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The Road Not Taken / Washington Trombone Ensemble

Bolter / Brahms / Washington Trombone Ensemble
Release Date: 04/10/2012 
Label:  Summit Records   Catalog #: 589   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Norman BolterJohannes BrahmsJames M. StephensonRob Deemer,   ... 
Performer:  Sam WoodheadMatthew GuilfordJonathan J. Deutsch
Conductor:  Chris BranaganJon KalbfleischJohn Marcellus
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Washington Trombone Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 8 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



THE ROAD NOT TAKEN Washington Trb Ens SUMMIT DCD589 (68:13)


BOLTER Fanfare to the Rising Phoenix. Peridots. BRAHMS Symphony No. 3: Andante. STEPHENSON Road Not Taken. J. S. BACH Passacaglia in c. DEEMER Read more class="ARIAL12bi">Prolegomenon. WAGNER Die Walküre: Wotan’s Farewell and Magic Fire Music. Lohengrin: Act III Prelude. CORTAZZO World Report


The Washington Trombone Ensemble consists of 22 members—12 tenor trombones, nine bass and contrabass trombones, and one player (Samuel Woodhead, the ensemble’s artistic director) who alternates on alto and tenor trombones. Members are drawn from professional orchestras, universities, and military bands in the vicinity of the nation’s capital; conductor Chris Branagan is the ensemble’s assisting director. Unlike string orchestras, large ensembles for members of a single woodwind or brass instrument always risk being too much of a good thing—witness the preposterously dreary Mass for Trombones by Wendy Mae Chambers, in which a solo trombonist and 76-member trombone choir pointlessly muck about for more than an hour. In this case, fortunately, any such fears are unjustified. This is a crackerjack brass ensemble, its sections beautifully blended and balanced, that produces a much wider palette of tone colors than one might initially presume to be possible.


Except for the two pieces by Norman Bolter (b.1955)—a member of the Boston Symphony trombone section for 32 years—and the Bach transcription by Donald Hunsberger, these are premiere recordings. All of the original compositions are well crafted and engaging and ably exploit the sonorities of the ensemble. Except for the eponymous Stephenson work, they also all last five minutes or less. Fanfare to the Rising Phoenix is scored for solo trombone, four antiphonal parts for two tenor and two bass trombones, and a five-part main ensemble. It commemorates the formation of this ensemble in 2008 from the ashes (figuratively speaking) of its predecessor, the Interservice Trombone Choir, which had disbanded upon the death of its leader, Milton Stevens. Composed in 1998, Peridots is scored for six parts and reflects a wide array of the composer’s moods and experiences, “from the rush of living through a hurricane, to … having a fun night out with the family.” The Prolegomenon of Rob Deemer (b. 1970) began life as a trumpet quintet before the composer adapted it for trombone ensemble. Jeff Cortazzo is a longtime bass trombonist with the U.S. Army Blues Band and National Philharmonic. His World Report , scored for trombone octet, is an energetic and slightly jazzy divertissement.


The central piece in this program is the Road Not Taken by James M. Stephenson (b.1969), who is particularly known for his compositions for brass instruments; in these pages I have previously reviewed by him sonatas for trumpet and for trombone. The present work, premiered in 2010, was inspired by the famous Robert Frost poem with that name. It is cast in three movements, titled “Two Roads,” “Diverged,” and “All the Difference,” and reflects the composer’s personal identification with the poem’s subject matter. It is scored for solo bass trombone, with a supporting ensemble of alto trombone (doubling on tenor trombone in the middle movement), five tenor trombones, and an offstage bass trombone in the second movement. In the course of its 17 minutes it effectively traverses a kaleidoscopic array of moods. “Two Roads” falls into two contrasting sections, the first slow, solemn, and somewhat hesitant, the other bustling and even rambunctious. “Diverged” tiptoes about warily on cat feet, with periodic spooky interjections from muted instruments. “All the Difference” runs both soloist and ensemble through a full array of technical gymnastics, as sustained melodic lines alternate and are set in opposition to rapid-fire staccato passagework. Soloist Matthew Guilford is terrific, combining exceptional beauty of tone with dazzling technique.


With one partial exception, the three transcriptions performed here also work well. The slow movement from the Brahms Third Symphony sounds surprisingly idiomatic and fully captures the composer’s autumnal side. The Bach Passacaglia, abridged to about half its original length, makes a suitably grand noise and does not wear out its welcome. The 18-minute excerpt from act III of Die Walküre works less well for two reasons. First, Wagner’s original orchestral scoring is so vivid that any other arrangement of it is inevitably a comedown; in particular, the Magic Fire Music at the end lacks energy and scintillation. Second, soloist Jonathan J. Deutsch, who sings Wotan’s lines, is not fully up to his assignment. His voice is somewhat on the hollow side, the vibrato is not always absolutely even, and he must strain for his top notes. I doubt that he has the vocal stamina to appear on an operatic stage in this part. Despite that, he is more listenable than what passes for Wagner singing nowadays by many internationally over-hyped vocalists.


The ensemble is very well recorded, with no murkiness whatsoever. The booklet notes are adequate, but one wishes they had provided more biographical information on the composers. Fellow lovers of trombone music need not delay in adding this disc to their collections.


FANFARE: James A. Altena
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Works on This Recording

1.
Fanfare to the Rising Phoenix, antiphonal for trombone ensemble by Norman Bolter
Performer:  Sam Woodhead (Trombone)
Conductor:  Chris Branagan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Washington Trombone Ensemble
Venue:  Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, VA 
Length: 2 Minutes 17 Secs. 
2.
Peri-dots, for trombone ensemble by Norman Bolter
Conductor:  Chris Branagan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Washington Trombone Ensemble
Venue:  Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, VA 
Length: 5 Minutes 9 Secs. 
3.
Symphony no 3 in F major, Op. 90: 2nd movement, Andante by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Chris Branagan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Washington Trombone Ensemble
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1883; Austria 
Venue:  Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, VA 
Length: 9 Minutes 4 Secs. 
4.
Road Not Taken, concerto for bass trombone & trombone ensemble by James M. Stephenson
Performer:  Matthew Guilford ()
Conductor:  Jon Kalbfleisch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Washington Trombone Ensemble
Venue:  Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, VA 
Length: 17 Minutes 8 Secs. 
5.
Prolegomenon, for trombones by Rob Deemer
Conductor:  Chris Branagan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Washington Trombone Ensemble
Venue:  Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, VA 
Length: 3 Minutes 37 Secs. 
6.
Die Walküre: Leb' wohl..."Farewell and Magic Fire music" by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Jonathan J. Deutsch ()
Conductor:  John Marcellus
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Washington Trombone Ensemble
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1856; Germany 
Venue:  Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, VA 
Length: 17 Minutes 23 Secs. 
7.
Lohengrin: Act 3 Prelude by Richard Wagner
Conductor:  Chris Branagan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Washington Trombone Ensemble
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1847; Germany 
Venue:  Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, VA 
Length: 3 Minutes 3 Secs. 
8.
World Report, for trombones by Jeff Cortazzo
Conductor:  Chris Branagan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Washington Trombone Ensemble
Venue:  Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, VA 
Length: 4 Minutes 1 Secs. 
9.
Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582: Passacaglia by Johann Sebastian Bach
Conductor:  John Marcellus
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Washington Trombone Ensemble
Period: Baroque 
Written: Arnstadt, Germany 
Venue:  Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, VA 
Length: 6 Minutes 26 Secs. 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 New experience  October 15, 2014 By Nicolas Tatarinoff (Oxley Park, New South Wales) See All My Reviews "I was surprised with the skills displayed. Really moving" Report Abuse
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