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Reviews: Romantic Music for Brass - Center City Brass Quintet

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Reviews: 2

Review by sacd_fan_2007 August 17, 2008 (4 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This is the first major American brass quintet to publish in the SACD format as far as I can tell. Unfortunately, it came out in 2004, and others have not followed. So this disc is a rare opportunity for SACD collectors who are fans of the Brass Quintet.

Like all Center City Brass Quintet recordings, the extremely difficult passages are played effortlessly with passion, and the usual dynamics scaling in the trumpets is present. That is, the trumpets play mp as mf, f as ff, and so on .. This causes balance problems with the french horn and low brass here and in all other Center City Brass recordings. Hopefully some day, Chandos will learn to fix this issue in the mix.

The Felix Mendelssohn arrangement contains some extremely difficult and tiring passages for the two trumpets, which Anthony DiLorenzo and Geoffrey Hardcastle handle with ease. The problem is, the arranger, Verne Reynolds, wrote boring parts for the french horn and low brass. Therefore, this arrangement may discourage those hoping to hear the other voices shine.

The low brass and french horn do get a chance to shine in the more balanced Ewald and Bohme pieces. The Oskar Bohme Sextet is a masterpiece for brass, and the parts are wonderful for every voice in the ensemble. The Bohme performance is great, but I still prefer the earlier rbcd rendition by the Asbury Brass (on Albany Records).

Overall, fans of the brass quintet should be happy that this leading brass ensemble published in SACD, and I recommend it with some reservations about ensemble balance due to dominant trumpets (and Chandos engineers not handling it in the mix).

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Review by steviev March 7, 2010 (3 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This is my first encounter with the music of Russian composer Viktor Ewald, and it won’t be my last.

His Brass Quintet No. 3 is quite amusing. The first movement is a breezy and cheerful divertimento, and sounds like the brass quintet Schumann never wrote (echoes of his Second Symphony near the end). The second movement “Intermezzo” borrows more explicitly from Schumann, in this case the piano piece “Furchtenmachen” from Kinderszenen. It’s just slightly spooky, no more frightening than vampire teeth made of wax. Boo! The third movement andante is the most striking – it’s a slow-grinding, sultry, passionately smoky jazzical hybrid. I kept expecting a drum fill and double bass descant to wander in at any moment. The bumptious finale has more Russian character, including a recurring interlude with a grimly jaunty, eastern-European klezmer sound – think the finale of Shostakovich’s famous piano trio. The closing bars are unconvincing as Ewald brings the work to an abrupt, unimpressive ending. An altogether witty and charming composition of no great profundity.

Flanking the lightweight Ewald on either side are an arrangement of Mendelssohn’s Quartet Op. 12 and Oskar Bohme’s Brass Sextet Op. 30, respectively.

Does the arrangement work? Yes, in that it is an effective and enjoyable re-imagining of Mendelssohn’s original. But I still hear strings when I “play” the quartet in my head. Part of the problem is that the Center City Brass drag out the first movement. Other than that, they keep their tempos moving along smartly, especially in the very impressive trio of the second movement Canzonetta – every trumpeter will want to hear this brilliant episode. I think that brass players and brass aficionados will enjoy this arrangement; I am less sure that general listeners will have much interest.

Finally and last on the disc, Bohme’s Sextet. Amazingly enough, there are two SACD recordings available of this work. I have heard the other and reviewed it here on SA-CD.net, so I will compare the two (see my other review for a description of the Bohme). The Center City hombroids are very fastidious, and actually kind of boring throughout most of the work. They are altogether too careful and staid in their playing. The only movement where they sound equal to Mr. Bauer and company is in the Andante. In the first movement, they add thirty seconds to the MDG recording, and you can really feel it. They don’t bring the passion and excitement that Mr. Bauer et al convey in this work, especially in the finale.

The sound, you ask? Excellent. Chandos has created an incredibly precise soundstage – it is like they are standing in your living room. There is a surprising lack of reverb, considering this album was recorded in a church. As usual with Chandos, you will have to crank the gain six to eight decibels beyond your normal listening level to get the full impact of this disc. And the recording is a little bass-shy (as noted by the previous reviewer), but I suspect this is a conscious decision by the musicians.

A very well-planned programme, placing the jovial Ewald between the more serious Mendelssohn and Bohme. Recommended.

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