Review: Tales of Imagination

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Recent months have seen several CDs come in for review, and to start a short series of reviews first up is Tales of Imagination by J.D. Shaw, a new recording of works for horn and wind ensemble.

This is no ordinary horn CD and is one that will definitely make listeners think bigger. The opening work, Poseidon by Hardy Mertens is a great example of this. There is a point pretty quickly listening to this work that you quit counting how many really high notes are played because there are so many really high notes.

Stepping back a second, think back 50 years or so in our horn world. How many players were out there that could play a piece well that was just wall to wall with high notes? Not very many; in the USA at least most of the players were very orchestral in orientation and that lit does not push that extreme so much. Now we have players like J.D. Shaw that can pull off this type of literature with seeming ease, but there are not many in his category. What about 50 years from now? Will players growing up now listen to this and think works full of high notes are normal and figure out how to exceed the skills and training of most of their teachers?

Where this is heading is this is an excellent recording. J.D. Shaw sounds great on everything and it all just sounds so effortless as well. The recording quality of this Summit CD is excellent. The Mertens work, new to me, sounds to be an exceptionally difficult work that it is great to have a recording of. The second work, The Glass Bead Game by James Beckel, has to be one of the most if not the most frequently performed and recorded recent work for horn, this also being an excellent recording of the work. The works of Piazzolla and DeJonge are also engaging and well recorded as well.

Above all I like the “think big” quality that underlies this recording. Not only is the project itself a big undertaking (congratulations to all involved, especially Eric Rombach-Kendall and the University of New Mexico Wind Symphony) but really if you listen to this recording at all as a horn player you can’t help but think a bit bigger, with the idea that hey, horn can play some pretty advanced technical things! This is a recording certainly worth hearing. Available from Summit Records, my understanding is that it will be available for download on iTunes shortly.

For another view, James Boldin also has a review of this recording on Horn World.