Monday, March 31, 2014

Burning River Brass. Classical Impressions.

Burning River Brass.  Classical Impressions.
Burning River Brass, 2013.  Website:

A new release by Burning River Brass is always a pleasure.  I’ve enjoyed their previous albums (this is their sixth) and seen them in concert.  They’ve been around since 1996, consisting of folks who work and play in Northeast Ohio (Dave Duro teaches trumpet at Hiram College).  This time out they used a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project, raising $15,000, and the recording was made at the First Baptist Church in Shaker Heights during March of 2013.  This album was recently featured as a Choice CD of the Day on WCLV.  With that stamp of approval, we proceed.

The title of the CD does not really concern Impressionist works, although there are some, but works that have made an impression upon the musicians themselves, and presumably, their audiences.  They start off with three short pieces by Debussy, totalling less than six minutes.  The first is more of a fanfare, an announcement for the others.  The next slowly rouses the attention with a Spanish flavor, in somewhat seductive fashion, while the third is a lively dance tune.  The group follows this volly with a quick change of pace, Biebl’s “Ave Maria,” a choral work arranged for the group.  Solemn, yet majestic, it is quite lovely, matching the Vespers pieces by Rachmaninoff and Laurisden’s work, but lighter in tone.

At first, I was not terribly impressed with the Bach concerto, written for two violins.  It seemed lackluster, and I wasn’t sure if it was from the recording or the arrangement.  But then I realized I was listening to it on a boom box, and switched to my headphones.  There’s the sparkle I was expecting (always use the right equipment, folks), and it was a joy to hear in this arrangement.  The slower, middle movement is especially delightful, with a very sweet flow, and they really let loose on the third movement, the Allegro.  The Bach piece is the longest work on the album, with three movements, but still only clocks at about fifteen minutes.  BRB knows how to keep things moving.  That energy continues into the Brahms “Hungarian Dance No. 6,” combining with some humor from the contrasting stately and raucous rhythms, before switching back to sacred music with two pieces from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers.  This is the most intense work on the album, but it’s never ponderous.  

The transition to Shostakovich is jarring.  The two pieces from Jazz Suite No. 1 sandwich a bit of Gershwin, and it all fits together nicely.  I must say that I have to be in the mood to hear Shostakovich’s jazz suites (being a jazz fan, I have issues--it’s more Kurt Weill than Louis Armstrong), but BRB plays it all quite well.  Comparing it to a full orchestral version on YouTube, with folks from Ukraine conducted by Kuchar, it works about as well.  The atmosphere set by Shostakovich continues with the “Scherzo” by Prokofiev, but is then slowed down by his next piece.  I think I prefer the “Andante Segnando” as a brass arrangement, after listening to two piano versions on YouTube by Ashkenazy and Kissin.  It has a more open feel to me.  We are back into higher gear with the Paganini Variations, a work I find rather irritating in piano version, but is quite a pleasure in brass arrangement.  

The last two works contrast radically.  The Lauridsen piece is another sacred choral work, a modern masterpiece treated with reverence and care.  I’m not sure it reaches the majestic heights of the best choirs, but it has a quiet beauty of a different sort.  The Novarro piece is a fun Latin tune that works perfectly as an encore.  As you may have surmised, I enjoyed this album immensely, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys brass ensemble music.  I also urge you to go see them in concert.

Personnel:  Trumpets:  David Duro, Justin Emerich, Michael Tiscione, Heather Zweifel.  Horns:  Neil DeLand, Christopher Komer.  Trombones: Hans Bohn, Rebecca Ciabattari, David Mitchell.  Bass Trombone: Andrew Chappell.  Euphonium: Rebecca Ciabattari.  Tuba: Matthew Gaunt.  Percussion: Fred Zweifel.  Guest Horn Player: Richard King (Tracks 10 & 18).  Arranger:  Feza Zweifel (except Track 17, arranged by Roger Harvey).
Tracks:  Morceau de Concours (Claude Debussy); La Puerta del Vino (from Preludes, Book II) (Claude Debussy); Danse Bohémienne (Claude Debussy); Ave Maria (Franz Biebl); Concerto in d minor, BWV 1043 (J. S. Bach); Hungarian Dance No. 6 (Johannes Brahms); Blessed Art Thou, O Lord (from Vespers) (Sergei Rachmaninoff); Lord, Now Lettest Thou (from Vespers) (Sergei Rachmaninoff); Foxtrot (from Jazz Suite No. 1) (Dmitri Shostakovich); Prelude No. 2, Blue Lullaby (George Gershwin); Waltz (from Jazz Suite No. 1) (Dmitri Shostakovich); Scherzo (from Piano Sonata No. 2) (Sergei Prokofiev); Andante Segnando (from Piano Sonata No. 8) (Sergei Prokofiev); Paganini Variations (Witold Lutoslawski); O Magnum Mysterium (Morten Lauridsen); La Pareja (Chico Novarro).

Jeff Wanser

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