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Smiles, Excitement on Serious Stage


After a four-year hiatus, the Canadian Brass marched again into Rockport’s Shalin Liu Performance Center Sunday afternoon amidst applause and out and out chuckling.  When they reached the stage, more fun broke out, so did some awesome brass playing, and a good deal of learnable, if not memorable, moments. “We always begin with our encore,” that is, so they would not leave it to chance having it at the end of the program.

Ignoring the hefty, glossy program booklet listing everything you need to know about Rockport’s entire summer season, the Canadian five opened with Handel instead of Bach. The Overture and Adagio from Handel’s Water Music, originally scored for a relatively large orchestra and here translated to brass quintet, came with some spiffy dynamics in an idiomatically conceived brass arrangement.

Immediately, the refined precision of Canadian Brass made itself known.

Never once would you think you were at one of those brass quintet recitals. Standing or sitting, these five men in black suits, white shirts, red ties, and white shoes put on a show well worth hearing—and seeing. They played the hall never ever being too loud, too brassy.

There was snappy instrumental interplay in Monteverdi’s Damigella Tutta Bella that came with the first hinting of zany choreography to further enhance the Canadian’s particular brand of expression.

“The backbone of brass music,” we were told, was first formed in the Renaissance compositions of Giovanni Gabrieli.  His antiphonal works heard in Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice boast the “first surround sound.”  Given an absence of tubas at the time, “Chuck sits where he wants,” one of the Canadians quipped.  

Tubist Chuck Daellenback happens to be the founder and director of Canadian Brass, which, over three decades, has released 130 albums, sold some million copies, and encouraged 600 new works for its ensembles. Program notes describe Daellenbach as “legendary.”

Sounding from the four corners of Shalin Liu’s smart but smaller space, Canzona per Sonare, No. 4 became an intimate and unfamiliar affair. Being near the rear of the hall we were very close to one of the trumpets. An unexpected result came about. That trumpet’s proximity produced a soloing effect. To our further surprise, the other instruments blending the way they did created magnificent ensemble contrasts reinvigorating the oft-played Canzona.

Brass thrills in Bach’s Little Fugue in G minor really kicked in all through the episodic passages,  to the popular Baroque idol.

And with all, or nearly all, entries on their program, audience exuberance would spontaneously break out. In one instance, after the applause ended and after Daellenbach stood speechless, a pregnant pause, he voiced a droll “thank you.”

“Penny Lane” was the best morphing item on the fast moving program. The Beatles favorite by Lennon/McCartney strutted perfectly in time with the Canadians. Toward the middle of the adept arrangement, an almost postmodern harmonic incident admiringly mystified.

And with the most wonderful, absolutely unbelievable playing of Christopher Colleti on piccolo trumpet put this number over the top. Trumpeter Caleb Hudson cracked that “Colleti, who was born after the rise of the Beatles, thinks that “Penny Lane” is classical music.”

An adaptation of an excerpt from Divertimento for Orchestra by Leonard Bernstein, Mozart’s Turkish Rondo, Jose Padilla’s El Relicario, and Enrique Crespo’s Vals Peruano I afforded variety. Amazing Grace, described as being a “gospel” takeoff, really was not, a bit of blues and other faint flavors, yes, but gospel? Beale Street Blues took a Dixie stance but also came up short in the translation.

Canadian Brass in 2013  (Mike Rocha photo)

For Handful of Keys by Fats Waller, Canadian Brass clearly transformed that cheerful high speed piano solo into a virtuosic thriller full of scintillating brass riffs.

Michael Kamen’s Quintet was beautifully expressive, deeply so at times. Two thirds of the way through clarity disappeared.

What can one say about Canadian Brass’s closer, a “Tribute to the Ballet?” It was nothing less than a blockbuster featuring the group as both expert musicians and wannabe dancers. Seeing it on YouTube [here] will give readers an idea, but being there among a house full of smiles and laughter cannot be overestimated.

Someone hollered out, “Don’t wait four years to come back.”

Their one encore, a whizzing “Flight of the Bumblebee,” dazzled. Their introduction to it came off buzzing lifelike.

Players in the Canadian Brass are: Caleb Hudson and Christopher Coletti, trumpets, Achilles Liarmakopoulos, trombone, Berhard Sully, horn, and Chuck Daellenbach, tuba.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.  He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

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