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The University of Hartford

Holidays and Epiphanies The Music of Ron Nelson
Dallas Wind Symphony, Jerry Junkin, Cond.
Reference Recordings 76
by Drake the Bandmaster

    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 I’d 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 1950’s 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 wasn’t 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 Bach’s 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 can’t 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 Drake’s 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

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