Millennium Canons: Looking Forward, Looking Back
Kevin PUTS (b.1972) Millennium Canons (arr. Mark Spede) (2002) [7:39]
Jonathan NEWMAN (b.1972) My Hands Are A City (2008) [13:33]
Kristin KUSTER (b.1973) Lost Gulch Lookout (2008) [9:46]
John MACKEY (b.1973) Kingfishers Catch Fire (2007) [11:02]
Gustav HOLST (1874 - 1934) Hammersmith: Prelude and Scherzo (1930) [13:01]
Adam GORB (b.1958) Awayday (1996) [6:25]
University of Georgia Wind Ensemble/John P. Lynch
rec. 2-5 March 2008, University of Georgia Performing Arts Center, USA. DDD
NAXOS 8.572231 [61:25]
Kevin Puts’ Millennium Canons begins this disc of music for wind orchestra. The opening is a bright brass fanfare, 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.