Joaquín TURINA (1882-1949)
La procession du Rocío (transc. Alfred Reed) [9:03]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (transc. Paul Lavender) [23:22]
James BONNEY (1974-)
Chaos Theory, for electric guitar and wind orchestra [14:18]
Roger NIXON (1921-2009)
Fiesta del Pacifico [9:06]
Chang Su KOH (1970-)
Korean Dances [16:30]
Fred Hamilton (electric guitar) (Bonney)
Lone Star Wind Orchestra/Eugene Migliaro Corporon
rec. 26 June 2010, 25 June 2011, Winspear Hall, Murchison Performing Arts Center, Denton, Texas, USA
NAXOS 8.572837 [72:17]
The beginning and concluding pieces on this program aren’t American, which is unfortunate, because the rest has a certain “melting-pot” quality, on the theme of the United States as a place of Converging Cultures. As is, this is the Lone Star Wind Orchestra demonstrating fantastic proficiency - if sometimes slightly lagging spunk - in a program of ‘ethnic’ music from around the globe. Well, except that James Bonney’s electric guitar concerto Chaos Theory isn’t at all ethnic. Come to think of it, I don’t know how they chose this program.
Anyway: the Lone Star Wind Orchestra, based in Denton, Texas, is, in fact, extremely good, and this is their second eclectic recital album for the Naxos wind band series. They make a great pleasure of Turina’s La Procession du Rocío, and follow it with Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Here one admires the very capable playing - I love the smooth, jazzy saxophones - but, especially in the scherzo and mambo, wishes for a little more energy and life. This is compared to the admittedly high standards of Bernstein’s own recording, but compare also to the electric energy of Gustavo Dudamel’s Venezuelan brass section when they play the mambo. I wonder if the Lone Star players are a little too worried with hitting their notes.
James Bonney’s electric guitar concerto opens with a quite intimidating, dangerous line for the soloist, the impressive, in both playing and hair, Fred Hamilton. Although the first movement doesn’t get far past the action-movie-menace tone, it is a ton of fun to listen to. The next movement is even better, a bluesy lament into which Hamilton weaves his own wailing, brilliant improvised lines; the concerto is called Chaos Theory because the soloist improvises against pre-written orchestral accompaniment. The finale, which takes up half the work’s total length, maintains a mysterious atmosphere with the guitar accompanied by various percussion instruments, before a diabolical dance breaks out, again showcasing the improvising Hamilton. My colleague John Whitmore wasn’t as much of a fan as I was, but I found the piece quite fun: soundtrackish, but in an entertaining way.
Roger Nixon’s Fiesta del Pacifico (1960) is named after a street fair in San Diego, and is a nine-minute music-tourism postcard piece from southern California and Mexico. It’s charming enough to get by without originality. Chang Su Koh’s Korean Dances are wonderful: the first opens just for percussion, tubas, and bassoons, the theme gradually winding up through the band in punchy, exciting writing. The Japanese composer’s clearly got clever, colorful places to take us; I think the first movement’s even quite witty. The finale weaves in a theme from the passacaglia, a haunting cor anglais solo, and other elements which build it (slowly, but surely) to an imposing conclusion which also has its own little joke.
The Lone Star players are as excellent as they were first time out, an ensemble greatly polished and with no rough edges; solo players consistently shine. The engineering is fantastic, and the bass drum in particular constantly threatens to do a number to my stereo. It’s one of those delicious albums you can really feel. For the adventurous wind band listener, this should recommend itself; the confused program runs risk of scaring more typical listeners off. A bit of a pity, because, though they may have nothing else in common, the pieces collected here are united in being fun for the ears.
A confused program that’s still fun for the ears, especially for the discovery of the Korean Dances.