The United States
Marine Band was founded by an act of Congress in 1798, making
it the oldest professional musical organisation in America.
It is also one of the most respected Bands in the World, so
expectations have to be high. The standard is indeed remarkable,
with, as you might anticipate, faultless intonation, rhythmic
control and instrumental balance. The recording location is
not given on the CD notes, and the website gives nothing away
either, the word ‘Studio’ having to suffice – no doubt a wise
security precaution, and as such a sad sign for our times. There
is a touch of resonance in the acoustic to take away what might
otherwise be an overly dry recording, but certainly nothing
which in any way interferes with the detail in the playing or
The grand title
for this CD covers most of the work in the programme, with only
the arranged and transcribed creating any cause for controversy.
All of these arrangements were made many years ago however,
and have therefore been a staple of the Band repertoire for
as long as anyone can remember. The arrangement by Giuseppe
Creatore of Verdi’s Triumphal March was made some time
in the 1900s, and has a well-rounded feel, instruments all playing
well within their range, and the voicings nicely spread.
After this agreeable
overture, we have the original 1920 version of Stravinsky’s
Symphonies of Winds, in an edition prepared by Robert
Craft. Stravinsky revised the work in 1945-47, but to my ear
the work remains essentially the same, with the reduced scoring
of 23 instruments just giving the work more of a chamber-music
feel. This performance is of course excellent, but I don’t quite
‘get’ the interpretation. Stravinsky’s neo-classical style demands
a certain coolness, but Michael Colburn’s reading is almost
matter-of-fact. Most of the other versions I know come in at
around nine minutes, but this one leaves very little room between
sections, shaving off half a minute from the average and not
giving much space for the music to breathe. Listening to Charles
Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra on Decca shows how
there can be more room for some expressive quasi-rubato in the
more lyrical passages. Picking another 1920 version almost at
random, Thierry Fischer and the Netherlands Wind Ensemble on
Chandos wring much more contrast out of the reedy articulation-rhythm
of the winds and the round kick of the brass. I’m not so keen
on the American style of vibrato in the flutes either, but that
is of course a question of taste. The funereal end is as always
a moving moment, but could have had a heavier tread from the
Marines – despite marvellous playing this version doesn’t come
close to knocking any others off my shelf.
is a new name to me, but his Symphony for Band has become
one of the most frequently performed original works for band
ever written. On just one hearing of the work you can easily
understand its popularity among performers and audiences alike.
It has everything, excitement in the opening Allegro,
a moving chorale for the second Adagio sostenuto, a lilting
and dance-like Allegretto, and a return to the ‘grit’
of the opening with a fun-filled Vivace finale. All of
the instruments are given effective parts, and while there is
an extrovert character in the outer movements the Americanism
has a light touch and a refreshing lack of bombast. I have a
feeling that this recording will be the reference to
which many bands will be referring in the future.
famous Polka and Fugue from ‘Schwanda the Bagpiper’
was arranged for band by Glenn Cliffe Bainum in 1934, who was
Director of Bands at Northwestern University. This provides
some light relief between two heavyweight works for band in
this programme, but the fugue provides the Marine woodwinds
a chance to shine as well.
Aaron Copland’s only work for band, and is certainly the most
‘modern’ sounding on this disc. Filled with grand gesture and
some typical Copland resolutions, the opening does have a broadness
and eloquence which plumbs greater depths than most Band music
one could name. The second section is genuinely funky, starting
with a kind of compositional finger-painting, lines and thematic
fragments being thrown around like confetti in a high and turbulent
wind. Toward the end the grand gesture returns, pungently resonant
harmonies underpinning relatively simple melodic shapes – back
at the ‘Copland Chorale’, and with a return of ‘Auld
lang syne’ as well.
With these rarefied
sonic heights still echoing in the memory, Percy Grainger kicks
in with characteristic gusto with his Children’s March.
This piece was written while Grainger was serving in the U.S.
army as a member of the Coast Artillery Band, and resembles
some of his folk-song settings, while remaining an original
band piece. Striking elements include a prominent part for piano,
and choral singing from the musicians – a master stroke among
many fine details which turns a fun march into something rather
haunting and special. My compliments to the low reeds as well
– everyone seems on cracking form here.
Crown Imperial written for the coronation of King George
VI appears here in a transcription made by W.J. Duthoit
in 1937. The piece works very well as a flourish for band, with
some virtuoso writing for the low brass. None of the Englishness
in this work is lost in this setting, so there need be no fear
of twitching moustaches in clubland.
This is a marvellous
display of crack Wind Band performing, a superb recording and
a stimulating programme. If you feel your red blood corpuscles
need restoring then this might very well be the musical pep
pill they require. With my reservations about the Stravinsky
only mildly nagging in the back of my mind, I can wholeheartedly
recommend this as a standard bearer for this form.
see also review by John Quinn
Early versions of the CD booklet list Lt. Col. Michael J.Colburn as the conductor.
He is in fact the director of the organisation.