Sousa: Music Wind Band, Vol. 11 (CD review)

Keith Brion, The Royal Swedish Navy Band. Naxos 8.559690.

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:

JJP

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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.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa