The Columbus State University Wind Ensemble – Synergy
Michael DAUGHERTY (b.1954) Brooklyn Bridge for Solo Clarinet and Symphonic Band (2004) [26:54]
Michael BURRITT (b.1962) Duo Concertante for Clarinet and Percussion (2006) [11:16]
David GILLINGHAM (b. 1947) Concertino for Four Percussion and Wind Ensemble (1997) [9:11]
J.M. DAVID (b.1978) Fantasy Etudes, Book II for Clarinet, Basset Horn, and Chamber Winds (2007) [9:40]
Scott MCALLISTER (b.1969) Black Dog for Solo Clarinet and Wind Ensemble (2003) [10:45]
The Columbus State University Wind Ensemble/Robert W. Rumbelow
rec. Legacy Hall of CSU’s RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, Columbus, Georgia, USA, March 2007
NAXOS 8.572319 [67:46]

I understand why this is issued under the Naxos Wind Band series, but it’s almost a recital disc for the truly excellent John Bruce Yeh. A member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he plays on all the pieces except the Gillingham. The program follows an arch progression from solo to duet to quartet and back again. All told, it’s a very satisfying progression – bravo to whoever designed it.

The repertoire itself is mostly excellent – the McAllister may be a bit too long, and I wasn’t fully convinced by the Stravinskyesque touches of the David, though it has grown on me. But all the works have their charms, and the Daugherty is a wonderful surprise, the best work of his I’ve heard. The first movement opens the disc in tremendously convincing fashion, drawing the listener in for the full length of the work. The second movement accesses a tenderness and harmonic sensitivity I didn’t give Daugherty credit for. The fourth movement is a witty romp that doesn’t feel disposable the way this type of music sometimes can. The Burritt is also very accessible, in a standard fast-slow-fast shape and filled with memorable melodies and colors. I hope it has more of a life outside of this disc! The percussion soloist is Yeh’s daughter, and she was in high school when she recorded this remarkable performance. Yeh’s wife joins him on the David, where she also plays extremely well – what a family! Finally, the Gillingham is another excellent, colorful work which has already found a place in the repertoire. Moving steadily from a place of stillness and suspense to one of dramatic declamation, it is playable by an excellent amateur group but doesn’t feel like a “compromised” work at all. This performance cleanses the palette effectively for the rest of the disc yet also feels very much of a piece with the rest of the program.

Then there are the performances. Yeh dominates the disc, and completely inhabits these pieces, making each performance feel definitive. He’s a fabulous player who deserves this level of exposure. As for the band, their performances are thrilling, extremely precise and well rehearsed while still being very musical – there’s a palpable sense that everybody cares about every note. It’s a balancing act few wind bands seem to be able to achieve on recordings, with too many erring on the side of precise-but-not-musical - an understandable but regrettable error. On this disc, there’s a real sense of communication from composer, through ensemble, to listener. Congratulations and appreciation to everyone involved with this project for achieving it.

Benn Martin

A very satisfying program focused on great solo clarinet playing.