“Wine Dark Sea” Music by DAN WELCHER: Spumante; DONALD GRANTHAM: J’ai été au bal; FRANK TICHELI: Concerto for Clarinet and Wind Ensemble; JOHN MACKEY: Wine Dark Sea (Sym. for Band) – Nathan Williams (clar.) / The University of Texas Wind Ens./Jerry Junkin – Reference Recordings


“Wine Dark Sea” Music by DAN WELCHER: Spumante; DONALD GRANTHAM: J’ai été au bal; FRANK TICHELI: Concerto for Clarinet and Wind Ensemble; JOHN MACKEY: Wine Dark Sea (Sym. for Band) – Nathan Williams (clarinet) / The University of Texas Wind Ensemble/Jerry Junkin (A world première recording) – Reference Recordings RR-137 HDCD, TT 69:41 (3/11/16) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

An exuberantly-played selection of contemporary wind music in demo quality sound.

This impressive disc from Reference Recordings features four contemporary works for Wind Band played with precision by the University of Texas Wind Ensemble.

I’ve always been partial to wind music, most likely after years of playing similar music when I had my trumpet in hand during high school and college. I loved the music of Persichetti, Nehlybel, Clifton Williams and more. So hearing these new works is a thrill, and this collection mixes some fine compositions with the predictably fine fidelity that Reference Recordings provides.

Three of the pieces on the disc are shorter works for winds. Although everything on offer is quite good, the composition I found the most compelling is John Mackey’s Wine Dark Sea, his Symphony for Band, heard for the first time on disc in this premier recording. It’s a mature work, and was originally commissioned by the UTWE for the 100th Anniversary of The Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music. It’s loaded with musical color, syncopation, and fresh ideas. Sometimes stately, and at other times flowing with a jazz idiom, the piece bears repeat listening.

Reference Recordings has done itself proud on this disc. Their sound reminds me of the early Mercury recordings which are so highly regarded, but Reference gives us an extended frequency range and lower noise than Mercury could produce in the fifties and sixties. The stereo image is very three-dimensional, and the brass remain crisp, while percussion hits can be felt with a moderate pressure wave in your listening room if the volume is set high enough. The disc is recorded in Reference’s HDCD format, which happily, my Oppo player can automatically render. It sounds fine on a regular CD player as well.

The disc is a great blend of music performance and composition and music recording technology. Recommended!

—Mel Martin

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