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Sound The Bells: Works For Brass Ensemble

Bay Brass
Release Date: 03/08/2011 
Label:  Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 807556  
Composer:  John WilliamsMichael Tilson ThomasMorten LauridsenBruce Broughton,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bay Brass Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 1 Hours 3 Mins. 

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SuperAudio CD:  $19.99
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.

First, if you're a listener who instinctively utters "next!" when faced with a recording of brass music, I suggest that you make an exception for this disc, whose music and performances--and intelligent programming--will very likely turn your aversion into enthusiastic, respectful acclaim. In other words, you're going to really like this, and the fact that it's more than an hour of brass instruments doing what brass instruments do when they're at their most compelling and irresistibly attention-grabbing ensures that this recording will win friends and influence listeners of all stripes and
Read more colors, from the most serious classical activist to the committed jazz and pop fan.

Top billing here goes to John Williams and Michael Tilson Thomas, however I suspect that the track that will set iPods ablaze and audiophile demo rooms a-swoon will be Morten Lauridsen's brass ensemble arrangement of his widely popular choral classic O magnum mysterium. Choral singers all over the world have been reveling in this work's lush textures and sumptuous harmonies for years, but hearing it in this version confirms its equal effectiveness as a brass piece--and no doubt it will enjoy similar popularity in this scoring, commissioned by the Bay Brass and receiving its premiere recording here.

Only one of the works on the program is "new"--Kevin Puts' Elegy for Brass (2009)--and in fact this recording has been in production over a period of six years. The three short fanfare/celebratory pieces by John Williams are from 1980 and the early '90s, but they retain a kind of timeless festive character defined by Williams' usual technical polish, knack for catchy melodic/rhythmic figures, and a master film-composer's instinctive sense of exactly what's needed for the moment or occasion at hand.

Michael Tilson Thomas' three-part Street Song, from 1988, has been recorded before, but in its original brass quintet version; here it's premiered in a setting for symphonic brass that Thomas created in 1996. It's a thoroughly engaging work that explores the worlds of consonance and dissonance, East and West, 20th-century America and the Middle Ages. Bruce Broughton's Fanfares, Marches, Hymns, & Finale (2002) is a substantial (20 minutes) and captivating composition that happily expresses itself within the realm of conventional brass ensemble customs and language--no gimmicks, no weird experiments, no gratuitous sound effects--while maintaining an original voice through the composer's clever treatment of his thematic ideas. As I said, there's some real substance here that will reward multiple hearings.

The program's last two works for me were the weaker entries and held slightly less interest when measured against their very strong disc-mates. If you didn't know better, you would swear that Puts' Elegy was a piece by Eric Whitacre--not unpleasant by any means(!), but not especially memorable or unique. And Scott Hiltzik's Spirals (2005) is just a little too self-aware, a little too clever.

What seriously put me off was the totally unnecessary hand clapping that pops up a couple of times--and made me just hope that it wouldn't come back. It's like when suddenly a group of brass players or percussionists starts singing--what is that all about? You're totally into their playing and they suddenly start singing--or clapping. It just doesn't fit. And if the playing and the quality of the music here hadn't otherwise been so excellent and so compelling--enough to make you want to play the disc again right after you'd heard it--I wouldn't have given this recording our highest recommendation. But it was, so I did. You shouldn't miss this.

--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Sound the Bells! by John Williams
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bay Brass Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 05/1993 
Fanfare For A Festive Occasion by John Williams
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bay Brass Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Aloft... To The Royal Masthead! by John Williams
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bay Brass Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Street Song by Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bay Brass Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1988/1996; USA 
Fanfare for Brass Sextet by Morten Lauridsen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bay Brass Ensemble
O magnum mysterium by Morten Lauridsen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bay Brass Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1994; USA 
Fanfares, Marches, Hymns and Finale by Bruce Broughton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bay Brass Ensemble
Written: 2002 
Elegy for Brass by Kevin Puts
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bay Brass Ensemble
Written: 2009 
Spirals by Scott Hiltzik
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bay Brass Ensemble

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