Schumann: Carnaval (CD review)

Also, Kinderszenen. Canadian Brass. Opening Day ODR 7438.

German composer and music critic Robert Schumann (1810-1856) wrote Carnaval, a set of short, solo piano works, in 1834-35. Although various folks have orchestrated them over the years, including a ballet in 1910, I believe this is the first time anyone has arranged them for brass quintet. And if anyone could pull it off, it would be Canadian Brass, the world’s premier exponent all things brass.

Trumpeters Chris Coletti and Brandon Ridenour adapted Carnaval and the accompanying Kinderszenen for brass quintet, nicely maintaining the spirit of both works. Then it’s up to the players to do justice to the transcriptions, and that they do just that. Joining the aforementioned Coletti and Ridenour are Eric Reed, horn; Achilles Liarmakopoulos, trombone and baritone horn; Chuck Daellenbach, tuba; and Caleb Hudson, additional piccolo trumpet and Bb trumpet.

In Carnaval, Schumann portrayed masked revelers at Carnaval, a festive season occurring in mainly Catholic countries just before Lent. Schumann portrays himself, his friends, and his colleagues in the music, as well as characters from Italian comedy. It’s all quite showy and rambunctious, with Schumann going so far as to include in the musical notations an embedded puzzle that he expected people to decipher.

Whether you fancy the puzzle angle in the masked revelers is beside the point; the music is vibrant and colorful, expertly presented by Canadian Brass. I have to admit that there is a certain quality about these pieces on brass instruments that kept reminding me of Scott Joplin orchestrations, yet I mean that in the best possible way; undoubtedly Schumann influenced Joplin’s ragtime creations. The remarkable thing is that these Schumann pieces should work so well with a brass quintet. They almost sound as though Schumann intended them that way, with the added nuances the various brass instruments contribute. Of course, it helps that Carnaval is so vibrant a work itself, with so much energy to expend. Fun stuff, done up in high good spirits.

Accompanying Carnaval on the disc is perhaps an even better-known set of Schumann piano pieces, Kinderszenen (“Scenes from Childhood”), which he wrote in 1838. In the work, Schumann looks back in fond remembrance of younger days. If Carnaval seemed a stretch for brass quintet, Kinderszenen takes things a step even further. Yet, again, Canadian Brass pull it off with an uncommon aplomb, combining their usual virtuosic playing with the utmost delicacy.

Like Carnaval, Kinderszenen comprises a set of descriptive tone poems, but judging their success in adaptation is another story. The various “Scenes” are more ephemeral than Carnaval, their mood more ethereal and sentimental. It takes all of Canadian Brass’s expertise to pull them off and not sound like a circus band. They handle it well enough, although I wouldn’t want these transcriptions to replace the piano originals. That said, the famous “Traumerei” (“Dreaming”) comes off more tenderly than I would have thought and exemplifies the sensitivity with which Canadian Brass approach these scores.

In short, the music on the program is endlessly inventive and entertaining, and Canadian Brass’s versions of it show just how flexible the music is and how flexible the group is performing it. If you’re a fan of Canadian Brass, you’ll no doubt find this album a fascinating listen.

Producers M.B. Daellenbach and Dixon Van Winkle and engineer Philippe Fages recorded the music for Opening Day Entertainment Group at Christ Church Deer Park, Toronto, Canada, in August 2012. They captured a pleasant hall resonance that gives the instruments a rich, mellifluous sound. With no undue brightness or edginess, we get plenty of detail from the group, plus a good separation of the players. There is also a realistic depth and air around the instruments making the whole affair quite lifelike.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

JJP

2 comments:

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

I've been listening to classical music most of my life, starting with the classical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first classical recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor. Today, I'm retired from teaching and using a pair of VMPS RM40s. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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