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Johann Christoph PEZEL (1639-1694)
Five Dances [5:36]
Niccolň PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Three Caprices [7:19]
Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Suite from “For Children” (1908-1909) [6:00]
Alec WILDER (1907-1980)
Brass Quintet No. 1 (1959) [14:00]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Morgenmusik (1932) [4:50]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Fantasie in C (1706?) [2:04]
Air pour les Trompettes (c. 1708-1714?) [1:47]
Prelude and Fugue in E minor (1708?) [2:30]
William SCHMIDT (1926-2009)
Variations on a Negro Folk Song (1959) [5:24]
John CHEETHAM (b. 1939)
Scherzo (1963) [2:13]
Los Angeles Brass Quintet
rec. 1967/68

I never heard the original Crystal Records LP releases (S102 and S602) from which this program was drawn, but I cannot imagine they sounded this good at the time. The instruments are clearly defined and precisely located. The lower instruments reproduce with roundness and depth: the tuba provides an exceptionally firm sonic foundation. The two trumpets, of course, have less sheer tonal depth to offer, but their pillowy sounds are realistically positioned in the soundscape, avoiding the shallow, “pasted-on” sound of some digital productions of the 1990s.

Brass ensemble programs tend to fall into three categories: transcriptions, mostly Baroque; contemporary compositions; or some mixture of both. This program falls squarely into the third category. The newer pieces would still have felt contemporary at the time of recording. Even the Bartók and Hindemith works would still have been relatively unfamiliar.

Baroque music generally works well in this sort of program, and such is the case here. The pieces forming Pezel’s suite were written to be played from the towers of German cities. In the Bach set, the central Air pour les Trompettes, originally a harpsichord piece, makes a predictably smooth transfer to brass. It is flanked by full, shiny arrangements of two organ works, though it could easily have capped its set.

Three Paganini solo violin Caprices suggest a stunt, on the order of Maurice André’s Flight of the Bumblebee. Still, the arrangements manage to be both flashy and tactful, and the players clearly relish the virtuoso demands. If you are interested, the pieces are numbers 14, 17, and 24; the theme of that last is the one that Rachmaninov would later use for his Rhapsody.

The six selections from Bartók’s piano pieces For Children constitute an effective suite. Miles Anderson, the arranger and the Quintet’s trombonist, changes up the sonorities by omitting the trumpets here, the tuba there; the opening Children at Play effectively uses just trumpet and trombone. All three brief movements of Hindemith’s Morgenmusik are solemn in the midcentury Germanic style; the central Langsame viertel strikes an exploratory note, while the closing Bewegt is an uplifting, affirmative processional.

The contemporary pieces are all rather interesting. Wilder’s Quintet is bluesy, with adventurous rhythms: the jazzy Tuba Showpiece somehow “swings” in a seven-beat. The harmonies and rhythmic propulsion of Schmidt’s Variations, on the spiritual Goin’ Home on a Cloud, suggest Walter Piston and other American postwar symphonists; so does the pointed, sometimes syncopated writing in Cheetham’s Scherzo.

The Quintet players are confident: virtuosic and expressive as needed. They enter into the carnival spirit of the last of the Bartók numbers, and they are on top of the tricky scansion in the finale of the Wilder, which they “button” cheerfully. Roger Bobo’s tuba proves exceptionally agile in parts of the Bartók and the Wilder. Trumpeter Mario Guarneri takes the passagework in Paganini’s number 17 with panache; whichever of the two trumpeters leads in Bartók’s Quasi adagio is as plaintive as an oboe. Pezel’s joyous Bal and Gigue movements set off their more formal surroundings.

The booklet notes are concise and informative, though surprisingly paltry with the dates of composition; the Internet supplied much of what I put in the heading.

Stephen Francis Vasta

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