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John Philip SOUSA (1854 – 1932)
Sound Off! - Sousa on Review
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
Sesqui-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/Frederick Fennell
Recorded: Eastman Theatre, Rochester, New York, 2 May 1960 (Tracks 1 – 12)
5 May 1961 (Tracks 13 – 24)
SACD Stereo CD Audio


This is one of the latest issue of recordings from the Mercury Living Presence series. These were originally recorded from the 1950s to the 1970s and are remarkable for many titles remaining almost continuously available in the catalogue into the 21st century. I still possess the original LP of Sound Off and as it was my introduction to Sousa’s marches, will continue to value it.

The CD contains marches that Sousa composed over nearly fifty years. It gives an interesting picture of how varied his approach was over that time.

The notes by Frederick Fennell from the original LPs are included with the disc. The recorded sound is excellent, reminding me of how much better the original recordings sounded, compared to some other recordings of the same date. I would not rank Sousa among my favourite composers. However, his unfailing enthusiasm and positive approach cannot be faulted. He is quoted as saying “ A march stimulates every centre of vitality, wakens the imagination ... But a march must be good. It must be as free from padding as a marble statue. Every line must be carved with unerring skill ...  There is no form of musical composition where the harmonic structure must be more clear-cut.” Having said that, I must advise the listener to avoid listening to all these marches in one go. Even the most avid Sousaphile  must surely need relief from so much uplifting positive energy?

Each march usually has some unique touch. An example would be his use of percussion. In Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (1923) he includes, as well as triangle and tambourine, both used to good effect, the bell tree or Schellenbaum. This is an arrangement of bells on a long staff. It can clearly be heard adding a “Turkish” effect to the march. This march is additionally unusual in that it has a part for harp – not a common fixture in marching bands!  The Liberty Bell (1893) similarly uses the percussive forces of the Eastman Ensemble to good effect, although the eponymous Bell does not add a very noble sound.

The Eastman Ensemble are bright and precise, with Fennell briskly taking the band along. I’m not sure that such breakneck tempi are always ideal. The more recent recordings by the Royal Artillery Band under Keith Brion  (Naxos 8.559131) are an example of a less frenetic approach. In the end it depends on personal preference and the way you feel at the time.

One thing is certain, the listener is never unsure when a Sousa march has finished!

Bob Bamlett

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