Norman DELLO JOIO (1913-2008)
Scenes from the Louvre, for Wind Ensemble (1964) [10:35]
The Portals [2:11]
Children’s Gallery [2:07]
The Kings of France [2:29]
The Nativity Paintings [1:55]
Finale [1:52]
Anthony PLOG (b. 1947)
Double Concerto, for Two Trumpets and Wind Ensemble (2001) [13:36]
Joseph TURRIN (b. 1947)
Concertino, for 11 Instruments and Wind Ensemble (2010) [16:33]
Eric EWAZEN (b. 1954)
Shadowcatcher, Concerto for Brass Quintet and Wind Ensemble (1996) [32:05]
Offering to the Sun [7:05]
Among the Aspens [9:21]
The Vanishing Race [6:59]
Dancing to Restore an Eclipsed Moon [8:38]
West Chester University Wind Ensemble/Andrew Yozviak
rec. 3-5 March 2011, Westtown School, Westtown, Pennsylvania, USA
MSR CLASSICS MS1388 [72:51]
The informal foreword in the booklet – by the Dean of West Chester’s music school – sets the tone for this bright and breezy recital. But don’t be tempted to write this off as just another student group for, as I discovered with the New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble, the standard of playing is likely to be very high (review). I’ve also noticed that with programmes of this kind variety is vital if the ear is not to tire too soon; indeed, that’s one of the strengths of that New England disc and, on paper at least, that’s the case here too. As for MSR, I don’t recall hearing any of their recordings before, so I hope they’re able to capture all the tingle and timbres of these most boisterous instruments.
In Norman Dello Joio’s musical portraits of that most famous gallery – written for an NBC documentary – the imposing entrance is approached with a mix of awe and solemn grandeur, the ‘Children’s Gallery’ full of wit and sparkle. As expected, the playing is wonderfully bright and buoyant, conductor Andrew Yozviak ensuring the sketches are done with due care and accuracy. Indeed, there’s a Baroque-like clarity and point to the writing that’s most appropriate, ‘The Kings of France’ Handelian in its joy and regal splendour. By contrast, the devotional air of ‘The Nativity Paintings’ is well caught, solid timps giving the festal Finale added weight.
A promising start then, the recording full, albeit with a touch of stridency in the tuttis; but, as anyone who’s been near a bandstand will tell you, the latter is to be expected. I did wish for more heft at the bottom end though, and the noise floor rises noticeably in the quiet passages. Minor caveats aside, this is shaping up to be a most entertaining CD. The pin-sharp articulation and cheeky chit-chat of trumpeters Terry Everson and teacher/freelancer Jean-Christophe Dobrzelewski in Anthony Plog’s Double Concerto should raise a smile or two; that said, it becomes a tad relentless – they play flugelhorns and piccolo trumpets, as well as standard ones – and, despite hints of Milhaud’s La création du monde in the lovely Lento, this music is liable to outstay its welcome. Also, there’s a surprising amount of background hum, although it’s more noticeable on headphones.
Joseph Turrin’s single-movement Concertino is much more of an ensemble piece, with a far wider range of sonorities, rhythms, dynamics and – especially desirable in a programme of this ilk – it has a strong narrative thread. It’s all very upfront, with some reflective interludes and stand-out solos. Blend and intonation are good, and one senses a remarkable degree of concentration and commitment in these young players. But there’s fun too, the panoply of sound and rhythm at the close pulled off with terrific brio.
Eric Ewazen’s Shadowcatcher, a musical tribute to Edward Curtis’s photographs of Native Americans, builds on the strengths of this ensemble, the composer adding an almost symphonic weight and breadth to the mix. I was struck again by the self-assurance and sheer technical skill of these players, not at all afraid to call attention to themselves. That said, there’s a strong sense of collective musicianship as well, and I was simply swept away by the vigour of ‘Offering to the Sun’. The rhythmic agility of the beat-driven ‘Under the Aspens’ is no less alluring.
Ewazen’s is a compelling and individual voice, and I’m sure newcomers will be as gripped as I was by the level of invention and interest that goes far beyond the merely pictorial. Tautly written and tightly argued, this is one of the finest brass/wind combos I’ve heard in ages. Just sample the darkly evocative music of ‘The Vanishing Race’, whose combined sonorities are simply hair-raising, the assurance of these musicians – there are no hurdles they can’t clear – matched only by that of Ewazen’s score. As for ‘Dancing to Restore an Eclipsed Moon’, it’s a heady mix of rhythm and ritual, the Orffian ostinati well caught by the MSR team. And kudos to Andrew Yozviak for holding it all together so well.
The shorter pieces are pleasing enough, but they’re eclipsed by Shadowcatcher, which raises this recital from the merely ordinary to something rather special. Ewazen is a composer I’d like to hear from again; an encore from these Pennsylvanians would be very welcome too.
Worth it for the main work alone; catch it if you can.
Dan Morgan
Worth it for the main work alone; catch it if you can.