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:



Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa