John Philip Sousa: Music for Wind Band, Vol. 6
Although the first five volumes of Naxos' series John Phillip Sousa: Music for Wind Band have already been boxed up and issued as a single unit, Keith Brion and the Royal Artillery Band's work is not yet done and continues apace with John Phillip Sousa: Music for Wind Band, Vol. 6. Some may make a quick check of the content here and exclaim, "Hey! Naxos has already released some of these pieces!" However, this is not quite the case -- "Three Quotations" appeared on the Naxos disc Sousa: On Wings of Lightning, a disc of orchestral music also led by Brion with the Razumovsky Symphony Orchestra. Back on Music for Wind Band, Vol. 4, "Easter Monday on the White House Lawn" was included in its original context as part of "Tales of a Traveler," but it is heard here on its own in an expert arrangement by R. Mark Rogers, who also prepared the version of "Three Quotations" in use. The rest of the disc consists of pieces that have not appeared in the series before, and it is owing to Brion's good planning that after five discs the "hits" are not yet exhausted, as "Liberty Bell" and "The Gladiator" appear here in the series for the first time.
The performances are exemplary and generally very well recorded -- there is an occasional solo part that does not come through perhaps as well as it should, but the overall sound of the band registers with clarity and the recording has a nice bottom end to it. One might argue that some of these alternate readings are a little better than what has appeared before, particularly in the case of "In Darkest Africa" from "Three Quotations" -- the band arrangement is punchier and high stepping than the orchestral version used on Sousa: On Wings of Lightning. There are the usual surprises, as well -- take for instance the somber "The Golden Star," composed in 1919 to memorialize the American war dead from World War I, or the cinematic mini-tone poem "The Chariot Race," spurred on by the popularity of Lew Wallace's novel Ben Hur. Another great one is "New Mexico," which draws Spanish and Native American themes into its mix of influences.
In 1920, Sousa's name was invoked as an insult by a critic at a Willem Mengelberg concert criticizing the eminent conductor's strident and inflexible use of tempo in a Mahler symphony. These are more enlightened times, and Sousa's music was, in the big picture, both built to last and has something to appeal to every American. Of the various streams of series flowing through the Naxos American Classics line, this and the Charles Ives endeavors are probably the two most important long-term projects Naxos has to offer. This sixth entry in Naxos' Sousa: Music for Wind Band series meets, if not exceeds a little, the high standards already set in the first five volumes.