Innovations / Lowell Graham, United States Air Force Band

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INNOVATIONS • Lowell Graham, cond; U.S. Air Force Band • KLAVIER 11170 (68:16) STRAVINSKY Fireworks. GRAINGER The Warriors. SHOSTAKOVICH October. BARBER Medea’s Dance of Vengeance....

INNOVATIONS Lowell Graham, cond; U.S. Air Force Band KLAVIER 11170 (68:16)

STRAVINSKY Fireworks. GRAINGER The Warriors. SHOSTAKOVICH October. BARBER Medea’s Dance of Vengeance. BARTÓK The Miraculous Mandarin: Suite

I can see the reason for transcribing music from one instrument, or group of instruments, to another—musicians don’t want to be deprived of the opportunity to play pieces not ordinarily offered to them. So I’ve heard, for example, Bach played on synthesizer, saxophone, bassoon, banjo, koto, accordion, marimba, and harmonica, among others, some more or less effective, but none as convincing as the original, intended instrument. And the larger the group, inevitably the larger the degree of difference—involving color, attack, timbre, texture, character. Ultimately, the relative success or failure rests with the transcriber, who, ideally, should be required to take a modified Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm.”

These transcriptions for concert band are all done well, and since strings are, to my knowledge, the only instruments missing from the original orchestrations, there are obvious, audible differences, but how severely they affect the music seems to depend on the particular score. I miss the strings most in Samuel Barber’s Medea’s Dance of Vengeance , where there is a loss of tenderness and the dramatic contrast between aggressive and lyrical passages is diminished (fortunately, this is a concert band and not marching band, so the important piano part is included). With more emphasis now on the winds, Stravinsky’s influence on the music is easily discernible. Similarly, Bartók’s debt to The Rite of Spring in his Miraculous Mandarin Suite is even more noticeable now, while the lack of strings affects the performance too, where the loss of the cutting edge and snap of the string phrasing results in less punch and momentum. Not being previously familiar with Percy Grainer’s The Warriors makes a comparison impossible, though those moments where the focus is on percussion instruments and jolting rhythms sound convincing. (The Stravinsky influence here is more Petrushka than Rite of Spring .) But as the music turns more lighthearted (and, in Grainger’s words, “all bitter and vengeful memories vanished”) these warriors seemingly interact as colleagues rather than antagonists, and the dilution of excitement can be blamed on the composer. The instrumental alterations damage Dmitri Shostakovich’s moody, ultimately rousing symphonic poem October less than any of the other works, probably because it receives the most intense performance of the bunch—and it’s ironic that the U.S. Air Force Band does its best in a musical tribute to the Soviet Revolution of 1917.

The Air Force Band is unfailingly accurate and commendably focused at all times; it’s not really their fault that the nature of the transcription is working against them. Nevertheless, it is easy to recommend this ambitious program to band aficionados and modernist-minded listeners who are curious about hearing this repertoire from an unfamiliar perspective.

FANFARE: Art Lange

Product Description:

  • Release Date: October 26, 2010

  • UPC: 019688117023

  • Catalog Number: K 11170

  • Label: KlAVIEr

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Béla Bartók, Dmitri Shostakovich, Igor Stravinsky, Percy Aldridge Grainger, Samuel Barber

  • Conductor: Lowell E. Graham

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: United States Air Force Band

  • Performer: Graham, U.S. Air Force Band