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Summit Brass Night
Anthony PLOG (b.1947)
Summit Fanfare [2:30]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
Capriol Suite [9:57] (transc. by Jay Lichtmann)
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Alborada del Gracioso [7:58] (transc, by Michael Allen)
Jimmy VAN HEUSEN (1913-1990)
But Beautiful [5:23] (arr. Tom Kubis)
Rafael MENDEZ (1906-1981)
Gallito [2:56] (transc. by David Hickman)
Joseph TURRIN (b.1947)
Jazzalogue no.1 [2:19]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
La Martyre de Saint-Sébastien – Prelude no.1 [1:59]
Manny ALBAM (1922-2001)
La Brasserie [15:27]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1948)
Fanfare der Stadt Wien [5:20]
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Pines of the Appian Way (from Pines of Rome) [5:59] (transc. by Joseph Kreines)
Summit Brass
rec. live concert, 27 July 2007, Gates Auditorium, Newman Center for the Performing Arts, University of Denver, Colorado, USA
Experience Classicsonline

It has become commonplace in recent years to record live concerts and sell the outcome commercially.  Most of the world’s top orchestras, and many other ensembles, follow this practice, and many fine recordings have resulted.  That this CD isn’t one of them is not entirely the fault of the players, who are described as an American ‘Dream Team of Brass’, thus raising expectations to a very high level.
I’m not going to make a cheap jibe by describing this as a ‘nightmare’, because it really isn’t anything like that bad.  It’s just that, overall, this is a pretty humdrum issue that never fulfils the promise of its own ‘blurb’. Why?  Well, a number of reasons. Firstly, the music chosen, which is a rag-bag of light classics and pieces in a jazz idiom.  Many of these are transcriptions from other media – full orchestra or string orchestra – and there’s nothing wrong with that in itself, as it’s fairly inevitable with a group of this kind.  But the arrangements themselves are of highly variable quality; Lichtmann’s version of Warlock’s Capriol Suite comes over pretty well, but Ravel’s Alborada del Gracioso, a wonderfully subtle and evocative piece in its original form, is far less successful, and seems a rather odd choice.  The same applies to the disc’s concluding item, the finale from Respighi’s Pines of Rome, where, fine though they are, the players can’t quite do justice to the music’s magnificent climb from obscurity into blinding light.
Perhaps I’m being unfair, in that, knowing the original versions, I can’t help making invidious comparisons.  Be that as it may, it still seems to me that the most successful tracks are those featuring pieces conceived for brass – Strauss’s unusual Fanfare for the City of Vienna of 1924, or Anthony Plog’s lively little Summit Fanfare, written, as you’d expect, especially for this ensemble.  Manny Albam’s La Brasserie (nice title!) is another Summit Brass commission, and features the tuba solo of Harvey Phillips.  Not great listening unless you’re a tuba player, and then probably for professional reasons only.  The tuba bumbles about amiably, but the movements, though not very long, all overstay their welcome. 
The Latin-American Gallito, arranged for a trio of trumpet soloists, and Joseph Turin’s Jazzalogue no.1, on the other hand, are both great fun, and draw the best playing from the performers and the warmest response from the audience, who, for the most part sound somnolently respectful rather than enthusiastic.
Ultimately, though, it’s the actual playing which doesn’t quite deliver.  There is a certain cautious quality at times, which leads me to wonder if the group, despite the undoubted eminence of its individuals, really needs a conductor to bring the best out of it.  In the end, a mildly entertaining and respectable CD, which will be of interest to lovers of brass ensemble music as well as to brass players.
Gwyn Parry-Jones


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