As the Naxos Wind Band Classics series continues to expand, it’s
interesting to watch how each new ensemble finds ways to distinguish
itself from its peers. Here, the University of Kansas opts for
a program of music all written within the last five years, by
predominantly young composers.
heart of the disc is unquestionably John Mackey’s Soprano
Sax Concerto, a work of extraordinary color, excellently performed.
This is the premiere recording; two other recordings - with
two more soloists - are apparently in the works. To have
such a long, difficult work recorded so many times within
two years of its premiere is certainly a strong endorsement,
and the piece deserves it. There are a few quirks with this
performance, but the band in particular sounds excellent,
and it’s nice to have a recording so carefully prepared. The
version on the composer’s website is culled from live performances
by two different groups, and while they’re generally superior
in vigor, they cover up some details which are easier to appreciate
a big fan of the music of Frank Ticheli, and “Wild Nights!”
has some effective moments, but after many listens I’m not
completely convinced that it’s as coherent a work as some
of his other music. First listens of the Dzubay and Etezady
gave me similar hesitation, but they felt more compelling
with repeated listens, especially the Dzubay. Steven Bryant’s
“Dusk” is a gentle meditation, a graceful arch that could
use a longer-lined approach than it receives here, where it
feels a bit abrupt in places.
Kansas group was one of the first bands to record for Naxos, and
it’s been great for the band community to watch this Wind Band
Classics series develop ever since. It’s particularly gratifying
to hear how this band has become stronger, playing a more difficult
and intriguing program this time around. The new director may
be part of it? Whatever and whoever’s responsible - keep it up!