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Class Brass on the Edge
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978) arr. Rolf SMEDVIG
Sabre Dance from Gayne (1940) [2:18]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921) arr. Rolf SMEDVIG
Danse Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah (1877) [7:13] +
Georges BIZET (1837-1875) arr. Rolf SMEDVIG
Farandole from L'Arlésienne (1872) [3:28] *
Aragonaise from Carmen (1875) [2:21] +
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) arr. J Samuel PILAFIAN
Festive Overture (1954) [6:34] +
Mikhail IPPOLITOV-IVANOV (1837-1875) arr. E SMEDVIG
Procession of the Sardar from Caucasian Sketches [4:35]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924) arr. Rolf SMEDVIG
Pié Jesu from Requiem (1887) [3:33]
Georges ENESCU (1881-1955) arr. Rolf SMEDVIG
Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 (1901) [11:07]
Sergei PROKOVIEV (1891-1953) arr. E SMEDVIG
March from The Love for Three Oranges (1921) [2:45]
Leoš JANÁCEK (1854-1928) arr. Rolf SMEDVIG
Allegretto from Sinfonietta (1926) [2:23]+
Reinhold GLIÈRE (1875-1956) arr. E SMEDVIG
Russian Sailor's Dance from The Red Poppy (1927) [2:58]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) arr. Rolf SMEDVIG
Berceuse from The Firebird (1910) [3:05]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990) arr. Rolf SMEDVIG
Overture to Candide (1956) [4:17]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990) arr. J Samuel PILAFIAN
Saturday Night Waltz from Rodeo (1942) [4:04]
Jaques OFFENBACH (1819-1880) arr. Rolf SMEDVIG
Cancan (1858) [1:32]
Empire Brass
Timothy Morrison (trumpet) +
Andrew Roe (trumpet) *
Richard Jensen and Frank Epstein (percussion)
rec. Berkshire Performing Arts Center, Lennox, Massachusetts, 29-30 August 1992. DDD
TELARC CD-80305 [63:27]
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As the hairstyles atop the smiling faces on the CD cover indicate, this is not a new album. Among its recent re-releases, Telarc has reissued one of the plethora of Empire Brass discs adorning its back catalogue. Classic Brass on the Edge is essentially a disc of light classics arranged for brass ensemble. Where the edge fits in, I am at a loss to explain.

Leaving edges aside, this disc will probably please those new either to classical music or to brass ensembles. There is a generous dollop of familiar repertoire, including war horses from Bizet, Stravinsky, Fauré and co. There are also a couple of interesting and unexpected repertoire choices. The longest of these is Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody No. 1. Not the most coherent of orchestral works, it is not ideally suited to being arranged for a smaller ensemble of players. Despite excellent playing from the Empire Brass, it doesn't quite hang together. Rolf Smedvig's arrangement of the Danse Bacchanale from Saint-Saëns' Samson and Delilah, however, is another matter entirely. Sensual and evocative, it comes off brilliantly.

Among the more familiar items, I found the arrangement of the Farandole intriguing. This piece is a Christmas favourite of just about every brass band I have heard, and the contrast between the sonority of the cornets, euphoniums and flügel horn on the one hand, and the trumpets and French horn of the Empire Brass on the other, was fascinating.

Most of the arrangements here are excellent, and it is rare that the loss of full orchestra is felt. If there are a couple of weaker arrangements, they are the Sabre Dance which opens the disc (it sounds like a xylophone solo with oom-pah accompaniment) and the relatively uninteresting Ippolitov-Ivanov item.

The playing, as expected from the Empire Brass, is excellent throughout. Despite personnel changes in the middle voices of the quintet, it has retained its sound through the years. Sam Pilafian still pumps out a steady bass and Rolf Smedvig's clean, burnished tone and impeccable technique is as fascinating here as ever. Just listen to the clarinet runs in Shostakovich's Festive Overture – marvellous!

The liner notes are well written and detailed – ideal for a new initiate to classical music who would recognise these pieces but may not know a lot about them. I am left with one question, though. Who is E. Smedvig, when he or she is not arranging music for the Empire Brass? Presumably a relative of Rolf's?

As for the quality of the sound recording, it almost goes without saying that it is vintage Telarc – vivid and perfectly balanced.

In the final analysis this is a worthy disc, though the Empire Brass have certainly recorded better. If the repertoire appeals, however, it will be unlikely to disappoint at this price.

Tim Perry




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