GIANNINI: Symphony No. 3. NELHYBEL: Trittico. DELLO JOIO: Variants on a Medieval Tune. GRIEG: Funeral March for Rikard Nordraak. ALBENIZ-CAILLIET: Feast Day in Seville. Frederick Fennell conducting the Dallas Wind Symphony. REFERENCE RR-52CD [DDD]; 62:25. Produced by J. Tamblyn Henderson, Jr., Keith Johnson, and Marcia Martin.
The Dallas Wind Symphony is a highly proficient ensemble — one of America’s few serious professional concert bands. Frederick Fennell is probably the foremost living conductor of wind music; the program here is varied and reasonably appealing, and the recorded sound is stupendous. For these reasons, this new release will be highly desirable and rewarding to band enthusiasts.
The Giannini symphony is a favorite of the American band repertoire. It was recorded in 1963 by the Eastman Wind Ensemble (which had been founded by Fennell), under the direction of A. Clyde Roller, Fennell’s successor. That excellent performance and recording has just recently been reissued on a disc also containing symphonies by Alan Hovhaness and Morton Gould see Fanfare 16:5, pp. 229-30) The new Dallas performance is a slightly broader, smoother reading, phrased with a bit more subtlety and warmth, while the Eastman version is a tad (just a tad) crisper and more brisk. As I commented in the review just cited, the 1958 symphony is a genial, masterfully crafted work, conveying warmly felt emotions of an utterly conventional nature. The first movement is arresting, and the slow movement, as always with Giannini, is heartfelt and lovely. But the scherzo and finale are weak to the point of banality. I never fail to be amazed by the unimaginativeness of programming decisions. One might assume that the popularity of Giannini’s Symphony No. 3 would prompt curiosity about his other works for band. On several occasions I have mentioned the VariationsFugue, which is a tighter, more compelling piece than the symphony. A performance at the level of artistry found on this disc would be truly breathtaking. (Fanatical collectors of band music might be interested to know that Variations and Fugue appeared on the six-LP set, “The Revelli Years, Vol. I,” issued on Golden Crest CRS-4202. Good luck trying to find it!) When performers and record companies finally delve into Giannini’s music and discover the best pieces, I predict that he will be viewed as one of the great American post-romantics — not as refined and sensitive as Barber perhaps, but a broader, deeper, and more fully realized talent than Howard Hanson for example.
Vaclav Nelhybel is a Czech composer who came to the United States in 1957, at the age of 38. Within half a dozen years he had made a tremendous impact on the American band world with a number of stunningly scored, flamboyantly exciting pieces embraced by high school and college groups all over the country Actually, Nelhybel’s compositional style shares much in common with that of other Czech composers of his generation — in particular, an elemental, almost brutal physicality produced by an emphasis on the first three notes of the minor scale. In Nelhybel’s hands, this style takes on a sort of Czech neo-Medieval quality. Trittico was composed in 1964 for the legendary William Revelli and his band at the University of Michigan and is an especially striking example of Nelhybel’s approach to the medium. It is worth adding, incidentally, that Nelhybel is an extremely prolific composer, with hundreds of compositions in other genres, which are hardly known at all.
Of the other pieces on the disc, Albeniz’s Feast Day in Seville is quite a treat. Lucien Cailliet’s arrangement is enormously effective and the music itself has more substance than just a picture-postcard. Grieg’s 1866 Funeral March is a haunting, affecting dirge written in memory of a close friend and collaborator who died suddenly. Dello Joio’s Variants on a Medieval Tune was composed in 1963. Based for unclear aesthetic reasons on the chant melody, “In Dulci Jubilo,” it is simply one more of his colorless, uninspired compositional exercises, devoid of medieval spirit or atmosphere.
As suggested at the beginning of this review, these are truly fantastic performances — all that an aficionado of the medium could possibly dream of. Of course, what I dream of is hearing more of the masterpieces of the American band repertoire played in performances of this caliber. In addition to the Giannini work mentioned earlier, I would draw attention to two other important compositions, as yet undiscovered: Nicolas Flagello’s Symphony No. 2, “Symphony of the Winds” (1970) and Arnold Rosner’s Trinity (1988). Listeners drawn to a release like this one and to the historic Eastman recordings would be thrilled to know these pieces, and I suspect that there are a good many such listeners among Fanfare’s readership.