This release is really only for fans of the Prague Brass Ensemble.
Or perhaps as a source of ideas for community brass-band practice
material. All but the two works by Kozel - totalling a mere
seven minutes - are arrangements made specially for this group.
Five are little more than brass-flavoured 'lollipops', and with
two of these you barely get a lick - to label the Janáček
transcription Sinfonietta, and the three-minute ephemera
after Verdi Opera Suite, verges on travesty.
Rather disingenuously, the liner-notes state that, "In
order to present such a varied programme, the Ensemble, naturally
enough, has had to make use of arrangements of works scored
originally for other instruments". One would think that
a brass ensemble would know better than anyone the huge brass
chamber repertoire that exists, much of it still to be mined
- there is certainly no need whatsoever to resort to orchestral,
vocal, piano or organ music!
Indeed, transcribing works like Carmina Burana for brass
quintet adds nothing to it at all - in fact, it burns away so
much colour and texture that little more than melodic dregs
are left of the original. Even with the famous fanfare opening
of Janáček's Sinfonietta, removing 80% of the brass
and the elemental percussion effectively takes the soul out
of the work.
The works that do come out with their modesty, if not their
integrity, intact are the pieces from the Baroque era or earlier
- the first five on the disc. The brass sound here has considerably
more credibility, particularly in the enjoyable Prague Dances
by Valerius Otto. The exception is Pachelbel's Magnificat
Sexti Toni, which again verges on travesty. Certainly the
listed timing does: it is 2:52, not 9:52 - the other three parts
that might have helped it up to that length are absent.
The two Suites of Songs from the Liberated Theatre by
Czech composer Jaroslav Ježek are jazzy light music fare, with
a curiously British feel. The two pieces by Václav Kozel, Quiet
Prague and Cinquefoil, are along similar lines, though
the latter is more upbeat and American-sounding.
Sound is very good, though there is a general suspicion that
at least some of the tracks have been faded down a fraction
before the brass has finished resonating. The booklet is reasonably
attractive and adequate, although the information on composers
is rather brief and the works are only discussed in their pre-transcription
forms. Inevitably, more space is devoted to listing the merits
of the Prague Brass Ensemble, both collectively and individually.
It comes as no surprise to learn that their repertoire ranges
"from Renaissance music to jazz and pop". They perform
well enough on this CD, but the programme is hardly profound