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CD Review

Austin Wintory

The Banner Saga

Taylor Davis, violin
Peter Hollens, vocals
Malukah, vocals
Johann Sigurdason, vocals
The Dallas Winds/Jerry F. Junkin
Reference Recordings fresh! FR-708
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At least on the promotional copy I received, no mention was made of the fact that this is a soundtrack to a video game, nor that it features the world-class Dallas Wind Symphony, here simply called The Dallas Winds. That strikes me as a mistake on multiple levels, especially since the idea of a full wind symphony on a soundtrack has undeniable appeal. On the other hand, this is just the kind of project that makes Reference Recordings so valuable to collectors: innovative, unusual programming with top artists in superlative sound quality.

I've not played the game that goes with the music, and happily the music is strong enough alone that it's entirely unnecessary to play in order to enjoy. The plot is typical video game fare; poor nobodies become heroes. This translates well to dramatic music, and composer Austin Wintory clearly sees music as an equal partner with gameplay. He's correct in making that connection, but more importantly he has the tools to create a genuine musical vision. The orchestrations are beautiful, elegant, and evocative. If you don't usually warm to music for winds or bands, you have absolutely nothing to fear here. The use of percussion, strings, and vocals all but ensures that the contributions from the winds are at once more colorful and welcome to the ear. Those vocals deserve special mention. Their earthy, rustic qualities mix perfectly with the sometimes relentless percussion and hushed winds.

Jerry F. Junkin is one of the most respected wind conductors since Fennell, and he and his Dallas players really make this music come alive. Credit to all for taking this project with such seriousness and care, allowing a composer's unique voice to come through a medium that is becoming increasingly important to the future of classical music. The sound production on this issue, by the way, sounds fabulous even on speakers where it shouldn't. I've come to expect nothing less. Superb.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman