Canadian Brass Brahms on Brass CD Review
American Record Guide: Jan/Feb 2012 (pg. 72)
BRAHMS: 16 Waltzes; Ballade; 11 Chorale Preludes
Canadian Brass Opening Day 7415–50 minutes
Despite some rotating personnel over the last several years, the Canadian Brass has been fortunate to retain excellent players whose talents continue to uphold–and often surpass–the wonderful brass traditions that have made them so famous since their start in 1970. They’ve also been one of the few groups to stand the test of time, and have done so through an intelligent mixture of serious classical music and pops repertoire. After having produced a number of fine recordings of classical masters like Bach, Beethoven, Gabrieli, Vivaldi, and Wagner, the Canadian Brass turns to the popular keyboard works of Johannes Brahms in a new recording that is simply outstanding.
Knowing that the Canadian Brass has had a relationship with the famed German Brass over the years, I find that in the 16 Waltzes they have brought some of the German influence into their own playing. The brilliant flourishes of pristine piccolo trumpet and rich oom-pah bands instantly filled my room in the very first waltz. The movements are all short–most a minute or so–but the musical satisfaction is overwhelming, and there are so many wonderful tunes to appreciate. Several of the slower waltzes (2, 5, 12, and 15) have such a serene and pastoral quality that you’d think you were hearing them from the middle of an endless grassy pasture in the Alps. The more upbeat numbers (1, 6, 10, and 13) will have you dancing around an elegantly decorated master ballroom in a great mansion. All of the stylish quintet arrangements are by the trumpeters, Brandon Ridenour and Chris Coletti.
Joining the Canadians for the Ballade No. 1 are three additional brass players and a timpanist. Brahms was inspired by the Scottish ballad poem `Edward’ by Johann Gottfried Herder. He brought a real sense of tragedy and dismay to the music, with its many open intervals and dark, D-minor key. The sustaining quality of brass instruments makes them perfect vehicles for Ridenour’s haunting arrangement–which is played beautifully and makes a stark contrast to the lighthearted waltzes.
Brahms composed the eloquent and somber 11 Chorale Preludes for organ in 1896, and the works were published posthumously in 1902. The short movements are based on Lutheran chorales and arranged here by former principal trombone of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Ralph Sauer. The text of each of the chorales leads us to believe that Brahms composed them as a farewell offering, knowing that the end of his life was near–`My Jesus Leadeth me’, `O God, thou Righteous God’, `My Heart is Ever Yearning’, and `O World, I Now Must Leave thee’. The Canadian Brass is musically sensitive to the more serious chorales–relishing in their rich harmonies, expressive phrases, and sense of departure.
The resonant acoustics of Christ Church in Toronto are naturally captured by the Opening Day recording team, and they still get plenty of clarity from the brass. And though the 50-minute time might be a little stingy, their performance is certainly of the highest caliber.