Keith Brion and his New Sousa Band - Other Band Reviews

DatePublicationPerforming Organization
04 Jan 2006ClassicsToday.comRoyal Scottish Academy of Music
& Drama Wind Orchestra
01 Jun 2004Jonkoping Post (Sweden)Royal Swedish Naval Band -- January 4, 2006
Naxos- 8.559207(CD)
by Joseph Stevenson

Symphony No. 4 Op. 165; Return and Rebuild the Desolate Places Op. 213; Symphony No. 10 "Three Journeys to a Holy Mountain" Op. 223; Prayer of Saint Gregory Op. 62b; Symphony No. 53 "Star Dawn" Op. 377

John Wallace (trumpet)
The Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama Wind Orchestra
Keith Brion

Naxos- 8.559207(CD)
Reference Recording - This One

Three of Alan Hovhaness' six symphonies for wind ensemble are included on this Naxos release. After hearing these, I'm eagerly waiting for the label to get to the other three. All of the ensemble playing is flawless, the many solos are ravishingly beautiful, and conductor Keith Brion's grasp of the music results in performances I can't imagine being bettered, surpassing even the classic Mercury Living Presence recording by the late Frederick Fennell and the Eastman Wind Ensemble.

The symphonies are separated by two of the composer's works for trumpet and band, the solo part played by Scotland's great trumpeter John Wallace. He soars ecstatically above his colleagues in the Prayer of Saint Gregory, and his more varied part in Return and Rebuild the Desolate Places (the most aggressive music on the disc) achieves a threatening quality without ever losing beauty of tone.

Hovhaness' style is so distinctive, and his oeuvre so vast, that it's easy to tag him as having written the same piece over and over. And it is true that these works share many of the same elements: long, arching modal melodies, rich triadic harmonies laced with non-harmonic chiming notes, "spirit murmurs", and fluent, noble fugues. But there is enough difference in the inspiration of these works, and enough stylistic development, that you don't really get an impression of sameness. And there are many passages that haunt the memory: the flowing oboe and harp duet at the heart of the Fourth Symphony; the crossing trombone portamentos in the same work; the gorgeous fugue for all of the bell-like instruments in "Star Dawn"; the emergence from the frightening eruption that represents the "Desolate Places".

The recording was made in a church in Paisley, Scotland, and the venue contributes just the right mixture of spaciousness and intimacy to suit the music. If you are the sort of record collector who keeps alert for good new releases of unusual repertoire, this is a disc with the musical values and production quality that you always are hoping for.

--Joseph Stevenson
1999-2007 All rights reserved.

Jonkoping Post (Sweden) -- June 1, 2004
Standing Ovations For Sousa
by Leif A. Jannsson

Royal Swedish Navy Band (Marinens Musikkar)
Conductor: Keith Brion as John Philip Sousa
Soloists: Patrik Randefalk, Euphonium; Mattias Sandsjo, Cornet; Peter Stolpestad, Xylophone
Location: Baptist (Pentecostal) Church (Pingstkyrkan)

The Royal Swedish Navy Band earned a well deserved success (at the Swedish Wind Music Festival) Saturday evening before a full audience in the Pentecostal church. With a program that Sousa's Band might have performed at the turn of the last century, the appreciative audience was treated to an evening full of tuneful melodies and magnificent wind sound.

The American conductor Keith Brion has been studying the March King's way of moving, dressing and conducting since 1978, including viewing old movies. Since 1978, (he appeared in 1982 with the Gothenburg Symphony) and still later in 1988 with the Stockholm Wind Orchestra for a concert later filmed for Swedish Television (1990). All the while he has remained busy with Sousa in his own country. This is especially so this year as Sousa's 150th birthday is being celebrated.

The popular favorite (among the soloists)without a doubt was Mr. his name appeared in the historic Sousa style program. His euphonium interpretation of the well-known variations on "The Carnival of Venice" was thoroughly convincing. But, Mr. Stolpestad's version of the William Tell Overture for xylophone also led to a standing ovation.

Sousa's......pardon, Brion's clear conducting allowed the orchestra to make music that sounded better and freer than usual. We especially enjoyed the musical playing of the percussion section.

We in Sweden have things to learn from this rapid style of programming. The next selection often quickly began before the applause had ended for the previous one.

The concert opened elegantly with an old showpiece...the Overture to Light Cavalry and finished with Wagner's Introduction of Act. III of Lohengrin. Between them, among others, were found music by Percy Grainger and Bach. The latter's choral: Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring was heard in a transcription by Erik Leidzen, who in American wind music circles is our best known Swedish composer.

Between each of the selections of the printed program, various of Sousa's fine marches were performed. A favorite among them was Hands Across the Sea, which Sousa composed when his band was invited to the Paris Exposition at the beginning of the 20th century. One unavoidable extra item is of course The Stars and Stripes Forever, proclaimed in the program as "The greatest march ever written." Nearest of course after (our) Under a Yellow and Blue Flag.

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