Ticheli: Wild Nights!; Dzubay, Bryant, Etezady, Mackey / Weiss, Gnojek, U Of Kansas Wind Ensemble

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WILD NIGHTS! Scott Weiss, cond; Vince Gnojek (s sax); Univ of Kansas Wind Ens NAXOS 8.572129 (60:23)

TICHELI Wild Nights! DZUBAY Shadow Dance. Bryant Dusk. ETEZADY Anahita. MACKEY Soprano Saxophone Concerto

A wild night, indeed! This isn’t exactly warm-breezy-night-on-the-square band fare, though it would certainly make an exciting concert if the municipal ensemble were up to the considerable virtuosic demands. As we know from their earlier Naxos release, “Redline Tango” (8.570074), the University of Kansas Wind Ensemble has virtuosity to burn. As in that inaugural release of the Naxos Winds Band Classics series, they produce a superb blend and sonority; brilliant and thrillingly massive in full flight and—thanks in large part to a collection of outstanding section soloists—beautifully refined in quieter passages. “Redline Tango” was conducted by long-time Director of Bands John Lynch, who left a fine legacy of technical excellence, musical sensitivity, and dedication to new music. Scott Weiss, holder of the director’s position since Lynch’s retirement in 2007, has plainly maintained the high standards.

The title work of the album starts the proceedings with a swagger. With high energy and high spirited, it lies stylistically somewhere between Copland’s An Outdoor Overture and Bernstein’s more manic moments. Inspired by the Emily Dickenson poem of the same name, it is more about the joy and ecstasy in that work than anything of the poet’s repressed sexual desires. In any case, jazzy and full of surprises, it is the perfect program opener.

Equally effective are David Dzubay’s magical Shadow Dance , a revisitation of Pérotin’s Viderunt omnes and John Mackey’s hyperactive Concerto for Soprano Sax and Wind Ensemble. Dzubay takes the concept of organum to remarkable extremes, creating a frenzied, irreverent modern equivalent of the 13th-century composer’s primitive polyphony. It has little to do with the medieval—excepting, of course, the concluding monk-like chanting of the cantus firmus —but everything to do with joyful celebration of the past. The Mackey Concerto, homage to his teacher John Corigliano, is five movements of nonstop technical demands on the soloist. Flanked by a Prelude and Finale that in themselves would provide a challenging work, the three inner movements celebrate the three materials in the saxophone. “Felt” shows off key work, with wild note bending and alternate fingerings. “Metal” exploits the beauty of the brass, with the sax playing high and sweetly, attended by bells and chimes. “Wood” displays the instrument’s warmth in a sensuous tango. Vince Gnojek, professor of saxophone at the University of Kansas, may not have the sweetest tone—more a reedy American jazz sound than a French quality—but his technical skill is staggering and he is matched by the band members who get an amazing workout.

The other two works, Steven Bryant’s Dusk , a chorale work that shows off the band’s beautiful control and Roshanne Etezady’s three-movement Anahita , inspired by a mural of the Zoroastrian goddess of the night, are attractive, but less-distinctive works. The locally produced recording has great dynamics but not a lot of air around the ensemble, and loud climaxes become congested. It is hard to tell if it is the hall or the miking, but it is not enough to detract significantly from the overall excellent impression. Enough said: those looking for Sousa and Broadway medleys, head for the ol’ band shell. Lovers of top-drawer wind bands and high octane, listener-friendly contemporary charts should apply within. And pick up that earlier Naxos release as well. Great stuff.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8572129

  • UPC: 747313212972

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: David Dzubay, Frank Ticheli, John Mackey, Roshanne Etezady, Steven Bryant

  • Conductor: Scott Weiss

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: University of Kansas Wind Ensemble

  • Performer: Vince Gnojek