AOM Logo February 1999

Marches I've Missed

Frederick Fennell, Dallas Wind Symphony

Reference Recordings RR-85CD

Playing Time: 56:02

Harry Currie

Cover Image

As a graduate of the Bandmaster course of the British Army's Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, followed by a ten-year hitch in the Canadian Army as a Director of Music, I have played and heard my share of marches. Even so, facing a CD of 18 marches is a formidable task, made much more pleasant by the playing of the Dallas Wind Symphony, probably the finest wind ensemble I have had the pleasure of hearing on a recording.

Fennell chose marches, which, for one reason or another, he had yet to perform. Some are obscure - The Kilties, for example - and some as well known as the U.S. Air Force March. Most of the marches are played in their original version, while Fennel has fleshed out the program with some marches in arranged form.

An arrangement, in fact, begins the CD - Parade of the Wooden Soldiers. Originally composed by Leon Jessel (1871-1942), this arrangement is by J. J. Morrissey, and it is an unfortunate choice to begin the collection. Morrissey makes a ponderous sound from what should be light, jocular and transparent. The introduction does not fit, and he has added some syncopation in a misguided effort to be contemporary. The band plays it well enough, but nothing can fix the scoring, and there are one or two passages where the accompaniment figures are too loud for the chalumeau clarinets - Fennel should have communicated the obvious more clearly to Prof. Johnson.

An arrangement that does work is Harry L. Alford's treatment of March of the Steel Men. Composed by Charles S. Belsterling (1874-1959), an amateur musician who became vice-president of U.S. Steel, the march is in a traditional street-march form, this is quite listenable and well scored.

Sousa's The Gladiator is a delight - spacious, wide-ranging dynamics, and with those unexpected Sousa touches - extensions, fanfares, etc. Fennell himself was playing bass drum for the premiere of The Northern Pines, which Sousa conducted in 1931, and remembered a couple of scoring adjustments which had been made at the performance. Ignored by the publisher, Fennell has reinserted them for this recording.

The Spanish march El Abanico by Alfredo Javaloyes (1864-1944) was intended to be played in a pasodoble style. Fennell takes it a shade too fast for my liking - there is a feeling of breathlessness, as though the piece was being pushed along against its nature.

A surprise for me was the aforementioned Kilties march by Samuel E. Morris (1867-1935). Morris had joined the Kilties Band of Ontario, Canada, for a world tour in 1909, presumably the band which still exists as the Galt Kilties in Cambridge, Ontario, and which I directed for a brief period about 20 years ago. The march is surprisingly well written, with many familiar Scottish tunes woven through a clever series of contrapuntal melodies.

An unknown gem is George Gates' Sol Y Sombra. Delightfully melodic, there is extensive use of rubato, intricate castanets, and the clarinet unison sound is perfection. This is my top choice on the CD.

Two pieces of band history are the U.S Air Force March and Band of America march. While the former needs no explanation, the latter may. During the 1950s, Paul Lavalle was the envy of bandleaders around the world. Creating a wind group of the finest professional musicians in New York City, Lavalle secured the sponsorship of the now-defunct Cities Services gasoline company, and conducted a weekly network radio show on NBC called the Cities Services Band of America. This was wind music played at its best, opening the eyes of many to the limitless possibilities of wind bands. The march performed here was the theme for the show, written by Lavalle.

Thankfully, one of Kenneth J. Alford's marches is included - the British composer of Colonel Bogey. There is a clean sound to his marches, the melodies are uniquely English, and his countermelodies are both musical and ingenious. On the Quarter Deck is a perfect example of Alford's craft, marred here by being taken a little too slowly. British marches are meant to be played at a measured tempo - British marching has a longer pace than that of Americans - but Fennell has pulled back too much and the march doesn't sit well.

Full marks to Reference Recordings for a valuable contribution to the recorded music archive for wind band, and for the smooth quality of the HDCD™ sound, coupled with its 24-bit master recording. And what of the Dallas Wind Symphony? Simply, superb! Their combination of wonderful musicianship, flawless intonation and near-perfect dynamics will make the wait for their next Reference Recordings CD an impatient one.

Book CoverHarry CurrieAudiophilia is very pleased to announce Harry Currie as the newest addition to our writing team. Born in Moncton, New Brunswick, Harry holds music degrees from four Canadian and British universities, including Britain's prestigious Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall. This last credential made Harry the perfect candidate for writing his first Audiophilia review – Reference Recordings’ Marches I’ve Missed. As well as a brilliant musician and an accomplished novelist, Harry is also a staff writer for the Toronto Star Syndicate. His latest novel, Debut for A Spy, was published recently by Rivercrest.

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