* “Symphonies of Wind Instruments” = HINDEMITH: Konzertmusik; Symphony in B-flat; SCHOENBERG: Theme and Variations, Op. 43a; STRAVINSKY: Symphonies of Wind Instruments; ROLF WALLIN: Changes – Royal Norwegian Navy Band/ Ingar Bergby – 2L Pure Audio Blu-ray DTS-HD MA (192/24) 5.1 +  SACD MCH 5.1 DSD 2L-102 (2 discs), 75:25 ea. [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

I’ve been waiting for a disc like this for quite a while. The wind or band repertory from the composers represented here is rich and significant, some of the best music that they ever created, and it almost cries out for sound that 2L has generously provided. The contributions of the Royal Norwegian Navy Band cannot be underestimated, and they play with a passion and fervor only envied by other such ensembles.

Hindemith of course made no bones about his favor towards wind instruments, one goal being to complete a sonata for every instrument of the orchestra, and giving especially winds a much-needed mid-century boost in repertory. His Concert Music is a relatively early work, exploiting his new concept of utility music and written in a style that has been called somewhat euphemistically, “extended tonality”. It wasn’t all that extended at this point in time, though the festival for which it was written gave it a rather tepid reception. Today we think differently and realize its importance. No such problems exist for one of the masterpieces of the last century, the Symphony in B-flat, as the composer, writing about 25 years later, uses more classically accepted structures, while probing the capabilities of the wind band to the fullest, resulting in a bold, brash, and exciting work of tremendous clarity and depth.

Schoenberg, returning to a type of tonality in his late years that he had essentially abandoned for ages, didn’t think all that much of his Theme and Variations, though he thought enough of it to try and get it played more often by creating a version for orchestra, Opus 43b. Apparently he felt the need for more accommodating audiences in America, and as a result of a publisher’s request for a “high school band piece” he came up with one of the finest sets of variations in a hundred years, proving he could conquer just about any style he needed. It takes a really fine band to play this seminal piece, and audiences have followed suit worldwide in their appreciation.

Stravinsky is another common-sense composer who had no qualms about odd instrumentation or the need for spreading out his considerable musical wealth to all types of ensembles. This piece is seen as a transition from his “Russian” period to the “neoclassical”, and indeed if one listens carefully there are echoes of the wind writing in Symphony of Psalms, created much later. Koussevitsky gave the premiere in London in 1921, though when Stravinsky later revised the piece for recording he lessened the instrumentation from 24 to 23, and changed it somewhat in 1947. That version is given here, for 23 players: 3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, and tuba.

Wallin’s Changes is not new; unless you consider 1984 to be new. The I Ching influenced this piece, as it did so much of John Cage, but in the latter’s case the compositional premise was put into action from the philosophy of the book, while with Wallin’s piece it sounds as if the idea of fluctuation among four distinct themes is the overriding premise, easily discernable and very exciting and punchy, not to say exacting only in the sense of keeping up with all the colors presented. A fine work all around and a good capper to this sensational recording. By the way, aside from the Blu-ray, SACD, and standard stereo offerings (and in a standard SACD case—thank you!), you can also get this on the Web as MP3 and FLAC, aside from 2L’s mShuttle technology which allows portability of all this music to many mobile devices.

—Steven Ritter