The folks at Naxos continue their relentless march toward recording every march that American “March King” John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) ever wrote with this eleventh volume in their series of Sousa discs. Again it’s bandmaster Keith Brion leading the charge, this time with the Royal Swedish Navy Band. The music may be less familiar this time out, but Brion’s performances are as vigorous and authoritative as ever.
Maestro Brion has been doing this sort of thing for a very long time as a frequent conductor of concerts throughout the world and as the leader of his own New Sousa Band. And speaking of a very long time, a booklet note tells us that the “Royal Swedish Navy Band has its roots in the 1680’s and has operated uninterruptedly since then.” Now, that’s old.
Anyway, given that Naxos are pretty far along in their Sousa series, most listeners will probably find a lot of the material in Volume 11 unfamiliar. Nevertheless, there are some pleasing things here, not the least of which is the number that opens the show, the Mother Hubbard March. Sousa based it on a selection of nursery rhymes, and it sounds entirely delightful. You can hear a snippet of it below.
The program proceeds through twelve more items, most of them marches like Keeping Step with the Union, Wolverine, Globe and Eagle, On Parade, Liberty Loan, and Guide Right. Yet along the way we also hear several fantasies, settings for popular tunes, like In Parlor and Street (the longest piece on the disc at over eighteen minutes), In Pulpit and Pew, and Sweet Adeline. They are a bit unusual for Sousa and all the more charming for it.
As always, Maestro Brion’s conducting seems impeccable. He imbues each work with vitality, excitement, and full-throated military flair. What’s more, the Royal Swedish Navy Band, which employs thirty full-time professional musicians, play the music with polish, dexterity, and enthusiasm. Let’s just say they’re darned good at what they do.
Favorites? Well, as opposed to hearing just marches, I found it refreshing to hear the fantasies. In addition, there’s a pleasant little overture called Tally Ho that is quite melodious, and there’s Bonnie Annie Laurie, built around the old Scottish ballad, which closes the show in high style. Probably the most rousing march, though, is We Are Coming, one that will definitely get the blood to racing.
I also found Brion’s booklet notes on each selection worth reading. They reveal his personal involvement with the tunes.
Although I often find recordings of wind bands sounding overly warm and veiled, shrouded in resonance, it’s not so here. Naxos recorded the music at the Admiralty Church (Ulrica Pia), Karlskrona, Sweden, in 2010, and they obtained excellent results. The band sounds beautifully open and airy, with remarkably good midrange transparency for such an ensemble. Transient response and dynamic impact also sound good, making for a lifelike sonic presentation.
To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here: