in: Reviews

July 27, 2011

BSO Brass Quintet a Blaze of Bright Notes

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The newly formed BSO Brass Quintet made its début public performance on July 25 in the Plainfield, MA, Congregational Church in the first recital of the third season of Concerts at 7; it was founded by the parish’s Music Director Elizabeth Hagenah, who wrote the good program notes. The series consist of four recitals, one a week at the end of July and the beginning of August, that feature musicians of the Boston Symphony Orchestra joined by some local ones. The church is a typical New England one, a short rectangle in shape with a high flat wood ceiling, wood floors and pews, a shallow balcony, and in this instance three huge triple-hung plain glass windows on each side (You are facing north when seated.). All of this spells a nice acoustic, though this is the first brass performance in the to-date really fine series, so I was a bit apprehensive about being overwhelmed. I was not, though I sat near the rear; a friend who sat up front was a bit uncomfortable. The resonance was superb.

The members of this BSO ensemble are Assistant Principal Trumpet Thomas Siders on trumpet 1, fourth/utility Trumpet Michael Martin on trumpet 2, fourth horn Jason Snider, Assistant Principal Trombone Stephen Lange, and Principal Tuba Mike W. Roylance. The latter served as an informal, witty emcee for the evening. The recital, played with just a “stretch break,” included four works. The ensemble opened with Manuel Rosenthal’s transcription of a J.S. Bach Fantasia, which, alas, the printed program did not identify, and I am not good at “Name that tune.” It lent itself well to the treatment, however, and the harmonies and blends of sounds were lovely. This was followed by the work planned as the last, the 1951 Sonatine for Brass by Eugène Bozza, a standard four-movement piece. (In spite of the appearance of their names, both Rosenthal and Bozza were French.) This is reputedly one of the most difficult and brilliant works in the brass repertoire; its fireworks are in the final two movements, a Scherzo and a Finale: Fanfare-tarantella. The musicians did not stumble or trip up and executed it impressively, going out in a blaze of bright notes.

After the brief break, they played Paul Hindemith’s 1932 three-movement Morgenmusik (1932), composed to be played from a tower in Plön, Germany, as a morning wake-up call with a more lyrical central section for the town’s Music Day. It was one of the efforts of the composer, a devoted pedagogue, to bring music to the people and make it a more central part of their lives in pre-Nazi Germany. The quintet’s performance closed with a substitution (a slight disappointment for me, having just finished reading John Bird’s biography of Percy Grainger) for the announced Percy Grainger Suite with the Oskar Böhme (1870-1938?) Trompeten-sextett in eb, Op. 30, dating from ca. 1910, adding Benjamin Wright (BSO trumpet 2) playing the cornet. This Romantic piece, by a little-known German composer who wrote fewer than fifty works, moved to Russia in 1897, and then disappeared in the Stalin era, was perhaps the most interesting and attractive of the evening. It is in four movements, following the classical sonata form and ending with a Finale marked Allegro con spirito. The blend of the sounds and the harmonies was spectacular throughout, with the cornet standing out above the others, of course, and making the whole richer. The program progressed musically to the climax and included a good variety of forms, styles, and types of compositions. The audience was instantaneously on its feet at its conclusion, as well it should have been.

Readers of my texts may be startled to see my name associated with a brass performance. Brass music is admittedly not what I seek out, although there are many fine compositions featuring brass instruments; think the famous trumpet concerto by Hummel, for example, and the many Grainger pieces, such as Lincolnshire Posy, for brass band. I do enjoy them. As you can see, however, this concert was not band music, but rather true chamber music, and it was also not a string of transcriptions, but mostly music originally composed for this type of ensemble. With programming and playing of this caliber, the BSO Brass Quintet should have a bright future, and the musicians are young enough to have a long one, too. We hope the BSO organization and administration support and encourage its efforts. Roylance said they would be playing a similar program at Tanglewood on August 5, but I could not locate it on the schedule.

[Ed: The August 5 performance of the BSO Brass Quintet, with the same players and program, will be the Tanglewood Prelude Concert in Ozawa Hall, at 6 pm. It is part of the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music.]

Marvin J. Ward, a retired translator and teacher of French (Ph.D., UNC Chapel Hill), has been writing for Classical Voice of North Carolina, a professional journal, for a decade and was founding Executive Editor of Classical Voice of New England through December, 2009.

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