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Point Blank
Paul DOOLEY (b. 1983)
Point Blank (2012) [7:37]
Steve DANYEW (b. 1983)
Lauda (2009) (Montis Dei [8:54]; Hymnus Anima Mea [6:55])
Roy David MAGNUSON (b. 1983)
Innsmouth, Massachusetts – 1927 (2013) [6:29]
Scott McALLISTER (b. 1969)
Gone (2012) [7:26]
Jennifer HIGDON (b. 1962)
Percussion Concerto (2009) [22:58]
Ben Stiers (percussion)
Illinois State University Wind Symphony/Daniel A. Belongia.
rec. Center for the Performing Arts, Illinois State University, USA, 2013.
NAXOS 8.573334 [60:19]

This is the latest disc in Naxos’ ‘Wind Band Classics’ series, of which I have a few. I must say that this is the first in the series that I failed to like from first hearing.

The problem lies in the very first track on the CD, which also happens to provide the overall title, Point Blank by Paul Dooley. I just don’t like it. I don’t know why I fail to appreciate the work. It is highly virtuosic and the players perform it with great aplomb. It just reminds me of a soundtrack to one of those cheap second-rate American TV cop shows of the 1970s. There's just too much aggression with not enough development of the melodic sections. There is also a repetitive beat, like a countdown clock, which I find annoying. The good news is however, that the disc improves from then on in.

Steve Danyew’s Lauda, which is Latin for ‘praise’, is a two-movement work that the composer describes as being “understood loosely as a prelude and fugue”. The first movement Montis Dei comes as a relief after the Dooley. It starts quite meditatively before building to a strong climax. The second movement Hymnus Anima Mea also builds upon the primary theme although in a more fugal manner than the first movement. It continues until interrupted by the main tune from the hymn Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven. This leads the music to a different and wonderful conclusion. I really enjoyed this work.

Innsmouth, Massachusetts – 1927 by Roy David Magnuson was inspired by the horror fiction writing of H. P. Lovecraft. It is the first part of a planned three-part work ‘Three Places in (Lovecraftian) New England’. It is a dark and foreboding piece with the music meant to depict the “monsters” dreamt up by the author. Magnuson depicts the tension of the situation well, although the music would benefit from being heard in the completed three movement work.

The final two works on the disc are arrangements for wind band from earlier orchestral works, but that does not make them any less effective. The first began life as the sixth movement of the autobiographical Clarinet Concerto by Scott McAllister, the composition of which acted as a form of therapy as he recovered from a major accident that ended his career as a clarinettist. The Concerto dealt with the accident and emotions the composer felt as he came to terms with this life changing event, with this movement dealing with the feelings of loss that he had. The piece is pensive, almost meditative and in many respects quite relaxing. Whilst there is no part for a solo instrument, McAllister does employ the harp to great effect, especially in the opening bars. I really enjoyed this short work, which is not really sad, as it has a sense of forward momentum in the steady beat that is present throughout the work.

The final work is for me the real star here, Jennifer Higdon is probably the best known composer represented on this disc, and her Percussion Concerto only cements her reputation as one of Americas leading composers. The original orchestral concept was composed for and dedicated to, the Scottish percussionist, Colin Currie, with this arrangement coming four years later. The work is in a single movement although there are distinct passages, some fast some quite slow. It asks a lot of the soloist who not only has to follow “the normal relationship of a dialogue between soloist and orchestra” but also has “an additional relationship with the soloist interacting extensively with the percussion section.” (Jennifer Higdon’s programme notes for the original published work). This is a wonderful work, full of melodic and rhythmic intensity and a little bit of humour too. The soloist, Ben Stiers, proves a wonderful interpreter and performer who seems fully to understand the composer’s wishes.

Throughout this recording the Illinois State University Wind Symphony under the direction of Daniel A. Belongia, are excellent. You listen and understand just why the American university system produces so many fine instrumentalists. The accompanying booklet includes a short introduction to each of the works as well as short biographies of the composers. The recorded sound is excellent. The helpful acoustic capturing every nuance.

Stuart Sillitoe