British Band Classics - Frederick Fennell conducting the Eastman Symphonic Wind Ensemble.
This is the first record I ever wore out. I was four years old and my folks let me play it on our kiddie turntable. I cannot say whether it was the march tempo (I’m sure I did march to it), the tried-and-true folk melodies, the clear *monaural recording technique employed, or the dynamic mix of wind and brass that hooked me. Probably it was all of these. At any rate, I fell ardently in love with this record, and maintain that passion to this day.
Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams did the band world a tremendous service with these pieces. This is not the utilitarian and ceremonial band music of a John Philip Sousa. This is full-on concert music. As such, it can afford to slow down, whisper, and wax lyrical. According to the liner notes, there was a surge of American concert band music inspired by Holst and Vaughan Williams’ example. I realize now how little I’ve heard. We’re talking top-notch American composers like Samuel Barber, Morton Gould, Howard Hanson, and Walter Piston, to name just a few.
Finally, a story. My wife and I were almost late for jazz saxophonist Chico Freeman’s concert at the Yamaha Hall in Tokyo. To enter the Hall, you pass through the record store on the first story. That day, Frederick Fennell was the special guest, off in his own little room, awaiting the public. Since we were Westerners, and nobody was in line, the staff kept motioning us to step in and chat with him. I knew he was a famous conductor, but I forgot just how important he was to me in particular. I looked in and our faces met. He had a little smile on his face and I felt sorry for him, but if we didn’t hustle, we might not get seated for the opening of the jazz concert. When it hit me later, I felt downright sheepish to have missed the encounter. I’ll say it now: Thank you, Frederick Fennell!
*Mercury “Living Presence” recordings were recorded with a single Telefunken microphone. Far better-sounding than many recordings to this day, they became a victim of the “stereo” craze that was soon to kick in.