Stars & Stripes (CD review)

Canadian Brass Salute America. Opening Day Entertainment Group ODR 7382.

The Canadian Brass, one of the world's premiere musical ensembles, celebrate American patriotism in this album of prominent hymns and marches. They exhibit their usual spit and polish in performances that are, if anything, almost too refined.

Four additional players on percussion--drums and cymbals--augment the five regular members of the group. In the opening number, John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," I thought they still sounded a bit thin for the material, my being more used to larger brass bands playing the march. But in most of the rest of the repertoire, they seem perfect. After all, they play tunes from Revolutionary War days ("Chester") through the Civil War ("Battle Hymn of the Republic," "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," "Dixie's Land") to the First World War ("Over There," "You're a Grand Old Flag"). The smaller number of instruments probably helps simulate how most bands of those eras would have sounded, especially when you consider that the drums used are replicas of actual drums of the years represented, as is the drumming technique.

After the Sousa march, we get a salute to the U.S. armed forces with "The Army Goes Rolling Along," "Anchors Away," "The Air Force Song," "Semper Paratus" ("Always Ready," Coast Guard), and "The Marine's Hymn." Again, I would have preferred a larger number of players, but the performances are so good, who cares?

Then we hear "The Star Spangled Banner," but not in a rendering we might easily recognize. It's the original 1814 Baltimore version. Wisely, the Brass follow it up a few tunes later with the more-familiar, updated arrangement.

Also along the way we get the customary nationalistic music we would expect, nay, demand of such a collection: "Shenandoah"; "Hail Columbia" ("The President's March," today the entrance march of the Vice President); "My Country, 'Tis of Thee"; the march "National Emblem," done up in high good spirits; and, of course, "America the Beautiful," which moved me almost to tears.

The Brass conclude the disc, appropriately for them, with the Canadian National Anthem, "O Canada," as "a gift to Americans." The whole album is quite stirring, and you might find yourself at times wanting to stand up and cheer, or at least sing along.

The recording, made in April, 2010, helps matters considerably, too. The sound displays plenty of stage depth, with a solid dynamic punch and a deep bass that comes over with gut-thumping authority. We also get an excellent frequency response, neither too forward nor too recessed, with a top and bottom well balanced with the midrange. In short, this is a great-sounding disc all the way around.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa