This disc brings together one of America's leading collegiate ensembles and some of the country's most recognisable composers, the result is a very entertaining and rewarding disc.
The disc opens with two pieces by one of America's leading contemporary composers, Michael Torke, the first being one of his most popular pieces, Javelin. Originally composed for full orchestra, in my opinion the pieces does lack a little in this arrangement for wind band by Merlin Patterson, it just doesn't have the sonic impact of the original, it is still worth hearing however and the performance is first rate.
Although Mojave was first scored for marimba, string quartet and shaker, this version, for marimba, wind ensemble and shaker, was commissioned from the composer for the marimba player Ji Hye Jung, who is the assistant professor of percussion at the University of Kansas. This is a wonderful piece, which at fifteen and a half minutes is the longest piece on the disc, and which I felt was over all too soon! It is a real tour de force for both soloist and ensemble which is reminiscent at times of the music of Steve Reich. The disc is worth investing in just for this piece alone!
The Torke works are followed by two pieces by Frank Ticheli (b 1958), who while only three years older than Torke, seems to compose in a more traditionally American style. The pieces featured on the disc, An American Elegy and Simple Gifts: Four Shaker Songs, offer some really attractive music, somewhat reminiscent of Copland, not least in the final of the Four Songs which utilises the same tune that the older composer used to such good effect in his ballet Appalachian Spring, it is refreshing to hear a new take on the tune.
The final two pieces on the disc are by Copland himself, the first is an arrangement by Donald Hunsberger of Quiet City, I must admit that I found myself longing for the version with strings, which for me sounds so much more rewarding than this arrangement, but this is my objective opinion, and I daresay that others will find it more rewarding than I do! The final piece on the disc is Copeland's own 1958 arrangement for concert band of the famous bit from Appalachian Spring, which he gave the title Variations on a Shaker Melody, this is a wonderfully refreshing arrangement and one which I feel will give much enjoyment.
The playing of the students is excellent throughout; their intonation is sharp while their tone is smooth and pleasing. The accompanying notes, while brief, are quite informative and add to the enjoyment of this disc, while the sound itself is warm and well balanced. This disc is a must for all followers of American music and of wind music in particular, highly recommended.