January 08, 2009


Sousa: Music for Wind Band, Volume 7—America First (March of the States); The Presidential Polonaise; The Rifle Regiment March; Congress Hall March; El Capitan March; Intaglio Waltzes; Golden Jubilee March; The Bride-Elect March; Sounds from the Revivals; The Charlatan March; Sheridan’s Ride; The Black Horse Troop March; The Naval Reserve March. Royal Artillery Band conducted by Keith Brion. Naxos. $8.99.

Music for Bass Trombone and Wind Band—Jérôme Naulais: Etoile des profondeurs (1999); Marc Lys: Vertiges (2000); Eric Ewazen: Bass Trombone Concerto (1995/1999); Marc Steckar: Deux Marches d’écart (1999). Yves Bauer, bass trombone; Musique de l’Air Wind Band conducted by Claude Kesmaecker. Naxos. $8.99.

     On the face of it, the seventh volume in Naxos’ series of the wind-band music of John Philip Sousa offers a straightforward collection of the short pieces, primarily marches, for which the composer is best known. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but in fact this volume bears a closer look, for some of the works here are unusual and not what they might at first seem to be. The best-known piece on the CD, El Capitan March (1896), turns out to be made up of a series of popular songs from a Broadway show that Sousa composed. America First (1916) was also composed for a Broadway show – called Hip Hip Hooray. And The Bride-Elect March (1897) comes from a show as well. President Chester Arthur was the inspiration behind The Presidential Polonaise (1886), which was intended for ceremonial White House affairs and was in fact used for that purpose during Arthur’s administration. And then there are the non-march works here, including Intaglio Waltzes (1884), in the style of Johann Strauss Jr.; Sheridan’s Ride (1891), a bombastic musical representation, complete with gunfire and cheers, of a fast 20-mile horseback ride by General Philip Sheridan before the Battle of Cedar Creek during the Civil War; and Sounds from the Revivals (1896), a collection of hymn tunes with a nice part for solo cornet (Martin Hinton in this recording). All these works exude patriotism and uplift, perhaps rather naïvely; yet the current mood of the United States, as the inauguration of a new president approaches, may be a particularly auspicious time for a CD such as this – even though the excellent performances are by a British rather than American band.

     The CD called Music for Bass Trombone and Wind Band shows some of what has happened to wind-band music in the decades since Sousa’s death in 1932 – and gives listeners a chance to focus on an instrument that is very rarely heard in a solo capacity. The three French compositions on this CD were all composed for Yves Bauer, who offers both virtuosity and sensitivity on his instrument. The Bass Trombone Concerto by American composer Eric Ewazen, originally for orchestra, was arranged for wind band by Virginia Allen and sounds quite fine, even exciting, in that version. All the music on this CD has one foot firmly in the world of jazz; all of it attempts to exploit both the rich lower register of the bass trombone and its virtuoso capabilities. Marc Lys’ Vertiges (“Dizziness”), a nine-movement theme and variations, is the most interesting of the works, giving the soloist and ensemble some real rhythmic challenges in, among other things, a rumba and a samba. Both Ewazen’s work and Jérôme Naulais’ Etoile des profondeurs (“Star of the Deep”) are essentially classical in structure – each is in three movements, in fast-slow-fast form – but both use a very modern harmonic approach and include considerable expectations of the soloist’s ability. Marc Steckar’s Deux Marches d’écart (“Two Steps Away”), whose French title is a pun on the composer’s name, is the shortest work here and is also in three-movement (or three-section) form, with particular emphasis on the bass trombone’s lowest register (which is very low indeed). The unfamiliarity of both the solo instrument and these compositions provides an unusual and interesting listening experience, and the playing of both soloist and ensemble is exemplary throughout.

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