A symphonic wind ensemble is to a marching band as a rich mousse is to chocolate pudding. Dressed formally, playing a varied contemporary repertoire, the University of Maryland Symphonic Wind Ensemble is a particularly classy crew of musicians. Under the direction of John E. Wakefield, these approximately 50 student performers shine individually and blend exquisitely.
The ensemble's concert last night at the university's Center of Adult Education Auditorium featured a wild assortment of works that showed off each instrumental section and provided the listener with an aural goulash. The program began with Ralph Vaughn Williams' "Two Portraits From the England of Elizabeth," an alternately blustering and pensive composition that calls to mind English jigs and seashores. Vincent Persichetti's "Chorale Prelude: Turn Not Thy Face" had the trombones blaring and wailing and the group fulminating through its stark passages.
Chromatic movement figures prominently in Karel Husa's "Al Fresco"; up and down the scale the players slide, first jazzily, then melodramatically. Morton Gould's "St. Lawrence Suite" opened with two coronets conversing--rather messily here--from either side of the stage. It went on to develop this call and refrain throughout a series of perky marches and airy, Coplandesque harmonies. The long, lugubrious "Hammersmith, Prelude and Scherzo" by Gustav Holst came alive during a lovely exchange among solo clarinet, piccolo and then oboe.
Marching band fever hit the group at the end of the evening, as it launched into Carlos Chavez's ultra-oompah "Chapultepec Suite." This predictable, slightly Latin-flavored lark even had the tuxedoed percussionists bobbing and swaying as they awaited their cues.