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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Frederick Fennell Conducts
CD1 475 6852 [64:38]
Hands Across the Sea

John Philip SOUSA (1854-1932) Hands Across the Sea [2:50]; The US Field Artillery [2:20]; The Thunderer [2:30]; Washington Post [2:27]; King Cotton [2:36]; El Capitan [2:12]; The Stars and Stripes Forever [3:25].
Gustave Louis GANNE (1862-1923) Father of Victory [4:48]
Mariano San MIGUEL (1880-1935) The Golden Ear [3:50]
Carl TIEKE (1864-1922) Old Comrades [4:34]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) March op. 99 [2:12]
Johannes HANSEN (1874-1967) Valdres March [3:45]
Davide delle CESE (1856-1938) Inglesina [4:32]
Eric COATES (1886-1957) Knightsbridge March [4:38]
Frank W MEACHAM (1856?-1909) American Patrol [3:52]
Edwin Franko GOLDMAN (1878-1956) On the Mall [3:06]
Earl E McCOY (1884-1934) Lights Out [2:42]
Karl L KING (1891-1971) Barnum and Bailey's Favorite [2:34]
Kenneth J ALFORD (1991-1975) Colonel Bogey [3:20]
John N KLOHR (1889-1956) The Billboard [2:08]
Eastman Wind Ensemble/Frederick Fennell
CD2 475 6853 [63:54]
Country Gardens and other favourites

Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) Country Gardens [2:19]; Shepherd's Hey [2:07]; Colonial Song [6:04]; Children's March [4:13]; The Immovable Do [4:28]; Mock Morris [3:41]; Handel in the Strand [4:19]; Irish Tune from County Derry [3:35]; Spoon River [4:05]; My Robin is to the Greenwood Gone [4:09]; Molly on the Shore [4:26]
Eric COATES (1886-1957) The Three Elizabeths [20;23]
Eastman-Rochester 'Pops' Orchestra/Frederick Fennell
London 'Pops' Orchestra/Frederick Fennell
CD3 475 6854 [67:45]
Music by Leroy Anderson and Eric Coates

Eric COATES (1886-1957) London Suite [14:38]; Four Ways Suite (two movements) [7:31]
Leroy ANDERSON (1908-1975) Pirate Dance [1:59]; Suite of Carols (excerpts) [4:30]; A Christmas Festival [7:08]; Sandpaper Ballet [3:21]; Forgotten Dreams [2:05]; Trumpeter's Lullaby [2:38]; Pennywhistle Song [2:28]; Bugler's Holiday [2:39]; Irish Suite [18:37].
Eastman-Rochester 'Pops' Orchestra/Frederick Fennell
London 'Pops' Orchestra/Frederick Fennell
CD4 475 6855 [61:32]
British and American Band Classics

Gordon JACOB (1895-1984) William Byrd Suite [18:23]
William WALTON (1902-1983) Crown Imperial [9:56]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934) Hammersmith [13:42]
Robert Russell BENNETT (1894-1981) Symphonic Songs for Band [13:48]
Clifton WILLIAMS (1923-1976) Fanfare and Allegro [5:49]
Eastman Wind Ensemble/Frederick Fennell
rec. Eastman Theatre Rochester, NY; Watford Town Hall (Coates and Anderson) 1956-1966. ADD
MERCURY LIVING PRESENCE 475 6851 MM 4 [4 CDs: 64:38 + 63:54 + 67:45 + 61:32]

Frederick Fennell (1914-2004) remains an illustrious name in the American wind-band and light music traditions. In the 1950s and 1960s he recorded in quantity for Mercury usually conducting Eastman forces. His LPs from that era still crop up frequently in secondhand shops.

The present set comprises discs some of which may not I think have been issued on CD before. There are two featuring wind-band and two with orchestra. The landscape is firmly popular light -a genre that since the late 1980s has been making a strong and now overwhelming comeback on the strength of companies such as Hyperion, Marco Polo, ASV (Sanctuary) and Guild.

The tracks featured here remain sonic spectaculars authored by that fine team of Wilma Cozart (who presided over the digital transfers from tape), Harold Lawrence and David Hall.

Fennell's Sousa (in fact his anything) showed and shows careful attention to dynamics. Not for him the unvarying mezzo forte slackly favoured by bandmasters. Rhythmic precision is also a feature of this recordings.

Fennell and his elite musicians give the Sousa marches all the rambunctious, buffeting, resolute, unbearably confident, percussion-whirring, drum-thudding qualities called for by the Sousa tradition. A little Sousa goes a long way with this listener but I can certainly appreciate the precision and relentless boisterousness of these fine sounding recordings of seven Sousa classics. Sousa's The US Field Artillery even has a choral contribution from a male choir (members of the band?) - not very numerous but they make a manly sound.

The rest of CD1 gives us a smattering of marches from other climes. The Brits get a Coates Knightsbridge and Alford's Colonel Bogey; the former more free and certainly distinctive and out of the Sousa pattern; the latter closer to the smoking ramrod of the Sousa sound.

Prokofiev's famous march op. 99 has pep aplenty and is a delightful contrast to much of the rest which although not written by Sousa sounds in the Sousa tradition. Whether or not from the USA the following all bear the stigmata or predict them: Tieke's Old Comrades, McCoy's Lights Out, Goldman's On the Mall, Karl King's crashing cracker Barnum and Bailey's Favourite and Klohr's The Billboard. Both Meacham's American Patrol and Ganne's Father of Victory use dynamic variation to good effect. San Miguel's The Golden Ear has a instantly apparent Hispanic flavour complete with toreador solo trumpet (tr. 3 1:21). Hanssen's Valdres March is pretty distinctive too.

The Grainger/Coates orchestral disc is a joy and how fitting too since the composer had many links with the Eastman School. Fennell makes light of the pattering precision of Shepherd's Hey yet is at ease with the expansive epic unfolding of the sentimental Colonial Song. All the Grainger favourites are there and are lovingly done. I simply regret that space was not found for Hillsong No. 1 and that Green Bushes, The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart and Hillsong No. 2 never took Fennell's fancy or if they did never as far as a Mercury session was concerned. Spoon River might be less familiar to some but it is well worth getting to know in Fennell's tightly rhythmic version. My Robin ... is taken faster than usual missing some of the emotion.

Eric Coates can, rather like Sousa, be just a little too much but things like the Saxo-Rhapsody, By the Sleepy Lagoon, The Four Centuries and The Three Elizabeths mark him out as a minor romantic master - very personal too. Here the shivering excitement of Halcyon Days (used as the signature tune for the BBCTV's first adaptation of Galsworthy's) and the Delian glow (complete with unhurried cuckoo) of Springtime in Angus make the case. On the other hand the Youth of Britain march owes more than a nod to Sousa.

There's more Coates on CD3 (all orchestral again). Dvořák clearly inspired Coates in Covent Garden in which there are some delightful stereo effects in this version. The cello solo of Westminster helps brace the listener for the cheeky-chappy (at time rather Grainger-like) Knightsbridge already heard once from Fennell for windband on CD1. We the get just two movements from Coates' Four Ways suite: Northwards clearly looks in Caledonian directions and is proud and warlike while Eastwards is a genre piece through which oriental modes pitter-patter.

Leroy Anderson is represented by his classics including the soft shoe shuffle of the Sandpaper Ballet and a smattering of carol arrangements. His Forgotten Dreams is the epitome of 1950s sentimental light music - neither too deep nor too treacly. Trumpeter's Lullaby rather belies its purpose with the quick quiet part for the solo trumpet. The complete Irish Suite runs the Green gamut. The Minstrel Boy has some delightful remote whispered stereo effects carried by the side-drum. The Last Rose of Summer drips honey from the soloists' bows. All ends well with the breezy-bright Girl I Left Behind Me.

The last disc brings us back to Fennell and the windband. The contrived archaicism is of course neatly handled by Fennell but Jacob's William Byrd suite, for all its demonstration of skill, wears thin quickly. Am I the only one to regret that we were not instead given Fennell's Eastman Grainger Hillsong No. 1 and Holst's two suites? However the Walton Crown Imperial is the business! Taken steadily at first, Fennell builds this most inspired of marches with great skill. I prefer the full orchestral version recorded for EMI by Louis Frémaux but this has plenty of oomph and majesty without quite the tightly explosive edginess it might have had. Even so it's a classic recording and the bass drum thwack at 5:01 as the trio ends will please everyone.

Holst's Hammersmith is not predictable Fennell territory. It's one of the earliest subtle, indeed darkly impressionistic, pieces for wind-band - a study in redolent charcoal smudges rather than sharply limned outlines. It is superbly done here.

Robert Russell Bennett's Symphonic Songs is also very inventive and sometimes in the Serenade movement simultaneously recalls Piston's Incredible Flutist and Malcolm Arnold's more popular works. The second movement Spirituals handles the genre with considerable tact and originality and is by no means a straight arrangement of well known spirituals. It's more of a Delian soliloquy on misty memories. In Celebration brash and corny cannot escape Sousa so he embraces the manner wholeheartedly. He at times adds modernistic smoke and mirrors and the occasional Prokofiev reminiscence.

Clifton Williams was an Eastman-trained composer but I am sorry to say that while I could appreciate his Fanfare and Allegro as a study in wind-band sonority it left little impression in the memory apart from clear indebtedness to Howard Hanson at 5:21.

There is a good compact note by Ivan March and the admirably uncluttered design of the booklet is enhanced by vivid session photographs of Fennell - at least one by Harold Lawrence himself.

These recordings were made in stereo in the decade between 1956 and 1966.

This is a quite a varied collection with Fennell and light music being the 'glue'. There are two discs each for wind-band and orchestral. Technical mastery, whether orchestral or audio-technical, is not in doubt. These recordings sound astonishing for their half century age. March, wind-band and Fennell fans are wonderfully well served. British and American light music enthusiasts will also find a great deal to please. It is not just a magnum of nostalgia. Even the present reviewer made discoveries - the most attractive being the Bennett Symphonic Songs and Anderson's Forgotten Dreams.

Rob Barnett

 

 



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