to their illustrious predecessors.

With no fewer than twenty-four marches collected on this disc, this is an opportunity to hear examples of Sousa’s output that extend well beyond The Stars and Stripes For Ever (which does not feature). There are some well known pieces, however, and a marvellously incisive performance of The Liberty Bell is as good as anything on the programme; an ideal introduction to Sousa’s colourful and exciting art. But the interest extends to the less well known music, of course. The titles are as vivid as the music: The Gridiron Club, The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, The High School Cadets.

There is just one caveat, or word of warning. None of these pieces breaks the four-minute barrier, and none is shorter than two minutes. This rightly suggests that there is a formula at work. Like all the best formulae Sousa’s is adaptable to various purposes, but for maximum enjoyment this disc should be sampled a track or two at a time rather than complete. Indigestion can soon set in.

Terry Barfoot

see also review by Bob Bamlett

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