December 31, 2009


Mozart: Serenade “Gran Partita,” K361/370a; Divertimento, K166; arrangements of music from “Le Nozze di Figaro,” “Don Giovanni” and “Così fan tutte.” Zefiro conducted by Alfredo Bernardini. Naïve. $16.99 (2 CDs).

Copland: An Outdoor Overture; Schuman: New England Triptych; Holst: Hammersmith, Prelude and Scherzo; Robert Russell Bennett: Suite of Old American Dances; Paul Creston: Celebration Overture. U.S. Air Force Band conducted by Col. Lowell Graham. Klavier. $16.99.

     There’s nothing wrong with a little self-celebration – if you have created something worth celebrating – and the Naïve label is celebrating itself with 15 well-chosen reissues rather immodestly labeled “La Collection.” Each includes two CDs from the existing Naïve catalogue and an oversize booklet about the music and the artists, all packaged in a slipcase that makes the whole thing look more like a book than a CD set. The pricing is attractive – two Naïve CDs for the usual cost of one – and this celebratory series can provide a good opportunity to add some fine performances to a CD collection. The music covers quite a time span, from Gautier de Coincy (1177-1236) and Luca Marenzio (1553?-1599) to Xenakis and Boulez. The “La Collection” offering from the wind band Zefiro is typical of the productions. It includes excellent 1996 recordings of two Mozart works for wind band, plus Zefiro leader Alfredo Bernardini’s arrangements for 13 wind instruments of music from the three operas that Mozart wrote to libretti by Lorenzo Da Ponte. Bernardini presents Mozart’s harmonies in greater complexity than did the wind arrangers of Mozart’s own time, and his use of the same instrumental ensemble as in the “Gran Partita” helps cement this recording – which dates to 2004 – as an unusual one that is very well worth hearing. The arrangements do not follow the operas’ dramatic arc, but they do make Mozart’s expressiveness abundantly clear, and Bernardini throws in a few “showpiece” elements that Zefiro must have had great fun performing and that certainly are cause for celebration, self- or otherwise.

     The celebratory nature of the new U.S. Air Force Band recording for Klavier is clear from the outset: the CD is entitled “Celebration.” More to the point, it feels like a celebration – of music, primarily American music, and by implication of the United States itself. Yet this is no mere collection of hyper-patriotic tunes. Aaron Copland’s An Outdoor Overture is scarcely his most profound or compelling work – it was written for student musicians – but it is light, bright and thoroughly upbeat. William Schuman’s New England Triptych is more varied in approach and mood, including a moving slow central movement. Gustav Holst’s Hammersmith, Prelude and Scherzo – the sole non-American work on the CD – is a lovely blend of lyricism with revelry. Robert Russell Bennett’s Suite of Old American Dances is jocular. bright and very well scored. And Paul Creston’s Celebration Overture is rhythmically striking and effective, and a fine showpiece for the performers. The U.S. Air Force Band is as good as they come in this sort of music, handling everything with dynamism and a certain swagger – but not neglecting the subtler and softer sections of the pieces that contain them. Col. Lowell Graham leads the ensemble with great verve and spirit, and the result is an altogether pleasing CD that is sure to lift drooping spirits and keep optimistic ones high.

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