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OF THE MONTH
Ritchie Symphony 4
OF THE MONTH
Percy Aldridge GRAINGER
Lincolnshire Posy (completed 1937)1 [14:29]
Hill Song No. 2 (1907)2 [5:50]
Vincent PERSICHETTI (1915-1986)
Symphony for Band (Symphony No. 6) (1955-6)2 [17:01]
Two Armenian Dances (1943)2 [5:58]
Walter S. HARTLEY (b. 1927)
Concerto for 23 Winds (1957)2 [16:43]
Three Japanese Dances: Dance with Pennons; Mourning Dance; Dance
with Swords (1933, rev.1953)1 [11:01]
Eastman Wind Ensemble/Frederick
rec. Eastman Theater, Rochester, NY, USA, March 19581;
May 19592. ADD.
480 2089 [71:28]
Though catalogued as Decca recordings, these are, in fact, Mercury
recordings directed by Wilma Cozart, the first of which appeared
in the UK in 1959 (mono) and 1960 (stereo). The Lincolnshire
Posy and the Japanese Dances appeared coupled with Milhaud's
Suite française, a coupling which I should have preferred
had been maintained for the reissue, and Strauss's Serenade
in E flat. The remaining items appeared on another Mercury release
the following year. Both received an enthusiastic welcome which
I am happy to report to be still justified. This attractive collection
of the familiar and unfamiliar is the pick of three Eloquence CDs
which arrived together for review and one of the most recommendable
CDs on that generally very welcome label.
The obvious rival in this price range for Lincolnshire Posy,
which most people will regard as the main attraction of this reissue,
especially as it's the title piece, comes from Chandos's
Introduction to Percy Grainger (CHAN2029), a well-filled
budget-price CD which I recommended as Recording of the Month (see
my only reservation is that it's likely to make you want to
buy several of the volumes of the Richard Hickox series of recordings
from which the Introduction is excerpted.
As I wrote in reviewing the Chandos, the wind-band writing in the
Lincolnshire Posy suite is fully the equal of Holst's
and Vaughan Williams' works in this genre, and the performance
there, by the Royal Northern College Wind Orchestra, every bit as
good as that on my favourite recording of the Holst and V-W (London
Wind Orchestra/Dennis Wick at budget price on ASV Resonance CDRSN3006).
For all the excellence of that performance of the Posy, the
one by the Eastman Rochester Wind Ensemble here is fully its equal
- perhaps even better - and the ADD recording wears its years very
The other Grainger piece, Hill Song No.2, is a much less
light-hearted affair, though Grainger's natural exuberance bursts
through, and it receives a performance to match. You won't find
this on the budget-price Chandos sampler; you'll need to turn
to one of the full-price CDs (Volume 4, CHAN9549) which also includes
Lincolnshire Posy and several well-known works (Molly
on the Shore, Irish Tune from County Derry, Shepherd's Hey
and the wind version of Country Gardens, etc.) The Royal
Northern College Wind Band's performance of Hill Song No.2 is
a little brisker than that of the Eastman Ensemble; I think the
music benefits slightly from that brisker approach - Grainger described
the work as 'composed only of fast and energetic material'
- so here it's the Chandos recording which just wins on points,
though it's a close thing again.
Persichetti's Symphony No.6 is altogether a more serious
but likeable affair, which I hadn't encountered before; indeed,
I don't think that I've heard any of his music. It started
life as a 6-minute composition which got a little out of hand; it
does seem to outstay its welcome very slightly, but I'd like
to come back to it a few times before I pass final judgement. The
Finale is very impressive. There's just one rival recording,
on Naxos 8.570243; Dominy Clements had a feeling 'that this
recording will be the reference to which many bands will
be referring in the future'. John Quinn agreed: 'This
is an attractive piece and I'm glad to have made its acquaintance'.
I note that the Naxos version is slightly faster than the Eloquence.
I'm not inclined to explore that version, however, since the
CD also contains music which I absolutely abhor - Weinberger's
Schwanda the Bagpiper. There's not much music that I
actively dislike - I can even take the so-called Albinoni Adagio
if I'm in the right mood - but that insidious tune really gets
under my skin.
If Khachaturian's name makes you expect lively music, you won't
be disappointed by his Armenian Dances, but they are far
less brash than some of his other music. I wouldn't rate them
as highly as his Spartacus music - am I being influenced
by memories of the Onedin Line in thinking that his best
work? - but they are well worth hearing. The first is jaunty and
there's a good deal of Eastern promise in the second. The notes
in the booklet point to the influence of Khachaturian's teacher,
Myaskovsky, whose own music is finally coming to be better known
in the West via Svetlanov's recordings (boxed from Warner, or
available separately on the budget Alto label).
Walter Hartley's Concerto for 23 Winds was composed for
the Eastman Ensemble, so their performance is presumably authoritative.
lists several recordings, including an earlier incarnation of this
Mercury version. I was about to rate it, as music, on a par with
the Perscihetti, but I returned to that work and realised that I'd
under-sold it; it's already started to grow on me. Not all good
music makes an immediate appeal; Persichetti's Symphony for
Band is such a work. Give it time. Whether the Hartley will
benefit from the same treatment, I'm not sure - I think it may.
Hartley's homepage estimates the work's duration as 15 minutes;
the Eastman Ensemble's 16:43 is a good deal slower than that.
Bernard Rogers's Three Japanese Dances were composed
in 1933 and recast for wind band in 1953; the composer describes
them as acts of fancy, inspired by his love of Japanese wood-block
paintings. Attractively performed - I wish the 'distant mezzo
voice' had been identified - they make an appealing and rather
exotic end to the programme to balance the opening Grainger.
These performances remain very competitive. The stopwatch says that
they are often slower than rival recordings, but I never felt that
they were too slow. The recordings have worn very well; the notes
in the booklet, adapted from those by Frederick Fennel, the director,
are informative and the whole is attractively presented.
If what you're looking for is Lincolnshire Posy and more
of the same, you'd be better served by the Chandos Introduction.
If you'd like to explore the 20th-century repertoire
of music for wind band a little more, go for this Eloquence reissue.
Both are so inexpensive that it won't break the bank to have
both - if you really must economise, download the Chandos on mp3
for £4.99. (Don't download the lossless version at £7.99
when you can buy the CD direct from Chandos for over £1 less
and for as little as £5.25 from some online dealers!) I can't
imagine anyone being really disappointed with either; if you don't
warm to everything on the Fennell recording, remember to give it
time. Much as I applaud the generosity of Australian Universal Music
Pty in giving us such fine recordings at super-budget price, normal
business criteria apply here, too, and several fine Eloquence recordings
have already been deleted. Don't let this be one - get it while
it's available so inexpensively.
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