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Kevin Puts (transcr. Ryan Kelly): Network
Benjamin Britten: The Sword in the Stone - Incidental Music
Gustav Mahler: Rückert-Lieder: “Um Mitternacht”
Steven Bryant: Concerto for Wind Ensemble

Katherine Rohrer (soprano), The Ohio State University Wind Symphony, Russel C. Mikkelson (conductor)
Recording: Weigel Auditorium, Columbus, OH, March 2015 – 58’36
Naxos 8.573446 – Booklet in English

This quizzical disc from The Ohio State University Wind Symphony is a great testament to the high level of playing of American collegiate groups of this type. I use the word quizzical simply because the four works seem haphazardly juxtaposed and, despite fine performances throughout, as a whole the disc is less than satisfying.

Even in an early work like Network, Kevin Puts’ engaging, colorful voice shines through. The composer describes the work as “an explosive concert opener,” and it thrusts the virtuosity of the Ohio students confidently forward from the first sound. Ryan Kelly’s transcription has become a wind ensemble staple, but a solid commercial recording such as this is more than welcome.

Colin Matthews and Oliver Knussen compiled Britten’s Sword and the Stone incidental music into an effective suite. While Puts’ work emphasizes the collective brilliance of the ensemble, the Britten suite allows us to focus on individual instrumentalists. Trumpet, bassoon and harp feature heavily, and all are expertly played. Britten’s witty quotations from, among others, the Ring are delightful, and this is a fun addition to the composer’s discography.

While it is certainly admirable to expose a young ensemble to Mahler’s world, this performance of “Um Mitternacht” faces impossibly stiff competition. Katherine Rohrer’s voice wobbles at the top of the staff, and her heavily-Anglicized diction can’t banish thoughts of Christa Ludwig or Kathleen Ferrier. Mahler’s longer lines escape both her and Mickelson, an issue already apparent in the breath taken in the middle of the first line (“…und aufgeblickt sum Himmel.”) While there were few challenges from Puts’ inescapable rhythmic momentum and Brittens’ pithy movements, Mahler’s otherworldly, organic structure doesn’t convince here. From technical discrepancies—no attempt at downward portamenti, blatant ignoring of the many tempo modification markings—to more subtle nuances—the move into major is devoid of color change and the the Fließend tempo reveals a jumpy transmission—this is a valiant effort, but easily outdone by countless other recordings.

Steven Bryant’s substantial Concerto for Wind Ensemble is a thrilling closer to the disc, although on recording we miss much of the work’s intended antiphonal effects. Fans of highly economic compositions will be attracted to this work, where Bryant exhausts his five-note Hauptmotiv through five contrasting movements. Again, we are treated to the full collective virtues of the Ohio players, and Mikkelson negotiations the 35 minute structure well.

Marcus Karl Maroney




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