Converging Cultures - Music for Wind Band
Joaquin TURINA (1882-1949) La Procession del Rocio (1912 transcr. Alfred Reed, 1962) [9:00]; Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990) Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (1961 transcr. Paul Lavender, 2007) [23:22]; James BONNEY (b.1974) Chaos Theory* (2000) [14:20]; Roger NIXON (1921-2009) Fiesta del Pacifico (1960) [9:06]; CHANG SU KOH (b.1970) Korean Dances (2002) [16:36]
*Fred Hamilton (electric guitar)
Lone Star Wind Orchestra/Eugene Migliaro Corporon
rec. Murchison Performing Arts Center, Denton, Texas, USA. 26 June 2010 and 25 June 2011.
NAXOS 8.572837 [72:24]
Thereís no doubt about it, the Americans take some beating when it comes to wind bands. By way of a benchmark, Frederick Fennell and the Eastman Wind Ensemble were blowing everyoneís socks off with the series of LP records they made for the Mercury label in the 1950s and early 1960s. Those recordings are famous for their close, highly detailed, impactful sound. The CD transfers of those marvellous Fennell recordings still sound as good as new and they are musically stunning. If you donít have them, search them out.
This is my first encounter with the Lone Star Wind Orchestra and I must say they are very impressive indeed. The opening track, Turinaís attractive La Procession del Rocio just about sums them up. The level of technical execution is stunning with tight ensemble work and impeccable intonation. All sections play wonderfully well. This technical excellence is supported tonally by a very well rounded full and glowing sound that has an impressive bottom end. Despite the absence of strings it does actually sound like a symphony orchestra in full flow. Deep bass drum thumps underpin the texture and give the sound a real kick. What a spectacular opening to the disc. I only have one criticism to make and that is the lack of true piano and pianissimo playing. The dynamic range doesnít drop below mf and this can rob the quieter passages of some of their magic. This is a general observation that also applies to the rest of the CD. Some listeners wonít be worried by this but for me personally itís a bit of an issue. I donít know whether this is down to the engineering or the conductor. Sonically the disc is natural and gimmick free with a nice sense of space and presence. The music has plenty of air around it and details emerge very well. Played at a fairly high volume it comes to life in spectacular fashion.
The Symphonic Dances from West Side Story take a few bars to warm up. The opening Prologue sounds just a shade tentative at the start but the music very soon takes flight. The music-making throughout is very well manicured with hardly a note out of place. Maybe Cool would have benefited from a more forwardly-placed drum-kit and the trumpets could have played out a bit more - they donít sound as if they are really ďgoing for itĒ at times - but these are small quibbles. The performance doesnít have the drive and bite that you get from Bernstein on his CBS record (Sony Royal Edition No.14) but itís a very accomplished piece of work and well worth a listen. Itís a great sounding band and the transcription is finely crafted.
Roger Nixonís Fiesta del Pacifico is a dance movement that utilizes Spanish and Mexican idioms. Itís a sort of El Salon Mexico for wind band, not especially original but pleasant enough. I also get the impression that the composer may have been listening to The Three Cornered Hat and Ritual Fire Dance before putting pen to paper. Iím sure that you get the gist. It receives yet another assured performance from the Texans and itís the sort of work that would be a welcome addition to the repertoire of many British youth bands - easy on the ear, not too challenging technically and a refreshing change.
The title of the CD is Converging Cultures and this made me shudder when I saw it especially when I discovered that one of the works, Chaos Theory, uses a solo electric guitar. I expected the worst to be quite frank. Donít get me wrong, I like electric guitars in rock bands. However, as soon as they become embroiled in cross-over projects I tend to head for the hills. The composerís stated intention in Chaos Theory is to pay homage to a whole list of musicians including Beethoven, Zappa, Webern, Bach, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and Led Zeppelin. Having listened to the piece I canít claim to have heard the influence of any of these people in Roger Nixonís music. It inhabits the same sort of sound world as Dream Theatre, Deep Purple (Concerto for Group and Orchestra) and Mike Oldfield. Itís tonal and not in the least chaotic. Maybe this would be entertaining as a novelty item at a live concert but itís not strong enough for repeated listening. The performance itself is well up to scratch but unfortunately it will appeal to neither wind band enthusiasts nor rockers.
The final piece, Korean Dances, takes us back to world of the traditional wind-band thank goodness. A brief, comical Preludio is followed by a ruminative Passacaglia featuring some beautifully balanced solo woodwind playing at the opening. The final Rondo uses material from the brief Passacaglia and unlike the first two movements clearly inhabits an oriental sound-world. The movement builds to quite a satisfying, raucous climax - think of Khachaturian and you arenít a million miles away.
In summary this disc is something of a missed opportunity for the Lone Star Wind Orchestra. I would love to hear more from this magnificent ensemble in the future but sincerely hope that they choose repertoire that is fully worthy of them.

John Whitmore
Amazing polished playing but a rather mixed bag.