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Music for Brass and Percussion – 2
Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)
Arbos (1977 rev. 1986) [2:20]
Giovanni GABRIELI (c. 1557-1612)
Canzon Duodecimi Toni à 10 (No.4) (1597 edition) [3:43]
Sonata Pian'e Forte (1597 edition) [3:59]
Canzon in Double Echo (attributed to Gabrieli) [3:35]
Robert SIMPSON (1921-1997)
The Four Temperaments (1982) [21:27]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Symphony from Act IV of the Fairy Queen (1692) [5:55]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881) arr. Elgar HOWARTH (b. 1935)
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) [30:14]
Kensington Symphonic Brass/Russell Keable
rec. live, Holy Trinity, Kensington, 31 March 1995. DDD
DUNELM RECORDS DRD0254 [73:02]
 
Music for Brass and Percussion – 3
Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998)
Fanfare for Brass No.1 (1943) [2:20]
Giovanni GABRIELI (c. 1557-1612)
Canzon XXVIII (1608 edition) [1:33]
Canzon XIII (1615 edition) [2:30]
Malcolm ARNOLD (b.1921)
Symphony for Brass, Op.123 (1979) [22:39]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Ceremonial Fanfare (1969) [4:02]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Morgenmusik (1932) [4:25]
George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759) arr. Elgar HOWARTH (b. 1935)
Music for the Royal Fireworks (1749) [17:21]
Kensington Symphonic Brass/Russell Keable
rec. live, Holy Trinity, Kensington, 29 March 1996. DDD
DUNELM RECORDS DRD0255 [54:50]

 

These are the second and third of four CDs of concerts given by Kensington Symphonic Brass during the 1990s.  The first volume in this series was well received in these pages (see review).

Volume 2, however, is a disappointment.  There is nothing terribly wrong with the playing for the first part of the programme, occasional fluffs and guffs notwithstanding.  Kensington Symphonic Brass dispatch Pärt's opening fanfare with relative ease.  The ubiquitous canzoni by Gabrieli also receive decent, though unmemorable performances.  Frankly, if you want Gabrieli, you should look elsewhere.  The LSO brass on Naxos, for example, or the Cleveland and Boston brass on Sony.  The Purcell item is an anachronistic curiosity, but nothing more.

There is one item of real interest on this disc - Simpson's Four Temperaments.  Originally written for brass band, it was rearranged by the composer for symphonic brass ensemble at the instigation of Howard Snell.  This is a serious piece and one well worth hearing.  Simpson's scoring has everything you could ask for in a composition for brass: brilliant writing for trumpet, technical fireworks, irregular rhythmic figures and (in the 'melancholic' third movement) some moving and soulful passages.  Simpson also references one of his idols, Carl Nielsen.  The title of the work and its illustration in four movements of the four temperaments of human personality wink at Nielsen's second symphony.  The vigorous snare drumming and timpani thumping that tries (and fails) to upset the 'phlegmatic' second movement recall the Danish composer's fourth and fifth symphonies.

Kensington Symphonic Brass play this piece well.  They inject humour into the jaunty rhythms of the first movement scherzo, and there is some lovely sonorous playing in the two inner movements, particularly from the tuba and trombones.  Keable keeps a firm hand on the tiller throughout the final movement, which lacks a little thrust, but makes this up in crisp ensemble and balance of parts.

I must confess that I prefer the original brass band version, but anyone who knows the original will be intrigued by this alternative arrangement.  Certainly the music acquires a harder edge in this guise, especially in the 'choleric' finale.

The last half hour of the disc, however, is not easy listening.  Elgar Howarth's arrangement of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is one of the most vibrant and colourful you could imagine - if it is well played.  It is also fiendishly difficult.  With the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble in mind, Howarth was free to demand deep wells of colour and sparkling technique to paint these pictures in brass.  Kensington Symphonic Brass are not equal to the task.  Yes, allowances should be made for some lapses in ensemble in a live recording, and even more so in a live recording of amateur musicians.  Perhaps they were simply too tired to play this leviathan work after their exertions in the Simpson.  Kensington Symphonic Brass sound like they are punching above their weight here.  They take a beating, and so will your ears.  Sour tone, fudged runs, missing notes: this is a mess.

Volume 3 is shorter and better than its predecessor.

We open with an elusive fanfare by Tippett, before the obligatory Gabrieli canzoni.  The Hindemith item is interesting example of his Gebrauchsmusik: music for everyday use.  Not riveting, but satisfying, each movement lasting just as long as its material allows, and not a second longer.  It is preceded by a well-played Copland fanfare.

The performance of Malcolm Arnold's intriguing Symphony for Brass is assured.  Kensington Symphonic Brass clearly rehearsed this item well and the result is a performance that compares well with the benchmark recording made by the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble under Howard Snell - most recently available on Decca with as part of a programme of Arnold miscellany.  This is not a work for virtuoso display, but demands great technical facility.  Beyond fans of brass, anyone familiar with Arnold's nine symphonies for orchestra will find much to enjoy in this piece.

Another Howarth arrangement brings the programme to a close, this time a bright performance of the Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks. 

Both recordings are very well balanced, although the bass drum sounds a little muffled on volume 2.  The booklet notes are brief but informative.

So who would want these recordings?  Volume 3 does not demand to be purchased, but although none of these individual performances is essential, they are well played and, together, they make for an attractive concert programme.  Volume 2 is a different proposition.  If you are interested in the Simpson, then it may be worth purchasing this disc.  Otherwise, avoid.

Tim Perry

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