A Sousa Celebration – Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Kristjan Järvi [Chandos]

4 of 5 stars

John Philip Sousa
Marches, Galops, Humoresques, Waltzes

Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Kristjan Järvi

Recorded 22 & 23 September 2016 in Royal Concert Hall, RSNO Centre, Glasgow

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: April 2017
CHSA 5182 [SACD]
Duration: 68 minutes



Looking for something foot-tapping and beguiling, and with a fund of tunes? This Chandos Sousa release could be the answer. It is indeed a celebration John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), who might be seen as America’s counterpart to the Viennese Strauss dynasty and its acolytes. Kristjan Järvi is enjoying himself and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra plays with panache and sensitivity. There are moments though when the Marches are too quickstep, the percussion crude and the brass strident, but there are no complaints regarding Brian Pidgeon’s production values or Ralph Couzens’s exemplary sound-quality.

The Washington Post kicks things off, fast if exuberant, and the following Sandalphon Waltzes is an absolute gem. The Overture to and the ‘Circus Galop’ from The Irish Dragoon are both terrific. Meanwhile one becomes accustomed to Järvi’s get-up-and-go approach to the Marches: The Thunderer comes off well in its shapely swagger; The Invincible Eagle took this reviewer’s hands off the computer keyboard to do some conducting (what a response I got from the RSNO!), but Semper Fidelis is a little rushed, whereas The Liberty Bell (Monty Python music) is perfectly paced and jaunty with it; and El Capitan is similarly enjoyable, so too the lively Waltzes from same.

Of the pieces that are not for striding forth, there are two called Humoresque, one on ‘Swanee’ (owing to George Gershwin) and on ‘Look for the Silver Lining’ (Jerome Kern), the former featuring a B-flat cornet credit (and a crying baby!), the latter, corny if charming, a xylophone, Simon Lowdon swinging along. And not to be overlooked are the idyllic Nymphalin (including Aleksei Kiseliov’s expressive cello solo), the rousing On Wings of Lightning – a Galop marked Tempo di Marcia – and the three-movement Dwellers of the Western World, a Suite of colourful titles and music of diverse ethnicity; Eric Coates came to mind at times.

The penultimate track is The Gliding Girl, a tango, and, of course, the ultimate one (the nineteenth) is The Stars and Stripes Forever; not quite Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic (stunning!) but it ends this musical picnic in fine style. Chandos’s presentation includes detailed notes on each piece and full mentions, as appropriate, for RSNO soloists as well as the pieces’ orchestrators, arrangers and editors.

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