The Capital Region Wind Ensemble closed its 18th season Sunday afternoon at Schenectady County Community College with an interesting program focused on music of the Czech Republic.
As such, the large crowd heard mostly music that ranged from Bohemian folk music from the Prague area to the more exotic gypsy and Slavic music of the Moravian region, which conductor Brett Wery said was south and east of Prague.
The program began with Bedrich Smetana’s first nationalistic work, the “Nationalgarde March” of 1848. Written initially as a piano solo at a time when students, including Smetana, and artists were in rebellion against the Hapsburg monarchy in the region around Prague, the music was simply stated in a martial mood. Vaclav Nelhybel arranged the work for concert band.
The CRWE numbers more than 60 players, who are mostly music teachers or talented students. The ensemble was solid, pitch was good and Wery has an easy stick technique to follow.
Robert Sheldon’s “Moravian Folk Rhapsody” (2004) of six Moravian folk tunes was much more colorful with lively flourishes, more complex ensemble work and greater atmosphere. A few were flirty or taunting gypsy-like melodies in which the tempo began slowly but quickly became faster to finish in a splashy way. The band sounded mellow with dark, rounded tones.
Nelhybel’s Festivo for Symphonic Band (1968) started with a martial mood with heavy brass and strong percussion but shifted into a slower, sustained portion before returning to rhythmic offbeats and staggered entrances. Wery said Nelhybel’s music usually has an angry sensibility. Perhaps, but this work seemed more about rhythm, odd phrases and demanding percussion parts.
For something more challenging for the band and the audience, Wery chose Karel Husa’s “Music for Prague 1968,” which was commissioned by Ithaca College and musically described the 1968 Russian invasion of Prague. Abstract and dissonant, its four movements depicted the bird of freedom (piccolo solo), Russian tanks (snare drum solo), victory or alarm (bells and shimmery percussion), the tragedy (brutal and strident tones) and the panic when the tanks arrived (timpani, unison chords, machine-like attacks).
Put these all together along with edgy brass, shards of colors, off center attacks, a complete lack of melody, and rhythms that clashed and crashed in martial strides and the result was a quirky, harsh atmosphere. The band was totally focused and unplugged.
To salve any wounds, Wery offered Pavel Tschesnokoff’s “Salvation is Created,” a beautiful hymn that Wery said was the unofficial anthem of the Russian Orthodox Church.