June 2004

David Munrow - Henry VIII and His Six Wives
Early Music Consort of London; David Munrow, director.
Testament SBT 1250
Released: 2004

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

Susato (arr. Patrick Dunnigan): Selections from "The Danserye"; Vaughan Williams: English Folk Song Suite; Del Tredici: In Wartime; Daugherty: Bells for Stokowski
University of Texas Wind Ensemble; Jerry Junkin, conductor
Reference Recordings RR-104
Released: 2004

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

by Rad Bennett

The first disc reviewed here contains the soundtrack music for the groundbreaking 1972 television mini-series, which starred Keith Mitchell as the larger-than-life Henry. Early-music specialist David Munrow composed it, using period works and his own compositions for an arresting, yet scholarly correct soundtrack. In notes he wrote for the LP edition of the music, he stated that it was "the first historical film in which the music has been scored entirely for historical instruments."

In his short lifetime (1942-1976), Munrow was the leader of the old-instrument movement in the United Kingdom. His Early Music Consort boasted the best players around, who played with finesse and sure intonation. Munrow led spirited performances, often featuring his own crackerjack recorder playing. The ensembles ranged from solos and duets to a full Renaissance band comprising two dozen players. The latter could certainly make a grand sound, one that is heard on the opening cut of this CD, a Basse Danse "Jouyssance Vous Donneray." With full band and tabor going, it is a thrilling experience. The large ensemble is also heard to great effect in Tileman Susato’s Fanfare "la Mourisque." These pieces accompany full court scenes on screen. More intimate moments are accompanied by tunes written for combinations such as four recorders and harp; treble and bass viols with rackett and lute; or just for solo lute, regal, or harpsichord. Popular composers of the period are represented, including Henry VIII himself. The performances seem correct, but not so scholarly as to be boring or dull. There is a joie de vivre in every measure.

The recording is expanded to "CD length" by adding excerpts from two additional Munrow albums, Greensleeves to a Ground and Instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The original EMI sessions seem to have been transferred with great care. The recordings are rich and full, yet detailed. The stereo stage is moderately wide and deep. Nothing extreme here. The dynamic range seems somewhat restricted, with small ensembles sounding about as loud as the whole Renaissance band. This was no doubt deliberate, to comply with the restricted range of the television soundtrack. This work was all done way before the days of Dolby Digital surround sound.

The Reference Recordings wind ensemble CD starts off with a composition that takes some of the same music as Henry VIII , arranged for modern band. This approach works exceptionally well. "La Morisque," dropping the "u" in the spelling, is for full winds underpinned not only by drums but also tambourine, as well as a chime stroke at the beginning of each phrase. It is clever and expert arranging and scoring, perfectly preserving the spirit and mood of the originals.

The Reference disc does not stay in the past, traveling in time through the always-welcome and -familiar Vaughan Williams English Folk Song Suite to the present. American composer David Del Trecedi completed his In Wartime on March 16, 2003. The title applies to the Iraq War. The first section effectively employs the old hymn, "Abide with Me." The second part marches energetically to a point where the Western musical ideas come into direct conflict with "Aalamati, Shah!," the national song of Persia.

The CD closes with Michael Daugherty’s Bells for Stokowski. This is the third movement of Philadelphia Stories, commissioned by Wolgang Sawallisch and the Philadelphia Orchestra in celebration of the orchestra’s centennial. The version for band was created especially for a consortium that included the University of Texas Wind Ensemble. Leopold Stokowski was the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Music Director from 1912-36 and is often credited with creating the "Philadelphia sound." Daugherty imagines the maestro visiting the Liberty Bell. After opening bell like sounds command the composition, the composer then constructs a baroque fantasy that pays tribute to Stokowski’s famed orchestrations of the music of Bach. The work ingeniously alternates between chamber and full ensembles and seems almost simultaneously of the past, for, and from the present.

Jerry Junkin and the University of Texas Wind Ensemble players give their all to this concert. The playing is precise and spirited, executed with beautiful tone. This effect is fully conveyed by Reference Recordings’ demonstration quality recording. Dynamic range is excellent, wide without exaggeration, and the frequency range is astounding. Every sound, from a dulcet solo flute to the resounding ashtray levitating bass drum, has extraordinary presence. That was my impression hearing this program decoded in HDCD, but I imagine it will prove almost as impressive without the HDCD enhancement.

Except for the Vaughan Williams, all the works on this must-have CD are world premieres.