Here we have another winner in the
continuing series of programs recorded by the Dallas Wind Symphony of Reference
Recordings. Reference is a small audiophile label out of San Francisco whose recordings
are always stunning with great power and depth, a delicious warmth and an incredible
transparency. Clarinets, piccolos, trumpets and tubas all come through clear and natural.
One can only listen in joyful astonishment as the different tones and timbres of the
timpani and bass drum are always heard quite distinctly even in the loudest passages where
some of the bass drum thwacks can shake the room! Prof. Keith O. Johnson obtains a special
sound from his engineering table providing the listener a veritable feast for the ears! As
a well-known band aficionado I eagerly await each new issue.
Having reviewed several of the earlier recordings in the series, Testament
and Pomp and Pipes, I thought Id clue you into this disc of music by Ron
Nelson even though it is already several years old. Nelson was born in 1929 and studied at
the Eastman School of Music in the 1950s during the celebrated Howard Hanson years.
Nelson hit the scene in 1953 with the first of his "Holiday" pieces, Savannah
River Holiday, written for orchestra and recorded by Hanson for Mercury in 1956.
However, it wasnt until 1969 that Nelson wrote his first major band work, Rocky
Point Holiday. It was a successor to Savannah River Holiday and helped
"typecast the composer as a writer of "flashy, high energy overtures"
as he states in the notes to the disc. Rocky Point is joined by two of its sisters,
Sonoran Desert Holiday and Aspen Jubilee. These highly successful works are
fun to play and listen to. They are indeed highly energetic, cast in a three-part form of
fast-slow-fast and feature a "Ron Nelson" sound of long-lined singing melodies,
underscored by motoric ostinatos, colorful frenetic swirling winds and very busy
percussion. Showing off the band wonderfully, they are a perfect match to Reference
Recordings stunning sound.
There are five other works on this disc. Lauds (Praise High Day)
is a short celebratory piece in the "Holiday" style. There is also a set of
Renaissance styled dances, light hearted and true to the spirit of their inspiration. The
final three works show a much darker side to the composer, but do not be afraid of the
dark, sometimes the dark is good! First there is Passcagalia (Homage on B-A-C-H).
Written as a strict passacagalia and obviously inspired by Bachs great organ
sonorities, it also weaves into its fabric the musical signature formed by the 4 note
figure B-A-C-H which Bach himself first used. I had the great fortune to hear this
powerful work played by the United States Marine Band when they appeared on tour in New
Britain and was absolutely blown away. Chaconne (In Memorium...) is an even darker
work. Its inspiration was the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC. The work is in three
sections, the first takes its cue from the opening tolling funeral bell. This gives way to
a long quote from a Brahms Chorale Prelude "Oh World, I Must Now Leave."
Underneath the melody is a stabbing painful chord which tears you apart. This tolling
chord is repeated at odd intervals each repetition softer and less violent until it
disappears altogether. The chorale melody itself fades imperceptibly away, leaving thick
cascading music which seems to breathe the slow labored breath of the dying. Finally this
music and the work itself ebbs slowly away. An absolute masterpiece of band writing. I was
very moved by it.
Finally there is Epiphanies (Fanfares and Chorales) a highly
dissonant and fascinating piece, which slowly works towards tonality and a major chord
ending. This and all the works show the incredible virtuosi playing of the Dallas Wind
Symphony and conductor Jerry Junkin, who has great command of the music. If you cant
find the Dallas Wind Symphony discs at local music stores, they can be ordered direct at
1-800-336-8866. Ask for a catalogue and collect the entire series. Join me for
Drakes Village Brass Band, a special part of Monday Evening Classics, on February 1
and 8, 1999 as we feature this disc. This is Drake the Bandmaster signing off.
Copyright©WWUH: January/February Program Guide, 1999