As the rather fuzzy booklet photograph shows, the Fine Arts
Brass Ensemble is not averse to a little penguin-suited horseplay
in its promotional material. Nothing too much mind, just a group
deployment – kneeling tuba, trombone with the slide pushed well
down, New Orleans style – that hints that these brassmen might
enjoy the odd beverage. Admittedly the photo is old, because
this disc is not new, having been recorded back in 1994, and
whilst the hour-long recital certainly has its jaunty moments,
it also has very serious ones too.
This album of English court music takes in both ceremonial music
and music written for court masques. Some is well known, and
I needn’t point out the towering Handelian contribution, whilst
other pieces are less well known but highly imposing, such as
Locke’s music. There are single examples by other composers
in a masque context, and some anonymous pieces too.
The ensemble consists of two trumpets (Andy Culshaw and Bryan
Allen), horn player Stephen Roberts, trombonist Simon Hogg,
and tuba player Richard Sandland. From time to time, and where
appropriate, they are joined by percussionist Tristram Fry.
The Music for the Royal Fireworks goes well in this guise –
the trumpets peal and the lower brass contrast well, and the
way they broaden to the climax of the second Minuet is excitingly
done. Taking their cue from the arrangement of Flow My Tears
for a viol consort, Dowland’s great song has been arranged for
brass ensemble. As throughout, I don’t know who carried out
the transformative work, but it makes a nice pair with the same
composer’s perky Fine Knacks for Ladies.
Purcell’s Trumpet tunes and airs derive from keyboard pieces,
and the ensemble is joined by Fry. I took to the gravity conjured
in the Minuet, and even more to the way the melody lines are
handed around in the Air. Lilliburlero is jaunty indeed
in this performance. Locke’s ceremonial music is movingly depicted,
not least the opening Ayre, though its more exuberant qualities
are well attended to as well. Purcell’s ‘trumpet and string’
sonata works quite well, the all-string second movement being
replicated by the brass consort’s melancholy. The ‘Stuart Masque’
selection features a deal of cheeky virtuosity and, in the Comedian’s
Masque, an element of slapstick. Adson’s The Devil’s
Dance is crisply dispatched and Henry VIII’s contribution
makes for a suitably roistering finale.