Brass Ensemble Media Review Print



da Capo Brass' Début Disk

February 3, 2012 - Williamsburg, MA:


from the beginning,  J.S. Bach, arr. Ronald Romm: Fugue in G minor, S. 578, “The Little”; David Baldwin: "Music for Al’s Breakfast"; James Curnow: "Réjouissance" (Fantasia on "Ein Feste Burg" for Brass Quintet, Organ, and Percussion); Ingo Luis: "Paravent" (based on the theme from Ravel’s "Pavane pour une infante défunte"); Kevin Paul: "Appalachian Hymnsong"; Rolf Wilhelm: Quintet; James D. Wright: "The Protagonist." da Capo Brass: Luke Boudreault, trumpet, Steve Sutton, trumpet, Mary Pritchett Boudreault, horn, Paul Pietrowski, trombone, Brent Harvey, tuba; Delos DE 3417, © 2011, TT 54:34, $16.99.

The musicians of this ensemble, offering herewith its first recording, all hold teaching positions at various colleges and academies across North Carolina. They also all have solo careers that take them all over the world. All of this music is recent, dating from between 1973 and 2011, although three works connect with the past as well by incorporating themes from other well-known works composed much earlier. Three of the pieces, the Curnow, Paul, and Wright, were commissioned by the ensemble, and the Curnow, which ends the performance, was recorded in the venue where it premièred, Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte; the balance of the tracks were recorded in Charlotte’s Acoustic Barn Studios.

The music offers a considerable variety ranging from works that are more traditionally classical in form and structure, such as the Romm arrangement of the Bach Fugue, the Luis, and the Curnow, through more jazzy pieces, like the Baldwin to modern harmonic ones, like the Wilhelm and the Paul, which, in spite of the appearance of its title does not use Appalachian tunes, but rather seeks to celebrate the mountains’ beauty in a hymn-like fashion. Two of the works, the Baldwin and the Wright, have a narrative component that subdivides into five and four moments/movements respectively.  The Baldwin is not merely an imagined narrative, either; Al’s Breakfast is the name of a famous Minneapolis, MN, restaurant in the Dinkytown neighborhood that the composer frequents regularly – he has his own special coffee mug that resides there – and each movement is named for and evokes one of the specialties of the house: “Coffee,” “Whole Wheat Wally Blues” [= Whole Wheat Pancakes with Walnuts and Blueberries; the music makes your mouth water, too], “Es Bs & OJ” [= Eggs Benedict & orange juice], “Ugly Bacon,” and “Have a Nice Day March” for your departure. The Wright suggests events in a story. The playing order, mostly though not strictly chronological, establishes a general alternation between more traditional and more adventuresome pieces, between energetic and quieter ones, and builds to the climax of the Curnow with its added instruments, thus creating an interesting and satisfying recital program.

The accompanying 12-page booklet has interesting and well-written notes by Harvey for each of the works in playing order, generally first describing the piece and then giving a basic bio of the composer, but occasionally in inverse order. Dates of composition are given after the titles. The ‘bio’ of the ensemble is beneath a color photo thereof on the back cover. There are two other black & white photos of the group inside, and credits are on the bottom of the inside back cover.  The cover art work appears to be an un-titled photomontage of a tree sprouting in the midst of a field beneath a dark, cloud-covered sky.* It’s attractive and a clever visual support for the album’s title and the ensemble’s name. A similar image without the sprouting tree appears on the inside of the tray card and another similar one, though more Impressionistic in style is on the face of the CD. Track listings with timings and a personnel listing appear on the inside of the front cover and the outside of the tray card.

The performances are superb. The music is delightful, lyrical, harmonic, melodic, some of it downright infectious, without being the constantly blazing, loud, showy sort of thing that you often hear from other brass ensembles such as the Canadian Brass. This is definitely not your standard brass quintet album, and gains immeasurably therefore. Its works are a positive addition to the repertoire and the disk a fine addition to the options available on the market – and to any collection! It could have welcomed another piece to fill up the available recording space, however.

*A 2/6/12 note from the designer clarifies what's by whom: designs - of the album cover, inside and outside tray, and insert - are by Shawn Magee. Mark Evans is credited for the graphics - presumably the photography or production setup.