The Maslanka Will Beguile You
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 10/11/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This release featuring the University of Miami (Florida) Wind Ensemble contains two pieces that unwittingly demonstrate the difference between extraordinary music (Maslanka) and well-crafted but rather more ordinary music (Gillingham). Both composers are known primarily for their compositions for winds and both write with a seeming ease and confidence for this medium. However, Maslanka has a true gift for finding originality at the same time that he is writing in a very conservative style; he seems to have his own voice that owes little to any of his predecessors. Gillingham, on the other hand, writes in a style that sounds much of the time like a knock-off of late Romantic epigones such as John Williams. Fortunately his three-section piece 'Double Star for Solo Clarinet, Solo Piano and Wind Ensemble' is much the shorter work here. It is, one must say, expertly played by the soloists (Margaret Donohue, clarinet and Ellen Rowe, piano), somewhat less so by the Miami Wind Ensemble who have some rough patches here and there.
Although I've said that the Maslanka 'Song Book for Flute and Wind Ensemble' is original in impact, it is based in three of the five movements to a large extent on Bach chorales. These are not simple arrangements, but rather meditations on the Bach pieces. All five of the movements are lyrical and unfailingly both beautiful and memorable; Maslanka's ability to craft memorable melodies is remarkable. I was particularly struck by the quiet and ravishing third movement, 'In Loving Memory.' The 11-minute fourth movement, 'In the Crucible of Your Pain,' written in the aftermath of the horror of 9/11, is both wrenching and consolatory. The equally long fifth movement, 'A Song for the End of Time,' is a meditation on final things; the flute seems to be a single soul searching for answers. When, after much emotional turmoil in this movement, Maslanka returns to Bach's 'O Gott, du frommer Gott,' it is hard to keep the tears away. The flute soloist, Christine Nield, is simply superb throughout. Further, the Wind Ensemble under its conductor Gary Green plays much more skillfully and consistently here.
This issue is worth obtaining for the Maslanka. It is destined to be played a lot, I suspect, largely because it is not only very effective but must be rewarding for the instrumentalists involved.