Naxos' ongoing and ambitious "Wind Band Classics" series continues to evolve and impress. The repertoire and diversity of ensembles astounds, not to mention the sheer quality of it all. This installment pays tribute to one of the greatest all-around musicians in American history, and does so well aware of the fame and quality of the orchestral versions, many conducted by the composer himself.
Happily, the tribute is an excellent one. Following the very short but typically excellent Fanfare, we move onto more substantial works. The Fanfare, orchestrated by Sid Ramin, by the way, shows the Brass and percussion of the USC Wind Ensemble to be first class, whetting the palate for more. The Overture transcribed by Clare Grundman that follows is good enough, with some unbelievable wind playing, but nothing beats Lenny's first recording of the piece in New York. The piece really comes alive at the end, but as a whole it's a touch too cautious. The Symphonic Suite from "On the Waterfront"' transcribed by Jay Bocook is simply marvelous in all respects, with real feeling in the slow sections, while the virtuoso scoring is played with full throttle energy.
I've always loved the music from "On The Town"', and the wind transcription here by Marice Stith is delightful. The USC forces simply run with Bernstein's sometimes quirky rhythms and sounds, having one heck of a lot of fun while doing it. The middle section is beautifully done, with a real sense of how the music should not only sound, but ebb and flow. And "Times Square" is the riotous cacophony that it should be. Again, it might just be a touch hesitant in places, but the playing and understanding of the idiom is commendable. This is how wind playing should sound, folks.
The disc closes with two more Grundman transcriptions. The Divertimento is superb, for all the reasons listed above, and once again one senses that the USC band is simply having a ball with the whole project. The Divertimento doesn't enjoy the same level of popularity as the other pieces, but that doesn't mean it isn't great, and as a wind transcription, is entirely successful. The Candide Suite is equally fine. I haven't even mentioned Scott Weiss yet, but he conducts confidently and with a welcome fluidity. Really, I can't imagine anyone who loves band music not giving this a shot. Naxos provides a wonderful acoustic for listeners to relish every toe-tapping, smooth-talking moment. Excellent.
Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman