Sousa: Marches and Dances (CD review)

Timothy Foley, The Great American Main Street Band.  EMI 50999 6 41122 2.

As I've mentioned before, John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) was to marches what the Strausses were to waltzes. He wrote a slew of them, everybody loved them, and all of them remain popular. The American composer  and conductor led several bands, including the "The President's Own" Marine Band and the Sousa Band. During this time, he wrote some 136 marches, many of which people can still whistle or hum from memory, as well as a flock of dances and operettas, which bands all over the world continue to play. Sousa, we have not forgotten you.

The present disc offers a generous collection of twenty-two of Sousa's marches and dances, some of the marches very well known, like "El Capitan," "King Cotton," "The Liberty Bell," "Manhattan Beach," "The Washington Post," and, of course, "The Stars and Stripes Forever!" But there are a number of lesser-known works as well, like "The Pathfinder of Panama," "Who's Who in Navy Blue," "Mikado March," and the thirty-second "Here's to Your Health, Sir!"

Just as important are the dances, most of which are quite fetching. "The Gliding Girl" is especially appealing for its tango rhythms; "The Presidential Polonaise" written for President Chester A. Arthur, who asked for something less formal than "Hail to the Chief"; "Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company," with its strains of the company's marching song, "Auld Lang Syne"; and "With Pleasure," a ragtime that might have come from Scott Joplin.

Col. Timothy Foley leads his players in zesty treatments of the music, among my favorites for some time.  Which brings up a mystery: When EMI originally released this Angel recording in 1991, they called it A Grand Sousa Concert, and they identified the ensemble as "The Nonpareil Wind Band." Now, in this 2010 reissue, EMI calls the group "The Great American Main Street Band." Maybe it's a copyright issue or something; I don't know. Also, the older release prominently pointed out that the band's leaders were Mark Gould, principal trumpet of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and Sam Pilafian, tuba player and founding member of the Empire Brass Quintet, and that the Nonpareil Wind Band featured "virtuoso brass and wind players." The current booklet notes say nothing about the band, its leaders, or its conductor, Timothy Foley, who until his retirement in 2004 was the Director of "The President's Own" Marine Band. Odd.

Be that as it may, this is a terrific program of varied Sousa tunes and one that I've cherished for the past twenty years. It's good to see it back in the catalogue, even if the record company isn't giving full credit where credit is due.

Recorded in 1990 at the Rye Presbyterian Church, Rye, New York, the sound is excellent, clear without being bright, aggressive, or edgy. In fact, it's one of the best-recorded collections of Sousa music I've heard. There are wide frequency and dynamic ranges involved, with gleaming brass and a good, solid thump on the bass drum.  More than sufficient impact and a smooth midrange response make for a realistic listening experience, with only the last degree of stage depth missing in the equation. Still, it's more than good enough.


1 comment:

  1. Great introduction to Sousa's music. Wholeheartedly agree with review


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.

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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