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Flagello: Symphony No. 2; Rosner: Symphony No. 8 / Bertman, U. Of Houston Wind Ensemble

Release Date: 05/28/2013 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8573060   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Nicolas FlagelloArnold Rosner
Conductor:  David Bertman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Houston Wind EnsembleUniversity Of Houston Saxophone Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 15 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

FLAGELLO Symphony No. 2, “Symphony of the Winds” 1. Concerto Sinfonico (trans. Merlin Patterson). 1,2 Odyssey 1. Valse Noire (trans. Walter Simmons) 2. ROSNER Symphony No. 8, “Trinity” 1 Read more class="SUPER12">1 David Bertman, cond; 1 University of Houston Wind Ens; 2 University of Houston Sax Qrt NAXOS 8.573060 (74:37)

The first thing regular readers will notice about this release is a heavy Fanfare presence. Our longtime reviewer Walter Simmons transcribed Flagello’s Valse Noire for saxophone quartet; that haunting, minor-key waltz was originally composed in 1964 for accordion. A more recent contributor, Merlin Patterson, transcribed Flagello’s Concerto Sinfonico (a concerto for saxophone quartet and orchestra) for symphonic band. The disc was produced by Merlin Patterson, with Walter Simmons as executive producer. Also, Fanfare reviewer Carson Cooman contributed to the digital editing of the recording. Under the circumstances it would be difficult for me to give this release a bad review; luckily, there is no need. The music is first-rate and the performances are excellent.

The second of Nicolas Flagello’s two symphonies was written for wind band in 1970 but did not receive its first public performance until nine years later. This kind of lengthy delay was typical during the final stages of the composer’s career, when his music was considered unfashionably romantic—if it was considered at all. The three movements’ subtitles convey the overall mood: The first is “The Torrid Winds of Veiled Portents,” the second, “Dark Winds of Lonely Contemplation,” and the third, a fugue, is called “The Winds of Re-birth and Vitality.” Like all of the composer’s works that I have heard, it is what I would call “high stakes” music. The emotional content is turbulent in the restless first movement, itself another ghostly waltz, but there is no relaxation of tension in the plaintive aria of the second movement nor in the finale, which engages in some tough contrapuntal writing. Throughout, Flagello’s sense of structure and the effectiveness of his scoring show the highest degree of expertise. This must be exciting music to play, and certainly stretching technically; I was struck by some tricky writing for trumpet in the second and third movements. Simmons’s notes do not mention it, but I wonder whether Flagello turned to this medium in the hope of emulating the success of his mentor Vittorio Giannini, whose Symphony No. 3 of 1958 for wind ensemble became a major repertory piece.

The characterful tone poem Odyssey of 1981 teems with even more “veiled portents” than the symphony, despite its comparatively jaunty central section. The tension of the grim opening is fearsome—so much so, I was reminded of Max Steiner’s atmospheric score for King Kong.

Naxos has previously released a fine recording of the original version of Flagello’s Concerto Sinfonico , and it is enlightening to compare the two. Patterson’s transcription is first-rate; like all good arrangements, it never hints that the work might have been conceived for different forces. Hearing the saxophone quartet as a sub-group of the wind ensemble clarifies the counterpoint (of which there is a lot in this work) and points up the intricacies of the interplay between the concertante and ripieno groups. The version with full orchestra sounds more like a concerto, with the soloists set in higher relief against the texture of strings. Again, it is a tough work but full of integrity, and though it was Flagello’s final completed composition it shows no sign whatsoever of his failing mental and physical condition.

Arnold Rosner is a younger composer than his discmate. Their two symphonies are quite unalike, except that both composers use tonal harmony. Rosner’s primary influence is the music of pre-Baroque eras, and I think the sonorities of the symphonic wind band emphasize this. The first movement of his symphony (titled “Ave Maria”) has an authentic feel of antiquity about it, almost as though it were a transcription of a Palestrina motet. A brass cantus firmus in the third movement (“Pythagoras”) brings overtones of Gesualdo, while the frequent use of sparkling tuned percussion across the top of the polyphonic texture suggests court music of the medieval period. Yet there is a freedom in the handling and development of this material that is distinctly 20th century. (The symphony was composed in 1988.) It is a fascinating and beautiful piece, probably my favorite of the composer’s works that I know.

The sound is close-up in the Naxos tradition, but that is no problem because the University of Houston Wind Ensemble plays magnificently. Its blend, attack, and range of dynamics are all this music requires and more, under Bertman’s strong direction. Playing standards have varied in the Naxos Wind Band Classics series, but this is one of the very best and a welcome addition to the growing Flagello discography.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 2, Op. 63 "Symphony of the Winds" by Nicolas Flagello
Conductor:  David Bertman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Houston Wind Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1967-1968; USA 
Concerto sinfonico for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra, Op. 77 by Nicolas Flagello
Conductor:  David Bertman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Houston Wind Ensemble,  University Of Houston Saxophone Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985; USA 
Odyssey, Op. 74 by Nicolas Flagello
Conductor:  David Bertman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Houston Wind Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1981 
Valse Noire, Op. 45b by Nicolas Flagello
Conductor:  David Bertman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Houston Wind Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1964/1992 
Symphony no 8, Op. 84 "Trinity" by Arnold Rosner
Conductor:  David Bertman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Houston Wind Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1988 

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