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Landscapes
Michael TORKE (b.1961)
Javelin (arr. Merlin Patterson) (1994/97) [9:19]
Mojave (2011) [15:30]
Frank TICHELI (b.1958)
An American Elegy (2000) [10:23]
Simple Gifts: Four Shaker Songs (2002) [10:24]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Quiet City (arr. Donald Hunsberger) (1941/92) [10:19]
Variations on a Shaker Melody (1960) [3:49]
Ji Hye Jung (marimba) (Mojave)
Steve Leisring (trumpet) and Margaret Marco (English horn) (Quiet City)
University of Kansas Wind Ensemble/Paul W. Popiel
rec. Lied Center of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, USA, 1-2, 21-23 April 2012
NAXOS 8.573104 [59:44]

This is a disc from Naxos’ Wind Band Classics series and is a total delight from first note to last.
 
There is something about American music that I find quite irresistible and it may be because it always seems so upbeat and positive in its outlook which may in turn be explained by the fact that it is still relatively ‘new’ in the scope of the history of music; long may it continue.
 
Michael Torke’s music has been described by the UK’s Gramophone Magazine as "some of the most optimistic, joyful and thoroughly uplifting music to appear in recent years". I first came across him through two pieces he wrote entitled Ecstatic Orange and Bright Blue Music which titles I found intriguing and the music itself bore that out. Reading that Javelin is his best known work makes me wonder how it could have passed me by without my hearing of it - no pun intended. It was commissioned  by the  Atlanta  Committee for the Olympics in celebration of the  Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's 50th anniversary season. This was in conjunction with the  1996 Summer Olympics. The music perfectly embodies the feeling of excitement that the Olympics creates which anyone living in the UK will readily recognise following the London 2012 Olympic Games. I’m now eager to hear it in its original form but this transcription by Merlin Patterson works wonderfully well for wind band. This is thought to be the first recording of it in this version. Its effervescence has all the verve of an opened bottle of champagne.
 
Mojave also exists in various forms and bearing in mind that it was only composed in 2010 shows how successful Torke is in that ensembles are queuing to have versions created for them as soon as the works are published. All versions of Mojave require a virtuosic marimba player and in this recording they have that in spades with the University of Kansas’ associate professor of percussion Ji Hye Jung. This work describes the passing landscape as one travels along Interstate 15 from Las Vegas to Los Angeles with the marimba as guide and its shaker accompaniment representing the dry plant life that struggles to survive in the arid world that is the Mojave Desert. At times it reminded me of John Adams’ Foxtrot for Orchestra from his opera Nixon in China. This underlines that both composers are among the best representatives of the post-Minimalist school with its exciting mix of the classical and minimalist styles. 

An American Elegy
by Frank Ticheli is a very beautiful and poignant piece. Its poignancy is explained by the fact that it was composed as a tribute to those cruelly gunned down in the fearful shootings at Columbine High School on 20 April 1999. The mixture of sadness and serenity is perfectly captured and the music cleverly incorporates the school’s Alma Mater. A solo offstage trumpet acts as a heavenly voice. The work is a highly successful and moving musical tribute to the young lives that were so needlessly and callously cut short.
 
As a starting point for his other work here Ticheli chose Shaker songs. Several composers have found these an irresistible draw as inspiration and they never fail to deliver. This case is no exception with Ticheli finding new and subtle ways of reworking four of the songs while maintaining their simple beauty.
 
Known as “the Dean of American Music” Aaron Copland has a special place in the history of music in America. It was he who managed to create a uniquely “American” voice that makes American music so distinctive. Copland’s Quiet City is among his best known works and this version for wind band by Donald Hunsberger only serves to highlight its wonderfully evocative sense of place and atmosphere. The last work on the disc is his Variations on a Shaker Melody which takes the Shaker song Simple Gifts which many know as Lord of the Dance and gives it new life. Ticheli too chose the same song for the last of his Four Shaker Songs (see above) and each of the distinctive versions here shows the strength of the basic tune.
 
It is a measure of the vitality expressed in the compositions on this disc and the supreme ability of this brilliant ensemble that the absence of so many other instruments that make up an orchestra goes almost completely unnoticed. For these works it could be said that ‘less is more’ since these versions work so wonderfully well. It is a long time since I have simply wallowed in a disc. The smile it engendered never left me for the whole time I listened. It makes for a most enjoyable hour of gorgeous music.
 
Steve Arloff 

See also review by Dan Morgan

Experience Classicsonline