The select instrumentalists of the Ilinois State U. Wind Symphony are outstanding players and this ensemble sounds fully professional in every way. The recording quality is of an equally high level. David Maslanka was born in 1943 and currently lives in western Montana. That area’s high plains and mountains inspired his Symphony No. 4, as well as a lifelong fascination with Abraham Lincoln. The work quotes the Old Hundredth hymn as well as some Bach chorales.
Maslanka’s two piano concerto were composed at different periods in his life – the first being a youthful work revealing a volcanic rage within himself. The second movement is a series of unrelated episodes in a dreamlike progressive. The composer is involved in Jungian dream work and thinks of music as “dreams in sound.” Its third movement is labeled “fast, aggressive” and it certainly is. The second concerto was written on commission for the pianist who performs it here – Hesla. He wanted a work for a mature soloist but with an ensemble part that could be handled by various high school ensembles. The five movements of the concerto are varied, the piano part is interesting, and the accompaniment doesn’t sound a bit simplified for the younger players. The work’s final movement is titled Groucho Marx Does the Charleston on Adolph Hitler’s Grave, and the notes tell the story of exactly that event in 1958.
But the Maslanka work which stands out on this double-disc album is his 2001 response to 9/11 titled Testament. I find it the most effective 9/11 musical work I have heard, and a lot more concise than most of them. The composer says the work is both a prayer and a credo; part of the first is “Please God, help us to melt the rage into love…” This is a most powerful work, with immense orchestral chaos balanced against lyrical, meditative sections. It could also function as a terrific audiophile demo selection. Maslanka’s writing is such that one tends to forget there is no string section in this orchestra!
– John Sunier