Music for Band
* Circus Maximus -- Symphony No. 3 for large wind ensemble (2004)
* Gazebo Dances for band (1972)
The University of Texas Wind Ensemble/Jerry Junkin
Naxos 8.559601 TT: 52:54
Summary for the Busy Executive: Full of sound and fury, signifying . . .
John Corigliano has succeeded in his composing career like a Powerball
winner. Unfortunately, like a Powerball winner, there seems little
connection between deserts and reward. His pieces, especially those
written since about 1975, have made a huge splash (Symphony No. 1,
Ghosts of Versailles, etc.) and then sunk. If not the actual works,
people do remember the original success, and Corigliano keeps getting
commissions. I find his scores in general bland and facile, gimmicked-up
either musically or programmatically to replace genuine interest.
Of late, Corigliano has taken on the role of social Jeremiah. Thus,
the Symphony No. 1 was "about" the plague of AIDS. To me, that was
the only interesting thing about it. I fell for the hype, bought the
CD, and listened to it exactly twice before I decided "comatose" was
hardly a state I enjoyed. Circus Maximus responds to the coarsening
and dumbing-down of American culture. Corigliano's program notes compare
the deadly spectacle in the Roman arena to today's "reality shows," like
Survivor and Fear Factor (are either of them still on?). To me, he
stretches the analogy until it breaks. After all, we also have American
Idol and So You Think You Can Dance. I don't believe the Romans had
anything like those, and of course nobody on Survivor ever got eaten
by a lion.
Corigliano conceived of the symphony "spatially," with three bands (one
on stage, a marching band in the audience, and various groups of instruments
scattered among the various tiers of the concert hall). In short, the
players surround the audience (no escape!). This sonic experience doesn't
translate fully to stereo, and of course I haven't got surround sound.
I'm not sure the CD even provides it. At any rate, we've got these huge
forces (including a 12-gauge shotgun; don't ask), and it strikes me --
as, to be fair, it did Corigliano -- that the music had better justify
the resources. For me, it doesn't, although I do like two of the eight
movements: "Night Music I," a rare stretch of quiet in a rackety score,
and "Prayer." For the rest of it, Corigliano's composing conscience
apparently fell asleep. So tied to the blueprint of his forces, the
music frees itself only sporadically. Indeed, the symphony comes across
as an example of the vulgar spectacle Corigliano wants to rail against.
On this CD, the gimmickry extends even to the cover -- a "3-D-alistic"
rendering of the title. The pot calls the kettle black.
Gazebo Dances, originally for two pianos, has proved one of the composer's
most popular works. He's arranged it for both band and orchestra. It's
delightfully unpretentious, with witty melodies and dance rhythms, and,
thank God, you can't smell a whiff of Significance in it. It convinces
me that Corigliano has mistaken his talent. *This* is what he ought to
One of America's premiere bandmasters, Jerry Junkin leads his Longhorns
in precise, vigorous readings of both works. Corigliano has nothing
in the performance to complain about. Pitch is precise, blend almost
perfect. There's an occasional roughness of tone, but that tends to
suit the symphony, which must have been hell to keep together, given the
distances between the various forces. I can't recommend the symphony,
but I can the dances. It's up to you.
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