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Transcriptions for brass quintet of Bach, Handel and Vivaldi
Fine Arts Brass
NIMBUS NI 5651 [64' 56"]

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This is the sort of CD I wouldn't have taken much notice of normally. I'm not too keen on naked brass, nor am I particularly sympathetic (now) to Baroque music (although I acknowledge Bach's astonishing genius and revere his instrumental music; and there are pieces by both Handel and Vivaldi that I love). As a rule, arrangements of this sort, however skilled, usually leave me cold.

By chance, I heard a track from this CD on Radio 3 - the last movement of Bach's A minor Violin Concerto. I was impressed and requested a review copy.

The opening track - Handel's Arrival of the Queen of Sheba - gave me doubts. The playing's a bit lumpy, one of the trumpeters not secure, but it settles. I do think this track should have been re-made. Fortunately the rest of this CD is up to the standard I was expecting from the radio audition.

Fine Arts Brass - Simon Lenton and Angela Whelan (trumpets, piccolo trumpets), Stephen Roberts (horn), Simon Hogg (trombone) and Richard Sandland (tuba) - are veterans of over two-thousand concerts; they have commissioned many composers for new works and have travelled the world.

Most of the arrangements for this Baroque CD are by Stephen Roberts who also writes an informative sleeve note. The highlight for me is his brilliant version of Wir eilen mit schwachen from Bach's Cantata 78. This is life-enhancing music played here with a joy and virtuosity (a particularly nimble tuba) that is spectacular. (This is the track - No.11 - to sample.) The other Bach arrangements are also excellent - complete performances of the A minor Violin Concerto and Second Brandenburg. The latter already has a trumpet part so comes off especially well. I like too the imaginative re-working of Vivaldi's D minor Concerto for two violins and cello; his Concerto for two trumpets was a natural for this programme, and Bach's Wachet Auf and Air on the G String are as sensitively rendered (no cloying sentimentality) as the Badinerie is sparkling. To complete the programme the ever-popular Adagio (Giazotto's arrangement of Albinoni) is nobly performed.

Throughout this CD Fine Arts Brass display a beautiful sound, instrumental brilliance and sterling musicianship. The recording is naturally balanced and tonally faithful. In short a very enjoyable CD, and I'm going to play track 11 again!

Colin Anderson


Colin Anderson

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