‘SHADOWCATCHER’ = NORMAN DELLO JOIO: Scenes from the Louvre for wind ensemble; ANTHONY PLOG: Double Concerto for Two Trumpets and wind ensemble; JOSEPH TURRIN: Concertino for 11 eleven instruments and wind ensemble; ERIC EWAZEN: Shadowcatcher, Concerto for Brass Quintet and wind ensemble – West Chester University Wind Ensemble/Andrew Yozviak – MSR Classics MS1388, 72:49 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
The best discovery in this sparkling new collection of wind ensemble works is the playing of the West Chester University Winds. The Pennsylvania ensemble, which has strong faculty ties to the Philadelphia Orchestra, performs wonderfully under the direction of Andrew Yozviak. Their ensemble playing is tight and unified in its attacks, its intonation and phrasing across all sections. This program also displays some wonderful but somewhat lesser known works in the repertoire for the genre.
The one piece that most former band people and fans of this literature will know is the Scenes from the Louvre by Norma Dello Joio. Originally written as a soundtrack for a 1964 television documentary, The Louvre: A Golden Prison, this work earned Dello Joio an Emmy award. The score depicts, in five movements, the feeling of entering the palatial museum, three of its galleries and a finale that serves as a majestic finale. Rather Renaissance in its feel, the work feels open, spacious and courtly throughout. Dello Joio often wrote music that evokes that of early times and particular programmatic concepts and this is a well known, outstanding example.
The California trained Anthony Plog was originally a trumpeter himself, with grounding in both the worlds of classical and jazz. No wonder, then, that he should write a spiky jazz inflected and somewhat humorous Double Concerto for two trumpets and wind ensemble. This is a very catchy and clever work, scored for standard trumpets in the opening moderato, Flugelhorns in the middle lento and piccolo trumpets in the final allegro vivace. This is a relatively compact work but totally engaging filled with pleasant melody and just a bit of the light natured stylistic parody (especially in the finale) that characterizes many of Plog’s works. Soloists Terry Everson and Jean-Christophe Dobrzelewski play with appreciable technique and a nice flair for the mood.
The one composer here I was not familiar with is Joseph Turrin. The Eastman-trained composer writes for symphonies as well as film and his Concertino for eleven instruments and winds suggests I should go find out more. Turrin’s work treats the wind undectet as a true concertino in this work, structured as a true concerto grosso. The interplay between the small solo ensemble and the larger supporting force is quite engaging. The musical motives are divided according to the three subsections of the work and are constantly played back and forth between what would be the concertino and the ripieno. The tone here, too, is somewhat jazzy in places and a harmonic palate somewhat reminiscent of Hindemith or Bartok; making for a very exciting work!
Eric Ewazen frequently writes music depictive of particular American regions, locales and feel. His wind quintet, Roaring Fork, or the Cascadian Concerto are prime examples. His Shadowcatcher, from which this disc is titled, is a big panoramic and wholly satisfying concerto for brass quintet and wind ensemble, which depicts the sense of light, dark and shadow as seen in the works of American photographer Edward Curtis. In this case, four photographs – each of a classic Western vista with a Native American theme – serve as the inspiration to the four movements of the work. Curtis’s renowned use of lighting in these settings also served as Ewazen’s inspiration to title the work after the native Americans’ nickname for Curtis in the early twentieth century (a “shadow catcher” to the indigenous people and to the beholders of his photographs). The four movements are “Offering to the Trees”, after a photograph taken on Tewa land, “Among the Aspens” (from Chippewa), “The Vanishing Race” (the Navajo) and the concluding “Dancing to Restore an Eclipsed Moon” (after the Kwakiutl people of the northwest). The sound is cinematic and captivating. There is a majesty to brass ensembles that serves the tone and intent of this work very well. In listening, it really does evoke the vistas of the open desert, the canyons and sudden forests. Like all of Ewazen’s work, it is truly audience-friendly and engaging.
This is a very nice disc! Music such as this is the kind that can – and should – be listened to seriously and formally to appreciate the craft of its creation but it is the very nature of these types of wind ensemble pieces that allows one to be a casual listener as well. The performances are splendid and the music is a joy to listen to! The sound quality is excellent and MSR upholds its track record of finding a lot of excellent ensembles and repertory of this type.
French Romantic and Impressionism… Ivan Ilich