AUGENBLICK - Cornell University Wind Ensemble

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AUGENBLICK - Cornell University Wind Ensemble - Cynthia Johnston Turner (Conductor) - 034061134428 - Released: April 2012 - Albany TROY1344

1) Christopher Stark - Augenblick (2008)
2) Ryan Gallagher - Exorcism (2008)
3) Zachary Wadsworth - A Symphony of Glances - II. Down the long desolate streets of stars (2010)
4) Catherine Likhuta - Out Loud (2008)
5) Takuma Itoh - Daydreams (2010)
6) Jesse Jones - Through the Veil (2011)

A varied collection of works written over the last five years by composition students at Cornell U, performed here with professional finesse by the Cornell University Wind Ensemble under the leadership of conductor Cynthia Johnston Turner, a passionate educator and staunch advocate and promoter of new music. These students were prompted to compose music that "pushes boundaries." I'm not sure they actually managed to push music's boudaries with these works, but they certainly "expanded its universe", as most of the music on this CD is very atmospheric, and could serve as an extension to Gustav Holst's Planets or the background score to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

All except for one that is. Exorcism by Ryan Gallagher sounds more like a collaboration of sorts between Frank Zappa and Danny Elfman, in which both composers try to outdo each other and in the process go insane. And you would have to be insane to try and attempt performing it live. It is scored for wind ensemble and drum set, played incredibly fast by drummer Derek Roddy, the dedicatee of this work. It is based on a technique called "blast beat", requiring the drummer to play snare and kick drum rhythms with accenting cymbal articulations as fast and loud as possible. And the wind players have to keep up and come along for the ride. It certainly would be interesting to find out how many times they practiced this piece before recording it. It requires speed, agility, pinpoint accuracy, and most of all, complete and total insanity.

Christopher Stark's work titled Augenblick (German for the "glimpse of an eye") makes clever use of a wind ensemble, piano and electronics. It utilizes minimalist techniques in the extent that it repeats the "instant" from the glimpse of an eye as it shifts patterns, and concludes with an interesting and yet odd combination of taped electronics and brass choir.

Zachary Wadsworth's evocative Down the long desolate streets of stars is a slow, darkly atmospheric piece for winds, with segments emphasizing the tenor saxophone and euphonium. It's the timbre of these two instruments that lends the whole piece its darker colors and sense of infinite desolation and isolation. It doesn't push any musical boundaries, but certainly pushes the boundaries of your imagination.

Out Loud by Ukrainian composer Catherine Likhuta, is scored for wind ensemble and piano (played by herself in this recording) and is a work that exposes the fact that she holds a degree in jazz piano from the Glière Musical College. Its rhythmic patterns feel improvised and the scoring is laid-out as if this was a concerto for piano and jazz big band, but with a broader feel to it. The piano and wind instruments are constantly exchanging ideas and tossing everything around until in the end, they reach the same conclusion.

Daydreams by Japanese composer Takuma Itoh could almost be "Pluto" to Holst's Planets. It certainly shares Holst's orchestration, especially in its clever use of the percussion section, and does generate the sense of "distance" very well, as well as create the image that even though something is remote and alien, it may still belong within a human planetary system.

The final work on this CD, Through the Veil by Jesse Jones certainly stays in character with everything else in regards to atmosphere, space and time dimensions, and outer worldly soundscapes. But it adds an extra dimension to the picture, the emotional world of fear and terror. I won't spoil the concept for you except to mention that it deals with the passage of the soul from pre-mortal, to mortal, and post-mortal stages, and how terrifying it must be to pass through that portal. The liner notes explain the idea in detail, and help intensify the fear and terror captured within the music. An emotively powerful work.

The Cornell University Wind Ensemble deserve applause and accolades for the musicianship, versatility and commitment they bring to these new works. These are world première recordings, and they and conductor Cynthia Johnston Turner have set the bar very high for future ensembles "insane" enough to even try.

Jean-Yves Duperron - May 2012