MASLANKA: A Child's Garden of Dreams. In Memoriam. Symphony No. 4.
Dallas Wind Symphony/Jerry Junkin.
Reference Recordings RR-108 (F) (DDD) TT: 77:45
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Church band. A student of American composer Joseph Wood, Daniel Maslanka
has made his name primarily in music for wind ensemble. He has, I must
say, a literary turn of mind, in that his reading often inspires him and
his music tends to unconventional narrative shapes. He definitely wants
to communicate. Most of his work has a spiritual program behind it. His
musical iconography in large part comes from hymns and chorales, although
the "spirituality" rarely becomes explicitly doctrinal. For reasons
you'll find below, he seems to tap into the power of the Jungian spiritual
world, rather than a specific church.
For example, A Child's Garden of Dreams as a title may mislead
many listeners. Maslanka acknowledges the inspiration of Jung's Man and His Symbols,
in particular some of a girl patient's dreams which seemed to prefigure
death. It interests me that in classical times, dreams carried omens
and fates. Dreams then became primarily a literary device, powerful but
the sanction of necessary truth. Freud turned dreams around. They originated
in the psyche's conflicts. They didn't show fate as much as inner truth.
Jung, on the other hand, took us halfway back to the classical. Dreams,
although generated by the psyche, had a truth outside the individual
life. Maslanka's Garden takes for the basis of each of its five
movements a dream of this little girl, as recorded by Jung. They are
not particularly "nice" dreams.
All of them have to do with pain, death, and resurrection, rather than
with butterflies, princesses, and unicorns. The main problem with the piece
comes down to the fact that you need the titles, in effect the program,
for most of the movements to make musical sense. The two shining exceptions
are the slow second -- a fantasia on "Black is the color of my true
love's hair" -- and the jazzy scherzo third. There's really no musical
argument as such. The musical scenario is that of the dream's plot. In
addition, there's an awful lot of filler, or at least stuff that doesn't
come off. I might lay the blame at the frequent resort to ostinatos,
but not, strictly speaking, minimalist ones, although the effect is strikingly
similar to the long, dull patches in Philip Glass.
In Memoriam, written to commission, succeeds the best of all
the works here. It's the same kind of piece as Vaughan Williams's 5 Variants
and Lazarus" although the idioms differ (and, of course, the
Vaughan Williams beats it hollow), in that it's a set of riffs, rather
variations, on the chorale tune "Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt
walten" (whoever only lets God guide him). The tune, from its coding
in the opening brass fanfares, turns up in many surprising ways. The
surprises lead you on through the piece. It comes across not as deeply
as well-made. The title of the chorale tune more than its treatment leads
you to meditate on the life remembered.
The Symphony No. 4, in several sections played without pause, makes even
greater use of chorale. This time, Maslanka plays with three: "Wer
Gott vertraut, hat wohl gebaut" (whoever trusts God, has built well),
the Old Hundred ("praise God, from whom all blessings flow"),
and "Christus, der uns selig macht" (Christ, who makes us holy).
The composer picks the tunes apart and recombines the pieces throughout.
As in A Child's Garden, the music belongs to true fantasia,
rather than classic symphonic movement, but here Maslanka, without the
of a literary plot, manages to hold the music together. Maslanka probably
did compose to some sort of spiritual program, but one less definite
yet more concerned with dramatic shape. Those who know the chorale texts
wonder what it all means, but fortunately the symphony doesn't depend
on finding an answer.
Maslanka orchestrates with imagination and an ear for richness. These
pieces would likely make many bands sound their best. Junkin and the
Symphony, one of the technically superb ensembles of the world, do them
up brown, and the recorded sound matches the performances.
S.G.S. (October 2007)