Echo: Glory of Gabrieli (CD review)
Precision, refinement, elegance, joyousness, you name it, the Canadian Brass have it in aces. They aren't one of the world's leading brass ensembles, maybe THE world's leading brass ensemble, for nothing. Founded in 1970, this small group been playing beautiful music together for as long as I can remember, recording over eighty albums as of this writing. Add one more to the win column.
The theme of this particular program is the presentation of antiphonal music by several Renaissance and Baroque composers: Giovanni Gabrieli (c1554-1612), Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), and Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654). To quote from Joseph S. Szurly's liner notes, Gabrieli "was one of the first to compose works specifically for brass and brass choirs." Composing music largely for the Basilica San Marco di Venezia, or Saint Mark's, Gabrieli found "the architectural peculiarities of the imposing Basilica created a sound delay caused by the distance between opposing choirs and Gabrieli took advantage of that as a useful special effect. Since it was difficult to get widely separated choirs to sing the same music simultaneously, Gabrieli and other composers solved the problem by writing antiphonal music where opposing choirs would play successive, often contrasting phrases of music. This 'echo' effect proved to be immensely popular and became a standard of music performance at Saint Mark's--a rare case of a single building influencing the history of music!"
Although a brief work called "Echo" by Scheidt opens the album as a demonstration of the echo technique, accompanied by more short pieces by Gabrieli, it is the twenty-two-minute suite from Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo that is the centerpiece of the program. The Canadian Brass play the eleven movements with a polished grace and enthusiasm that leave one wanting more.
But the group also know how to close a show, following the Monteverdi suite with five Gabrieli canons of a musically ceremonial nature in performances of impeccable virtuosity. On these pieces and in the Scheidt the five members of the Canadian Brass are augmented by three members of Echo Brass, and on several other works by organist Eric Robertson. Together, they make an irreproachable team.
For those who don't know the current lineup of players, the Canadian Brass comprise Brandon Ridenour, trumpet; Joe Burgstaller, trumpet; Jeff Nelsen, horn; Zachary Bond, trombone; and the group's cofounder, Charles Daellenbach, baritone horn and tuba. Echo Brass comprise Chris Coletti, trumpet; Manon Lafrance, trumpet; and Austin Hitchcock, horn.
Recorded in Christ Church Deer Park, Toronto, in June, 2009, the sound is moderately reverberant, making the relatively few players appear like a much larger group. Still, there is good clarity involved and a fine sense of depth to the ensemble. This is especially useful in demonstrating the "echo" effect so necessary to the music. Yet, not only is the cleanness of the sonics impressive, the sound is warm, full, and mellow to boot. It makes a good thing even better.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.