The Ohio State University Wind Symphony – Southern Harmony
Dmitry Borisovich KABALEVSKY (1904-1987) arr. Hunsberger Colas Breugnon: Overture (1936/1968) [4:46]
John STEVENS (b.1951) Symphony in Three Movements (2005-06) [24:24]
Donald GRANTHAM (b. 1947) Southern Harmony (1998) [13:11]
Morten LAURIDSEN (b.1943) arr. Reynolds O Magnum Mysterium (2003) [6:14]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990) arr. Svanoe El salon Mexico (1936/2008) [11:46]
The Ohio State University Wind Symphony/Russel Mikkelson
rec. Weigel Auditorium, Ohio, USA, February 2008 and February 2009
NAXOS 8.572342 [60:20]

The Naxos Wind Band Classics series continues here with a mixed repertoire of transcriptions and original works for wind band.

It’s telling that the disc gets its title from the Grantham – it’s a far superior piece to the much longer Stevens, which is unfortunate. The wind band world could use more “substantial” - longer, more “symphonic” in conception - works like this Symphony. However the musical content here simply can’t sustain interest over this long a duration. Stevens is an interesting composer and has written some very appealing pieces for brass instruments; one hopes a full band work of comparable quality is forthcoming. By comparison, the Grantham is one of the finest original works for winds of the last twenty years. While exploring and developing folk materials is hardly new territory for band works, the composer manages to do so in a fresh and interesting way. The antiphonal clapping in the brief third movement is tremendously exciting, and the harmonic language is original and ingratiating, especially in the second and fourth movements.

All the transcriptions are excellent. The Copland is not only very idiomatic – the original has plenty of wind and percussion emphasis already – but receives what is probably the best performance on the disc. The Lauridsen has become extremely popular both in its original choral version, and in this great version for winds. While I wouldn’t say this version is superior to the original, the drama of the piece is made more explicit by the wider dynamic range and tone colors, both expertly handled by Reynolds. The Kabalevsky is not quite as convincing as the other two, but is effective enough as a flashy opener.

There are a few slightly odd interpretive decisions which diminish the impact of the program somewhat. On the Lauridsen, for example, it seems the conductor is either unaware of or uncaring about the text of the original. Both the choral and wind versions have been widely recorded, and more sympathetically. Between that and the lukewarm effect of the Stevens, the disc as a whole feels a bit disappointing. That having been said, the band plays very, very well, and there are some great pleasures to be had here. The Grantham comes across well - though, again, there may be comparable or superior recordings elsewhere - and the Copland is a very strong conclusion to the disc.

It feels slightly cruel to diminish the fervent and impressive efforts of these college students, and the wind band world is certainly indebted to Naxos for this excellent series. I can’t offer an unqualified recommendation, but the band fan may wish to investigate at least some of these performances. Here’s hoping future Ohio State recordings show them to better advantage.

Benn Martin

A mixed bag.