Friday Review: Tales of Imagination

Changing gears a bit from the previous review, this week we’ll look at a new recording featuring J.D. Shaw and the University of New Mexico Wind Symphony, under the direction of Eric Rombach-Kendall.  Shaw is on the faculty at UNM, but prior to that appointment he was the horn player and principal arranger for the internationally known Boston Brass.  Having never heard Mr. Shaw outside of his performances and recordings with Boston Brass, I was very excited to listen to him perform as a soloist.  In a word, this album rocks!  Titled Tales of Imagination, this Summit Records release features original and arranged works for solo horn and wind ensemble. Here are the works/composers.

  • Poseidon, Hardy Mertens
  • The Glass Bead Game, James Beckel
  • A Piazzolla Trilogy, Ástor Piazzolla/arr. J.D. Shaw
  • Mystic Dance, Rick DeJonge

With the exception of The Glass Bead Game, all of these pieces were new to me. Though there is a growing repertory of works for solo horn and wind band, much of this music remains relatively unknown.  If you’re interested in performing a solo with band, Brent Shires of the University of Central Arkansas has put together a very handy online catalog.  Getting back to the recording, J.D. Shaw’s playing is heroic, musical, and technically brilliant. He negotiates the most challenging passages with an ease that is seldom heard even amongst other soloists of his caliber, and listening to this album was at times both inspiring and a little discouraging.  If you’ve listened to Poseidon, the first piece on the album, you’ll perhaps understand where I’m coming from.  From the first solo entrance to the last note, this seven-movement work never lets up in its challenges for both soloist and ensemble.  The UNM Wind Symphony also does a fantastic job with some very difficult passages in this work, as well as the entire album.  According to the liner notes by Dr. John Marchiando, Poseidon “was composed for the Dutch Marines Band of the Royal Navy to celebrate their 50th Anniversary through a commission by the ‘Marines Band’s Friends’ Foundation.”  Although the notes don’t indicate who the original soloist was, I can only assume that, like J.D. Shaw,  he or she must have great chops and tons of technique.

James Beckel‘s music is getting more and more recognition, and The Glass Bead Game is well on its way to becoming a standard in the contemporary repertoire of the horn. I like this piece more every time I hear it, and plan to program it on a recital in the future. The Glass Bead Game is a challenging piece, but within the abilities of enough players so that it’s getting plenty of performances. One can hear the influence of film scores in this music, and J.D. Shaw’s sound often reminds me of the famed “Hollywood Horn Sound.”  If you don’t know this piece, I can’t think of a better introduction to it than this recording.

Though a bit lighter in character, the remaining works on the album are certainly worth a listen.  Shaw’s arrangement of three tunes by Piazzolla is especially nice, and hopefully there will be a horn and piano version forthcoming.  Rick DeJonge’s Mystic Dance was composed especially for J.D. Shaw, and was “written with the purpose of performing with younger high school or college bands.” I think this is a great idea, and I’d like to see more works which fall into this category.

As of this writing, Tales of Imagination is not available for download on iTunes or Amazon, but I’m sure it will be appearing soon.  I picked up my copy at the Midwest Clinic last month, and I’ve really enjoyed listening to it.  If you are looking for an exciting recording of contemporary music for the horn, this one fits the bill.

[Cover image above linked from the Summit Records website,]

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