Kevin Puts’ Millennium Canons begins this disc
of music for wind orchestra. The opening is a bright brass
soon joined by mellow woodwinds with chorale-style writing. The
harmonies and arrangement is similar in style to Nigel Hess’s
wind orchestra music; this is feel-good music. It works very
well for the ensemble, making use of the timbral differences
between the instruments and the rich resonance which can be created
from the inner parts.
Wind ensembles are more prevalent in the United States than they
are in the UK. The British Isles has some notable exceptions,
such as the National Youth Wind Orchestra, and the RNCM’s
wind ensemble. By contrast one has the sense that there is a
strong and widespread culture of wind ensemble music in the USA,
demonstrated by a number of excellent ensembles, such as this
one, which commissions new repertoire and performs to a very
high standard. It is difficult when listening to this disc to
remember that this is a student ensemble; the intonation is mostly
perfect and the discipline evident in the playing is excellent.
My Hands Are A City, by Jonathan Newman, has more of a
chamber music feel, with solo lines passing around the ensemble
and gentle harmonies evolving from these lines. There is a jazz
influence in the harmony, as well as a use of material from one
of Newman’s earlier works, The Rivers of Bowery.
This music serves as a poignant tribute to the ‘Beats’:
writers, musicians and poets from the Lower East Side of Manhattan
in the mid-twentieth century.
Coruscating lines of falling scales feature heavily at the beginning
of Kristin Kuster’s Lost Gulch Lookout, before the
textures become calmer and more soloistic, with cor anglais featuring
heavily. Representing the terrain of the composer’s native
Colorado, the piece creates a sense of awe, expansive landscapes
and eerie atmospheres. Kuster uses an imaginative range of textures
and creates a dramatic work which is engaging throughout.
The calm opening of John Mackey’s Kingfishers Catch
Fire is an enjoyable contrast, with simple melodic lines
and static harmonies. The second movement is a burst of energy,
with repeated rhythmic figures building up a momentum as the
music describes a Kingfisher darting into the sunshine of a new
day with bright splendour.
Two British works complete the disc. Holst’s Hammersmith is
perhaps one of the first wind ensemble works, composed in 1930,
and is in the form of a Prelude and Scherzo. The Prelude suggests
a foggy day overlooking the Thames, with dark harmonies and a
repeating bass line underpinning the work. The mood is disrupted
by fanfare-style motivic ideas, which become the basis of the
material for the Scherzo, which serves as a commentary on the
increasing industrialisation of London. Holst’s language
is more chromatic than some of the newer works on the disc, and
it is clear how his writing influenced later composers in the
genre; his music is innovative, well structured and demonstrates
an excellent understanding of orchestration. Adam Gorb’s Awayday is
the final work, composed in 1996. This is rhythmic and energetic
and is full of light-hearted spirit and influences from Broadway.
There are hints of Bernstein, Gershwin and Stravinsky in this
fast-paced, well written and highly entertaining piece.
This is an excellent disc, which possesses the youthful energy
one would expect from talented students, combined with an overall
level of professionalism that establishes the disc as a quality
product. The new commissions are interesting works which are
successful and deserve a chance to be heard.