There is no shortage of discs around featuring transcriptions of Renaissance music for brass. Whilst played on modern instruments the main difference here however is that London Brass, several of whom play period instruments in other ensembles, have enlisted the specialist knowledge of Philip Pickett to direct them.
The booklet note tells us that the principal intention was to achieve a freshness of approach and interpretation. Whilst on the whole they appear to have succeeded in this respect what struck me most clearly was a directness and authenticity in the performance style that can often be lacking. As a result what we get are no frills performances with a noticeable absence of flamboyant pyrotechnics for their own sake. That is not to say that there is a lack of virtuosity, one only has to listen to the flying runs in the opening Canzon Duodecimi Toni a 10 by Gabrieli to hear the fine precision of the playing. It is perhaps the first group of four Gabrieli pieces that have the most appeal, a restrained yet sonorous and stately Sonata Pian’ e Forte being particularly impressive as is the spirited yet graceful Canzon Septimi Octave Toni a 12.
Of the second group that conclude the disc Canzon Septimi Toni a 8 features lively playing in the infectious dance-like rhythms that predominate with the final Canzon XVIII a 14 being notable for some extraordinary harmonic invention (listen to the trombone line from around 0:45 for a good example).
Andrea Gabrieli’s music, judging by this example at least, lacks the sheer ingenuity and invention of his more illustrious nephew Giovanni although his Aria della Battaglia, here edited by Philip Pickett, certainly offers much to enjoy in its rhythmically dynamic central battle scene.
The remaining works, with the exception of the two brief Canzons by Frescobaldi, are by names which will be less familiar although there are a couple of individual examples that are worthy of particular note. Tiburtio Massaino worked in numerous European cities during the late 1500s and his Canzon XXXIII per otto tromboni is both solemn and gloriously rich in its sonorities. Listen out here for the wonderful sound of the contra-bass trombone that lends an organ-like depth to the texture. Biagio Marini was widely known as a virtuoso violinist and his Sonata in Echo is highly effective, it being easy to imagine the effect that it would have had in the magnificent surroundings of St. Marks (a pity that the organ accompaniment here is not credited although I assume it to be Philip Pickett). Of the two Frescobaldi pieces themselves, both of which are very different in character, it is the second, Canzon a 4, that demonstrates the greatest degree of ingenuity.
London Brass, as you would expect from an ensemble of their stature, are assured but never forceful in their execution. The acoustic in St. Augustine’s is resonant but not overly so, allowing the detail in the often intricate rhythmic patterns of the music to come through with admirable clarity. This is a disc that will give much enjoyment and one to which I shall return ahead of much of the competition. The fact that it is available at bargain price is an added bonus.