North Texas Wind Symphony: Inventions
GIA WindWorks

Don't let the name fool you: yes, the North Texas Wind Symphony does boast large woodwind sections—five bassoonists and thirteen clarinetists on this particular recording, for starters—but it also pairs them with full horn and percussion sections, too. Such resources are needed to do justice to the range of styles and orchestral colour featured in the six works on Inventions, a seventy-four-minute collection performed by the Eugene Migliaro Corporon-conducted ensemble. A satisfying mix of rousing crowd-pleasers and ruminative settings, the release features compositions by John Williams, Gernot Wolfgang, Bruce Broughton, John Mackey, and Michael Daugherty. Though the members of the North Texas Wind Symphony are drawn from the University of North Texas College of Music's student body (more than 600 graduate and undergraduate music majors), the polished playing on this release is at the highest performance level; no one would think for a moment that the outfit in question is anything but a professional company.

On the boisterous side, there's the dynamic opener, For the President's Own, by Williams, Spielberg's composer-of-choice known far and wide for his Star Wars and Jaws themes, which he wrote in 2013 as a salute to the United States Marine Band on the occasion of its 215th anniversary. Exuberant, bold, and brassy, the four-minute piece, as celebratory a fanfare as one might imagine, provides a perfect vehicle for the North Texas Wind Symphony to exhibit its lustrous, full-bodied sound. Even more robust is Mackey's rollicking, circus music-styled The Ringmaster's March, which, though it functions here perfectly well as a stand-alone, is the concluding part of the suite The Soul Has Many Motions.

Wolfgang, whose 2016 release Passing Through brought him a Grammy Award nomination, is represented by Three Short Stories, which though composed in 2000 as a duo for viola and bassoon is performed here by the Wind Ensemble in a 2012 arrangement. As the movement titles indicate, Wolfgang isn't shy about bringing other styles into a classical context, and, in fact, the piece in question is arguably more jazz and Latin, stylistically, than it is 20th-century classical. The big band-styled “Uncle Bebop” swings with the kind of feverish energy one hears in Bernstein's West Side Story and even ventures into rock-flavoured territory when it's not digging into Latin-jazz swing. Dramatically contrasting in tone, the central movement, “Rays of Light,” is, formally speaking, the classical member of the triad; solo episodes abound, with various woodwind soloists granted moments to shine. Calling West Side Story even more strongly to mind, Wolfgang's composition ends with the liveliest movement of the three, the timbales-and congas-stoked “Latin Dance.”

Like Williams a renowned film composer, the Emmy Award-winning Broughton (Silverado, The Presidio, etc.) is represented here by In the World of Spirits, a tonally wide-ranging exploration inspired by Native American folklore that aspires to convey the energy associated with the world of the spirit. In creating an homage of sorts to Iowa artist Grant Wood (best known for American Gothic), Daugherty drew inspiration for Winter Dreams from the winter scenes of Iowa captured in Wood's achromatic lithographs of the 1930s. The stillness of the bleak landscapes shown in those images is evoked by solo flute and oboe passages and the music's brooding mien, even if the presence of sleigh bells provides a welcome influx of good cheer.

The only composer represented on Inventions by two works, Mackey presents a far less rambunctious side to The Ringmaster's March in the half-hour, three-movement tone poem Wine-Dark Sea, whose programmatic design draws upon parts of the Homeric epic, The Odyssey. “Hubris,” centering on the pride and arrogance shown by Odysseus and his men as they maraud through ports of call before Zeus strikes their ship down, initiates the work in appropriately grand manner with a majestic theme and a dramatic arrangement powered by aggressive winds, horns, and percussion. The central movement, “Immortal Thread, So Weak,” renders into delicate musical form the passage where the immortal nymph Kalypso finds Odysseus washed up on the shore of the island where she lives alone and nurses him back to health. Given that the events within “The Attentions of Souls” occur at the gates of the underworld, it's no surprise that, in true nachtmusik fashion, the recording's final music sequence is packed with all manner of playfully cryptic and unsettling elements.

Inventions presents an ensemble capable of playing with vivacity but, as quieter settings such as Winter Dreams and “Immortal Thread, So Weak” demonstrate, adept at nuance and sensitivity, too. The selections not only collectively establish an impression of 21st-century American music in all its variety, they also enable the North Texas Wind Symphony excellent vehicles by which to show itself in the best possible light.

April 2017