DAVID MASLANKA: Morning Star; Unending Stream of Life; Laudamus Te; Give Us This Day – Illinois State University Symphonic Winds/ Stephen K. Steele, conductor – Albany Troy1130, 61:37 ****:
If you don’t know the wonderfully life-affirming music of David Maslanka, by all means get online and hasten to acquire this excellent disc. The composer is one of the best we have; especially invigorating are his works for winds, a noble and worthy successor to John Barnes Chance in my opinion, though Maslanka notches it up a step in the profundity department. While Chance verged on greatness during his short life, almost crossing over with his Second Symphony for winds, Maslanka has definitely brought wind music to the fore, easily competing with any number of more well-known orchestral composers, and also easily topping many of them.
First things first, in case you are wondering. While I can’t say that I could not imagine better playing in all of these pieces, I can say that the Illinois students more than bring justice to these works, so much so that I don’t find myself hankering for “better” performances; they clearly love this music as they should, and it shows in their readings. The sound is also nicely worked, bands being (as I have stated before) difficult to capture, often caught in shrill sound—not here.
The music is all excellent. Morning Star is a rollicking work, inordinately cheerful perhaps for Maslanka (who is oh-so-serious much of the time), and a great example of the composer’s ability to create from very small thematic elements. It was written for the opening of a high school auditorium. For those who love the hymn “All Creatures of our God and King”, Unending Stream of Life will be a gift from heaven. It takes the tune and presents us with an overture and six “songs” (variations if you will, but not really in the strict sense—more of a recomposing of the hymn six times), and I will never tire of it.
Laudamus Te is a paean to the mysteries and paradoxes of life in the form of the Latin hymn of praise. It was composed under a grant from the Christa McAuliffe Foundation (named in honor of the late Space Shuttle Challenger teacher/astronaut). But the most beautiful piece here is Give Us This Day (Short Symphony for Wind Ensemble), written to reflect the composer’s concerns about peace in the world and the problems we face. It is serious but hopeful, the ending of movement one being among the most affecting things I have heard, while the second movement ups the tempos and serene joyfulness while never losing its overall sense of the solemn.
Good stuff all around, and worthy of the heartiest recommendation.
— Steven Ritter