Klavier's Celebration achieves what some other producers of symphonic band CDs have repeatedly tried, only to come up short: to prepare a program of frontline, major symphonic band literature as performed by an expert band in great sound and a more-or-less perfect performance. Klavier had a little help in this enterprise, as this disc -- featuring the U.S. Air Force Band under Col. Lowell Graham -- was originally made for the U.S. Air Force's own label and released in 1997, though that was intended for military personnel only and never for the public at large. It's such a good recording that it seems a shame to keep it under wraps, and Klavier has done well to make this release generally available.
Most of the music here will be familiar to those who follow American band rep; it includes Copland's An Outdoor Overture, William Schuman's ubiquitous New England Triptych, Holst's Hammersmith Prelude and Scherzo, Robert Russell Bennett's so-called Suite of Old American Dances, and finally the title work, the Celebration Overture of Paul Creston. Of the familiar first three, Schuman's New England Triptych is a piece that has nearly worn out its welcome by being loved a little too well; there was a time when you couldn't swing a dead cat at a symphonic band concert and not run into it. Thankfully, Graham and the estimable U.S. Air Force Band put a new perspective on this well-worn piece by concentrating on textual clarity and close attention to the dynamics, particularly in the wind and percussion parts. Robert Russell Bennett is best remembered as Richard Rodgers' orchestral amanuensis, the fellow who dished up the orchestral parts to all 13 of those hours of through-composed music for the television series Victory at Sea. Although his work as orchestrator is considered central to the operation of the golden age of Broadway itself, Bennett's original music betrays a quirky, clever, and witty personality. The Suite of Old American Dances -- originally titled "Electric Park" by the composer -- constitutes Bennett's whimsical musical reminiscences of his childhood in Kansas City, where his father served as a local bandmaster. Bennett's suite is often heard in band concerts, but seldom recorded; Paul Creston's Celebration Overture is another standard piece frequently heard in the band shell, but almost never on record. While it has appeared on band-specific labels that service military and educational markets, this is the first time the piece has appeared on a regular-release CD. Creston's Celebration is a brilliant, masterfully orchestrated overture with driving rhythms, excellent writing for the saxophones, and is written in an interesting, accessible style; one wonders what kept it off recordings before. If you love band music, then Klavier's Celebration should move to the top of your want list; it hits the right notes and the recording balance, ambience, and quality of performance are all primo.