Baroque Music for Brass and Organ
"A recording for those music lovers who think they don't care for baroque"
My subtitling of this outstanding recording is an outgrowth of some serious introspective thinking by me on July 6, 2003. Please note that serious baroque lovers may not care for or appreciate this CD, so pay close attention to my descriptive comments. My thinking's background started a few months earlier at a piano plus cello duo at a private performance for members plus guests of the Palm Beach International Guild for Piano Competition to which I had been graciously invited.
I had a relatively long conversation with the cellist that afternoon. I had asked if he was familiar with Beethoven's Trio, Opus No. 11. "Oh yes", he replied, "a beautiful melodic composition, but rather rarely performed". I know", I said, "I've never gotten to hear it performed live". I had become very familiar with it from an audiophile quality recording I obtained many years ago. It's an imported LP recording [Artemis Proprius Music AB, Stockholm ARTE 7107]. The cellist asked me why I liked it so much and that got me thinking, really thinking. My thinking culminated on July sixth this year. On that day I felt honored as my wife and I were treated to a glowing performance of that Beethoven trio, courtesy of the International Guild for Piano Competition. What in the world does that have to do with my review of this rather unique recording by the Empire Brass and my subtitling it "A recording for those music lovers who think they don't care for baroque"?
Simply this, on that day it really hit me that if the Beethoven Trio had been written a bit earlier, such as in the baroque period, it would have been scored for harpsichord, oboe and an early version of the cello; not for piano, clarinet and a relatively contemporary sounding cello. Many people, not true baroque lovers though, might then describe the typical baroque scoring's resultant sound as brighter or even harsh, and definitely on the lean side of neutral. So - I am telling you faithful readers, that this baroque album under review has none of those seemingly negative sound qualities! The sound is full and rich with satisfying overall impact and a very contemporary sound or "feel" to it. Baroque purists will have to listen and determine for themselves. Others will now be able to determine if they can at least begin to appreciate and even enjoy the unique attributes here showcasing some of the baroque period's finest composers. There is some real frosting on this delectable baroque presentation.
The organ is not one of those "reedy sounding" four hundred year old instruments typically used by the authentic baroque period groups. Surprisingly, the organ is not specifically mentioned, but is probably the one Kuhlman has used before, a Robert Sipe built forty-three stop mechanical model. The deep pedal notes are not overblown but do present some very definite and tactile air pressure sensations. Though the compositions are all by well-known baroque composers, they are not the most famous or most familiar ones. Most all "introductory or popular" baroque collections would feature Pachebel's beautiful and very recognizable Canon; here it is not Pachebel's representative. Many of the selections may sound vaguely familiar to most listeners but they are real "foolers". As an example, a Handel violin composition here is transcribed for trumpet and appropriate accompanying organ stops. Things such as that might keep even the most dedicated baroque lovers guessing if they can resist looking at the selections before playing this excellent sounding CD. It is another Telarc gem and they have been getting even more consistent in sound quality this past year. Just where in the lengthy sound quality chain this improvement and consistency is happening, I am unable to pinpoint though there has to be a fine recording engineer initiating it.
Rolf Smedvig deserves accolades for his conducting leadership here. Nothing stodgy or pedestrian is to be found in these selections. Sprightly, lively, propulsive and incisive are apt descriptions of Smedvig's leadership. Secondly, add fine playing by the entire Empire Brass Quintet, with the addition of the trombone in particular, I find the overall effect to be a far fuller and richer sound than usual - this I cannot over emphasize. It adds greatly to the enjoyment of listeners not yet attuned to baroque music. I certainly had been under the impression that the trombone is a relatively recent instrumental addition and would not have been used in the baroque period. My few reference sources were not in complete agreement regarding the subject. It was probably invented and used well before the baroque period but during the baroque period it fell into a long period of disuse. Oh well, I certainly am not used to hearing recordings or live performances of baroque music with a trombone being played. The rather unusual combination of a couple of trumpets, French horn, trombone, tuba and seemingly large organ, sound as rich or even richer than a typical chamber music orchestra. Excellent playing and energetic conducting captured in an unusually atmospheric recording with truly superior sound quality equals an all-around winner! Highly recommended and you may really enjoy it!