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Empire Brass - Class Brass - Classical Favourites for Brass
1. RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Procession of the Nobles from Mlada [4.23]; 2. BORODIN Dances from Prince Igor [3.33]; 3. COPLAND Buckaroo holiday from Rodeo [3.53]; 4. SMETANA Dance of the comedians from The Bartered Bride [2.47]; 5. GRIEG Anitra's dance from Peer Gynt [1.42]; 6. PROKOFIEV Morning dance from Romeo and Juliet [2.15]; 7. COPLAND Simple gifts [3.54]; 8. PROKOFIEV Wedding and Troika from Lt Kije [5.17]; 9. TCHAIKOVSKY Arabian dance from Nutcracker Suite [3.15]; 10. TCHAIKOVSKY Neapolitan dance from Swan Lake [3.12]; 11. VERDI Triumphal march from Aida [3.38]; 12. FAURE Pavane [5.33]; 13. BIZET Toreador song from Carmen [2.19]; 14. DVOŘÁK Slavonic dance no. 8 [1.53]; 15. BRAHMS Hungarian dance No. 5 [2.47]; 16. GINASTERA Estancia [5.23]; 17. RAVEL Pavane for a dead princess [5.36]; 18. MOUSSORGSKY Great gate of Kiev from Pictures at an Exhibition [2.22];
Empire Brass: Rolf Smedvig (solo trumpet); Jeffrey Curnow (trumpet); Martin Hackleman (horn); Scott A. Hartman (trombone); J. Samuel Pilafan (tuba); Richard Jensen (percussion); Arthur Press (percussion).
Rec. no date or location details given
TELARC CD-80220 [65.22] 


Empire Brass has to be one of the foremost brass ensembles in the world. Their playing is precise, stimulating and always entertaining. The nucleus of the ensemble first met at Tanglewood, Massachusetts, at the annual summer school pioneered by Serge Koussevitsky then the chief conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Originally called the Berkshire Music Centre it developed to become the premier musical festival and educational forum in the eastern USA. It focused on instruction in conducting, composition, opera and instrumental performance. Leonard Bernstein was probably their most famous alumnus. In fact, Bernstein was one of the composers to receive commissions from Empire Brass. According to their web page the five brass players have all, at one time or another, been members of some of the leading US orchestras. As an ensemble they perform over one hundred recitals all over the world including playing 'to standing-room only crowds in the former Soviet Union where their concerts were broadcast on television'. They are the first brass ensemble to be chosen as winners of the acclaimed Naumberg Chamber Music Award, have been the faculty-quintet-in-residence at Boston University for at least 13 years and have held 'the Empire Brass Seminar’ at the University Tanglewood Institute for over 20 years ..... [where] students from around the world .... come to study’. For the last fifteen years they have also acted as visiting-consultants-in-brass at London's Royal Academy of Music.

So what about this album? It is not perfect. It excels in the more rambunctious pieces, the marches and up-tempo numbers like the 'Procession of the Nobles' from Mlada and the 'Great Gate of Kiev' from Pictures at an Exhibition. In the legato excerpts, however, the music is far better suited to the versions we are already familiar with, namely those comprising strings and woodwinds. 'Anitra's Dance' from Grieg's Peer Gynt and Copland's 'Simple Gifts' are examples of the latter. Oddly enough, despite playing of dazzling sprightliness, both Dvořák's 'Slavonic Dance no. 8' and Brahms' 'Hungarian Dance No. 5' also sound better in their original settings. Certainly the two Pavanes (by Ravel and Fauré) would have been better left alone.

But there are still plenty of positives. Rolf Smedvig's solo trumpet - one presumes that is who it is ... we are not told in the cover notes - in Smetana's 'Dance of the Comedians' from The Bartered Bride is faultless and the ensemble's cohesiveness and tightness is equally superb.

Randolph Magri-Overend


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