David's Review Corner, September 2015
It would be nice to think that the whole world of music had heard of Stephen Gryc, Susan Botti and Jess Turner, for they are producing some very attractive scores. I guess that is not true, and it would have been most helpful if the enclosed booklet had told us who they are, and where they come from. Gryc’s Concerto, dating from 2011 is in the mould of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, and has been devised to showcase the various departments of the wind ensemble spiced with an array of percussion instruments. In four contrasting movements its roots are embedded in the mainstream mid-20th century. There is plenty of high impact and excitement, though it needs a quite extensive range of tonal hues, the second movement Burlesque being pure fun, while the following Meditation offers an oasis of rest. From the same year comes Susan Botti’s Terra Cruda (Raw Earth) and, as that would suggest, it has the gait and weight of a dinosaur striding across the scene. Turner’s picture of the fairy tale gnome, Rumpelstilzchen, is in three linked but contrasting movements, the first showing him turning straw into gold; the second is The Maiden’s Lament, and his dance of fury provides a noisy conclusion. It really is good fun, the score tuneful and vividly painted. The technical ability of young ensembles continue to amaze me, the Hartt School and their conductor, Glen Adsit, in the top league of American student groups, their performances having professionalism written all over them. © 2015 David’s Review Corner
GRYC Concerto for Winds and Percussion. BOTTI Terra Cruda. J. L. TURNER Rumpelstilzchen Glen Adsit, cond; Hartt School Wind Ens NAXOS 8.573342 (51:35)
This recent release in the valuable Naxos Wind Band Classics series presents premiere recordings of three relatively new scores, alive with imaginatively deployed percussion and resonant brass, and brilliant writing for woodwinds. These works, all commissions by the Harrt School and consortia, will no doubt find a home in any number of wind ensemble repertoires, at least among those who have the wherewithal to pull them off. That, of course, is no problem for this remarkable student ensemble. If, unaware of provenance, I had been told that this was a professional group led by a world-class conductor, I would have believed it, especially the latter, which is manifestly true. Glen Adsit is a superb builder of ensembles with a nose for outstanding composing talent, and he displays, as well, a remarkable ability to reveal in performance the essence of a new work. I hope the University of Hartford knows what a treasure it has, as Adsit’s work has placed their music school on a footing with the country’s greatest, including his alma mater, the University of Michigan, where he studied with H. Robert Reynolds.
Stephen Michael Gryc is professor of music composition at The Hartt School. His Concerto for Winds and Percussion (2011) is a virtuoso show piece for wind ensemble which takes mainstream early-20th-century musical language—the climax of the first movement, for instance, is reminiscent of Bartok’s The Miraculous Mandarin—and the structure of the Hungarian composer’s Concerto for Orchestra as starting point. Gryc puts his musicians through a daunting set of challenges, bold and subtle, in five movements. (Maybe a bit too subtle, and more ominous than meditative, in parts of the fourth movement Meditation, but let that pass.) Even the tuba and contrabassoon get to shine in the whimsical Burlesque and the whole ensemble joins into the Respighian revelries of the concluding Celebration.
Susan Botti’s Terra Cruda (2011) is an altogether darker work which, as the composer notes, “explores the innate behavior of aggression, its natural aspects, repercussions, and transformations.” I am not sure if I am supposed to hear the music of entertainment media depictions of violence, but they certainly seem to be there, along with a central section full of urban edginess, and a palpable sense of pain and loss in the threnodic second half of the work. The challenge presented by the exposed writing for ensemble soloists is impressively met, and once again percussion and brass get a significant workout.
The program ends with Jess Langston Turner’s fantastical Rumpelstilzchen (2010), a three-movement character study of the nasty fairy tale gnome and his intended victim. It’s quicksilver evocation of the sprite at work in Spinning Straw into Gold immediately dispels the preceding gloom with scintillating counterpoint and wry humor. The wistful Night (The Maiden’s Lament) is full of brilliant touches of orchestral color, and the work and CD end with the dazzling Rumpelstilzchen’s Furiant, yet another technical challenge that the ensemble dispatches with easy dexterity. This is my first contact with Turner’s work: most impressive. I predict we’ll be hearing a lot more from this relatively young Indiana University DMA student.
So, here we have a release that any admirer of wind ensemble music will want to hear. The works performed are superbly crafted and clearly chosen to provide a satisfying program. The performances are professional-caliber, the conducting is vital and deeply perceptive, and the recording by Hartt School Music Production and Technology department faculty and staff is amazing in presence and detail. I could not be more enthusiastic in my recommendation. Ronald E. Grames
Album Title: RAW EARTH: NEW MUSIC FOR WIND BAND
Recording: The Hartt School Wind Ensemble Conductor: Glen Adsit
Publisher: NAXOS 8.573342
The Hartt School Wind Ensemble has released some of the most impressive recordings and Raw Earth is no exception. The program begins with Concerto for Winds and Percussion by Stephen Gryc; a marvelous display piece which runs the gamut of instrumental brilliance and challenge. Terra Cruda literally translates into Raw Earth and this title work by Susan Botti is a descriptive essay based on the innate behavior of aggression. The music goes through its course of moods and emotions throughout. The final composition is Rumpelstizchen (German spelling) which is a portrait of the classic fairy tale. The composer Jess Langston Turner divides the story into three corresponding movements; Spinning Straw into Gold, Night (The Maiden’s Despair) and Rumpelstilzchen’s Furiant (Moto Perpetuo). I commend Glen Adsit and the Hartt School Wind Ensemble for an exceptional performance of this highly demanding program.
Page from Bandworld Magazine Online Ed. (Vol 31#3 • Jan. - March 2016) • More info at www.bandworld.org • Page 3 of 98