Proclamations - Dello Joio, Barnes, Nixon / Usaf Heritage Of America Band
PROCLAMATIONS • Col. Lowell Graham, cond; USAF Heritage of America Band • KLAVIER 11175 (66:39)
C. WILLIAMS The Patriots. C. T. SMITH Danse folâtre. DELLO JOIO Fantasies on a Theme by Haydn. J. BARNES Fantasy Variations on a Theme by Nicolò Paganini. NIXON Fiesta del Pacifico. HOLSINGER To Tame the Perilous Skies
The performances on this disc have been culled from recordings that were originally available only through official Department of the Air Force channels. Recorded in 1989 and 1990, these (mostly) excellent recordings are now available to the general public for the first time.
Clifton Williams emerged in the late 1950s as perhaps the first composer of any significance to build his reputation almost entirely by writing for wind band. Though he has composed in other genres, he is known first and foremost as a “band composer” and, as such, has been instrumental in establishing the wind ensemble as a viable medium for serious musical expression. In doing so, he blazed a trail for many other composers to follow. Fanfare readers who are not familiar with the work of this composer are encouraged to sample his rousing Fanfare and Allegro in a stunning performance by the Eastman Wind Ensemble conducted by Frederick Fennell on Mercury 432 009. Williams’s The Patriots is a splendid processional march characterized by thrilling fanfares and a lovely, cantabile main theme. Indeed, it could easily replace the overly familiar Pomp and Circumstance and Crown Imperial at graduations and other ceremonial occasions. I cannot imagine a finer performance than the one on this disc.
Three composers who have benefited from Williams’s pioneering efforts are Claude T. Smith, James Barnes, and David Holsinger—all represented on this recording. Like Williams, they are best known for their band music. Smith’s Danse folâtre was written as a virtuoso showpiece for the United States Air Force Band. Though many will consider it to be musically vacuous, the piece is energetic and appealing in a garish sort of way, and is most often played as a “programmed encore” by bands wanting to show off their technical prowess. The USAF Heritage of America Band dispatches the work with virtuosity to burn.
At over 16 minutes in length, James Barnes’s set of variations on the theme from Paganini’s famous 24th Caprice is obviously meant to be a “major work,” yet comes off as rather clumsy and rudimentary, especially when compared to the sophisticated treatment this same material has received from the likes of Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, and others. David Holsinger’s To Tame the Perilous Skies was written to portray “two opposing forces colliding in [presumably aerial] battle.” It opens with shimmering wind colors, which gradually accumulate and unfold until they develop into a driving allegro with blaring fanfares and pounding rhythms. The work is undeniably exciting on a superficial level, which, I suspect, was the composer’s intent. The performances of these two potboilers could hardly be improved upon.
The two remaining works were penned by composers who have made significant contributions to the wind repertoire, but who have also found considerable success well beyond the band world. Pulitzer Prize-winner Norman Dello Joio composed a number of distinguished works for wind ensemble. His Fantasies on a Theme by Haydn is certainly one of his best. This inspired set of variations, or “fantasies,” is characterized by exuberance and clever humor in its outer movements and intense lyrical beauty in the central slow section. The work receives its finest recorded performance on this disc.
Like Dello Joio, Roger Nixon has composed widely in all genres. His most frequently performed band work, Fiesta del Pacifico , is one of the finest in the repertoire. Depicting the high spirits of a festival held each year in San Diego celebrating the area’s Spanish heritage, the overall tone of this masterful concert overture is one of revelry and merriment, but beneath its surface, there also lurks a dark and slightly sinister undercurrent. Unfortunately, this reading is a bit lackluster, especially when compared to the truly spectacular recording by the Dallas Wind Symphony conducted by Howard Dunn on Reference 38.
The Heritage of America Band may not be the Air Force’s premier ensemble, but you would never know it by the performances on this disc. The playing is never less than first-rate and, aside from the Nixon, the interpretations are right on the mark. The recorded sound, by the great Bruce Leek, is absolutely breathtaking: rich, vividly detailed, with a huge dynamic range, and plenty of width and depth. As there are many other excellent recordings by this band still in the vault, we can only hope that this release is the first of many to come.
FANFARE: Merlin Patterson
Catalog Number: K11175
Composer: Claude T. Smith, Clifton Williams, David R. Holsinger, James Barnes, Norman Dello Joio, Roger Nixon
Conductor: Lowell Graham
Orchestra/Ensemble: USAF Heritage of America Band