These are the second
and third of four CDs of concerts given by Kensington Symphonic
Brass during the 1990s. The first volume in this series was well
received in these pages (see review).
Volume 2, however,
is a disappointment. There is nothing terribly wrong with the
playing for the first part of the programme, occasional fluffs
and guffs notwithstanding. Kensington Symphonic Brass dispatch
Pärt's opening fanfare with relative ease. The ubiquitous canzoni
by Gabrieli also receive decent, though unmemorable performances.
Frankly, if you want Gabrieli, you should look elsewhere. The
LSO brass on Naxos, for example, or the Cleveland and Boston brass
on Sony. The Purcell item is an anachronistic curiosity, but
There is one item
of real interest on this disc - Simpson's Four Temperaments.
Originally written for brass band, it was rearranged by the composer
for symphonic brass ensemble at the instigation of Howard Snell.
This is a serious piece and one well worth hearing. Simpson's
scoring has everything you could ask for in a composition for
brass: brilliant writing for trumpet, technical fireworks, irregular
rhythmic figures and (in the 'melancholic' third movement) some
moving and soulful passages. Simpson also references one of his
idols, Carl Nielsen. The title of the work and its illustration
in four movements of the four temperaments of human personality
wink at Nielsen's second symphony. The vigorous snare drumming
and timpani thumping that tries (and fails) to upset the 'phlegmatic'
second movement recall the Danish composer's fourth and fifth
Brass play this piece well. They inject humour into the jaunty
rhythms of the first movement scherzo, and there is some lovely
sonorous playing in the two inner movements, particularly from
the tuba and trombones. Keable keeps a firm hand on the tiller
throughout the final movement, which lacks a little thrust, but
makes this up in crisp ensemble and balance of parts.
I must confess that
I prefer the original brass band version, but anyone who knows
the original will be intrigued by this alternative arrangement.
Certainly the music acquires a harder edge in this guise, especially
in the 'choleric' finale.
The last half hour
of the disc, however, is not easy listening. Elgar Howarth's
arrangement of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is
one of the most vibrant and colourful you could imagine - if it
is well played. It is also fiendishly difficult. With the Philip
Jones Brass Ensemble in mind, Howarth was free to demand deep
wells of colour and sparkling technique to paint these pictures
in brass. Kensington Symphonic Brass are not equal to the task.
Yes, allowances should be made for some lapses in ensemble in
a live recording, and even more so in a live recording of amateur
musicians. Perhaps they were simply too tired to play this leviathan
work after their exertions in the Simpson. Kensington Symphonic
Brass sound like they are punching above their weight here. They
take a beating, and so will your ears. Sour tone, fudged runs,
missing notes: this is a mess.
Volume 3 is shorter
and better than its predecessor.
We open with an elusive
fanfare by Tippett, before the obligatory Gabrieli canzoni. The
Hindemith item is interesting example of his Gebrauchsmusik: music
for everyday use. Not riveting, but satisfying, each movement
lasting just as long as its material allows, and not a second
longer. It is preceded by a well-played Copland fanfare.
The performance of
Malcolm Arnold's intriguing Symphony for Brass is assured.
Kensington Symphonic Brass clearly rehearsed this item well and
the result is a performance that compares well with the benchmark
recording made by the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble under Howard
Snell - most recently available on Decca with as part of a programme
of Arnold miscellany. This is not a work for virtuoso display,
but demands great technical facility. Beyond fans of brass, anyone
familiar with Arnold's nine symphonies for orchestra will find
much to enjoy in this piece.
Another Howarth arrangement
brings the programme to a close, this time a bright performance
of the Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks.
Both recordings are
very well balanced, although the bass drum sounds a little muffled
on volume 2. The booklet notes are brief but informative.
So who would want
these recordings? Volume 3 does not demand to be purchased, but
although none of these individual performances is essential, they
are well played and, together, they make for an attractive concert
programme. Volume 2 is a different proposition. If you are interested
in the Simpson, then it may be worth purchasing this disc. Otherwise,