“Playing With Fire” – FRANK TICHELI: Postcard; San Antonio Dances; Symphony No. 2; Rest; Playing with Fire – Dallas Wind Symphony/ Jerry Junkin/ The Jim Cullum Jazz Band (added on Playing With Fire) – Reference Recordings RR-127 HDCD, 70:50 [Distr. by Allegro] (10/9/12) *****:
Frank Ticheli is a well-known composer and conductor for both concert band and symphony orchestra. He is part of the faculty of USC’s Thornton School of Music, and his works have been performed around the world. The first four here are entirely his own, and the title selection was composed together with the seven-piece Jim Cullum traditional jazz band. The Dallas Wind Symphony is one of the leading concert bands in the U.S., and they perform and were recorded in the acoustically-praised Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas. They have made over 15 recordings.
Playing With Fire is not only the title selection here but the main interest. There was a period in the past when a number of works combining concert band or orchestra with a jazz ensemble were heard, but there haven’t been many lately. The fact that the Jim Cullum Jazz Band is basically a trad jazz ensemble makes this one a bit different, and actually seems to make the mix of the classical and jazz approaches to blend a little more smoothly. I wouldn’t call this third stream music in any way. It’s more of a jazz ensemble concertino backed by the concert band ripieno. In three movements, the concerto opens with a musical tribute to the late drummer Ray Bauduc. The middle movement is soulful blues in various shades, featuring Culum’s solo cornet. The finale stresses a hot blues and builds to a big climax. The work was originally composed in 1962 and premiered with the San Antonio Symphony.
The other four works illustrate the interesting instrumental colors and generally optimistic nature of Ticheli’s music. The more major works are the San Antonio Dances, which blend Texan and Hispanic cultural influences. It has two movements: the first depicting the city’s Alamo Gardens in a tango mood, and the second celebrating the famous two-mile-long Riverwalk of San Antonio. The Symphony No. 2 was composed in 2003 and has three movements. “Shooting Stars” tries to depict quick flashes of light and color. “Dreams Under a New Moon” suggests a series of dream episodes, and the final “Apollo Unleashed” depicts the ancient sun god with galloping rhythms, rapid tempi and bright sounds. However, this is balanced by references to a Bach chorale which acts as a sort of spiritual anchor.
Both musical groups are on their toes, and if your deck decodes the HDCD signal (as my Oppo does) you will benefit from some enhancement of the standard CD fidelity. But without decoding this is still quite a spectacular album and Ticheli’s works are not the sort to alienate those averse to New Music.
Different versions of Bruckner Symphony No. 4