The new season's inauguration of the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild's Sights and Sounds on Sundays Series felt like a throwback to a couple of decades ago when I first arrived kicking and screaming in North Carolina from the Northeast culture corridor. At that time, the highlight of the classical music season was sitting in Reynold's Coliseum at Friends of the College concerts where international touring soloists and ensembles condescended to play programs of warhorses, deemed more than adequate for our rural taste.
I suppose I should have expected as much from a brass chamber ensemble forged in the image of the popularizing Canadian Brass. But then, the Giannini Brass had billed this as a program of Renaissance and Baroque music, so there was reason to hope for a more upscale program. A couple of sets of dances by Tyman Susato and Anthony Holborne were the highlights of a program that featured arrangements of four movements-the best known-from The Water Music, a bit from Music for the Royal Fireworks, the "famous Largo from Xerxes" and Jean-Joseph Mouret's "Masterpiece Theater" Rondeau.
The final part of the program, entitled "Selections from the Classics," was inspired by music the group had heard as kids on Saturday morning cartoons, which they supposedly hadn't realized was classical until they got to college. It was a brass show-off set, presented as an audience name-that-tune quiz (answers: the "Lone Ranger theme" from Rossini's overture to Guillaume Tell ; Tchaikovsky's Neapolitan dance from Swan Lake ; and the "can-can theme" from Offenbach's Orphée aux enfers ).
The Giannini Brass are alumni of the NC School of the Arts - trumpeters Mark Clodfelter and Kenneth Wilmot, horn player Joseph Mount, trombonist Chris Ferguson, tuba player David Nicholson and percussionist Jason Brashear- all of them fine musicians. But they act as if they've been playing too many high school gigs. Nicholson, who introduced the numbers, talked down to the audience, sprinkling his minimally informative comments with enough yuks to keep us from nodding off- including the "world's only tuba solo," the "shark theme" from Jaws. And despite the fact that performers in the SSS series are contracted to relate their programs to some aspect of the visual arts, the group's only pass at that was Nicholson's referral to the Museum as the "NC Museum of American Art," wondering why we had all these Impressionist paintings-until he put his glasses on. I mean, really!
Now that I've gotten that off my chest, the Giannini Brass are first rate musicians. The Susato and Holborne dances were tastefully arranged with appropriate ornamentation. The inclusion of a tuba, however, rendered the dances a bit bottom heavy for their period-when the tuba still hadn't been invented. With brass players, even professionals, one always expects and forgives little glitches where the harmonics don't quite make it, but these were relatively few. The staccato technique of trumpeter Mark Clodfelter was truly amazing, and the ability of all five players to pull off piano passages was tasteful and laudable.
An enthusiastic and well-played medley of New Orleans funeral jazz finished up this bit of summer fluff.