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]
The Naxos Wind Band Classics series seeks here to plug some pretty significant holes in its catalog. With nearly two dozen entries in the series, the works on this disc had yet to make an appearance. The Holst and Grainger, in particular, are the band world’s “Beethoven 5” and “Brahms 1,” or something like that, so this disc seems guaranteed to sell copies to both the curious listener who doesn’t usually listen to band music and to the devoted band fan who could use another copy of these works at the attractive Naxos price.
The Holst is an extremely well-crafted three movement work, with the opening motif unifying the whole piece. It has a special place in the band repertoire as one of the first substantial pieces of music written for wind band by an established composer. A good high school band can play the piece well, but a band of this caliber can also play it and not feel like they’re playing “easy music” - it’s got a quality of deceptive simplicity which makes it easy to enjoy for both performer and listener. The Grainger has a similar melodic appeal, at times, but is much more complex, and is regarded by many Grainger aficionados as his single finest work in any medium. It was also probably the first piece in the band repertoire to deserve being described as an unqualified masterpiece. Its six movements chart a very satisfying emotional journey, and if this disc helps bring it to a wider audience, it will have done much good.
The Hindemith and Schwantner are altogether different. Both reward repeated listens, the Hindemith in particular, as its contrapuntal ingenuity becomes clearer with time. As with the Grainger, any fan of the composer would find much to admire in this wonderful piece. The Schwantner is arguably the least essential of these four works, but that is largely because it is the most contemporary composition here and has not had as long to become a repertoire staple. The colors explored, though, are rich and affecting, and it points a way forward to the explosion in wind band repertoire of the past thirty years or so.
So, for those who don’t know these pieces, it’s a fine way to gather four cornerstones of the repertoire. There are stronger performances of these four works elsewhere - the Eastman Wind Ensemble’s superlative “Live in Osaka” disc, available at a similar price, includes three of them - but these are certainly excellent performances. The band sounds great, and the straightforward interpretations and recorded sound allow the listener to hear every detail.