October 29, 2020


Kenneth Fuchs: Wind Music—Discover the Wild; Point of Tranquility; From the Field to the Sky; Rush: Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Band; United Artists; Christina’s World; Forever Free. United States Coast Guard Band conducted by Adam Williamson. Naxos. $11.99.

Luis Pine: Times of Day for Wind Quintet; Dawn for Flute/Piccolo and Cello; Evening for Flute/Piccolo and Cello; Solar Midnight for Clarinet and Piano. Dorian Wind Quintet (Gretchen Pusch, flute/piccolo; Gerrard Reuter, oboe; Benjamin Fingland, clarinet; Karl Kramer-Johansen, horn; Adrian Morejon, bassoon); Karen Schweitzer, flute/piccolo; Jason Lippmann, cello; Jonathan Szin, clarinet; Jeffrey LaDeur, piano. MSR Classics. $12.95.

     There are many ways to group the seven wind-band works by Kenneth Fuchs (born 1956) heard on a new Naxos CD. Five are world première recordings: only United Artists and Christina’s World have been recorded before. Two are described as idylls for band: Christina’s World and Point of Tranquility, both of which are responses to or interpretations of paintings (by Andrew Wyeth and Morris Louis, respectively). Three are somewhat more extended and somewhat more developed pieces – the two idylls and Rush. Two are described as fanfare-overtures: Discover the Wild and Forever Free. These works were created over a span of decades – for example, Christina’s World dates to 1997 and Point of Tranquility to 2017 – but all show similar skill in the handling of wind instruments, making clear Fuchs’ own performance history as a flautist. Listeners who deem recent wind-band music engaging will find a great deal to enjoy here, and it is interesting to hear how idiomatic the music sounds even when it was originally written for orchestra, as is the case with the concerto Rush. There are some intriguing compositional elements here, such as the fact that Point of Tranquility never gets louder than mezzoforte but still manages to be highly expressive – thanks in part to the absolutely first-rate playing by the United States Coast Guard Band under Adam Williamson. Indeed, the performances here are so good that they, as much as the music, are a strong reason to own this disc. The saxophone concerto, with saxophonist Greg Case and guest conductor Jeffrey Renshaw, is a bit less impressive than the other more-extended works on the disc, since the soloist tends to blur a bit into the ensemble; but certainly the playing itself is excellent. The two idylls are in fact idyllic, with Point of Tranquility exploring wind-band colorations as it interprets the colors used by Louis, and Christina’s World being an effective tone painting of the famous Wyeth work featuring a wheat field, distant farmhouse and young woman lying in the field and facing toward the horizon. The comparative subtlety of the three longer works here is juxtaposed with more-celebratory material in the four shorter pieces that are interspersed with the lengthier ones. Those four are all 21st-century works in the five-minute range. Discover the Wild (2010) is outgoing and almost brash; From the Field to the Sky (2012) celebrates the U.S. Air Force and is, not to create too awful a pun, quite uplifting; United Artists (2008) is forthright and good-spirited; and Forever Free (2013), based on a theme from the West Virginia state anthem, is, to risk another pun, decidedly stately. Fuchs is a composer of considerable range and a skilled orchestrator. When abetted by performers as good as these, his wind-band works – even ones not originally designed in this form, such as Forever Free and United Artists – come across as well-conceived, skillfully developed, and quite effective in their blend of brightness and subtlety.

     The four works by Luis Pine (born1957) on an MSR Classics release use winds quite differently, and not just because these are chamber pieces rather than ones for a full wind band. This is an entire CD of world première recordings and is intended to reflect circadian rhythms while having a circadian rhythm of its own: all the pieces reflect some element of time passing. The quintet Times of Day is a five-movement work entirely focused on, well, times of day: the movements are “Daybreak,” “Morning,” “Noon,” “Afternoon,” and “Nighttime.” The first emerges with a blending and contrasting of lower registers and higher ones; the second is bubbly and upbeat – apparently Pine is a morning person, at least in instrumental guise; the third is chordal and somewhat static at the start, then moves into rapid figurations representative of what appears to be very hectic midday activity; the fourth slows down and relaxes quite a bit – marked Andante, it is a slow walk, not a quick one; and the fifth is quiet, gentle, relaxed and rather somnolent. This is a trip through the day in less than 20 minutes – and if there is nothing unexpected in the way things progress, neither is there anything to which to take exception. The quintet lies nicely on the instruments and explores their ranges with skill and without pushing the players – or the audience – too far. The rest of the disc, though, is somewhat less engaging. Dawn and Evening are both quite slow and, at nearly 13 minutes each, longer than their exploratory natures can really justify. In the absence of a full five-instrument wind grouping, these paired pieces sound more inward-looking and thoughtful than does anything in the quintet – but neither really seems to need to go on as long as it does, and when heard back to back, they are somewhat soporific. Solar Midnight has a somewhat different sound because of the inclusion of the piano, and here the marking Moderate, Dreamy fits the music well. The music explores the clarinet’s lower range to good effect, and the mostly quiet blending of wind instrument with piano is nicely handled. But this piece too rambles and ambles, going on for more than 11 minutes when it has already made its points near its beginning and then has nothing in particular to do except emphasize the mood even further. The pleasant and unassuming Times of Day is certainly the highlight of this (+++) CD. The remainder of the material, although it focuses on pretty much the same concept, is less interesting to hear in its quotidian expressiveness, which tends too frequently to become merely mundane.

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