Echo: Glory of Gabrieli (CD review)

Music of Gabrieli, Monteverdi, and Scheidt. The Canadian Brass, Echo Brass. Opening Day Entertainment Group ODR 7380.

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.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first 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 use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

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.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa