Paul HINDEMITH (1895–1963)
Symphony in B flat (1951) [17:03]
Gustav HOLST (1874–1934)
First Suite in E flat for Military Band (1909) [10:43]
Joseph SCHWANTNER (b.1943)
… and the mountains rising nowhere (1977) [12:26]
Percy Aldridge GRAINGER (1882–1961)
Lincolnshire Posy (1937) [16:24]
The Peabody Conservatory Wind Ensemble/Harlan D. Parker
rec. Griswold Hall, Baltimore, USA 19 February 1998; 13 December 2001; 6 December 2007; 10 April 2008

NAXOS 8.572242 [56:36]

I was attracted to this disc by the inclusion of two works for concert band that can truly be described as classics of the genre, namely the pieces by Holst and Grainger. If Hindemith’s Symphony doesn’t quite fall into that category it’s probably because it’s less immediately appealing than those aforementioned masterpieces.

I find that it’s a work I admire for its contrapuntal dexterity and because it exploits very well the range of sonorities inherent in a band – Hindemith was a consummate craftsman. The Peabody Conservatory Band gives an assured and alert performance. Particularly admirable is the clarity of texture that their conductor, Harlan D. Parker, obtains at all times. This is a man who clearly understands how to get the best out of a band and he does just that.

The Holst is a work I have admired ever since I played it while at school – though I’m certain I didn’t appreciate at that time just how fine a work it is. The Peabody band invests the Chaconne with just the right degree of weight and the irresistible Intermezzo trips along very perkily indeed. The concluding March is driven along at an exhilarating pace, though I felt Mr Parker could perhaps have relaxed a bit more in the second subject.

Grainger’s title ‘A Lincolnshire Posy’ suggests an innocent, naïve work but in fact this masterpiece has a pronounced dark side at times. Grainger produced many highly original folksong-based pieces during his career but I don’t believe he ever surpassed the sheer inventiveness that he displayed in ‘A Lincolnshire Posy’. The writing is superb throughout and the Peabody players bring it off very well, bringing ‘Horkstow Grange’ to a sonorous climax, for example, while ‘Rufford Park Poachers’ often has an eerie, nocturnal ambience. Throughout the work there are unexpected shifts and deviations from the path that one might have expected the music to take – Grainger is never conventional – and time and again he surprises and delights the listener.

I’m afraid that last comment is not one that I can apply to Joseph Schwantner’s …and the mountains rising nowhere, even with the best will in the world. The piece is apparently inspired by some lines from a poem by Carol Adler. The score requires a large wind band – twenty-eight players are listed - and six percussionists who, between them, are required to play no less than forty-six different instruments. There are also parts for a solo piano and for an amplified string bass. We’re also told in the notes that “Tuned water goblets, whistling and singing help to create a unique sonic tapestry.” One thought that comes to mind immediately is the sheer impracticality of the scoring: one wonders how many bands will be able to assemble the resources to put on a performance. As for the piece itself, I’m afraid it left me completely unmoved. I simply didn’t understand the music at all and to be honest it’s a piece I have no desire to hear again. To be fair, some of the sonorities and effects impress – but they impress simply as effects. I failed to detect any memorable thematic material at all and the climaxes just seemed to happen rather than to occur as a result of musical logic. That’s a wholly subjective reaction and other listeners may well form a more positive opinion of the work than I have; I hope they do. However, I will be amazed if Schwantner’s piece proves remotely as durable as the three fine works with which it shares the disc.

The performances by the Peabody Conservatory Band are all of a very high standard and the recorded sound shows them off to good advantage.

John Quinn

Performances of a very high standard and recorded sound shows them off to good advantage… see Full Review