Also, Bird: Serenade; Reed: La Fiesta Mexicana. Harlan D. Parker, the Peabody Conservatory Wind Ensemble. Naxos 8.570242.
My first thought before listening to this disc was how the already rowdy Carmina Burana by Carl Orff (1895-1982) would sound played by an all-wind band, the vocal parts revised for instruments (arranged for concert band by John Krance). I mean, Orff's twentieth-century updating of medieval songs normally requires a full orchestra, several choruses, and a host of soloists. Would a wind ensemble do it justice or just inflate its coarseness? I'm pleased to report that Harlan Parker and his seventy-odd Peabody Conservatory players do no harm to the piece and in most ways create a new and engaging rendition of an old favorite.
This is by way of saying that you'll recognize the music instantly and find each movement in the twenty-seven-minute suite revealing something you perhaps hadn't thought of before. The Peabody Wind Ensemble of John Hopkins University play with precision, if not with the complete zest and joy that I have heard from some major orchestras; in other words, they sound like they are maybe a little reticent about committing too much enthusiasm to a set of songs that requires a bit more earthiness. They are not stuffy, by any means, but they don't have the robust, unaffected air I find in, say, Previn's EMI recording, Blomstedt's Decca, or Jochum's DG.
Anyway, the Orff piece is just the most-familiar item on the disc; the album also contains a small-scale chamber work, Arthur Bird's Serenade for Wind Instruments (1898), which is quite charming, if forgettable; and Herbert Owen Reed's La Fiesta Mexicana (1954), a wonderfully varied and robust piece of music that has a little something in it for everybody, including a striking opening movement with trumpets and simulated fireworks.
It took a moment or two for me to adjust to the Naxos sound. At first, I thought it was a bit boisterous. A couple of minutes later, it seemed to fit the music. About halfway through the Orff, I realized it was not only appropriate, it was almost perfect. And by the beginning of Reed's La Fiesta, I thought it was downright spectacular. There is a picture of the ensemble in the booklet insert, and that's almost exactly what the sonic image sounds like: eight-to-ten players per row and about six rows deep, recorded at a modest distance. Depth of field is excellent; dynamics are strong; and clarity is more than acceptable. It's a topflight recording to complement a set of splendid performances.
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.
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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