MORTON GOULD: Fanfare for Freedom; Saint Lawrence Suite; Jericho Rhapsody; Derivations; Symphony No. 4, “West Point” – Stephanie Zelnick, clarinet/ University of Kansas Wind Ens./ Scott Weiss – Naxos 8.572629, 62:00 *****:
Morton Gould has not been lacking for recordings, currently some 130-odd readings gracing the catalog. The versatile and highly-talented composer absorbed more Americana than anyone, including Copland and Bernstein, and while some of his music tends towards the more pedantic in nature than either of those two, his non-reverence for “high art” and willingness to bring it down to the level of the average person endeared him to musicians all over the country. One can hardly imagine the pacifist-in-in nature Bernstein writing a commission for the United States Military Academy, but Gould did not hesitate, and his only symphony for wind band is now firmly established as one of the major works in the repertory.
Nor is that all; civic events thrilled Gould and he was always ready to contribute. So when the Power Authority of the State of New York, along with the Hydro-Electric Commission of Ontario decided to ask for a new work celebrating the delivery of electricity from the Robert-Moses Power Dam and Robert H. Lawrence Generating Station, they turned to Gould who willingly complied. This odd genesis led to the piece being the first ever—and only, so far—wind band work to be awarded a Grammy nomination.
The Jericho Rhapsody is another piece that has established itself among bands across the world for its colorful, vibrant, and forceful presentations of the walls gone tumbling down. The eight sections and twelve-minute timing make it perfect for concerts, and it is truly astonishing that there are only a handful of recordings current available, making this one all the more valuable. But the most appealing discovery for me is the clarinet-inspired Derivations, a brilliantly conceived piece that is jazzy and blues-filled (it was written for Benny Goodman) that just oozes atmosphere. U of K faculty member Stephanie Zelnick is fabulous in the piece, bringing her considerable all to focus in a most rewarding performance—hopefully one that will inspire other clarinetists to take it up.
For the Symphony, one cannot overlook the classic Fennell recording on Mercury, coupled with the Hovhaness and Giannini wind symphonies—that belongs in every collection, though the Kansans do a wonderful job. But the addition of these other pieces, recorded superbly and played with technical acumen and a lot of fire, just might make this disc the premier introductory recording to the music of Morton Gould. Great job!
A “…first choice for a gift to any lover of classical music”…