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Landscapes - Torke, Ticheli, Copland / Popiel, University Of Kansas Wind Ensemble

Release Date: 03/26/2013 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8573104   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Michael TorkeFrank TicheliAaron Copland
Conductor:  Paul Popiel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Kansas Wind Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 1 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

TORKE Javelin. Mojave 1. TICHELI An American Elegy. Simple Gifts: Four Shaker Songs. COPLAND Quiet City 2. Variations on a Shaker Melody Paul W. Popiel, cond; 1 Ji Hye Jung (mmb); 2 Stephen Leisring (tpt); 2 Margaret Read more Marco (Eh); Univ of Kansas Wind Ens NAXOS 8.573104 (59:44)

In his biographical sketch, Paul W. Popiel is identified as the seventh director of bands in 125 years for the University of Kansas, but that suggests a stability of leadership that doesn’t seem to exist anymore. In an earlier review I erroneously referred to John Lynch as a “long-time director,” but I have no idea now where I got that piece of misinformation. He was at Kansas for five years. The Redline Tango CD they did for Naxos was great stuff. I liked the Wild Nights! CD that Scott Weiss directed with this ensemble, as well, though I was underwhelmed by the Morton Gould CD Derivations , which was recorded at the end of Weiss’s tenure. He stayed three years. Though others disagree, I still think he phoned in those performances. Popiel succeeded him in 2010, and I am happy to report that the magic is back. The virtuosity has been constant, but is once more allied with the spirit and imagination that was captured in those first two KU Naxos Wind Classics releases.

Michael Torke’s pop- and jazz-inflected music still generates some controversy, and is sniffed at by a few academics and classical critics as not to be taken seriously. Too bad for them. This is lively and energetic music that is expertly constructed and puts a smile on the face. Javelin was written in 1994 on commission for the 50th anniversary of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and to celebrate the 1996 Olympics in that city. There is a brilliant recording by them that can still be found on Argo. This wind band arrangement by master arranger Merlin Patterson catches the spirit and maintains a great deal of the brilliance of the orchestral original. Much is made of it being in the original orchestral key of A Major. The published version is in the more common wind ensemble key of A?. The band handles the uncommon number of sharps and the string-friendly writing with aplomb. Torke’s post-minimalist Mojave is an upbeat Latin-flavored concertante piece, which started life as a work for string quartet, shaker, and virtuoso marimba soloist. It has been arranged for orchestra, and now Torke has transcribed it for band on commission from Popiel and his KU colleague Ji Hye Jung. She plays dazzlingly and though the tension lets down a bit in the middle, it is a fine performance by the band, as well.

Frank Ticheli is a deservedly well-known name in band circles, but the two pieces included here are lesser works. An American Elegy was written on commission to honor the victims and survivors of the Columbine High School shooting. Churlish to say so, but though I am sure it touched those for whom it was intended, out of context it is euphonious, but rather bland and forgettable occasion music. Simple Gifts: Four Shaker Songs is a technical vacation for the KU Wind Ensemble, as it is written for Grade 3 bands; a middle school with a strong program commissioned the work. It is a nice enough group of settings, within the imposed limitations, though the first, In Yonder Valley , rather overwhelms the simple tune, and the last, Simple Gifts , which the composer says, “begins at Copland’s doorstep, and quickly departs,” actually never strays very far. Still, it outclasses almost anything I played in junior high.

Copland actually gets the last word here, with his own version for wind band of the famous Simple Gifts variations from Appalachian Spring . Copland was writing for the superb Northwestern University Band, so had few executional limitations, and in any case, he was a genius. To the extent they diverge, Copland’s way with the tune is to be preferred. His haunting music for trumpet, English horn, and strings, entitled Quiet City, has been a mainstay for bands for 20 years in the loving arrangement by long-time (really—36 years) director of the Eastman Wind Ensemble, Donald Hunsberger. Popiel and his ensemble shape both works with great sensitivity, and the playing by KU faculty soloists Steve Leisring and Margaret Marco is first-rate.

The sound quality has been opened up nicely in this release in comparison to the good but somewhat airless recordings on earlier Naxos releases from this source. Notes, while short, are informative. Recommended.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Javelin by Michael Torke
Conductor:  Paul Popiel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Kansas Wind Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1994; USA 
Mojave by Michael Torke
Conductor:  Paul Popiel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Kansas Wind Ensemble
Written: 2011 
An American Elegy by Frank Ticheli
Conductor:  Paul Popiel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Kansas Wind Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2000 
Quiet City by Aaron Copland
Conductor:  Paul Popiel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Kansas Wind Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; USA 
Notes: Arrangement: Donald Hunsberger 
Variations on a Shaker Melody by Aaron Copland
Conductor:  Paul Popiel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Kansas Wind Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1967; USA 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 A true winner among many, many band albums May 3, 2015 By William Whitaker (Woodway, TX) See All My Reviews "America has many fine wind ensembles and the University of Kansas Wind Ensemble under Paul W. Popiel is one of the very best, so this alone ought to recommend their Landscapes album on the enterprising Naxos label. But this album has one more thing to recommend it: a wonderful and rare cohesiveness in programming, particularly in the American accent involved. Michael Torke's work has seldom sounded so appealing, including Javelin, so joyful in its soaring nine minutes, and the engaging Mojave with Ji Hye Jung offering a terrific marimba solo perfectly integrated into the rest of the orchestration by conductor and engineer. Frank Ticheli's Simple Gifts: Four Shaker Songs for wind ensemble is also immensely enjoyable and covers some ground that Aaron Copland famously addressed -- and Copland happens to be well-represented with an arrangement of Quiet City, which in some respects in turn mirrors sentiments aired in Ticheli's heartfelt An American Elegy, arguably the heart of the album and a major piece of our times. All of which is to say this album is a winner from beginning to end, not only because of excellent performances but thoughtful and imaginative programming. A true high point in a sea of band albums." Report Abuse
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