John Corigliano: Circus Maximus; Gazebo Dances

University of Texas Wind Ensemble

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John Corigliano: Circus Maximus; Gazebo Dances Review

by James Manheim

The Circus Maximus of ancient Rome was perhaps the spectacle with the biggest audience in human history; located in a natural amphitheater, it entertained up to 300,000 people with chariot races, fights with wild animals, and more. Composer John Corigliano, in his Circus Maximus: Symphony No. 3 for large wind ensemble, both evokes the atmosphere of the Roman circus and compares it to the texture of modern entertainment, specifically television. The work is in eight movements, and in both the circus movements and the third "Channel Surfing" movement, Corigliano revels in enormous contrasts, with sirens, percussion barrages, and a gunshot. These are set against two pieces of very quiet Night Music, symbolizing the efforts of contemporary people to escape their frenetic environment. Whether or not it strictly holds together, the work is very absorbing, and its gestures are large and precise in spite of all the garish effects. Corigliano has emerged as a composer who is neither strictly modernist nor neo-Romantic, and he has done well to choose that most purely American of ensembles, the university wind band, for this work; many such groups have attained a very high technical level, and the University of Texas Wind Ensemble delivers an ideal performance here. Circus Maximus, which relies in certain passages on spatial separation of instruments, would be an ideal candidate for a true audiophile recording, but the use of the space in Austin's Bass Concert Hall here achieves strong differentiation among the soloists, and the student musicians play their hearts out. The Gazebo Dances for band, originally written for two pianists, is a work of Corigliano's youth; it is less concentrated that his mature pieces, but his voice is recognizable; quite a feat in 1972, when self-serving avant-gardes ruled music. This is a fine entry all around in Naxos' American Classics series, which is creating a group of just those.

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