The trombone is not
often featured in the symphonic world.
For some reason, the trumpet and horn
have long been preferred by composers
as the featured members of the brass
family. This has largely left the trombone
relegated to a realm of secondary interest.
Luckily, in an attempt to find new ways
to express themselves, many modern composers
have found themselves gravitating to
different instruments than those favoured
by their forebears.
Collected here are
several compositions that most people
who have not sought out trombone literature
will not readily recognize, although
it is hard to call this an album only
for the musically adventurous. After
all, due to the youth of most of this
collection of works - many composed
in the last 10 years - there are many
things that this music could be. Let
me first state that the music is tonal,
often neo-romantic. There are occasional
influences from both jazz and minimalism,
but this is not a CD that will be many
listeners would find inaccessible. That
said the musically adventurous will
still find things to enjoy. These works
are not without inspiration or innovations
in their own right. There are many timbres
explored by the trombone through the
use of mutes and multiphonic techniques.
Additionally there are points where
the microtonal and glissando capabilities
of the instrument are utilized in modern
ways. Therefore, this could be considered
proof that there is still both room
for innovation and a market for new
tonal symphonic music outside the television
and movie soundtrack world.
The opening work, "At
the end of the century" is
a multi-faceted piece traversing a myriad
of emotions and painting a plethora
of pictures. It never quite stops, but
certainly is built in movements, nearly
a rondo-grosso. The frenzied theme,
reminiscent of a tone poem describing
urban life, alternates with several
slower, more introspective sections.
At times the piano or trombone evokes
a haunted loneliness among the bombast
or cacophony that the other is producing.
Very occasionally the piano will state
a few slow lonely lines by itself. Then
the two will rejoin their efforts to
run forward through the energetic themes,
each time making the next chance for
introspection more inevitable, and more
touching. The work is very well done
and among the better pieces that I have
encountered in recent years.
composed as a single work in three movements,
each using a different biblical text
and evoking a highly different mood.
The first movement uses a broad number
of timbres from the trombone, with more
than half of the work written for multiphonic
techniques. For those unfamiliar, this
sounds much like a Tuvan throat singer
producing two pitches at once. The resulting
sound is unlike the traditional trombone
sound, but works perfectly with the
soprano voice to create a sense of the
ancient and modern in a cohesive context.
The second movement, presented later
on the disc, is a duet for muted trombone
and voice, using a French text from
Matthew. Here the trombone is able to
create the sense of the unfamiliar through
the composer’s use of Middle Eastern
tonalities and scales. The final movement,
again presented after two other pieces,
is based on an English text from Revelation.
Here the trombone is using its most
natural of timbre, albeit most frequently
in its higher registers. Both voice
and trombone make liberal use of glissandos,
and the trombone part is quite disjointed.
Were the singer using Sprechstimme rather
than a full singing voice, this would
sound as if it were from Pierrot
Lunaire. Having the movements scattered
throughout the disc is intended to make
the listener more appreciative of the
piece, as the other works are not nearly
as avant-garde. Even so, this is an
approachable work, and performed very
Similarly the Robert
Schumann op. 94, originally written
for oboe and piano, is separated by
movement and spread through the disc.
For any listener who truly desires their
music simply beautiful, this gives them
touch-points. Schumann did note that
this work could be performed by clarinet,
violin, or cello. In the liner notes,
Bruchez posits humorously that he feels
Schumann simply forgot to mention the
trombone in his list of acceptable solo
instruments. He then proceeds to record
a commendable rendition of the piece.
It does not seem that the instrumentation
is ever out of place. Perhaps he’s correct
and that Schumann did simply forget
to add trombone to his list. The work
is performed quite successfully.
Similarly, the work
by Jean-François Michel, In
memoriam for trombone and piano
is simple, beautiful, and moving. That
is where the likeness with the Schumann
ends however, as this is a modern piece
replete with extended harmonies and
experimental timbres. There are points
where the trombone is intentionally
overdriven to create a blaring flutter-tongue.
Later on multiphonic techniques and
long glissandos are also employed. Also
it is subdivided into three sections,
but there is no definitive break between
them. The first section is described
as "the animals’ awakening while
the priest is chanting"; the second
section is the "dance with nature",
and the third is the "procession",
intended by the composer to represent
a Catholic procession. This is the longest
work on the album, approaching 15 minutes,
with a great deal of drama and variance.
This is probably also my favorite work
on the album simply due to the broad
exploration of the trombone timbres
and the virtuosity that Bruchez is allowed
4 trombones is assumed to be a multi-track
recording of Bruchez performing each
part. There are no other trombonists
listed in the album notes, but there
is certainly the sound of a small trombone
choir on the recording. The sound engineer
must be credited with an above-average
job blending the sound. This does not
sound like a studio-mixed multi-track
recording. The sounds blend together
in a completely natural way. The different
parts sound as if they are responding
to the other members of the brass choir
with natural reverb and reinforced overtones
that would come in a natural setting
with four instrumentalists sitting next
to each other. Additionally the piece
itself is very interesting, with the
lower trombones keeping time with repeated
figures while the other higher horns
layer their sound. The only thing that
isn’t good with this recording is that
Bruchez seems to be playing on a small-bore
tenor trombone, even on the parts that
were written for bass trombone. The
timbre gets a little too edgy and abrasive
on the fourth part, as he forces the
horn to play below its ideal range.
Even so, the work is well enough performed
to be enjoyed even upon repeated listening.
Frank Martin’s Ballade
for trombone and piano is one of the
more commonly performed works presented.
Certainly this is a piece that will
have been encountered by those familiar
with the standard trombone repertoire.
It is presented here with the composer’s
piano accompaniment, though it is often
performed with the orchestration written
by Ernest Ansermet. Bruchez does a fine
job with the demanding portions, again
displaying a firm grasp of the literature
as well as his prowess. His technique
in the quicker sections sounds as if
it could have been keyed on a baritone
as easily as tongued on the trombone.
This is certainly a recording that anyone
interested in performing the Ballade
should listen to at least once.
Hommage du trombone
exprimant la tristesse de l’auteur absent
(Homage of the trombone expressing
sadness of the absent composer) is very
short with a very beautiful melody written
in the middle-high register for the
trombone. The piano accompaniment is
plaintive giving the entire work more
forward movement. Clocking in at under
2 minutes though, this can hardly be
considered more than an aside for either
the listener or the performer.
Concertino op. 4
again has evidence of multi-tracking.
It was arranged for 4 trombone parts
and piano, and deviates significantly
from the more familiar version written
in the heart of the romantic era. There
is significant use of jazz harmony and
much more modern technique. Again, Bruchez
shows that he is no bass-trombone player,
but more than makes up for that shortcoming
with his incredible lip trills and clean
technique through the fast passages.
Additionally there is a surprising deviation
into the jazz standard How High the
Moon at the end. Evidently the arranger,
Ingo Luis, has a healthy respect for
jazz as well as for the trombone quartet.
The arrangement and performance combine
to make this stodgy old work a fun musical
Overall this is a recording
that certainly could become a favorite
for the lovers of the trombone. While
it is not perfect, it is certainly a
good album by a very good performer.
One hopes that in the future he would
be willing to team up with other players
for the quartet material, at least when
recording the bass tracks. His timbre
is warm and bright through the meat
of the instrument’s range, but it is
a rare player indeed that can truly
master the trombone through all registers.
David Bruchez has certainly mastered
the tenor trombone, and puts his considerable
talents on display throughout the album.
Those who appreciate the instrument
will appreciate his work here.