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The Wolf Rounds title applies only to the last of these three works, a typically spacious piece by Christopher Rouse containing nested circular patterns he intends to be reminiscent of wolves as they pace off their territories. Whether you would catch the reference without guidance from the booklet (in English only) is debatable, but the work is a fine example of Rouse's only seemingly neo-Romantic style, which is more rigorous than retrospective. The packaging for this Naxos release promises "three highly contrasting new works" for wind ensemble, but actually the three pieces, though entirely distinct in programmatic subject matter, fit together well and have a kind of sober, languid quality in common, and all fall between the poles of tonal and atonal. The big surprise is the work by the least-known composer of the trio, Montana-based David Maslanka. The Concerto for trombone and wind ensemble is a memorial to musician Christine Nield-Capote, a friend of both the composer and trombonist Tim Conner. This warm remembrance unfolds in quiet waves, with the relationship between soloist and orchestra interacting over the course of three sizable movements with large, distinct tonal planes. It's both elegant and very moving music. Michael Daugherty's opening Ladder to the Moon, like Rouse's piece, has a specific referent: paintings of skyscrapers by Georgia O'Keeffe, looking from a level perspective (O'Keeffe's own high-rise apartment) in the first movement, "Night, New York," and from below in the second, entitled (natch) "Looking Up." The work marks something of a departure from Daugherty's motoric style. All three pieces are cleanly played by the Frost Wind Ensemble of the University of Miami, an ensemble ideally suited to Naxos' aim of exposing unsung regional ensembles around the U.S. and the world, and Conner's work in the quiet, sustained trombone lines of the Maslanka concert is especially notable. An unusually satisfying disc of contemporary American music.
© James Manheim, Rovi
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