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Wisconsin Brass Quintet - The Feast Awaits
Enrique CRESPO (b.1941)
Suite Americana no.1 (1977) [19:13]
(1. Ragtime [1:44]; 2 Bossa Nova [4:05]; 3. Vals Peruano [3:39]; 4. Zamba Gaucha [5:37]; 5. Son de Mexico [4:09])
Douglas HILL (b.1946)
Tribal Images [14:27]
(6. Where the Thunder Leads [4:20]; 7. Let the Prayers Rise Upward [4:26]; 8. The Feast Awaits [3:06]; 9. Arise Friend and Walk We Away [2:23])
John STEVENS (b.1951)
Footprints (2000) [23:09]
(10. Potawatomi Trail [6:55]; 11. May Snowfall [3:47]; 12. Mr.Oie’s Ice House [5:18]; 13. Slip-Streaming [6:50])
Douglas HILL

Timepieces (1977) [20:03]
(14. Good Times [4:07]; 15. Upon a Time [4:18]; 16. Another Time [2:38]; 17. Simpler Times [5:12]; 18. Party Time! [3:33])
Wisconsin Brass Quintet (John Aley and Alan Campbell, trumpets; Douglas Hill, horn; James Campbell and William Richardson, trombones; John Stevens, tuba and euphonium) with Paul Rowe (bass-baritone), Anthony DiSanza, Jason Richins and Christopher Fashun (percussion).
Recording published 2005
CRYSTAL RECORDS CD567 [77:29]

 

Another CD from one of the superb brass ensembles which seem to abound in the USA. Perhaps this one isn’t quite so spectacular as the one I reviewed a little while back from the Center City Quintet, but that’s largely because of the more thoughtful nature of the music, particularly the middle two works. However nobody could quibble with the standard of the playing; the Wisconsin Brass Quintet is a group of the highest quality, impeccable in ensemble, intonation and technical accomplishment.

The programme is especially interesting in that it contains music by two current members of the group - and excellent pieces they are too. Douglas Hill is the horn player, and he has provided Tribal Images and Timepieces. The first is an atmospheric and impressionistic work, apparently drawing its inspiration from the music of "the Helushka (warrior) Society ceremony of the Omaha Indians of Northeastern Nebraska", as the composer’s note tells us. Perhaps the snarling trombone glissandi do become a little tiresome after a while; yet they and other elements contribute powerfully to the ritualistic impact of the piece. The ending, with a dignified folk-like melody played in simple harmonies against gently throbbing drums, is memorable.

Stevens’ piece is dedicated to the memory of his father, and is a setting for baritone and brass quintet of some rather lovely poems by his friend Ann Arnston, which present images, typical of the region, from bygone days. It’s not easy to combine a solo voice with an ensemble of this kind, but Stephens understands the medium so well that there is never a danger of the brass overpowering the voice – and of course a well-balanced recording helps greatly. The music is very restrained, and almost unremittingly slow and leisurely in tempo. Yet Stephens responds unaffectedly to the words, and creates consistently beautiful and imaginative textures which maintain the interest.

These two works are flanked by extrovert works more typical of the brass quintet we know and love. Crespo’s Suite Americana no.1 is a little masterpiece, exploring dance rhythms from ragtime to Mexican huapango, all carried off with idiomatic virtuosity. Hill’s Timepieces, which complete the compilation, show that, despite being a horn player, he is capable of letting his hair down too. They begin with the bluesy Good Times, where the fragmented texture and sprung rhythms bring out the best in the quintet’s ensemble skills. Here and in other places, Hill enjoyably introduces ‘extraneous’ sounds, such as the ‘one-two-one-two’ call before the up-tempo coda of Good Times, or the rhythmical clapping in ‘Party Time!’. This last number makes an irresistible conclusion, yet before that we have the gently wistful Upon a Time, the furtive music of Another Time, and wonderfully supple phrasing in the affecting Simpler Times. This work, full of melody and harmonic richness, deserves to become a staple of brass quintets everywhere – it’s that good.

All in all, an ideal disc to celebrate the beauties of brass ensemble music and the remarkable talents of these fine musicians.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

 

 

 



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