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Percy Aldridge GRAINGER (1882-1961)
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]
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Two Armenian Dances (1943)2 [5:58]
Walter S. HARTLEY (b. 1927)
Concerto for 23 Winds (1957)2 [16:43]
Bernard ROGERS (1893-1968)
Three Japanese Dances: Dance with Pennons; Mourning Dance; Dance with Swords (1933, rev.1953)1 [11:01]
Eastman Wind Ensemble/Frederick Fennell
rec. Eastman Theater, Rochester, NY, USA, March 19581; May 19592. ADD.
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 2089 [71:28]

Experience Classicsonline




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 review); 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 lightly.

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'. (See review and review). 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. Hartley's homepage 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.

Brian Wilson 
 


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