Millennium Canons – Looking Forward, Looking Back = KEVIN PUTS: Millennium Canons; JONATHAN NEWMAN: My Hands are a City; KRISTIN KUSTER: Lost Gulch Lookout; Works of JOHN MACKEY, HOLST, ADAM GORB – U. of Georgia Wind Ens./John Lynch – Naxos

by | Aug 31, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Millennium Canons – Looking Forward, Looking Back = KEVIN PUTS: Millennium Canons; JONATHAN NEWMAN: My Hands are a City; KRISTIN KUSTER: Lost Gulch Lookout; JOHN MACKEY: Kingfishers Catch Fire; HOLST: Hammersmith: Prelude and Scherzo; ADAM GORB: Awayday – University of Georgia Wind Ensemble/ John P. Lynch, conductor – Naxos 8.572231, 61:25 ****:

Naxos is now into around 15 releases in its estimable and substantive “Wind Band Classics” series, and before all is said and done it should prove to be a formidable exercise that will stand well for many years to come. This is, I believe, the second time I have encountered it and only the first for review. For this sojourn Engineer Bruce Leek has been challenged with recording in the excellent Performing Arts Center on the University of Georgia campus, a building only about 10 years old and a wonderfully acoustic environment that captures all sorts of ensembles in resonant splendor.

The title track by Kevin Puts is a wonderfully apt opening that enables all aspects of the wind band to shine with some brilliant fanfare writing and an energetic force that almost smacks of a short concerto for band. Puts is a marvelous orchestrator, and in fact this work was originally done for orchestra, though so skilled is the transition that you would never guess it. Jonathan Newman’s My Hands are a City betrays his compositional studies with John Corigliano and David Del Tredici at Juilliard with a carefully planned and seriously developed work that finds its birth in another piece called The Rivers of Bowery, based on a verse from Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl. He thought the ideas too large for his original composition and decided to expand upon them in this present piece. The work imposes jazz sentiment and the sounds and impressions of Ginsberg’s beat generation, but not overtly so, just in a suggestive manner, a colorful and not too brash tour through a favorite time and place in history.

Kristin Kuster wrote Lost Gulch Lookout as a bold and striking impression of Colorado and its ragged and rough terrain that so inspires visitors to that part of the country. It is as if nature is translated into sound, and her sharp-edged orchestration and wistful sonorities paint quite a sonic travelogue. This piece was commissioned by the University of Georgia Wind Ensemble from the University of Michigan Assistant Professor of Composition. My favorite piece here is John Mackey’s Kingfisher’s Catch Fire, a piece that depicts the shy Kingfisher bird emerging from it nest in the morning to its flying out in the sunlight. This colorful piece is one that is immediately engaging, employing the winds in virtuosic and festive ways that complement the opening measures of relatively relaxed sonorities.

Anyone even remotely familiar with wind music knows Holst’s Hammersmith: Prelude and Scherzo. It was written in 1930 for the BBC Military Band, based on his impressions of the river and shops that lined the way where the composer bought food items for his Sunday picnics near St. Paul’s. It was transcribed for orchestra and given its premiere on the same concert as Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast in 1931, and was actually booed! However, time has proved its worth to wind ensembles and bands, and despite the fact that the original version was not performed until 1954—20 years after the death of the composer—it is a firm repertory item. Adam Gorb, at 51 years of age the oldest living composer represented on this disc (the others all born in the early 1970s), is a Welshman who heads the School of Composition at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. His Awayday celebrates the American musical theater to the mid-twentieth century. It is a bit of a barn-burner, a fun take of an Englishman on American popular culture. I can’t remember anything so attractive since John Barnes Chance wrote his Overture to a Musical Comedy in the late 1960s.

This being a college band, you will of course get the rare ensemble unanimity problem and a few tuning considerations, but I am happy to report that they are few and far between, and unavoidable in any collegiate ensemble, no matter the reputation. The UGA Wind Ensemble generally plays with a lot of spunk and spirit, obviously enjoying the music and presenting us with a fine sense of collective discipline and maturity, well-done solos and a wide and spectacular dynamic range. Congratulations to Maestro Lynch and all involved. Naxos’s sound is superb, flexible and wide-reaching, and wind bands are tough to record under the best of circumstances.

— Steven Ritter

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