Rutgers Wind Ensemble - Fanfares and Overtures
H. Owen REED (b. 1910) arr. William Berz: Overture -1940 (1941, arr. 2005) [5:41]; Fanfare for Remembrance (1987) [11:19]; Renascence (1958) [9:02]
Karel HUSA (b. 1921) Smetana Fanfare (1984) [3:54]; Music for Prague 1968 (1969) [23:25]
Vaclav NELHYBEL (1919-1996) Fanfares from the Opera Libuse (1984) [3:52]
William SCHUMAN (1910 -1992) George Washington Bridge (1951?) [8:34]
Rutgers Wind Ensemble/William Berz
rec. The Nicholas Music Center of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, USA,
14 October 2006, 18, 20 October 2007, 28-29 March 2008
NAXOS 8.572230 [65:46]

Now, this is unusual. Three works by H. Owen Reed, none of them his best; two works by Karel Husa, one of them excellent and the other a complete masterpiece; a very good work by Schuman and an incoherent oddity from Nelhybel. The strangeness continues: the Nelhybel is actually not by him, but instead his own very truncated and strange version of a Smetana overture. Husa’s “Music for Prague 1968” is by far the best piece of music here, and has an extremely dramatic ending - it should clearly close the disc, but it doesn’t; there’s a Smetana connection in that piece too. And the otherwise-longest work here, Reed’s “Fanfare for Remembrance,” is actually for trumpet ensemble and narrator! There’s been a real effort to make a unified program here, but the connections are very strained, and have been made at the expense of a consistent tone or quality.

So what are we to do with this? Well, at the Naxos price, this disc may be worth buying for the Husa works alone. The “Smetana Fanfare” doesn’t impress as much here as in other performances I’ve heard, but it’s still effective. “Music for Prague 1968” has also heard more convincing readings - the Eastman Wind Ensemble recording is a personal favorite. But it is such a great work, up there with Grainger’s “Lincolnshire Posy” to be considered among the best pieces ever written for the medium. It has a very specific message to communicate - read the liner notes - and communicate it does, with extraordinary power. Multiple listens are a good idea, too. Anyone who thinks only of Sousa marches, light fare and half-baked orchestral transcriptions when they hear the words “band music” needs to hear this piece.

As for the rest of the disc - well, I’m glad to have heard it. The Schuman, which closes the disc, is a strong and engaging piece. As for the Reed works, the trumpet ensemble piece is much more interesting than it sounds on paper, though it should end about four minutes before it does, and the other two Reed pieces both have effective moments that don’t fully cohere. The Nelhybel is forgotten almost immediately.

I’m a big fan of the Naxos Wind Band Classics series, and they’re not kidding when they call this album “wide-ranging”. And there are certainly pleasures to be had here: the band plays very well. In particular, the trumpets, as you might expect, are excellent. But if I had to sum up this album succinctly, it would be thus: Weird. Just plain weird.

Benn Martin 

see also review by Carla Rees