American Brass Quintet
2017 / Summit Records
Review by Kathy Parsons
Perspectives is a collection of pieces composed for brass quintet by four contemporary American composers and performed by the American Brass Quintet. The composers who are represented are Robert Paterson, Jay Greenberg, Sebastian Currier, and Eric Ewazen. This is the eleventh recording by the Quintet on the Summit label and introduces new members of the group as well presenting a collaboration with members who have retired. The album demonstrates the wide range of musical styles being composed for contemporary brass chamber groups and shows why the American Brass Quintet is recognized as one of the premier chamber music ensembles of today.
Robert Paterson’s “Shine” is a four-movement work that was commissioned by the American Brass Quintet and Rick Teller. In Paterson’s own words, “My father is a sculptor who worked with bronze, so as a child, I was always hanging around the foundry at the school where he taught, watching him cast bronze sculptures by pouring crucibles of molten metal into giant molds. In many ways, this is probably what caused me to have an affinity for brass instruments and metallic percussion instruments such as bells. There’s just something about metal, and the sounds metal instruments make, that I find very captivating.” Each of the four movements in “Shine” musically explores the colors and properties of different metals: brass, gold, mercury and steel. “Ringing Brass Bells” refers to both the obvious “brass bells” and the “bells” of the brass instruments. Upbeat and energetic, there is a playful quality in the piece that is very inviting. “Quicksilver” is something of a fast-paced scherzo that makes use of mutes and trills to create a variety of effects as the instruments gradually play higher and higher pitches to simulate the mercury rising along with the temperature of the piece. “Veins of Gold” is the softer and slower movement of the work and focuses on the melodic capabilities of each instrument. “Bright Blue Steel” is a fast-paced conversation with all five instruments “talking” at once, exchanging rapid-fire bursts of texture and rhythm.
“Quintet for Brass” is a 14-minute piece composed by Jay Greenberg, a young composer who began playing the cello at 3 and later taught himself to play the piano. His piece was also commissioned by the Quintet and members of the group worked with Greenberg, giving feedback and providing technical assistance. Some sections are incredibly fast and technically-demanding, giving the Quintet a chance to demonstrate its amazing and colorful virtuosity.
“Cadence, Fugue, Fade” by Sebastian Currier explores traditional classical musical forms in a modern musical language. A bit longer than 15 1/2 minutes, the piece has plenty of time to go in a variety of directions, but never meanders.
“Canticum Honoris Amicorum” (“a song honoring friends”) by Eric Ewazen is fascinating on several levels. The full title is actually “Canticum Honoris Amicorum for The American Brass Quintet (Past, Present and Future!)” The piece is scored for three trumpets, two French horns, two trombones, and two bass trombones/tuba - a traditional brass quintet with an extra player on each instrument so new members of the group can play with older members or retired members can play with the newer group. A celebration of friendship and musical camaraderie, the piece is joyful, exuberant and great fun to listen to!
Perspectives is a musical powerhouse (mostly) with mesmerizing performances and distinctive composing styles - very impressive, to put it mildly! It is available from Amazon and iTunes.
April 25, 2017