to Ruslan and Ludmilla (arr. Roberts).
BÖHME Sextet in E flat minor, Op. 30.
MUSSORGSKY Gopak of the Young Ukrainians from 'Sorochintsky
Fair'. Pictures at an Exhibition (both arr. Roberts).
NI5645 [DDD] [65'37].
through MusicWeb for £12.00 postage
This is a thoughtfully-programmed, cleanly recorded
disc which is guaranteed to bring much pleasure. The three arrangements
(by Stephen Roberts, the horn player of the ensemble) are models of
ingenuity and demonstrate a knowledge of brass writing that only an
experienced player can bring.
The Glinka which opens this disc is a completely successful
virtuoso show-piece. The Fine Arts Ensemble seems to relish demonstrating
its abilities - ensemble is tight, tonguing is clean (even in the
most rapidly articulated passages) and there is an air of confidence
about the whole. Oskar Böhme's Sextet dates from around 1906
(in keeping with the Russian theme of this disc, Böhme was principal
trumpet of the Mariinsky Theatre from 1903 to 1921). The Ensemble
avoid all sense of over-sentimentality in the slow movement (it could
so easily sound hackneyed) and ooze charm in the finale. They seem
out to prove that this is a piece deserving more outings. It will
be finding its way to my player again, certainly.
Alexander Alabiev (1787-1851) remains best known for
his song, The Nightingale (recorded by, amongst others, Lily
Pons and Amelita Galli-Curci). His single-movement brass quintet of
1847 was one of the earliest to be written for valved instruments
and is a work of great charm, relished with nimble passage-work and
confident swagger on this occasion - though this is not to deny the
intimacy created in the slow introduction. Mussorgsky's Gopak of
the Young Ukrainians is an enjoyable, short romp, but it is after
all, Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition' that is emblazoned over
the cover of the disc and which takes a full half of the disc's playing
time. A brass arrangement sits somewhere between the single-instrument
piano original and the well known Ravel orchestration. Without a full
symphony orchestra to draw on, the arranger has to use all means at
his disposal to achieve the necessary variety, and Roberts succeeds
fully. Helpfully, Nimbus not only track each movement individually,
but also provide descriptions of the original paintings to help us
along our tour. There is much delicacy as well as grandeur in this
performance - 'The Old Castle' is marvellously melancholy, 'Tuileries'
is a lesson on how to make brass instruments 'dance', whilst the muted
antics of 'The Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells' are marvellously
witty. Perhaps the women in Limoges market could have chattered in
a bit less civilised a fashion, but the dissonances in 'Catacombs'
are fully realised and the virtuosity of 'The Hut on Fowl's Legs'
is stunning. Of course one misses the great percussion strokes in
the 'Great Gate', but this is a slight cavil. Throughout this particular
gallery there is plenty of character, a description which seems apt
for this disc as a whole. Strongly recommended.