Brass Ensemble, Chamber Music Media Review



More Recently Commissioned Works for Trumpet and Wind Ensemble of Interest

January 8, 2016 - Easthampton, MA:


Fantastique; Premières for Trumpet and Wind Ensemble: Evan Hause: Trumpet Concerto; Jeffrey Holmes: Continuum for Trumpet, Trombone, and Wind Ensemble, & Herald Emeritus Fanfare for Trumpet Ensemble; Stephen Paulus: Concerto for Two Trumpets and Band; James Stephenson: Duo Fantastique. Eric Berlin, trumpet and flugelhorn (Hause, mvt. 2), UMass Amherst Wind Ensemble, James Patrick Miller, cond., with UMass Trumpet Ensemble, Eric Berlin, dir. (Fanfare), Richard Kelley, trumpet (Paulus), Charles Schlueter, trumpet (Stephenson), and Greg Spiridopoulos, trombone (Continuum). MSR Classics MS 1506 © 2014, TT 60:51, $12.95.

Listing is alphabetical, not performance order.

This album is much like Paul Neebe's in that these are all world première recordings of works commissioned by or for, and premièred in live performances by, its principal trumpet player and these duet partners, though with different wind ensembles: the U.S. Coast Guard Band for the Stephenson and Paulus, at the 2007 convention of the International Trumpet Guild in Amherst (which Berlin hosted), and for the Hause, in 2004 at UMass with the UMass Wind Ensemble (with entirely different personnel from that of the recording) and subsequently in Denver, CO, at that year's ITG conference.

But it differs in that these works are not all solo concertos and thus offer variety in additional instrumentation, albeit not as wide-ranging as Elizabeth Bowden's recording. The concertos, while both in three movements in the fast-slow-fast pattern, with their central movements their longest, do not have traditional tempo indications as movement titles: they resemble those for suites, and the works unfold more in that format. Those for the Hause indicate their inspirations – Alexander Calder's sculpture "Circus" at the Whitney Museum of Art in NYC, for the first (though it does not imitate stereotypical circus music); the second is "Dirge"; and the third "Chase" – so the work is also somewhat like a set of program pieces in the Baroque-suite tradition, taking the form back to its origins.

Rather than a professional foreign orchestra with a guest conductor, this recording features a fine student ensemble (which includes some of Berlin's students) at his own academic institution, under its then conductor; this is its world première recording. (Miller is now back in his home territory, at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN [where his wife Heidi Johanna Miller is also on the wind instrument faculty]; Matthew Westgate is the UMass Wind Ensemble's current conductor.)

Holmes' Continuum was premièred live with these players in the recording venue in December 2012 and subsequently performed in 2013 at the International Trumpet Guild convention in Michigan. Holmes, Professor of Music and Director of Jazz and African-American Music Studies at UMass Amherst, is better known as a composer of jazz than of classical works. His Fanfare is a context-specific work dedicated to Berlin's predecessor, Walter Chestnut. Berlin's partner in the work whose title is that of the disk is his own teacher, Principal Trumpet Emeritus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with whom his partner in the Paulus, Kelley, also studied; his partner in Continuum, Spiridopoulos, is his colleague. As a result, there is a sense of long-term collegiality/familiarity and committed enthusiastic teamwork that radiates from the entire project. The Paulus and this recording of it were nominated for a Grammy award.

The ordering of the works for performance/recording is well planned, opening with Holmes' Fanfare and closing with his Continuum, surrounding the two works for trumpet duet followed by the trumpet-trombone duo piece. It adds up to a smoothly flowing, coherent program with sufficient internal variety in both content and dynamics to maintain interest and avoid monotony.

The 24-page accompanying booklet has track listings and timings on page 2, notes about the music, several by its composers, and bios of them accompanied by small black and white photos on pages 3-11, and bios of the performers, also with b&w photos, on pages 12-18, with ensemble personnel listings (accompanied by group photos) on pages 18-21, the listing of the soloists' instruments on page 22, and acknowledgements on page 23. The back cover features announcements of Berlin's other CDs superimposed on a blow-up of a portion of the yellow-on-red galaxy explosion- or fireworks-like art work by Alex Smith featured on the front cover and the inside of the tray card.

The recording venue was the Concert Hall of the Fine Arts Center on the UMass Amherst campus, a large, cavernous, Brutalist-style, poured-concrete structure, often derogatorily referred to as a bunker (albeit above-ground). The recordings were made in December 2010 (Holmes' Fanfare, Stephenson, and Paulus) and 2012 (Hause and Holmes' Continuum). The recorded sound is very good, and although the Fanfare was a "live" recording, the applause is not prominent. The performances of all the musicians are clean, crisp, and precise, in a word: fantastic. This is a very enjoyable and satisfying recording that easily merits multiple listenings.

Full disclosure: the youngest son of friends of mine (who is also a friend, of course) was a member of the clarinet section for these recordings, but I was not present for the live performances or for the recordings.