July 8, 2019
Escapade: Music for Large and Small Ensembles
US Air Force Academy Band/Lt. Col. Philip C. Chevallard, Lt. Col. Steven Grimo;
Eastern Wind Symphony/Todd Nichols;
Danny Helseth, euphonium. Mark Dorosheff, Nathan Wisniewski, violins. Bryce Bunner, viola. Christine Choi, cello;
Steven Przyzycki, xylophone. Stellar Brass
Big Round Records 8957
Total Time: 54:11
Joseph Spaniola serves as composer/arranger for the US Air Force Academy Band before his current position on the faculty of the University of West Florida. He has received numerous accolades from a number of band organizations and ensembles. In this new release, ensembles that he wrote this music for are featured here in six works mostly for winds.
The US Air Force Academy Band is featured in two works. They start things off with the piece that lends the album its title, Escapade. The piece is a motivic exploration that moves across a number of variations of color and rhythmic excitement. The latter blends jazz references, punctuated by brass and sax interplay, as well as some great expanded percussion writing. It makes for an exciting opening to the album. The Eastern Wind Symphony commissioned, and performs, Blow, Eastern Winds. A swirling figure in woodwinds opens with longer brass lines layered over the top before we move into a section that has a great lower ostinato pattern and slightly more dissonant musical ideas, more modal coupled with a bit of jazz-like extended harmonies in the brass. As in the opening number, this work too explores the various colors of the band with plenty of percussion interplay and a few contemporary techniques (blowing air through instruments). For the most part though, the music is engaging and accessible adding some important works to band literature.
The Solar Winds are a group of clarinetists (performing on a variety of Bb, Eb, basset horn, and bass instruments depending on the piece). The more significant work for this combination is the three-movement Klempirik Farms for clarinet quartet. Spaniola crafts some jaunty melodic ideas that also have a nice jazz-like quality to them. The music has a more personal connection referencing the composer’s memories of his family farm. Gentle, lyrical melodies provide a nice contrast in the central “Fertile Ground” without really referencing a Copland-esque Americana. Spaniola’s tends to fall more in the traditional romantic-tinged style with a beautiful simplicity that also has some wonderful coloristic harmony. “Playful Hearts” has a quirkier rhythmic quality which adds a nice shift and moves into a more dance-like finale with great dialogue sections between the quartet. They are also featured in a work for band that highlights clarinets in The Winds of the Quadrumvirate. Spaniolar explores the quality of each of the four clarinets in the quartet against a directional application (North, South, East, West) that then pulls them all back together to unify their otherwise diverse sounds and applications in the piece as a whole. Each of these are essentially movement/mood shifts that provide a variety of color. The melodic writing is always engaging and Spaniola’s rhythm backdrops provide a great punctuation to the lyrical melodies as heard in the other pieces on the album.
One of the more unique works on the album is Dream. Written for Danny Helseth, who performs it here, Dream is a series of unique episodes that further explore Helseth’s virtuosity both technically and expressively. The setting of euphonium with string quartet is a rather fascinating one in and of itself (and it would be fascinating to hear how this might translate to string orchestra). Spaniola’s style here tends to a more classical concert approach, the rhythmic ideas of the wind band music are apparent here as well, but the string quartet adds a decidedly different dimension. Though the music is mostly tonal, the dissonance in this work becomes more advanced and closely intertwined in the strings especially. The euphonium then elaborates in larger swaths of material that picks up these motives and rhythms and expounds upon them.
The album closes with a delightful klezmer-like piece, Der Heyser Bulgar for brass and xylophone.
While it would be wonderful to have a full album of Spaniola’s band music, this collection of his work provides some great contrast of ensembles that show off his compositional abilities and voice. The music is quite accessible and always engaging throughout. Big Round will hopefully explore additional wind band literature, especially when it has such excellent ensembles and performers to bring this music to a wider audience.