American Record Guide
  by Buerkle

The Horn Call
  by Calvin Smith
  May 1, 2011
  by Jim Lochner
  Feb. 24, 2011
  by David Vernier
  Feb. 02, 2011

The Arts Desk
  by Graham Rickson
  March 26, 2011
  by Joshua Kosman
  March 6, 2011

SF Classical Voice
  by Jeff Dunn

Fanfare Magazine
  by Ronald E. Grames
  June 10, 2011

Audiophile Audition
  by Steven Ritter
  June, 2011

  by John Miller
  March 15, 2011

  by Laurence Vittes
  May 2011


Brass & Organ Christmas
  by Kilpatrick
  Nov/Dec 2000



SOUND THE BELLS! -- American Premières for Brass
Harmonia Mundi - HMU 807556(CD)
featured in

       First, if you're a listener who instinctively utters "next!" when faced with a recording of brass music, I suggest that you make an exception for this disc, whose music and performances -- and intelligent programming -- will very likely turn your aversion into enthusiastic, respectful acclaim. In other words, you're going to really like this, and the fact that it's more than an hour of brass instruments doing what brass instruments do when they're at their most compelling and irresistibly attention-grabbing ensures that this recording will win friends and influence listeners of all stripes and colors, from the most serious classical activist to the committed jazz and pop fan.

Top billing here goes to John Williams and Michael Tilson Thomas, however I suspect that the track that will set iPods ablaze and audiophile demo rooms a-swoon will be Morten Lauridsen's brass ensemble arrangement of his widely popular choral classic O magnum mysterium. Choral singers all over the world have been reveling in this work's lush textures and sumptuous harmonies for years, but hearing it in this version confirms its equal effectiveness as a brass piece--and no doubt it will enjoy similar popularity in this scoring, commissioned by the Bay Brass and receiving its premiere recording here.

Only one of the works on the program is "new" -- Kevin Puts' Elegy for Brass (2009) -- and in fact this recording has been in production over a period of six years. The three short fanfare/celebratory pieces by John Williams are from 1980 and the early '90s, but they retain a kind of timeless festive character defined by Williams' usual technical polish, knack for catchy melodic/rhythmic figures, and a master film-composer's instinctive sense of exactly what's needed for the moment or occasion at hand.

Michael Tilson Thomas' three-part Street Song, from 1988, has been recorded before, but in its original brass quintet version; here it's premiered in a setting for symphonic brass that Thomas created in 1996. It's a thoroughly engaging work that explores the worlds of consonance and dissonance, East and West, 20th-century America and the Middle Ages. Bruce Broughton's Fanfares, Marches, Hymns, & Finale (2002) is a substantial (20 minutes) and captivating composition that happily expresses itself within the realm of conventional brass ensemble customs and language -- no gimmicks, no weird experiments, no gratuitous sound effects -- while maintaining an original voice through the composer's clever treatment of his thematic ideas. As I said, there's some real substance here that will reward multiple hearings.

The program's last two works for me were the weaker entries and held slightly less interest when measured against their very strong disc-mates. If you didn't know better, you would swear that Puts' Elegy was a piece by Eric Whitacre -- not unpleasant by any means(!), but not especially memorable or unique. And Scott Hiltzik's Spirals (2005) is just a little too self-aware, a little too clever -- and its intermittent hand-clapping is an unnecessary, amateurish distraction. (I spent the whole piece hoping that the clapping wouldn't come back!) That aside, the playing and overall quality of the music is excellent and certainly compelling enough to earn this our highest recommendation -- and many repeat performances. You shouldn't miss this.


-- David Vernier




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