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Tuba Safari / Music By Gregory Fritze

Fritze / Colonial Tuba Quartet / Bird
Release Date: 03/09/2010 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1173  
Composer:  Gregory FritzeWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Gary Bird
Conductor:  Jack Stamp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Oak Grove Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

FRITZE Petite Suite for Brass Quintet 1. Kilimanjaro. 2 Concertino for Tuba and Orchestra 3. Uluru 4. Prelude and Dance 5. 15 Safaris for Tubas: Nos. 1, 4, 6, 11 6. The Broadway Limited 7 1 Read more class="ARIAL12">Hoodlebug Brass; 5 Colonial Tuba Qrt; 2 Christian Dickinson, 2 Ryan Wilson (tbn); 2 Jay Hildebrandt (bass tbn); 2,4,7 Bob Powers, 4,7 Christian Dickinson, 4,7 Jay Hildebrandt, 4,7 Geoff Durbin, 7 Dan Kerstetter (eup); 4,7 Justin Beish, 4,7 Steven Fassnacht, 7 Larry Sarvey, 7 Jon Wylie, 2,3,4,6 Gary Bird, 2,4,6,7 Gregory Fritze (tb); 4 Shane Velsor, 4 Meghan Johnson (perc); 7 Gary Bird, 2,4 Jason Worzbyt, 3 Jack Stamp, cond; 3 Oak Grove SO ALBANY TROY 1173 (66:34)

While typing and formatting the headnote for this review was a sore trial, everything else about this release (titled Tuba Safari ) is an unabashed delight. The works presented here were recorded not only by different ensembles, but at various venues over a period of several years; the Prelude and Dance dates from 1994, the Petite Suite from 2004, the concertino from 2005, Kilimanjaro, Uluru , and The Broadway Limited from 2007, and the 15 Safaris selections from 2008. The 1994 recording was made in Boston, the others in various locales in Pennsylvania. Even so, there is no great distinction in the ambience of the various recordings (all well made) that requires any adjustments or reorientation for listening.

Gregory Fritze (b. 1954) is principal tubist of the Rhode Island Philharmonic and professor of composition at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Without exception, every piece of his here displays both a sure hand of technical craftsmanship and imaginative wit that deftly exploit all the expressive capacities of the lower brass instruments while avoiding even a hint of monotony. While clearly belonging to the 20th century, the works are unabashedly tonal and melodious. The Petite Suite has four movements, titled “Strombor,” “Canción,” “Attack of the Killer Bees,” and Finale. It opens with a jaunty fanfare tune over a syncopated accompaniment, followed by a lyrical, flowing slow movement, a scherzo with buzzing trills and runs (playfully concluded by the players coming to the front of the stage and collectively stomping on the insects!), and a finale in sonata form with two themes—the first vigorous and assertive, the second flowing and sonorous—that makes a brief passing reference to the Symphonic Metamorphosis of Paul Hindemith. Kilimanjaro (inspired by a safari trip the composer made to Kenya in 1988) opens with a broad, majestic fanfare theme before moving on to a slightly faster main section that features, among other effects, imitations of trumpeting elephants. The one-movement concertino is an adaptation of an earlier work for euphonium and wind band. A piece of unabashed fun structured in A-B-A form, it begins with a mock-heroic theme cribbed straight out of John Williams and the Indiana Jones film series. The central section features a contrasting lyrical second subject in which the tuba initially is accompanied (surprisingly, but to excellent effect) by a harp, and the reversion to the opening includes an extended solo cadenza. Uluru (an aboriginal name for a large geological rock structure in the Australian outback) is similar in content and mood to Kilimanjaro— its dark, sonorous introduction calls to mind the opening of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra—but also features a discreet use of unspecified percussion instruments (timpani, suspended cymbal, gourd, and tom-tom, to my hearing). Prelude and Dance consists of a sonorous, leisurely opening, followed by a slightly jazzy but low-key dance. The four brief selections from the 15 Safaris feature jazzy dance steps for the first and last movements, with a mournful dirge and stately amble sandwiched in between. Finally, The Broadway Limited is a brief, breezy, jazzy evocation of the eponymous passenger train that runs through Pennsylvania.

The playing and interpretations on this disc simply could not be bettered—what a wonderful constellation of virtuoso brass players is on display here, playing with extraordinary verve, lyricism, and dramatic weight as required! Star tubist Gary Bird, soloist in the concertino and duet partner with the composer in the four Safari pieces, is magnificent—I would love to hear him in the Vaughan Williams concerto. And one would never guess that the “Oak Grove Symphony” was a pickup ensemble of freelance players from western Pennsylvania assembled specifically for this recording; under conductor Jack Stamp’s skilled direction they play like a long-established ensemble. While it may get crowded out by more mainstream offerings over the next few months, this release is a dark-horse candidate for my 2011 Want List—it’s that good. Urgently recommended not just for fanciers of tuba and low brass instruments, but to anyone willing to set aside possible stereotypical notions about such music and try something unfamiliar.

FANFARE: James A. Altena
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Works on This Recording

Petite Suite for Brass Quintet by Gregory Fritze
Kilmanjaro by Gregory Fritze
Concertino for Tuba and Orchestra by Gregory Fritze
Performer:  Gary Bird (Tuba)
Conductor:  Jack Stamp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Oak Grove Symphony Orchestra
Uluru by Gregory Fritze
Don Giovanni, K 527: Là ci darem la mano by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Period: Classical 
Written: 1787 
Vesperae solennes de confessore, K 339: Laudate Dominum by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Period: Classical 
Written: 1780; Salzburg, Austria 
The Broadway Limited by Gregory Fritze

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