can’t bear martial music ...” says Blofeld under his breath,
after he and James Bond have finished mucking around swapping
dodgy cassette tapes on a converted oil rig. Readers will
point out my misquote, but the simple fact that we have
two feet gives the march an inevitable two-in-a-bar feel,
and listeners may fear monotony. Nothing could be further
from the truth, as so many of the pieces on this disc are
so anti-heroic that any aspiring martinet will find himself
either constantly wrong-footed, or weeping at the side
of the road – his feet in search of a regular beat.
opening Country Band March by Charles Ives sees
the Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra at their
very excellent best – themes and rhythms flying around
in a shocking rural mêlée which still sounds as modern
and fresh as the day it was written.
Music for Queen Mary has of course been quite heavily
enhanced from its original four trumpets, and the ‘drum
unbraced’ will become one of those Hi-Fi toppers for
testing your woofers – a series of spectacularly resonant
thwacks caught in full 24-bit glory. Some of the movements
were ‘transcribed and elaborated’ in 1992 by Steven Stuckey,
and the effect of the variations is nicely chilling,
with added tuned percussion and some polytonal overlapping.
With his arrangements we go further into Purcell’s ‘Funeral’ to
beyond the grave, into spooky film music territory. It
is a nice idea in its own right, but sits a little strangely
with the ‘straight’ movements, turning the whole thing
into neither six of one nor half a dozen of the other.
do love Kagel’s Zehn Märsche um den Sieg zu verfehlen (Ten
Marches to Miss the Victory), and they are very well
played here. I often find Clark Rundell’s approach a little
leaden however, just missing that final topping of wit.
Kagel’s scores are wide open to differing interpretation,
and there is always a danger of allowing one’s own affection
for remembered performances to become too significant.
So, taking my comments with the appropriate pinch of salt,
I find the opening Allegro of Marsch 1 lacking the
last ounce of ‘schwung’ it needs to become its fleeting,
almost non-existent self. The same is true of the second
March, which doesn’t sound Allegro at all – more like rehearsal
tempo. The tragic, filmic finale feel of three is a little
flat as well, but accents and dynamics are always impeccable.
I would have preferred the percussion to have been just
a little lighter and more understated as well. Marsch
4 is well portrayed, with the off-beat accompaniment
which dominates the banal tune having all the bounce and
bitterness which Kagel appears to be seeking in his comment
on the ‘dubious’ effect of the march as a musical form.
This is carried forward in the drunken trumpet fanfare
which opens no.5, whose march treads heavily, closing with
an equally ‘incompetent’ piccolo. Marsch 6 is Ivesean
polyrhythm without the excuse of clashing bands – all great
and seriously sardonic fun. The most extended of the pieces
is no.9, which is a funeral march. This is also one of
the sparest and most deconstructivist – full of open or
dissonant held notes and grunting bass tubas.
Märsche um den Sieg zu verfehlen are split up by
other pieces, but this is appropriate to the composer’s
own recommendation that they should not all be played
in a continuous sequence. The only problem is that the
marches in between and immediately afterwards are tainted
by that satirical aftertaste – but not to worry, it’s
only Wagner and Bruckner! I’m sure Kagel would appreciate
the context more than those two musical giants, but they’ve
done well enough so far – I’m sure they’ll survive this
little dig. Wagner’s Huldigungsmarsch or ‘Homage
March’ is his only original work for wind orchestra,
and was written for the nineteenth Birthday of his patron
King Ludwig of Bavaria. It is more of a concert piece
than a march, with its elaborate development of themes
which echo Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, on
which Wagner was working at the time. His Trauermusik was,
like Purcell’s work, conceived for a funeral procession.
In this case it was for the return of the remains of
Carl Maria von Weber to Dresden in 1844 - Weber died
in London in 1826 - and again it is much more elaborate
than a straight military march, being in fact arranged
from parts of Weber’s own Euryanthe.
in E flat major is the only march on this disc written
specifically for the parade ground, and is a well constructed
piece which seems to anticipate Sousa in character. Kurt
Weill’s Berlin im Licht was written for a festival
in 1928 which promoted the German capital as ‘Europe’s
new city of light.’ It is typical Weill, having his characteristic
syncopated rhythms and being multi-functional in nature:
useful as a military march, as a concert piece and as
a song for a late-night review.
Wengler is a name no doubt unfamiliar to many, but he is
a leading composer and conductor in Luxembourg. Versuche über
einen Marsch (‘Experiments on a March’) receives its
premiere recording here, and proves to be an intriguing
and effective piece. It begins with what sounds like a
traditional German style march (subtitled Die Versuchung or ‘Temptation’),
but with rhythmic quirks which imitate a needle jumping
or getting stuck on a worn or dirty gramophone record:
what my daughter calls my ‘big CDs’. The following six
movements explore the march in a variety of ways, with
some distinct winks in Stravinsky’s direction here and
there. The last ‘Versuche’ seems to begin with a strange
amalgam of Sibelius and J. Strauss, building to a rich
feast of themes layered like rock strata. If Wenglers’ work
shows little or no progression in the deconstructivist
genre since Ives’ wild and wonderful experiments then it
is at least approachable and entertaining. With its concept
as useful for country town and village bands, it carries
on the socially aware tradition of gebrauchsmusik.
provide their expected rich, deep, demonstration quality
recorded sound, without the rumbling tubas and sparkling
percussion being too ‘in your face’. The warmly resonant
acoustic is entirely appropriate for this type of orchestra.
The ensemble is extremely proficient and professional,
with any moments of slightly questionable intonation being
entirely and negligibly fleeting and transient – they sound
consummately professional and musical, a combination
which makes this disc more listenable than some ‘prize-winning
band’ discs I could name.