by Karl Nehring
What Music Tells Me. Beethoven: Egmont Overture; Wagner (1813-1883); Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral (from Lohengrin); Messiaen: Apparition de L’eglise Éternelle (Apparition of the Eternal Church); Healey Willan (1880-1968): How They So Softly Rest; William C. White (b.1983): Flood of Waters (Noah and the Flood); Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Haydn (“St. Anthony Variations”); Mahler: Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” – Urlicht, Finale (Andante). Chicago Brass and Organ Ensemble; Stephen Squires, conductor. MSR Classics MS 1750
This is one of those releases that on first glance, I simply did not quite know what to expect. Having grown up in northwest Indiana I was familiar with the gargoyles that look down upon downtown Chicago pedestrians, so the name of the ensemble struck me as perfectly appropriate, but the musical program, although intriguing, left me hesitant as to how it would come across when played by organ and brass. Well, only one way to find out, so I stuck the disc in my CD player and hit PLAY button. Here we go… From the familiar opening measures of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, I was delighted by how enjoyable it was to hear this familiar music presented this in this different sonority. It just sounded right. Somehow the energy of the brass and the organ captured the fervor of Beethoven’s score in a fresh, exciting way that did not sound at all gimmicky or contrived. And so it went through the rest of the program, with highlights including the Messiaen, whose spiritually informed music lends itself especially well to being arranged for brass and organ, and the Brahms, upon which this arrangement throws a new light. The most ambitious arrangement is the Mahler, which is certainly interesting to hear, but try as I might, I could never quite get past the lack of voices. Still, I admire the audacity and skill of these players in presenting this magnificent music in this form. Fans of the composer Mahler will no doubt recognize his influence on the title of this release; indeed, let me close my review of this highly recommendable release with these words from its liner notes: “Leader Rodney Holmes has curated this collection of masterworks following the inspiration of Gustav Mahler who said, If a composer could say what he had to say in words, he would not bother trying to say it in music.”
Luminous. Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004): Toccata; Samuel Coleridge Taylor (1875-1912): 24 Negro Melodies, Op. 24 – No. 1, At the Dawn of the Day; No. 3, Take Nabandji; No. 4, They Would Not Lend Me a Child; No. 8, The Bamboula; No. 12, Don’t Be Weary, Traveler; N0. 13, Going Up; Ulysses Kay (1917-1995): 8 Inventions – I. Allegro; II. Moderato; III. Andantino; IV. Scherzando; V. Grave; VI. Moderato; VII. Larghetto; VIII. Presto: Nnenna Ogwo (b. 1970) Benediction; Brahms: Chaconne (from J.S. Bach’s Violin Partita No. 2, BWV 1004) arranged for the left hand alone. Nnenna Ogwo, piano. MSR Classics MS 1819
Melodies of Coleridge-Taylor are expressive, colorful, but not excessively showy. Especially fascinating are the 8 Invention of Ulysses Kay, all but one under two minutes in length, each a compelling little jewel. Wonderful! Ogwo’s Benediction is a brief (1:51), heartfelt, calming piece; given its title and mood, I’m surprised it was not placed at the end of the program. Instead, the program ends with the Brahms transcription of the Bach, played with the left hand. There are times when the piano sounds something like a harpsichord. Although this transcription is interesting, it feels a bit out of sync with the rest of the program. Still, all things considered, Ms. Ogwo has delivered an album that is well worth a listen.