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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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Chameleon Brass It’s All Been Arranged
Freddie MERCURY (1946–1991) arr. Nock Bohemian Rhapsody [6:00]
John Philip SOUSA (1854-1932) arr. Battles Washington Post [2:36]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937) arr. Fox Prelude [3:46]
M. BENNETT (?) Five Towns: Banbury [0:56]; York [1:27]; Milton Keynes [1:13]; Salisbury [1:33]; Bath [1:26]
TRAD arr. Fox Londonderry Air [5:53]
GERSHWIN, arr. Thompson Porgy and Bess [13:57]
Albert Eric MASCHWITZ (1901–1967) arr. Fowler A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square [2:58]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868) arr. Frackenpohl William Tell Overture [2:32]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) arr., Frackenpohl Air on a G string [4:51]
TRAD, arr Henderson Amazing Grace [3:44]
Chameleon Brass (Giles Fowler (trumpet); Matthew Wells (trumpet); Ian Stott (horn); Stephen Thompson (trombone); Rich Fox (tuba))
rec. St. John’s Church, Spencer Hill, Wimbledon, 9-10 April 2001. DDD
LONDON INDEPENDENT RECORDS LIR009 [52:50]
 


Five home-grown young brass players here, performing a disc of what could be described as ‘lollipops’ or ‘encores’. Easy listening, yes, but good music nonetheless, so that the CD could and should appeal to a wide and varied market.
 
The playing is of a genuinely high standard, and invites comparison with the finest groups around, such as Chaconne Brass in this country, or Center City Brass and Canadian Brass across the Atlantic. The principal trumpet, Giles Fowler is an exceptional player, as I can confirm having heard him give a stunning account of the Haydn concerto in Hampshire recently - with a fine orchestra and world-class conductor let it be said. If he’s the ‘stand-out’ player, that is rather inevitable, given the nature of the pieces. But he is ably supported by his colleagues, who all have their moments to shine.
 
If the issue is not in the absolutely top bracket, that’s down to occasional small lapses in the ensemble, one or two rather pedestrian tracks, and also some of the arrangements, which don’t quite come up to scratch. On the other hand, some of these are very good indeed; Bohemian Rhapsody, for example, is highly successful as far as it goes, though, having heard many arrangements of this little farrago, both vocal and instrumental, I’ve come to the conclusion that the absence of the great Freddie Mercury himself exposes the music’s flimsiness rather mercilessly, however good the realisation.
 
Sousa’s Washington Post is the least successful track – a rather dull and clumsy arrangement which the group respond to with their least lively performance. The recording of this number has a more distant perspective, too, which robs the sound of some of its immediacy. Fortunately, everything is back to the best with the Gershwin Prelude that follows - a splendid tuba solo in the middle section.
 
The only original brass quintet piece on the disc is the miniature suite Five Towns; but it really is disappointing that there is nothing about the composer to be found on the case or in the extremely brief liner notes. No Christian name, no initial, no dates, let alone any biographical information. Searching the internet, I eventually came up with the initial ‘M’ in a catalogue of brass music, but that’s all I could manage, folks! Come on, London Independent, you can do better than that, especially when these five character pieces are such appealing and approachable music.
 
Londonderry Air has been arranged by the group’s tuba, Rich Fox. Actually, this is much more than an arrangement; it’s a fairly extended fantasy on the famous tune. It’s an ambitious piece of work, and, for this listener at any rate, a brave attempt that doesn’t quite come off. Interesting and skilful all the same, and played with deep feeling.
 
Porgy and Bess, arranged by trombonist Stephen Thompson, is by far the longest item on the disc, and again is more fantasy than arrangement. This time, however, it works really well, and there are some delicious sections, such as the convincingly raunchy ‘It ain’t necessarily so’ - despite a few moments of untidy ensemble - and the lazy trombone solo for ‘Bess, you is my woman now’.
 
That Berkeley Square nightingale gets lovingly straightforward treatment - despite the spelling mistake on the back of the case - and William Tell gallops with gusto. The Bach Air features, as elsewhere, the flügel playing of Matthew Wells, and creamily beautiful it is. Rich Fox’s ‘pizzicato’ tuba down in the bass is worthy of mention too. The disc is rounded off with a spirited Amazing Grace, Giles Fowler letting his hair down in an outrageously jazzy cadenza, swooping giddily from one end of the instrument to the other, and full of glissandos, flutter-tonguing and some genuinely ‘dirty’ sounds – great fun!
 
After first hearings of this disc at home, it kept me very happy on a long and otherwise tedious car journey. These are gifted musicians who clearly enjoy making music together, and have an infectious sense of fun. Any chance, I wonder, of hearing them in some more substantial repertoire now? I hope so!

Gwyn Parry-Jones
 

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